Saturday, May 01, 2010

San Francisco International Film Festival 53 (SFIFF53) - Pianos and Pastures

The 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival screens April 22–May 6 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the historic Castro Theatre, the Landmark Clay and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. For tickets and information, go to or call 925-866-9559.

Two of the highlights of the first week of the San Francisco International Film Festival have been documentaries.

PIANOMANIA (dirs. Robert Cibis, Lilian Franck, Austria/Germany, 2009, 93 minutes) is one of those documentaries that on paper sound interesting enough, but in the actual viewing, becomes a mind opening experience, or at least for the uninitiated.  Simply, it follows the work of Stefan Knüpfer, a technician and piano tuner for Steinway in Austria.  What follows though is a portrait of dedication, bordering on obsession, as he is works with some of the world's greatest pianists and is required to deconstruct the sound the instrument makes, both audibly and physically. The precision that some of the pianists require took me aback, though I should not have been surprised. The extent that the Steinway Company goes to fulfill the requests of these musicians is particularly incredible, to me at least.  But then, I have no concept of what the costs behind each of these instruments must be.  The drama hangs on the reputations of the artists, the concert halls, the recording companies, as well as Steinway itself as each instrument  is prepared for performance.  This was thoroughly engaging and surprisingly exciting!

On the meditative end of the scale, there is WAY OF NATURE (dir. Nina Hedenius, Sweden, 2008, 107 minutes), a pure documentary made for Swedish television depicting one year on a Swedish farm - without narration. That's right, there is no Oprah or David Attenborough (or, gawd help us, Sarah Palin!) telling you what you are seeing. There isn't even a musical score to punch up the drama.  The soundtrack is basically the clang of cowbells and baaing of sheep and goats. It is an extraordinary way to take a break and spend and hour and a half, observing Hedenius' idyllic portrait of what farming can be. I am sure that there can be some argument as to the "purity" of her unspoken narrative, as there is no mention of the hardships that are entailed in such an endeavor. However, in tone it is the anti-thesis to FOOD, Inc., while still being a compatriot of that film's message.

(My only reservation was that the video transfer that was projected at the Sundance Kabuki had some digital artifacts and over-scanning.)

Maxxxxx says re Pianomania: "Dooby dooby dooo-ooo!"
re Way of Nature: (quiet beak scratching)

You can contact Maxxxxx or myself here: JayCBird@AOL.COM

1 comment:

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