San Francisco Film Festival Announces Competitive Lineup

Vivian Qu's "Trap Street"

The festival, which runs April 24 to May 8, will award nearly $40,000 in cash prizes.

The 57th San Francisco International Film Festival, which runs from April 24 to May 8, has announced the films in competition for its New Directors Prize, given to a narrative feature, and its Golden Gate Award, given to a documentary feature.

SFIFF will award nearly $40,000 in total cash prizes this year. The New Directors Prize of $10,000 will be given to a narrative first feature that exhibits "a unique artistic sensibility and deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible."

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The documentary feature winner will receive $10,000 and the Bay Area documentary feature winner will receive $5,000. A total of 25 countries are represented in his year’s competing feature films. Independent juries will select the winners, which will be announced at the Golden Gate Awards on May 7.

The competing films are:


The Amazing Catfish, Claudia Sainte-Luce, Mexico

Set in Guadalajara, The Amazing Catfish follows the quiet transformation of a solitary young woman informally adopted and absorbed into a rambunctious matriarchy in a state of crisis. Filmed by Claire Denis’ long-time cinematographer, Agnès Godard, Claudia Sainte-Luce’s debut feature, based loosely on events from her own life, blends a wry and moving naturalism with moments of inspired comedy.

The Blue Wave, Zeynep Dadak and Merve Kayan, Turkey/Germany/Netherlands/Greece

In this low-key, loosely plotted coming-of-age tale, a Turkish teenage girl wrestles with mood swings, unfocused restlessness, familial responsibilities, shifting friendships and romantic complications during a year of quiet tumult.

Difret, Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, Ethiopia

In a contemporary Ethiopian village, a 14-year-old girl is abducted from school in an attempt at forced marriage, a tradition in her community. Her efforts to free herself from a preordained future set off a legal firestorm in this powerful drama inspired by a true story that pits the law against an entrenched cultural mindset.

The Dune, Yossi Aviram, France/Israel

Delving into issues of identity and aging, this nuanced relationship drama portrays the personal crises faced by an aging gay cop in France and a younger Israeli man who is found on the beach, mute and without any identification.

History of Fear, Benjamín Naishtat, Argentina/France/Germany/Uruguay/Qatar

Paranoia runs rampant in this accomplished first feature, instilling a disorienting sense of dread in the viewer. Are the strange occurrences in an affluent Buenos Aires suburb evidence that the skittish residents are actually being targeted? Naishtat foregoes ready explanations or assurances in favor of foreboding suggestions in a film that is sprawling both in scope and implications but astonishingly exacting in its execution.

Manos Sucias, Josef Wladyka, USA/Colombia

A reluctant smuggler and his eager neophyte brother shepherd a dangerous narco-torpedo up the coast of Colombia, posing as fishermen. Paramilitary, guerrillas and hardscrabble desperation suffuse every inch of the jungle and waters that surround them, eager to separate the siblings from their only opportunity to escape the circumstances of their lives.

Of Horses and Men, Benedikt Erlingsson, Iceland/Germany

The relationship between man and beast is explored in a series of dryly humorous, linked episodes set in a small Icelandic hamlet. With its idiosyncratic portrait of village life, this remarkable debut features several unforgettable visual tableaux.

Salvation Army, Abdellah Taïa, Morocco

Adapting his autobiographical novel, director Abdellah Taïa tells the story of a gay Moroccan boy finding self-realization and personal strength within a society that shuns him. Shot by the brilliant Agnès Godard, the film takes the form of a diptych, telling the protagonist’s story in two different time periods and locales.

South Is Nothing, Fabio Mollo, Italy/France

Miriam Karlkvist took a well-deserved Shooting Star award at the Berlinale for her portrayal of an androgynous teenage girl negotiating life in a mafia-controlled town whose code of silence is destroying her family. Filmed in Reggio Calabria, this debut feature combines poetic realism with hard-edged cynicism.

Trap Street, Vivian Qu, China

What's it like to be a 21st-century young adult—with access to gadgets, the Internet and other high-tech conveniences—within China's surveillance state? First-time writer-director Vivian Qu's taut, slow-building noir cleverly uses a simple boy-meets-girl tale to unearth a hidden world of government control lurking just under the surface.

White Shadow, Noaz Deshe, Italy/Germany/Tanzania

Inspired by news reports of the ongoing perils faced by albinos in Tanzania, Noaz Deshe’s filmdepicts a fractured and uneasy world, where superstition and the rule of law collide. An albino youth named Alias must learn to navigate through a culture not just unsympathetic to his condition, but actively violent towards it.


Coast of Death, Lois Patiño, Spain

From the first entrancing images of trees being cut down in a fog-filled forest to the later blues of the sky and ocean fusing to erase the horizon, the always static frames of this documentary offer a meditative and prismatic view of Spain's much storied and dangerous "Coast of Death.”

The Last Season, Sara Dosa, USA

Every September, over 200 seasonal workers, many of them Cambodian, Lao, Hmong, Mien and Thai, descend upon the tiny town of Chemult, Oregon, to search the woods for the rare Matsuke, a fungus highly prized in Japan. This documentary examines the bond between two of these hunters, an elderly Vietnam vet and a survivor of the Khmer Rouge, during one unusually hard season.

The Overnighters, Jesse Moss, USA

Unemployed men and women across America want new oil jobs in North Dakota, but housing is at a premium. Enter Pastor Jay Reinke. Despite protests from his own congregation, he opens up his church to “overnighters”—people in search of a second shot at the American Dream. The film expertly and compassionately depicts the conflict between locals, these new residents and Pastor Reinke’s controversial policy.

Return to Homs, Talal Derki, Syria/Germany

Winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance, this dispatch from the besieged Syrian city of Homs is both an elegy and a call to action. Filmed between 2011 and 2013, it presents a visceral eyewitness account of the conflict as a peaceful uprising descends into civil war and idealistic young men are transformed into revolutionary martyrs. 

Soul Food Stories, Tonislav Hristov, Bulgaria/Finland

Muslim, Christian, Roma and atheist Communists live together peacefully in Satovcha, a Bulgarian village. They have differing theologies and politics, but are united by a love of food and the eternal mystery of being men and women. Beautifully shot, the film unfolds like a 10-course meal, with observations of food preparation and religious diversity laced into the recipes.

Stop the Pounding Heart, Roberto Minervini, USA/Italy/Belgium

This unique hybrid of documentary and narrative offers an evocative portrait of the quotidian lives of a devout young Christian goat farmer and the bullriding cowboy who lives nearby. As much a portrait of the East Texas town where they live as it is a relationship drama, the film combines ethnography and budding romance to compelling effect.

Three Letters from China, Luc Schaedler, Switzerland

Luc Schaedler's latest work presents distinct and illuminating portraits of contemporary life in China. Attentively observing life on a parched farm, a grim industrial zone, a rural village and a booming megacity, the documentary expressively reveals the upheaval and uncertainty of a rapidly changing nation through the deeply engrossing stories of its people.

We Come as Friends, Hubert Sauper, France/Austria

South Sudan may have declared its independence but that hasn't stopped multinationals and missionaries from laying claim to its natural resources and influencing its people's religious beliefs. Employing intrepid techniques and striking visuals, documentarian Hubert Sauper (Darwin's Nightmare) delivers another piercing examination of the human cost of neocolonialism that will provoke both thought and outrage.