Friday, May 07, 2010

San Francisco International Film Festival 53 (SFIFF53) - Closing Night (Audience Awards and... Miss Joan!!)

The 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival screened April 22–May 6 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the historic Castro Theatre, the Landmark Clay and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. For information, go to

Graham Leggat, Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society, who has been remarkably low-profile this year, introduced the Closing Night festivities with an enthusiastic, yet very funny acknowledgment of the ARMY of sponsors and supporters! I wish all directors, boardsmen, etc. were able to gently barb their sponsors, yet be so appreciative! He then announced the Golden Gate Award Winners (which were already previously announced) as well as officially revealing the Audience Awards (Best Narrative Feature went to Debra Granik's Winter's Bone, and Best Documentary Feature went to Julia Bacha's Budrus, neither of which I saw, of course! argh!) before bringing Festival Program Director, Rachel Rosen, onstage to begin the night's screening.

On, the surface, JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK (dirs. Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg, USA, 2010, 84 minutes) would seem to be atypical of what is on the film festival circuit. However, directors Stern and Sundberg come with serious documentary creds, and have delivered a film that is more than a "Biography Channel" bio-pic of Joan Rivers. It spends an exhaustive year with the comedienne, observing and highlighting her near single-minded drive, if not near obsessive compulsion, to work. Neither rain, nor sleet., nor snow, nor red-eye flights will keep her from performing. She has taken the concept of 'bus-and-truck' to a higher level, as private planes and limos whisk her to cities, towns, clubs, bookstores, anywhere that wants to see her. She simply doesn't say "No", but not before negotiating for as high of a fee as she can get.  The filmmakers were fortunate to be present during a period where Rivers was making something of a comeback, namely, before and during her appearance on "Celebrity Apprentice" and the near infamous "Comedy Central Roasts Joan Rivers".  Though the film does open with her bemoaning an empty engagement calendar, one does get the impression that it always fills up. There is also a little bit of biography included, but only as it is recounted by Rivers and not cut away as background information, which keeps the film anchored in the present, without going into "Biography" mode.  It ended with the directors and Joan Rivers appearing on stage to a rousing standing ovation.

The ensuing Q&A was really a launch pad for her material. There was, as can be expected at the Castro Theatre, the unfortunate, weepy fan ("I came all the way from Palo Alto and you changed my life and I would love a picture with you!" etc.) and the co-directors were fairly ignored by the audience, though Rachel Rosen was able to work them into the discussion of what it was like following Joan for a year.  Overall, it was an enjoyable way to end a festival.

The post-screening party was at 1015 Folsom, which is a bit small and awkwardly maneuverable for a crowd with plates and glasses, but I did not overstay my welcome there, and actually left before using the two drink tickets (drink tickets?! wtf??) we were given at the door, but not before spying upon some SFFS staffers and their surprising "dates"!  But that's for the gossip columns...!

Maxxxxx says re JOAN RIVERS...:  "Such a pretty bird!"

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

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