Naked Singularity directed by Chase Palmer
Naked Singularity directed by Chase Palmer (Courtesy of SFFILM)

San Francisco International Film Festival unveiled the 103 films for the 2021 Festival set to take place online and in-person events, with digital screenings being hosted through the SFFILM website and live screenings and performances at the Fort Mason Flix drive-in theater. The 2021 Festival will run April 9–18.

The Festival’s diverse film lineup is made up of 42 feature films, 56 short films, and, new to the Festival this year, five mid-length films. 13 films will be making their world premiere with an additional 15 making their North American premiere. The lineup includes films from 41 countries around the world. Among the full Festival lineup, 57% of the films were helmed by female filmmakers and 57% by BIPOC filmmakers.

Things kick off on April 9 with the Opening Night World Premiere screening of Naked Singularity from director Chase Palmer. The film, which will be shown online and at the drive-in, stars John Boyega, Olivia Cooke, Bill Skarsgård, and Ed Skrein, and focuses on an impassioned public defender (Boyega) who stumbles into a drug heist while his reality collapses all around him.

The Festival Centerpiece film this year will be Bo McGuire’s Socks on Fire. The documentary, making its North American premiere, tells the personal story of the filmmaker exploring old family wounds between his homophobic aunt and drag queen uncle. It will be shown both online and at a live drive-in event on April 10, with the in-person screening accompanied by a drag show featuring local performers and emceed by director Bo McGuire.

The Festival will wrap up on April 18 with both an online and drive-in screening of the Closing Night film, Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street. This fascinating documentary delves into the origins of the beloved children’s show Sesame Street. With humor, never-before-seen footage, and special guests, Street Gang explores the ongoing emotional resonance of this ubiquitous series.

In addition to these films, the Festival will include drive-in screenings, accompanied by additional interactive activations, for the feature films Censor, the North American Premiere of The Dry, Homeroom, Lily Topples the World, Strawberry Mansion, and the World Premiere of Supercool. Additional drive-in programming, including an exciting live Music + Film program, will be announced in the coming days.

The festival also announced the recipients of the George Gund III Craft of Cinema Award and the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award. Each of these awards honors filmmakers or institutions who have made notable contributions to the art of filmmaking.

This year the George Gund III Craft of Cinema Award is being given to Peter Nicks, director of Homeroom, which is showing in the Documentaries: US section. An Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, Nicks is also the Executive Director of Open’hood, a nonprofit dedicated to exploring complex social issues through nonfiction storytelling. Homeroom is the third film in a trilogy investigating Oakland, CA, institutions. Previous recipients include Claude Jarman Jr., Ray Dolby, and Maurice Kanbar.

This Festival’s Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award (POV) award is being presented to Dash Shaw, writer and director of Cryptozoo, part of the Narratives: US section. In addition to being a filmmaker, Shaw is a comic book writer and artist, and animator. Prior to being selected to play at the 2021 San Francisco International Film Festival, Cryptozoo won the Sundance Film Festival NEXT Innovator Award. Previous recipients include Barbara Kopple, Don Hertzfeltd, and Guy Maddin.

2021 San Francisco International Film Festival Lineup

Big Nights

OPENING NIGHT: Naked Singularity, Chase Palmer, USA – WORLD PREMIERE
John Boyega cements his leading-man status as an impassioned public defender who stumbles into a drug heist while his reality collapses all around him.

Family tensions flare in this tenderly wrought film, as the filmmaker explores old family wounds between his homophonic aunt and drag queen uncle.

CLOSING NIGHT: Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street, Marilyn Agrelo, USA
This fascinating documentary delves into the origins of the beloved children’s show, Sesame Street. With humor, never before-seen footage, and special guests, Street Gang explores the ongoing emotional resonance of this ubiquitous series.

Narratives: International
From a movie theater in Bucharest, Romania, to a teeming marketplace in Lagos, Nigeria, and many more points around the globe, our international features bring the world to you.

Abou Leila, Amin Sidi-Boumédiène, Algeria/France/Qatar
Reality becomes increasingly tenuous in this intense, phantasmagoric drama when childhood friends visit the Sahara – one in pursuit of a terrorist – during Algeria’s bloody civil war.

Censor, Prano Bailey-Bond, UK
Film censor Enid’s concern over protecting the public turns into a chilling obsession when one particular horror movie strikes a chord with her past.

Dance of the 41, David Pablos, Mexico/Brazil
Based on true events, Dance of the 41 is the forbidden love story between a politician and a lawyer that became a society scandal that roiled early 20th-century Mexico. Critics Jury Award Eligible

The Dry, Robert Connolly, Australia
Based on Jane Harper’s bestseller, this riveting Aussie mystery stars Eric Bana as an investigator burrowing into a brutal murder-suicide involving a childhood friend.

Fauna, Nicolás Pereda, Mexico
Issues of representation and performance take center stage in Pereda’s wry feature about a couple – one a Narcos: Mexico actor – on a road trip to visit her dysfunctional family. Critics Jury Award Eligible

A Leave, Lee Ran-hee, South Korea – NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
The employer/employee relationship is explored with great nuance in the story of a middle-aged man who witnesses an accident at his job. Golden Gate New Directors Competition

Nudo Mixteco, Angeles Cruz, Mexico
Converging around a Mexican village’s yearly festival, this powerful drama depicts the upheaval created when three people who left return home in this tense, empathetic drama. Critics Jury Award Eligible

Overclockers, Michal Wnuk, Poland – NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
Inventing a next-generation blimp is the goal of the brilliant but poor young aviator in this buoyant drama of friendship, romance, and the science of aeronautics. Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science on Screen selection

The Perfect Candidate, Haifaa Al Mansour, Saudia Arabia/Germany
A female physician challenges Saudi Arabia’s patriarchal society when she runs for local office in Haifaa Al Mansour’s pointed but buoyant and hopeful drama.

Poppy Field, Eugen Jebeleanu, Romania/France
This explosive drama explores how a Romanian policeman’s hidden life impacts his response to a protest at a Bucharest cinema over a film with queer content. Golden Gate New Directors Competition

Skies of Lebanon, Chloé Mazlo, France – NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
Rich with whimsy and drama, this beautifully deft romance sets the relationship between a Swiss woman and her Lebanese astrophysicist husband against Lebanon’s civil war. Golden Gate New Directors Competition

Son of Monarchs, Alexis Gambis, USA/Mexico
A butterfly researcher in the US returns to his home in Michoacán where he reconnects with family and friends in this rich and romantic visual tapestry. Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science on Screen selection, Critics Jury Award Eligible

This Is My Desire, Arie Esiri/Chuko Esiri, Nigeria
Using a dual storyline format to portray life in Lagos, this moving drama’s protagonists dream of emigration and flight from the teeming city. Golden Gate New Directors Competition

Tove, Zalda Bergroth, Finland
Shimmering portrait of the irrepressible bisexual artist and illustrator Tove Jansson, writer and illustrator of the globally beloved Moomins children’s book series.

Valley of Souls, Nicolás Rincón Gille, Colombia/Belgium/Brazil/France
Actor Arley de Jesús Carvallido Lobo is unforgettable in this powerful drama as a fisherman searching for his sons’ bodies after paramilitaries abduct them during Colombia’s civil conflict.

The Whaler Boy, Phillipp Yuryev, Russia/Belgium/Poland – NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
The internet brings the outside world to an isolated Russian whaling village in this involving coming-of-age tale shot through with offbeat humor and surprising pathos. Golden Gate New Directors Competition

Narratives: US

Cryptozoo, Dash Shaw, USA
Funny, sexy, and ambitious, Shaw’s hand-drawn feature captivates a far-out story of mythological creatures and the brave souls trying to protect them from harm. SFFILM Supported

Holler, Nicole Riegel, USA
Focusing on promising high-school graduate Ruthie, this coming-of-age drama is a deeply compassionate portrait of the day-to-day struggles present in America’s rust belt. Golden Gate New Directors Competition

Home, Franka Potente, Germany/Netherlands – NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
Seventeen years after committing a heinous crime, Marvin returns home, attempting to pick up the pieces of his life and find redemption before he loses his last living family member.

I’M FINE (Thanks for Asking), Kelley Kali/Angelique Molina, USA
Single mom Danny races through COVID-era Pacoima, CA, on roller skates to try to amass an apartment deposit in this poignant and humorous debut. Golden Gate New Directors Competition

Ma Belle, My Beauty, Marion Hill, USA/France
Against the backdrop of a sun-drenched summer in Southern France, a surprise reunion stirs up old memories between two women who were once polyamorous lovers.

Strawberry Mansion, Kentucker Audley/Albert Birney, USA
Whimsical and unique, this story of a dream auditor falling in love with the woman he’s scrutinizing depicts the priceless sanctuary of imagination.

Supercool, Teppo Airaksinen, USA – WORLD PREMIERE
After Neil undergoes a magical transformation, he and his best friend Gilbert make unexpected alliances that cause pure mayhem in this hilariously profane, teens-gone-wild comedy.

Documentaries: International
With international travel somewhat curtailed, these scintillating works of global storytelling take viewers to India, Iran, Antarctica, and other far-flung locales.

Captains of Zaatari, Ali El Arabi, Egypt – NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
Syrian teens Fawzi and Mahmoud come of age amidst a refugee camp’s harsh conditions, forging a friendship over soccer and shared questions about love in this captivating documentary. Golden Gate Documentary Feature Competition

Cuban Dancer, Roberto Salinas, Italy/Canada/Chile
Tremendous dance sequences and a teenager’s extraordinary talent drive this captivating documentary as a top Cuban ballet student emigrates and begins to study anew in Florida. Schools at the Festival Inclusion

The Last Autumn, Yrsa Roca Fannberg, Iceland
Director Yrsa Roca Fannberg’s intimate documentary observes a husband and wife’s final season tending their beloved flock on an isolated Icelandic sheep farm.

Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliche, Paul Sng/Celeste Bell, UK/USA
Raucous music adorns this deep dive into the life of Poly Styrene, frontwoman of the pioneering English punk rock band, X-Ray Spex.

Radiograph of a Family, Firouzeh Khosrovani, Iran/Norway/Switzerland – NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
Iranian filmmaker Firouzeh Khosrovani investigates her parents’ unusual marriage between a secular man and devout Muslim woman in this poetic documentary steeped in bittersweet history. Golden Gate Documentary Feature Competition

Seyran Ateş: Sex, Revolution and Islam, Nefise Özkal Lorentzen, Norway – NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
A rich portrait of Turkish-German radical feminist, lawyer, and imam, Seyran Ateş unfolds like a rose in a documentary that limns a life devoted to reforming Islam. Golden Gate Documentary Feature Competition

The Spokeswoman, Luciana Kaplan, Mexico
Maria de Jesús Patricio, known as Marichuy, is the first indigenous woman to run for president of Mexico. This powerful documentary follows her fraught campaign, detailing the intricacies of Mexican politics and the critical issues facing the indigenous population. Critics Jury Award Eligible

Writing With Fire, Rintu Thomas/Sushmit Ghosh, India
A trio of fearless female journalists expose rampant sexism and corruption in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in this moving and triumphant documentary. Golden Gate Documentary Feature Competition, Schools at the Festival Inclusion, SFFILM Supported

Zumiriki, Oskar Alegria, Spain
How do you relive a memory? Oskar Alegria revisits a place from his childhood and tries to answer that question in this poetic and pastoral documentary.

Documentaries: US

After Antarctica, Tasha Van Zandt, USA/Canada – WORLD PREMIERE
Thirty years after leading the first-ever coast-to-coast expedition across the frigid continent to bring attention to climate change, renowned explorer Will Steger recalls that thrilling adventure. Golden Gate Bay Area Documentary Competition, SFFILM Supported

Homeroom, Peter Nicks, USA
Peter Nicks celebrates the resilience and grit of Oakland High School’s class of 2020 during a year of extraordinary challenges with this compelling and immersive documentary. Schools at the Festival Inclusion

In the Same Breath, Nanfu Wang, USA/China
Meticulously documenting the origin and spread of COVID-19, Nanfu Wang’s fourth feature captures the collective trauma of this global pandemic while also celebrating human resilience. Golden Gate Documentary Feature Competition

Lily Topples the World, Jeremy Workman, USA
A young girl’s passion for building and toppling vivid domino creations leads her to YouTube stardom and a career as an artist and entrepreneur. Schools at the Festival Inclusion

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It, Mariem Pérez Riera, USA
Film clips galore unreel on screen as the indomitable Rita Moreno recalls her dramatic, topsy-turvy life and 70-year film career in this hugely entertaining documentary.

Unseen Skies, Yaara Bou Melhem, USA/Australia – WORLD PREMIERE
Contemporary artist Trevor Paglen prepares his most ambitious project to date in this intimate and stunningly beautiful journey inside his mind and art. Golden Gate Documentary Feature Competition

We Are as Gods, David Alvarado/Jason Sussberg, USA
Stewart Brand, Bay Area icon and founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, continues to shape culture and technology through his progressive and unconventional approach to the environment and wildlife conservation. Golden Gate Bay Area Documentary Competition, SFFILM Supported

Mid-Length Films

Cloudscape, Sofia Gallisá Muriente, Puerto Rico – NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma, Topaz Jones/Jason Sondock/Simon Davis,
Mum Is Pouring Rain, Hugo de Faucompret, France – NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE – Schools at the Festival Inclusion
Sing Me a Lullaby, Tiffany Hsiung, Canada
Tales of the Accidental City, Maïmouna Jallow, Kenya – WORLD PREMIERE

Schools at the Festival

Acorns: Tonko House Presentation, Presented by Bradley Furnish, Toshi Nakumura, and Ryusuke Villemin
Art & Science of Lucasfilm: ILM Art Department, Presented by Tyler Scarlet
Calamity, A Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary, Rémi Chayé, France/Denmark
City of Ghosts: Netflix Presentation, Elizabeth Ito, USA
My Octopus Teacher, Pippa Ehrlich/James Reed, USA

Short Films

Shorts 1
This collection of narrative and new vision shorts shines a tender light on society’s frictions, from single parenting in a new country to patriarchal workplaces to the stresses of a job interview. At the end of it all, we are met with a bid for how we might persevere. This program features work from Germany, Ghana, the US, Lithuania, Hong Kong, Canada, and Greece. Contains content that may be sensitive to some viewers.

Bambirak, Zamarin Wahdat, Germany
Benjamin, Benny, Ben, Paul Shkordoff, Canada
Da Yie, Anthony Nti, Belgium/Ghana
Doretha’s Blues, Channing Godfrey Peoples, USA
Dummy, Laurynas Bareiša, Lithuania
The End of Suffering (a proposal), Jacqueline Lentzou, Greece
Signal 8, Simon Liu, Hong Kong

Shorts 2
Featuring a boy’s first summer fasting for Ramadan, a face-off with a comically seedy insurance agent, and a chance romantic encounter on a late-night train, this fun group of narrative and animated shorts finds joy in the particularities of experience. This program features work from France, the US, and Sweden.

Blue Fear, Lola Halifa-Legrand/Marie Jacotey, France
Freezerburn, Sarah Rattay-Maloney, USA
The Night Train, Jerry Carlsson, Sweden
Summer Fasting, Abdenoure Ziane, France
Wiggle Room, Julia Baylis/Sam Guest, USA

Shorts 3
With care and diligence, these filmmakers have created life-affirming documentary and new visions shorts that tell a wide range of stories about reconstructing memories, art therapy, call centers in Mexico, and old friends. As a whole, these films address feelings of loss and the comfort we can find in one another. This program features work from France, Mexico, and the US.

Ale Libre, Maya Cueva, USA
Dial Home, César Martínez Barba, USA/Mexico – WORLD PREMIERE
If You Hum at the Right Frequency, Daniel Freeman, USA – WORLD PREMIERE – SFFILM Supported
Maalbeek, Ismaël Joffroy Chandoutis, France
Mr. Wild, Caleb Wild, USA
Since you arrived, my heart stopped belonging to me, Erin Semine Kökdil, USA – WORLD PREMIERE – SFFILM Supported
Wavelengths, Jesse Zinn, USA – NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE

Shorts 4
This selection of documentary shorts features flocks of wildfire-fighting sheep, the pursuit of happiness on behalf of a pet turtle, and a prison art activation from a renowned artist. Together, the films explore the effect of people and animals on their immediate environments, and their environments’ effect on them.

American Wildlife, Elizabeth Lo, USA – WORLD PREMIERE
Halpate, Adam Khalil/Adam Piron, USA
Last Days at Paradise High, Derek Knowles/Emily Thomas, USA
Shepherd’s Song, Abby Fuller, USA
Snowy, Alex Wolf Lewis/Kaitlyn Schwalje, USA
Tehachapi, JR/Tasha Van Zandt, USA

Shorts 5
These beautifully crafted animated shorts tell deeply personal stories of father-daughter relationships, impending unrest, and finding solace. These films push the form with a shockingly artful eye. This program features work from Canada, Italy, France, China, Portugal, and the UK.

The Fire Next Time, Renaldho Pelle, UK
In the Shadow of the Pines, Anne Koizumi, Canada
Sogni al Campo, Mara Cerri/Magda Guidi, France/Italy
Step Into the River, Weijia Ma, China/France
TIE, Alexandra Ramires, Portugal

Shorts 6: Family Shorts
This diverse collection of stories is sure to please the smallest members of your family, along with the young at heart and everyone in-between. Featuring a deeply moving documentary exploring race in America, a delicately animated adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen classic, and a vertically challenged dinosaur longing to give his best friend a comforting embrace. Recommended for ages 5 and up. Part of the Schools at the Festival Program

Broken Bird, Rachel Harrison Gordon, USA
A Concerto Is a Conversation, Kris Bowers/Ben Proudfoot, USA
Intermission, Freddie Claire/Simon de Glanville/Alice Jones, UK
Kapaemahu, Dean Hamer/Joe WIlson/Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, USA
The Magical Forest and the Things, Dave Russo, USA
Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug, Galen Fott, USA – WORLD PREMIERE
To: Gerard, Taylor Meacham, USA
Tulip, Andrea Love/Phoebe Wahl, USA
Us Again, Zach A. Parrish, USA

Shorts 7: Youth Works
Young filmmakers from throughout the world offer up fresh and daring voices in this selection of narrative, documentary, and animated films. From a lighthearted and comedic vision of the apocalypse to a documentary about working and living in Kozan, Adana, Turkey, to earnest treatises on growing up through the COVID-19 pandemic, these films are an introduction to the cinematic future. Part of the Schools at the Festival Program

A Cure for Humanity, Jared Fontecha/Iziyah Robinson, USA
Greta, Sofie Verweyen , USA
I hate winters., Shivesh Pandey, India – WORLD PREMIERE
Ilea, Samuel Correa, USA
Just as I am, Arianna Azzaro, Italy – NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
Kozan, İlayda İşeri, Turkey – NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
A Loco Vivid Dream, Marak Ścibior, Poland
Music for the End of the World, Emmanuel Li, UK
Through Their Eyes, Alisha Heng, USA
What’s That Sound, Tanya Cyster, USA – WORLD PREMIERE

Shorts Paired with Mid-Lengths
These shorts screening before Mid-Length selections inspire and enhance, creating synergistic pairings of bold storytelling.

Al-Sit, Suzannah Mirghani, Sudan/Qatar
Dear Philadelphia, Renee Maria Osubu, UK/USA
Here, Here, Joanne Cesario, Philippines – NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
The Snail and the Whale, Max Lang/Daniel Snaddon, UK
We have one heart, Katarzyna Warzecha, Poland
Zog and the Flying Doctors, Sean Mullin, UK

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