SFIFF Unveils Narrative & Doc Competition Slate

Ramon Zürcher's The Strange Little Cat

The San Francisco International Film Festival has unveiled its selections for its Narrative and Documentary competitions. For its 2013 festival, 10 narrative features from 12 countries will compete for the category's New Directors Prize, while 12 Documentaries from 10 countries will compete in the nonfiction section.

This year's Narrative competition features North American premieres Habi, the Foreigner by María Florencia Ávarez and German filmmaker Ramon Zürcher's The Strange Little Cat. Jeremy Teicher's Tall as the Baobab Tree is a U.S. debut in the section. Danish filmmaker Kaspar Astrup Schröder's Rent a Family Inc. and Finland's Mika Mattila's Chimeras are also U.S. premieres in the Documentary section, which will also feature a number of Sundance '13 titles including God Loves Uganda, Cutie and the Boxer and After Tiller. Additional docs and narrative features will be announced next month.

The 56th San Francisco International Film Festival takes place April 25 – May 9 and is organized by the San Francisco Film Society. The festival's announced competition lineups follow with information provided by organizers.

The Official Selection of the 2013 Narrative Feature Competition (New Directors Prize):

The Cleaner, Adrián Saba, Peru
As a mysterious epidemic eviscerates Lima's adult population -- but spares its children -- a solitary middle-aged forensic worker discovers an orphaned boy at one of his cleanup sites and decides to shelter the traumatized youth until he can find a relative to take him. As time passes, a subtle transformation takes hold of both man and child in this gently haunted and affecting study of social alienation and redemption.

Habi, the Foreigner, María Florencia Álvarez, Argentina/Brazil - North American Premiere
Highlighted by an impressive and subtle performance by Martina Juncandella, first-time director María Florencia Álvarez's film traces a 20-year-old woman's spontaneous attempt to create a new identity for herself as a Lebanese orphan in Buenos Aires. Sensitively examining the role of culture in self-definition, Habi, the Foreigner is a beguiling coming-of-age story detailing the feeling of being an outsider in your own land.

Memories Look at Me, Song Fang, China
In this strong feature debut, Song Fang directs and plays herself as she pays a visit to her parents at their home in Nanjing. Intimate and contemplative, Memories Look at Me muses on life, death and tradition while touching on the essence of family life with a mixture of melancholy and serenity.

Our Homeland, Yang Yonghi, Japan
Based on the director's own experience, this powerful drama tells the story of a family torn between Japan and North Korea. Rie, an ethnic Korean, lives with most of her family in Tokyo. The arrival of the family's son, repatriated 25 years earlier to North Korea, forces the family to navigate difficult political and emotional waters.

Present Tense, Belmin Söylemez, Turkey
A recent divorcée named Mina takes a job as fortune-teller, reading coffee grounds in a cafe, but longs to move to the U.S. Using her own personal experiences and frustrated dreams to inform her work, she offers penetrating psychological readings for her customers and develops a loyal following.

La Sirga, William Vega, Colombia/France/Mexico
Uprooted from her destroyed village by the armed conflict in Colombia, young Alicia tries to start a new life in La Sirga, a ramshackle inn on the shores of a great lake in the Andes highlands. The house belongs to her uncle Oscar, an old solitary hermit. There, on a swampy and murky beach, she will try to settle down until her fears and the threat of war resurface again.

The Strange Little Cat, Ramon Zürcher, Germany - North American Premiere
Initiated in a seminar taught by Béla Tarr and inspired by Kafka's Metamorphosis, this startling debut feature takes place almost entirely within the apartment of a family where relatives gather to prepare dinner, repair a washing machine and talk. With its quirky choreography of movement, sound and words, the film imbues the mundane with an odd sense of otherworldliness.

Tall as the Baobab Tree, Jeremy Teicher, USA/Senegal - U.S. Premiere
Working with local communities and non-professional actors playing roles that mirror their own lives, Jeremy Teicher tells the moving story of a teenage girl who hatches a plan to rescue her sister from an arranged marriage. The film is also the first full-length feature in the Pulaar language of Senegal.

They'll Come Back, Marcelo Lordello, Brazil    
A potent exploration of class and adolescence, They'll Come Back tells the story of Cris, a privileged 12-year-old who -- after being left on the side of the road as punishment for her and her brother's constant bickering -- embarks on a journey that will open her eyes to a world she never knew as she tries to find her way home.

Youth, Justine Malle, France
A nuanced portrait of identity coming into focus and a young woman willfully emerging from the shadow of a strong parent, the semi-autobiographical debut feature by the late, great Louis Malle's middle daughter follows an inexperienced college student (Esther Garrel, daughter of Philippe and sister of Louis) whose sexual awakening coincides with her filmmaker father's terminal diagnosis.

Official Selection of the 2013 Golden Gate Awards Documentary Feature Competition:

After Tiller, Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, USA
After the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas in 2009, there are now only four doctors left in the country who provide third-trimester abortions for women. After Tiller moves between the rapidly unfolding stories of these doctors, all of whom were close colleagues of Dr. Tiller and are fighting to keep this service available in the wake of his death.

Before You Know It, PJ Raval, USA
Before You Know It explores the fascinating, but until now, rarely seen world of aging gay men. This provocative, poignant and life-affirming documentary details the lives of three different and remarkable individuals, the joys and hardships they experience, the difficulties of aging and being overlooked and also the support and uplift they find in their particular communities.

Chimeras, Mika Mattila, Finland - U.S. Premiere
This revelatory and visually striking documentary follows a pair of political pop artists -- the hugely successful middle-aged painter and sculptor Wang Guangyi and the gifted young photographer Liu Gang -- as they grapple with their place and purpose in a new China of pervasive materialism and Western influence.

Cutie and the Boxer, Zachary Heinzerling, USA
After 39 years of marriage, painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko, have weathered many storms of creative conflict. Clearly the nurturer in the relationship, Noriko endeavors to support her fiery partner while also endeavoring to find space for her own artistic efforts. Capturing them both, at work and at play, the result is a skillfully crafted portrait of art and long-term companionship.

God Loves Uganda, Roger Ross Williams, USA/Uganda
A powerful exploration of the evangelical campaign to change African culture with values imported from America's Christian Right, the film follows American and Ugandan religious leaders fighting "sexual immorality" and missionaries trying to convince Ugandans to follow Biblical law.

Inori, Pedro González-Rubio, Japan
In the small mountain community of Kannogawa, Japan, the laws of nature reshape the human blueprint of what used to be a lively town. While the younger generations have gone to the cities, the few people who remain perform the everyday activities with a brave perspective on their history and the cycles of life.

The Kill Team, Dan Krauss, USA        
In this chilling documentary, Bay Area-based Dan Krauss (The Death of Kevin Carter: Casualty of the Bang Bang Club, Golden Gate Award winner, SFIFF 2005) explores the deeply disturbing story of U.S. soldiers, stationed in Afghanistan in 2009, who were convicted of murdering innocent civilians. Their motives, and the culture that enabled their crimes, are as complex as they are nightmarish.

Let the Fire Burn, Jason Osder, USA
In 1985, the Philadelphia Police Department dropped two pounds of military explosives on the house belonging to the radical black liberation group known as MOVE. Constructed entirely of archival materials and judicious intertitles, the film cannily juxtaposes startling images from the bombing, the resulting fire -- left to burn for over an hour -- and their aftermath to create a vivid portrait of a tragic injustice.
Rent a Family Inc., Kaspar Astrup Schröder, Denmark - U.S. Premiere
Filmmaker Kaspar Astrup Schröder's (The Invention of Dr. Nakamats, SFIFF 2009) alternately fetching, absorbing and offbeat documentary revolves around a 44-year-old Japanese family man who owns and operates a professional stand-in business that rents out fake relatives, spouses, friends and parents to a rapidly growing Japanese customer base "desperate...to cover up a secret."
A River Changes Course, Kalyanee Mam, Cambodia/USA
Bay Area filmmaker Kalyanee Mam presents an intimate and moving portrait of the vanishing world of rural farmers and fishermen in Cambodia. Focusing on three families in vivid cinéma vérité style, Mam reveals how the encroaching modern world is destroying the rich and sustaining cultures of the past and forcing the young to seek work in factories or plantations.

The Search for Emak Bakia, Oskar Alegria, Spain
In 1926, avant garde artist Man Ray shot a film titled Emak Bakia, a Basque expression that means "Leave me alone." Intrigued by the fanciful conundrums and coincidences of Ray and his art, filmmaker Oskar Alegría ignores Ray's dictum and sets out to plumb the mysteries of Emak Bakia, leading to an unforgettable journey of whimsical discoveries and charming surprises.

Sofia's Last Ambulance, Ilian Metev, Germany/Bulgaria/Croatia
On the front lines of a degraded emergency-care system in Sofia, Bulgaria, an over-extended, yet emphatically humane, paramedic crew hurtles frantically from one call to the next in a dilapidated ambulance. Filmed primarily through the lenses of three dashboard-mounted cameras, Sofia's Last Ambulance unfolds in a series of unflinching, real-time vignettes shot over the course of two years.

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