San Francisco International Film Festival: API Film Mini-Reviews


While the San Francisco International Film Festival has come and gone, here’s my take on a few films that caught my eye, and ones I hope will continue to make their rounds at upcoming festivals.

The Sheik and I

While a little slow to take off, Bay Area auteur Caveh Zahedi’s  new documentary is a worthy entry to his distinguished filmography. Its first half chronicles Zahedi’s attempt to create and exhibit a film commissioned by the Sheikh of Sharjah for the emirate’s biennial. His attempts to make an irreverent, somewhat insensitive, button-pushing film are met with resistance in his conservative, monarchic host country, and he begins asking people “why?”, though he damn well knows the answer. Like most of his films, “The Sheik and I” gets good when it gets uncomfortable, and it wrestles with some pretty interesting questions. Is Zahedi, himself an Arab American, creating a film that pokes fun at stereotypes, or is he reinforcing them? Is he really as naively “ugly American” as he acts, or is he, as he lets on at one point in the film, somewhat familiar with how the culture actually works? And as it becomes increasingly clear that his film will cause problems, what is his responsibility to his collaborators in Sharjah? And theirs to him? While he does a worthy job of taking on a big issues like censorship, the film’s best moments concern the formation and dissolution of Zahedi’s friendships with these collaborators. He seems a bit callous to their concerns about stereotyping and even, to an extent, their personal safety, and they seem a bit disingenuous in their stated commitment to art and freedom of speech (and often don’t seem to be telling Zahedi the whole story). While I would have liked to know more about these people and Zahedi’s relationship to them, it has enough laughs and twists to be well-worth watching.

Keep an eye out for upcoming screenings: here.


The Anabasis of May and Fusako Shigenobu, Masao Adachi, and 27 Years Without Images

This documentary tells the story of three people involved with the radical Japanese Red Army, Masao Adachi, a New Wave filmmaker turned revolutionary, Fusako Shigenobu, the group’s founder, and her daughter May, who spent most of her life on the lam in the Middle East. This film doesn’t do a great job communicating historical information the way one typically expects from a documentary, but I don’t really think that’s the point. The film has loftier goals, functioning more as a discussion about the power of images and the relationship between political art and political action. In that sense, it succeeds, illustrating its interviews with beautiful, sometimes abstract, or deliberately contradictory images. A thoughtful, compelling film, but not a great place to start if you’re interested in the Red Army’s history.


Golden Slumbers

Artfully crafted and sincere, “Golden Slumbers” is a touching tribute to the 15 years of Cambodian cinema that were lost in the Khmer Rouge genocide. The film, lovingly directed by Davy Chou, grandson of golden era Khmer cinema producer Vann Chan, introduces us to surviving actors, filmmakers, producers and fans and lets us experience, through them, the sense of discovery, adventure, and accomplishment that creating and watching the films inspired. It does a terrific job of balancing honoring the films and their creators with depicting the enduring sense of loss caused by their destruction. Highly recommended.

For upcoming screenings, including the Sydney International FIlm Festival, June 6 to 17, visit the film’s blog.

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