The online elements of this year’s re-imagined SFFILM Festival, in addition to opening up screenings for filmgoers from across the country, have been designed to allow for new ways for audiences to digitally connect with artists and other festival-goers through the SFFILM website.
Of the films selected for the Festival, six had received support in various stages of their development through SFFILM Makers—the organization’s artist development program designed to provide a support network for artists and fuel their knowledge of and relationships with the filmmaking landscape. In addition to the specific support given to those films, every Festival filmmaker was given an honorarium by SFFILM in recognition of the incredible challenges wrought by the past year.
The founding event of the nonprofit SFFILM, the SFFILM Festival returns reimagined after last year’s cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The year-round work of SFFILM continued despite the flagship event’s cancellation, providing virtual screenings and events, supporting filmmakers through grants and residencies, and bringing the process of filmmaking to students across the Bay Area.
Also announced were 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.
The New Directors Prize winner will receive a cash prize of $3,500, the McBaine Documentary Feature winner will receive $3,500 and the McBaine Bay Area Documentary Feature winner will receive $2,000. In addition to the narrative and documentary features in contention, the Golden Gate Awards will include competitors in short film categories and the Festival’s new mid-length film section. This unique section, defined as being for films with running times between 30 and 50 minutes, allows for the inclusion of stories often left out of Festivals due to scheduling complications.
Also new this year is the Critics Jury Award. The winner of this prize, selected by five esteemed members of the film criticism community, will receive a prize of $2,000.
The films eligible for the awards are noted within each Festival section below. Winners in all categories are selected by an independent jury, which can be found here. The award winners themselves will be announced at the Golden Gate Awards event on Saturday, April 17.
Full Festival Lineup
See the full lineup
Celebrate SFFILM Festival’s beginning, middle, and end with world-class filmmakers virtually and at our Drive-In and experience some of the most anticipated films of the year.
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.
CENTERPIECE: Socks on Fire, Bo McGuire, USA – NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
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.
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
American filmmakers reveal their inspired imaginations in a variety of genres in this selection of homegrown features.
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.
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.
The Festival’s US documentaries span an array of subjects, from the personal to the political and everything in between.
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
Not quite feature length and not quite a short—between 30 and 50 minutes long—SFFILM’s brand-new section packs a lot of storytelling in a slimmed-down form. All films eligible for Golden Gate Awards
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
Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Schools at the Festival program introduces students ages 6 to 18 to international film and the art of filmmaking while promoting media literacy, deepening insights into other cultures, enhancing foreign language aptitude, developing critical thinking skills, and inspiring a lifelong appreciation of cinema. This section is programmed exclusively for teachers and students.
- 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
SFFILM Festival’s curated programs present thought-provoking, inventive, and imaginative filmmaking in delicious, bite-sized form. Promising new storytellers will screen their work alongside short stories from established filmmakers.
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
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
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
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
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
- STRANGER STRINGS, Ava Saloman, USA – WORLD PREMIERE
- 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