10 Films at San Francisco International Film Festival 2022 We’re Looking Forward To

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10 Films at San Francisco International Film Festival 2022 We’re Looking Forward To

If it seems a little stunning that the San Francisco International Film Festival should be gearing up for its 65th edition to begin this weekend, it should—it’s the longest running film festival in the Americas, the granddaddy, as it were. This year’s edition will feature more than 130 films from 56 countries, including Opening Night film and North American premiere Stay Awake, and Closing Night film and Sundance favorite Cha Cha Real Smooth.

Special guests will include Michelle Yeoh, who will be given a special tribute and interviewed onstage by Sandra Oh; Jim Gaffigan, who stars in the Sloan Award-winning Linoleum and Cha Cha Real Smooth’s Dakota Johnson.

Here are ten films we’re especially looking forward to:

32 Sounds

Director: Sam Green


Immerse yourself in sound and cinema with this exploration of the auditory aspect of film through 32 sound experiences encompassing everything from a lonely bird’s mating call to a Zamboni gliding over an ice rink to the comforting sound of a cat’s purr. Festival favorite Sam Green (The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, Festival 2012; A Thousand Thoughts: A Live Documentary by Sam Green and Kronos Quartet, Festival 2018) returns with this absorbing documentary, a poem in audio and images that blends art and science and may just change the way you perceive not only cinematic sound but those things you hear every day. The filmmaker narrates with a live score by JD Samson.

This film is a perfect example of why we need film festivals in our lives—it’s extremely doubtful it will ever make it to your local multiplex, and it’s not going to be the same experience watching in your living room. Especially without that live score being performed. This might be our #1 priority for the whole fest.

Both Sides of the Blade

Director: Claire Denis

Master director Claire Denis reunites with Juliette Binoche to tell the passionate story of a woman torn between two men. Binoche plays radio host Sara, currently married to Jean (Vincent Lindon), a former rugby star. When her ex-lover, François (Gregoire Colin), re-enters their orbit with a job offer for Jean and a romantic reconnection with Sara, the ensuing emotional turmoil wreaks havoc on all their lives. Female passion has long fascinated Denis, depicted in films that veer comedic (Let the Sunshine In, 2017; Nenette and Boni , Festival 1996) or more dramatic (Friday Night, Festival 2002). Both Sides of the Blade is in the latter vein, as the actors traverse the landscapes of their characters’ hearts with all the heat that the title implies. Frequent collaborator Stuart Staples of Tindersticks provides the evocative score.

Claire Denis might not be well known to casual American filmgoers, but the Beau Travail filmmaker is one of the great French filmmakers of her generation. Still going strong at 75, each new film we get from her is a gift. And any film starring Juliette Binoche is a film we’ll line up to see.

Cha Cha Real Smooth

Director: Cooper Raiff

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Andrew is a sweet, talkative, and deeply ambivalent 22-year-old. Fresh out of college and living with his mother (Leslie Mann), Andrew finds his reckless charm makes him the ideal go-to party starter for the bar and bat mitzvahs in his Long Island hometown. Andrew soon befriends single mother, Domino (Dakota Johnson), and her daughter Lola, and their lives become deeply entwined during the endless revelry of coming-of-age parties. As Andrew falls for a home life that has no room for him, he is forced to face his desires and motives. Cooper Raiff writes, directs, produces, and stars in this hilarious, unexpected, and buoyant story about the people we love and the loves that define us.

We saw this one at Sundance and can’t recommend it highly enough. In every festival, you need a film that’s a breath of fresh air, a break from the often-heavy festival fare. This is our top choice for that movie in this fest. It’s funny and sweet and heartfelt without being treacly. Johnson is superb in her role, and Cooper Raiff is about to be a big star.

Emily the Criminal

Director: John Patton Ford

The future looms like a brick wall for Emily (Aubrey Plaza), crippled by student loan debt and with her job prospects stymied by an assault conviction. Trapped in the gig economy, she embraces the opportunity to earn extra cash when a friend invites her to join a fraud ring. As yet more doors close on the chance at a normal life and with new boss Youcef (Theo Rossi) showing her how the scam operates, Emily is all in even as she discovers white-collar crime can be dangerous. Plaza is pitch-perfect as a smart, prickly woman driven by desperation to crime who discovers she has a talent for it. Writer-director John Patton Ford delivers a taut first feature, its suspense leavened by bursts of mordant humor.

Another film we loved at Sundance. Plaza has been quietly turning in intense, textured performances for a few years now, and we suspect this is the one that finally makes a big impact and takes her to the next level. Ford delivers a film that feels very of the moment, a knuckle-whitening thriller where everything threatens to spin out of control at any moment.


Director: Maris Curran


Filmed in striking and intimate vérité, this portrait of competitive bodybuilder and queer single mother Jeannette unfolds as a nuanced story of balancing the relentlessness of daily existence with the realities of living through trauma. In the wake of Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub shooting, Jeannette continues to coach other survivors at the gym while raising her son. Life seems calm again, until Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico and Jeannette is thrown back into crisis mode. Skirting headlines to instead focus on the tenderness of healing, Maris Curran (Five Nights in Maine, Festival 2018) returns to SFFILM with the World Premiere of Jeannette.

Curran’s last feature, Five Nights in Maine was a deeply felt, fully realized festival favorite starring David Oyelowo, Dianne Wiest and Rosie Perez, yet somehow never found as large an audience as it deserved. We’ve been waiting for her follow-up ever since.


Director: Maryna Er Gorbach


Armed conflict hits home in the most vivid way imaginable when mortar fire decimates one wall of the farmhouse belonging to married Ukrainian couple Irka and Tolik. A subsequent plane crash nearby leaves the couple wondering if they should relocate but stubbornness sets in over being driven from their home by external forces. Winner of the Directing Award in Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic competition and based on real events, Klondike unveils its harrowing story in striking widescreen compositions, often framed by the shattered space of Irka and Tolik’s living room. Set in 2014 when conflict in the Donbas region began, Maryna Er Gorbach’s powerful drama takes on even greater pertinence as a precursor to the current war in Ukraine.

We loved this pensive, dark drama when we saw it at Sundance. A few months later, given the brutal war happening in Ukraine, seeing this film feels even more essential.


Director: Colin West


Cameron Edwin (Jim Gaffigan), the host of a failing children’s science TV show called Above & Beyond, has always had aspirations of being an astronaut. After a mysterious space-race era satellite coincidentally falls from space and lands in his backyard, his midlife crisis manifests in a plan to rebuild the machine into his dream rocket. As his relationships with his wife (Rhea Seehorn) and daughter (Katelyn Nacon) start to strain, surreal events begin unfolding around him—a doppelgänger moving into the house next door, a car falling from the sky and an unusual teenage boy forging a friendship with him. He slowly starts to piece these events together to ultimately reveal that there’s more to his life story than he once thought.

One of the problems with being so universally known as a standup comic is that Jim Gaffigan is criminally underrated as an actor. Each film, it seems, he’s effortless and soulful onscreen. And Linoleum is the recipient of this year’s prestigious Sloan Award, so there’s extra reason to believe this one will be one not to miss.


Director: Daniel Roher


During an August 2020 flight from Siberia to Moscow, someone poisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny with a deadly nerve agent, but doctors at a German hospital were able to save his life. After his recovery, the politician joined his family, filmmaker Daniel Roher and an unexpected cadre of sleuths in setting out to show the world who tried to kill him—and why. In Roher’s riveting documentary, Navalny emerges as a resolute yet amiable man, determined to press on with his campaign against the status quo even as threats remain against him. This meticulous and thrilling film, the Sundance Film Festival U.S. Documentary Audience Award winner, lays bare the violence and terror that is waged against any who oppose the status quo in Russia.

Our favorite documentary at Sundance this year, Navalny is required viewing. Not only is the story of the most painful thorn in Putin’s side important to know, it’s also, unbelievably for such a sad story, a damned fun ride. A great part of that is due to Navalny himself, as playful, charming, brilliant, funny and heroic a figure as you’re likely to see on a movie screen this year.


Director: Kurdwin Ayub


When three teenage girlfriends, wearing burkas and hijabs, make a home music video to R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” and someone shares the film online, their moment of uninhibited camaraderie becomes a viral sensation. Of the trio, only Kurdish immigrant Yesmin is Muslim, and the garments her friends wore belonged to her family; the video engenders an unexpected reaction from her kin and conservative community. As the young women seize on their sudden fame to become an entertainment act around Vienna, Yesmin must contend with her own ideology, religious beliefs and sense of belonging as a first-generation immigrant, while her friends become enthralled with her culture. This poetic film captures the highs and lows of adolescence while questioning the concept of homeland.

I mean, come on. Did you read that synopsis? If that doesn’t sound like a must-see, we don’t know what to tell you.

Stay Awake

Director: Jamie Sisley


Rarely conveyed in the headlines decrying the opioid epidemic are the personal struggles of addicts—daily fighting for sobriety and the hopeful resilience of their families. For teenagers Derek (Fin Argus) and Ethan (Wyatt Oleff), the situation is all too familiar as they pace the streets searching for their painkiller-dependent mother, Michelle. This Is Us star Chrissy Metz, playing Michelle, delivers a nuanced portrayal of guilt and shame that fearlessly digs into the trauma of recovery, while newcomers Argus and Oleff infuse the film with vulnerability and unexpected humor. First-time feature director Jamie Sisley masterfully builds a relatable world full of characters that vibrate with authenticity in this powerful, SFFILM-supported drama that will stick with you long after you exit the theater.

No one wants to talk about addiction in casual conversation. But virtually everyone either struggles with some form of addiction themselves, or has someone very close to them who does. For our money, any film that helps explore those depths is worth seeing.

The 2022 San Francisco International Film Festival will run April 21-May 1. Tickets are on sale now at sffilm.org.