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San Francisco Film Festival Unveils Lineup, Serious to Quirky

The San Francisco International Film Festival announced its lineup yesterday for the 55th edition of the event, scheduling movies from almost everywhere in the world except one place: Hollywood.

In addition to screening 72 features, 33 documentaries and 69 shorts, the longest-running film festival in North America will present its director’s award to Kenneth Branagh, whose work behind the camera ranges from Shakespeare’s “Henry V” to “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” to 2007’s “Sleuth.”

The festival’s organizers at the San Francisco Film Society are still recovering from the one-two punch of losing two executive directors in the past year. Graham Leggat, who ran the society for six years and expanded it to a year-round programming body, died of cancer in August. His successor, October Films co-founder Bingham Ray, died from a stroke in January while attending the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

“It’s been a very challenging year for us,” said Rachel Rosen, the society’s director of programming, at a news conference yesterday. “The best revenge is to put on the best festival we can for Graham and Bingham.”

The two-week event opens April 19 with a screening of “Farewell, My Queen,” Benoit Jacquot’s portrait of Versailles during the French Revolution, staring Diane Kruger as Marie Antoinette and Lea Seydoux as her confidant.

Noir Coppola

Other high-profile features include Francis Ford Coppola’s “Twixt,” a mystery yarn starring Val Kilmer, and Michael Winterbottom’s “Trishna,” a reworking of Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the d’Ubervilles” that’s set in India.

Quirkier offerings range from “OK, Enough, Goodbye,” a Lebanese comedy about a pastry shop owner who searches for a substitute mother, and “Women With Cows,” a Swedish documentary about two aging sisters and their four-legged companions.

The broad-ranging documentary lineup includes portraits of dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, political wife Ethel Kennedy (directed by her youngest daughter, Rory), legendary Vogue magazine editor Diana Vreeland, architect and inventor Buckminster Fuller, performance artist Marina Abramovic and former National Hockey League star Chris “Knuckles” Nilan of the Montreal Canadiens.

The Nilan movie is directed by Alex Gibney, who won an Academy Award in 2007 for “Taxi to the Dark Side,” about the Afghanistan war.

The festival will present 31 features in the World Cinema series, competitions for documentaries and for first- or second- time directors, midnight screenings, panel discussions, lectures and parties.

After it’s all over on May 3, the film society will focus on finding a new executive director. Pat McBaine, president of the board, said yesterday that a search has begun and “we have met with a few people.”

“Our primary goal is to deliver an outstanding festival, then work on the search in May,” he said.

(Stephen West is an editor for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen West in San Francisco at smwest@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net

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