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Four Not-to-Miss Films at the San Francisco International Film Festival

From the mean streets of Palo Alto to the heights of the Bay Bridge.

James Franco chases jailbait in "Palo Alto," screening May 3.

The San Francisco International Film Festival styles itself the Bay's own personal slice of Sundance, but unless you're a cinephile par excellence it's hard to figure out which of the dozens of offerings are worth your while. So here's our quick and dirty guide to the four films that promise to go above and beyond in our hand-picked categories:

 

The most ambitious film: Boyhood, by Richard Linklater (May 2). Linklater (Before Sunrise, A Scanner Darkly) spent 12 years on this coming-of-age film so that his child actor (as well as costars Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) would age in real-time. Yes, 18-year-old Elar Coltraine has been shooting this movie since he was six. Linklater will receive the Founder's Directing Award from the SF Film Society this year, an accolade he will presumably accept in increments over the next seven years.

The film with the most local color: Palo Alto, by Gia Coppola (May 3). Based on the James Franco book which was itself partially based on Franco's childhood. Apparently there's a drugs-and-violence dark side to the peninsula that most of us don't see. Who knew? This is the first film from Coppola, granddaughter of Francis Ford. Franco plays a creepy soccer coach sleazing after a student. Hopefully Spring Breakers is out of his system.

The film with the most genuine intrigue: 20,000 Days On Earth by Ian Forsythe and Jane Pollard (April 28). Two documentarians climb into the spidery mind of brooding poet/rock star Nick Cave with this day-in-the-life biopic. It's pretty remarkable that Cave allowed the filmmakers to intrude on his famous mystique, especially since when he's not touring and writing music, we imagine he spends his time scaring kids away from the abandoned amusement park on the edge of town.

The film with the most Bay Area bragging rights: Impossible Light by Jeremy Ambers (May 7): Two and a half years ago, local filmmaker Ambers met a man at a party who told him about his dream to cover the Bay Bridge with 25,000 LED lights. It must have been a heck of a pitch, because Ambers decided to go all-in and shoot a movie about Ben Davis' two-year odyssey of convincing the city that this was a worthwhile idea. Now Ambers has 70 minutes of feature film that prove he liked the Bay Lights before it was cool.

 

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