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In Loco Parentis
A film still from In Loco Parentis by Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane

10 narrative feature films and 10 documentary feature films will compete for the Golden Gate Awards (GGAs), and nearly $40,000 in total prizes at this year’s 2017 San Francisco International Film Festival taking place April 5 to 19.

“The SF Film Society has been a champion of emerging and international filmmakers since its first edition 60 years ago,“ said Rachel Rosen, SF Film Society Director of Programming. “We continue to believe that festivals are in a unique position to advocate for films from a variety of cultures and viewpoints, often in languages other than our own. The Golden Gate Awards provide an opportunity to bring additional exposure and awareness to these artists and their work.”

The GGA New Directors Prize winner will receive a cash prize of $10,000, the GGA McBaine Documentary Feature winner will receive $10,000 and the GGA McBaine Bay Area Documentary Feature winner will receive $5,000.


Duet, Navid Danesh, Iran (North American Premiere)
After a Tehran musician instigates an encounter with his college girlfriend in an attempt to address the poor end their relationship suffered, their lives and the equilibrium of their spouses are thrown into existential crisis. Navid Danesh’s resonant and moving depiction of the impact the past has on the present lives of its protagonists is both culturally specific and universal in its reach.

Everything Else, Natalia Almada, Mexico/USA/France
Academy Award-nominee Adriana Barraza (Babel) gives a masterfully controlled performance as Doña Flor, a solitary bureaucrat whose lifelong service in a government office has left her markedly unsympathetic towards her clients. Shot with an attentive and deeply empathetic lens, documentarian Natalia Almada’s narrative debut is a starkly intimate portrait of a woman at odds with her life who may still have a chance to escape her isolation.

God’s Own Country, Francis Lee, UK
Filmed on the Yorkshire hillside where he grew up, Francis Lee’s debut feature tells the rich and sexy story of John Saxby, a hard-drinking lad who keeps his emotions in check until an irrepressible Romanian immigrant comes to help out on the family farm and upends the young man’s life. Full of gloriously captured details about the care and breeding of animals, God’s Own Country is one of the year’s most moving romantic dramas.

Godless, Ralitza Petrova, Bulgaria/Denmark/France
In post-Communist era Bulgaria, where the shadow of oppression drives selfish behavior and hidden economies, outwardly impassive Gana works as a home care nurse—a job which provides ample opportunity to supplement her income with stolen ID cards to maintain the morphine habit she shares with her boyfriend. When Gana’s actions threaten the one glimmer of hope in her fatalistic world, will she break the cycle of corruption or spiral deeper? Godless is a bold first feature from Ralitza Petrova.

Heaven Sent, Wissam Charaf, France/Lebanon
Absurdly funny sequences punctuate this stylized comedy drama from Lebanon. Omar is a heavyset bodyguard who gets the assignment of his dreams, protecting a gorgeous TV personality, though matters are complicated when his brother Omar, a former militiaman presumed dead, magically reappears. Charaf’s surprising and inventive debut reflects on a country rife with absurdities and still reeling from its fraught history.

The House of Tomorrow, Peter Livolsi, USA (World Premiere)
When a sheltered teen named Sebastian meets an aspiring punk rocker and falls for the boy’s older sister, the stage is set for a cheerful and energetic comedy that tackles matters of friendship, young love, and musical dreams with equal aplomb. Ellen Burstyn is once again wondrous as Sebastian’s grandmother who is devoted to the life and scientific work of Buckminster Fuller.

The Human Surge, Eduardo Williams, Argentina/Brazil/Portugal
Eduardo Williams has steadily made a name for himself with a series of indelible shorts featuring young protagonists adrift in strange environments. In his debut feature, a prizewinner at Locarno, he takes the premise further, crafting a dreamlike three-part drama where youths from Argentina, Mozambique, and the Philippines are connected by invisible, electronic, or even subterranean means. Consistently inventive, The Human Surge burrows into three continents and finds surprising associations.

Life After Life, Zhang Hanyi, China
As the inexorable progress of industrialization in China makes its way into the lives of village residents Mingchun and his son Leilei, a surprise haunting by Leilei’s dead mother, who has an impassioned plea for her husband, points to a time when more attention was paid to the earth and its bounty. Produced by Jia Zhang Ke, this evocative and poetic debut depicts a rapidly disappearing way of life with a gorgeous visual sensibility and a subtly wry humor.

Park, Sofia Exarchou, Greece/Poland
The formerly grand stadiums and swimming pools of the 2004 Athens Olympics have become modern-day Greek ruins, a place for disaffected kids who’ve come of age since the Games to run wild. First-time director Exarchou, working mostly with non-professional actors, develops a compellingly anarchic style where the threat of violence and socio-economic troubles are omnipresent and the young characters act out their frustrations through boisterous, sometimes dangerous, horseplay.

The Wedding Ring, Rahmatou Keïta, Niger/Burkina Faso/France (US Premiere)
The Wedding Ring is a rare achievement, a wondrously complex dramatic feature directed by an African woman that explores female desires and empowerment in a traditional Muslim society. Rahmatou Keïta tells the story of Tiyaa who returns to Niger with lingering romantic feelings for the handsome man she left behind in France while grappling with family members who wish to arrange her marriage.


Brimstone & Glory, Viktor Jakovleski, USA
Burning Man has nothing on Tultepec’s charging toritos and exploding castillos. Mexico’s weeklong National Pyrotechnic Festival is sheer unbridled madness. Scars that tourists take away from fireworks-exploding bulls and towering infernos are earned with pleasure, apparently, as this dynamic documentary keeps explanation to a minimum while maximizing the experiential through GoPro camera POVs and gorgeous abstractions. Filmmaker Viktor Jakovleski has created a visually rapturous, immersive, sensory experience of this extraordinary event, capturing the danger and mayhem in all its glory.

The Cage Fighter, Jeff Unay, USA (World Premiere)
With the emotional force and power of a Bruce Springsteen song, Jeff Unay’s cinema vérité portrait of Joe Carman packs an emotional wallop. A family man who has promised not to return to competitive mixed martial arts fighting, the dangerous sport that gives him the most complete sense of purpose he’s been able to find, Joe risks everything for one more chance in the ring.

The Challenge, Yuri Ancarani, France/Italy
Italian artist Yuri Ancarani melds his luminous cinematic vision with the ancient sport of Arab falconry in The Challenge, an evocative and visually dazzling portrait of a celebrated hunting competition set in the coastal deserts of Qatar. Modern technology, such as GPS, augments a practice dating to antiquity as participants track their prized raptors across the austere plains, reconnecting with desert custom in the shadow of a falcon’s wing.

The Cinema Travellers, Shirley Abraham, Amit Madheshiya, India
A moving homage to the bygone era of celluloid, The Cinema Travellers exquisitely captures the splendor of the moving image through India’s traveling movie caravans. Shot over five years, this intimate documentary takes the viewer on a cinematic journey joining the undaunted technicians, the projectionists who create movie magic, and the boisterous, overflowing crowd that await at each stop.

Donkeyote, Chico Pereira, Spain/Germany/UK
A Spanish man’s quest to defy barriers and borders in search of the American West by planning a journey on the Trail of Tears with his donkey by his side is its own quixotic trail of laughter and tears. The understanding between man and animal has rarely been so intimately conveyed as it is in Chico Pereira’s winning tale, a stunningly photographed film that hovers between documentary and fiction, one inspired and performed by a real-life character with outsized dreams.

The Force, Peter Nicks, USA
For the powerful second film in his trilogy concerning the relationship between public institutions and the communities they serve, Peter Nicks (The Waiting Room) takes a powerful, immersive look at the Oakland Police Department. Filming from 2014-2016 with astonishing access, Nicks captures a particularly turbulent time in Bay Area law enforcement history. Intended as a catalyst for conversation and change, Nicks’ empathetic and observational style avoids easy generalizations and upends expectations, resulting in a rich, thought provoking real-time conversation about social justice and the mutual responsibilities of police officers and those they serve and protect.

Half-Life in Fukushima, Mark Olexa, Francesca Scalisi, Switzerland/France
Five years after the devastating 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, elderly farmer Naoto Matsumura struggles to restore his life in the radioactive red zone, wandering through an empty dystopian nightmare of concrete ruins; abandoned, weed-filled facilities; contamination cleanup crews; and the haunting fragments of a city swept away by tsunami.  With minimal commentary and a graceful and sympathetic eye, Half-Life in Fukushima underlines the danger inherent in nuclear power in its depiction of Fukushima’s sinister remnants and Matsumura’s lonely last stand.

In Loco Parentis, Neasa Ní Chianáin, David Rane, Ireland/Spain
Irish filmmaker Neasa Nî Chianáin and David Rane present a charming and deeply intimate portrait of a year at Headfort boarding school in picturesque Kells, Ireland. Following devoted and wryly funny educators John and Amanda Leyden as they battle through another season of Latin, Shakespeare, and kids playing “Wild Thing,” In Loco Parentis shows how the level of attention and concern the teachers have for their students lead to remarkable transformations in everyone’s lives.

Muhi – Generally Temporary, Rina Castelnuovo-Hollander, Tamir Elterman, Israel/Germany (World Premiere)
Muhi, a cherubic Palestinian toddler with a life-threatening immune disorder, was transported to an Israeli hospital as a baby for emergency treatment. He and his devoted grandfather have lived there ever since, stuck in a bizarre no man’s land, with their extended family living on the other side of a fiercely guarded checkpoint. Their unique and moving story takes place within the crucible of the relentless Israeli-Palestinian conflict that impacts everyone in its orbit.

Serenade for Haiti, Owlsley Brown, USA
“Music is our refuge,” says a student at the Sainte Trinité Music School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Shot over a seven-year period both before and after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, this vibrant tribute to the students and teachers of Sainte Trinité testifies to the role that art can play in creating community and sustaining hope under the most difficult of circumstances.

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