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San Francisco International Film Festival – Year 46, Day 1
by Brian Mckay

The opening night of the SFIFF starts at 7:00 p.m. It’s 6:50 and I’m racing up and down the steep hills of Divisadero street like Steve McQueen in BULLITT.

Well, okay, I’m not going quite that fast. Especially with a goddamn STOP sign getting in the way every other block. But I am making good time on my way to the Castro theater. Of course, I still have to deal with that pain in the ass that awaits every motorist in the heart of the City by the Bay – finding a parking spot less than half a mile away from one’s destination. Luckily, some guy’s vacating a spot in front of the liquor store a block away. With the precision handling of an F-16 pilot during a midair refueling, I hit the gas out of turn at the four way STOP and glide into the narrow spot with inches to spare on either side, ignoring the irate honking behind me. Hell with ‘em. The timid don’t find parking a block from the theater in THIS town.

A good-sized crowd is milling around outside the Castro Theater, while a TV reporter does her spiel in front of the camera. “San Francisco’s beautiful people are out tonight for the Gala event,” and so on. I walk up to the folding table set up inside the lobby doors, marked with a sign that reads PRESS.

“Hi,” I say, flashing my cheesiest smile. “Brian Mckay from Efilmcritic.com”. (We usually don’t use the name HollywoodBitchslap.com, because it tends to frighten folks). The very cute blonde checks my name on the list and hands me my press badge and tickets to the film and the opening party afterward.

“Enjoy the show!” she says.

As I walk into the packed lobby, I hold up my press badge and look at it. It’s just a little piece of laminated paper on a neck chain that says PRESS on it, along with my name and a grainy picture of my devilishly handsome mug. But suddenly, I have an epiphany. I’ve just been given a key to the kingdom. I can go to any movie at the festival I want with this. They just handed me a free ticket to see a new movie hardly anyone else has seen, because of this. How fucking cool is that? Finally, all that review-writing to kill time at my hateful day job over the past year and a half is starting to pay off. Is this a great country or what?

The theater is packed. I’ve been in such a hurry to get my pass and get inside before showtime, that I haven’t really looked at the place much until now. They picked a fine place for the opening night screening. I can’t believe I’ve lived here for over a year now and never set foot inside the place until this moment. The Castro Theater is a prime example of a gorgeously preserved 1920’s era movie palace. The interior is plush, with chandeliers, intricate wooden scrollwork, and huge fresco murals on either side depicting images of cherubs and fountains. This is the kind of theater movies are supposed to be enjoyed in, not the soulless stadium seating of the gigaplex. Oh what a world it would be if we could bring back the days of the movie palaces and drive-ins.

The moment of rambling nostalgia is cut short as the lights begin to dim. I spot an empty seat in the back row and sit down as a spotlight illuminates a podium on the stage. An attractive, middle-aged blonde lady takes the stage amid applause. She is Roxanne Messina Captor, Executive Director of the SFFS. As she gives her opening speech, she seems a bit stiff at first. Probably nervous. Hell, I would be in front of 1400 people. But as she names off several key players who make the festival possible, she flashes the crowd a smile and says “You know, you can applaud if you want to.” That gets some applause, and seems to loosen the crowd up a bit. Of course she ends the presentation by mentioning the sponsors - primarily Sterling Vineyards, who will apparently be footing the bar tab for the opening night party later. Obviously the crowd could care less about hearing a bunch of corporate names and wants to get on with the show, but hey, she’s just doing her job. The bills still gotta get paid people!

She turns the podium over to Alan Rudolph, director of the festival’s opening film The Secret Lives of Dentists, starring Campbell Scott, Hope Davis, and Denis Leary. He’s a soft-spoken, almost timid-looking man in his 40’s or 50’s, who thanks the crowd for coming out and adds “We’ll be up here to dodge your fruits and vegetables afterwards”.

The crowd laughs, the lights go down, and the intro for the SFIFF number 46 rolls, garnishing further applause.

The film is a good one (separate review to follow). A few people walk out, including the friendly gay couple who were sitting next to me. (A gay couple?? In the Theater on Castro Street?? Who’da thunkit?). Guess it wasn’t their cup of tea. Too bad, they missed out on some funny stuff. I don’t want to talk too much about the film here, but suffice it to say Campbell Scott is enjoyable as the devoted husband, Hope Davis gives another standout performance as the flaky wife . . . and Denis Leary? Well, he’s Denis Leary. That’s more than enough to keep my ass firmly in the seat.

Despite a couple of walkouts, the film is well-received. While it doesn’t get a standing ovation, the applause is generous and heartfelt, and the crowd seems to have dug it.

Rudolph takes the stage again, along with co-star Robin Tunney (who looks pretty damn cute in black slacks and a sweater), as well as two other gentlemen whose names I missed, but who I believed were the producer and writer. Rudolph takes a few questions from Ms. Messina-Captor, and from the crowd. Again, the thing you pick up on is that he is a quiet, shy-seeming man – but a man who passionately loves making movies, despite his subdued exterior. When asked how he handled working with the three precocious little girls who play Scott and Davis’s on-screen children, he replies “Very delicately. Of course, the youngest, who plays Lizzie, is 38 years old.” This earns some laughs, as the toddler-cum-actress does deliver a few of her lines in the film with an astonishing adult-like delivery. When asked to explain why Leary was chosen for the role of Scott’s imaginary companion, Rudolph points out that “Scott’s character is rather subdued, even anal. So who better for him to have an internal dialogue with than someone who is the complete opposite”.

The questions are surprisingly few. I try to think up something insightful to ask (nay, shout) from my place in the back row, but nothing comes to mind and everyone seems in a hurry to go get drunk at the after party, so Q & A is wrapped up quickly. Rudolph parts with the statement “I’m honored to be able to open this festival. I’ve closed a few in the past, and they stayed closed (more laughter). But I have a feeling this one will be back for year 47.”

Indeed it will, Alan, and hopefully so will I. I wait for the crowd to stampede through the exits before I get up and casually stroll outside. Out front, the limousines are pulling up to the curb to pick up the V.I.P.’s, looking somewhat surreal on the street of this slightly run-down looking neighborhood dominated by aging Victorian row houses, liquor stores, bars, and video shops with Gay porn in the front window. Like most of the neighborhoods in San Francisco, though, the Castro looks old and a bit run down, but it’s still got an aura of class.

As the crowd disperses and I head back to my car, I am tempted to drive across town to the Embarcadero for the party, where I can sample the horse doofers and chug all the Sterling Vineyards wine, SKYY vodka, and Guinness Ale I can get my hands on. Unfortunately, it’s getting late, and the ugly reality of the day job that awaits me at 6:00 a.m. sends me heading home. I can ill afford the lack of sleep or the hangover, but that’s okay. I’ve got the day off following the closing night festivities. I’ll make up for it then.

So it’s back to the crib for leftover pizza and MGD cold filtered instead, to crank this out before bed while the evening’s events are fresh in my mind. Okay, so I didn’t get a chance to rub shoulders with the beautiful people tonight. But I did get to see a pretty good movie, and that’s what it’s really all about. I plan to see a lot of them in the next fourteen days, including the much-hyped indie horror flick CABIN FEVER at tomorrow’s midnight screening. Oh yeah.

More to come. Stay tuned.


link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=726
originally posted: 04/18/03 03:14:55
last updated: 12/29/03 18:26:55
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