The Salesman (Sébastian Pilote)

The 54th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 21 – May 5) will award close to $100,000 in total prizes this year. The New Directors Prize of $15,000 is given to a narrative first feature that exhibits a unique artistic sensibility and deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. Seventeen countries contributed to the production of the 11 films in this year’s competition. An independent jury will select the New Directors Prize winner, to be announced at the Golden Gate Awards Wednesday, May 4.

Official Selections 2011  
New Directors Feature Competition

Autumn, Aamir Bashir, India 2010
Mourning the disappearance of his older brother, a young man tries to make a life for himself in his violence-ridden home of Kashmir in this powerful depiction of the loss and psychological decay caused by 20 years of violent conflict.

Circumstance, Maryam Keshavarz,  
USA/France/Iran/Lebanon 2011
This debut feature is a riveting political drama and love story, and a Sundance Film Festival Audience Award winner, about a burgeoning romance between two young Iranian women and the fraught allegiances of a single Tehrani family.

The High Life, Zhao Dayong, China 2010   
US Premiere
Combining street realism and surprising artifice, the first fiction feature by the Chinese independent filmmaker of acclaimed documentaries Street Life and Ghost Town depicts hustlers, migrants, prisoners and others on the shabby outskirts of Guangzhou, where everyone is on the move but nobody seems to be getting anywhere.

The Journals of Musan, Park Jung-bum,  
South Korea 2010
North Korean defector Seung-chul is an unwanted refugee living on the harsh edges of Seoul. Bewildered by exploitative employers and cynical urbanites, he’s no good for business, just barely for church. A powerful realism underscores this prizewinning feature debut about the struggle to survive in a strange new world.

Kinyarwanda, Alrick Brown, USA/Rwanda 2010
Kinyarwanda tells the tale of genocide and reconciliation in Rwanda in the early to mid-’90s through a series of parallel and overlapping narratives from a variety of Tutsi and Hutu perspectives.

My Joy, Sergei Loznitsa,  
Germany/Ukraine/Netherlands 2010
A taciturn truck driver hits the pitted asphalt road for a journey into rural Russia and encounters with peculiar folk — an old man still plagued by the Great War, a teenage prostitute who shuns kindness, a trio of tramps who wander the wasteland like an unholy trinity — in this gripping and surprising guignol about a republic in decline.

The Place in Between, Sarah Bouyain,  
France/Burkina Faso 2010
In this simple but moving story of global displacement, a young biracial woman raised in France travels to Burkina Faso in search of the mother she hasn’t seen in many years. Having felt the outsider in Paris, Amy is now equally adrift in the city of her childhood. Meanwhile in Paris, an émigré from Burkina Faso who makes her living as a cleaner teaches the Dioula language to a white, middle-class office worker.  

The Salesman, Sébastian Pilote, Canada 2010
Featuring a remarkable central performance, The Salesman immerses us in the world of Marcel Lévesque, a quick-witted car salesman in a small, industrial Quebec town. Marcel has been salesman of the month for the last 16 years at the dealership where he has spent his career so he enthusiastically soldiers on despite the imminent shutdown of the local paper plant that employs most of the town’s residents.

She Monkeys, Lisa Aschan, Sweden 2011
While trying out for the equestrian vaulting team, Emma befriends the slightly older Cassandra, but almost immediately their friendship is complicated by misunderstandings, jealousies and escalating struggles for power in this provocative examination of emergent sexuality and adolescent female friendships.

Tilva Rosh, Nikola Lezaic, Serbia 2010
Bor, in eastern Serbia, was once home to the largest copper mine in Europe. Now it’s just the biggest hole in the ground. This astutely observed coming-of-age film expertly captures the pitfalls of the adult world, where idealism and hope no longer seem to have a place, as two teen skateboarders come to realize they have no choice but to grow up.

Ulysses, Oscar Godoy, Chile/Argentina 2011
World Premiere
The emotional life of a Peruvian immigrant in Chile is the subject of this nuanced character study of a man uprooted from home by economic necessity and suffering overwhelming loneliness and dislocation. He strives to improve his lot, but higher wages can’t fill the void created by separation from everything that is dear to him.

In addition to these 11 films in competition, the New Directors section of SFIFF54 includes 17 out-of-competition films, which will be announced at the Festival’s press conference Tuesday, March 29.

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