So 54 might not be a big anniversary, but it's still the oldest film fest in the Americas, and it's Graham Leggat's fifth anniversary leading the show, and there was quite a bit of adulation for him. I'll echo that he deserves it all, but also add the most important bit. We can talk about how the staff has increased, how the year-round program has expanded, how the budget (and revenue, keeping the budget balanced) have multiplied. But the most important thing is that the quality of films--he has had a marked affect on that, and has kept the quality high the hole time. None of the rest would matter if SFIFF played shitty films.
And that leads into the opening night film, BEGINNERS. A very autobiographical comedy/drama about a man whose mother dies and then his 75 year old father comes out of the closet. Ewan McGregor plays Oliver, the semi-substitute of director Mike Mills, and Christopher Plummer plays his dying father. The movie jumps around in time, showing Oliver as a child, as a sad son watching his father die, and as a still sad man finding new love with a French actress. And all that sadness makes the movie sound terribly depressing. But that's the key--it's actually absurdly funny. It's the story of a guy who is naturally so witty and absurd (likely from the influence pf his father) that he can't help but joke even in his saddest moments. He hears his dog (the scene-stealing Cosmo in the role of Arthur) talking to him (the subtitle gag is perfect), he plays a depressed Sigmund Freud at a costume party, he makes darkly satiric cartoons about the history of sadness (when it was supposed to just be album cover art). I don't need a dying gay dad to understand masking depression with humor or failing at love--those things are universal.
Ewan McGregor hadn't actually seen the film, and the plan was for him to see it with us. But his flight from Paris was delayed (something about leaking fuel) and by the start of the movie he had only made it as far as Los Angeles. So he still hasn't (or at least, as of last night, hadn't) seen the film, but he did make a dramatic entrance in the middle of the Q&A. Pretty cool. He and Mills certainly seem like they formed quite a friendship during the film, and apparently he and Cosmo did, too. In fact, McGregor said he'd never owned a dog before but after working with Cosmo he had to go out and get a dog after the shoot (same size and color, different breed from Cosmo). He also pointed out that the old actor's adage about never working with children or animals isn't because they're hard to work with, it's a vanity thing that children and animals will upstage you. And as much as Cosmo upstaged McGregor he seemed totally cool with it.
Oh, and for my regular readers who are wondering why I'm writing so much about the dog, let me assure you--there were a couple of brief bunny rabbit scenes, too, it's just the dog was so important.
Then a little after party action. Allow me to welcome Grolsch as the new beer sponsor (and opening night party sponsor) of the festival, replacing the long relationship with Stella Artois. Stella, it's been fun but I'm with someone new, now. Anyway, I had a few beers, chatted with a few film fans, and generally the vibe was this was a great movie to play opening night. Usually you can find a few naysayers who think opening night was "too commercial" and they only played it because they could get the big star. I'm sure those naysayers are out there, but everyone I ran into last night genuinely thought the film was great.
Running Time: 104 minutes
My Total Minutes: 232,207