SFFILM 2021 Announces Full Lineup, Including Majority Women and BIPOC-Directed Films

The San Francisco International Film Festival (SFFILM) has today announced the full lineup of this year’s festival, which includes both online and in-person events taking place at the Fort Mason Flix drive-in theater. The opening night selection will be the world premiere of Chase Palmer’s “Naked Singularity,” which stars John Boyega as a public defender wrapped up in a drug heist. The full lineup includes buzzy festival titles like “Cryptozoo,” “The Dry,” “Strawberry Mansion,” “Son of Monarchs,” “Homeroom,” “Lily Topples the World,” and “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It.”

This year’s complete program includes 42 feature films, 56 short films, and, new to the festival this year, five mid-length films. 13 films will be making their world premiere with an additional 15 making their North American premiere. The lineup includes films from 41 countries around the world. Among the full festival lineup, 57% of the films were helmed by women filmmakers and 57% by BIPOC filmmakers.

“Our filmmakers, our community, and our country are all under enormous pressure right now,” said head programmer Jessie Fairbanks in an official statement. “Putting together a festival in this environment was both challenging and a gift. As we considered how to best serve our audience and filmmakers, we were continuously amazed and inspired by the original and provocative work being produced around the world under incredible challenging circumstances.”

Peter Nicks and Dash Shaw will be honored with tributes at the festival.

The 2021 San Francisco International Film Festival will take place online and in person, kicking off April 9 and running through April 18. Check out the features lineup below, with all synopses and information provided by the festival.

Opening Night

“Naked Singularity,” Chase Palmer
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. USA, World Premiere


“Socks on Fire,” Bo McGuire
Family tensions flare in this tenderly wrought film, as the filmmaker explores old family wounds between his homophonic aunt and drag queen uncle. USA

Closing Night

“Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street,” Marilyn Agrelo
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. USA

Narratives: International

“Abou Leila,” Amin Sidi-Boumédiène
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. Algeria/France/Qatar

“Censor,” Prano Bailey-Bond
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. UK

“Dance of the 41,” David Pablos
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. Mexico/Brazil

“The Dry,” Robert Connolly
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. Australia

“Fauna,” Nicolás Pereda
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. Mexico

“A Leave,” Lee Ran-hee
The employer/employee relationship is explored with great nuance in the story of a middle-aged man who witnesses an accident at his job. South Korea

“Nudo Mixteco,” Angeles Cruz
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. Mexico

“Overclockers”, Michal Wnuk
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. Poland

“The Perfect Candidate,” Haifaa Al Mansour
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. Saudia Arabia/Germany

“Poppy Field,” Eugen Jebeleanu
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. Romania/France

“Skies of Lebanon,” Chloé Mazlo
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. France

“Son of Monarchs,” Alexis Gambis
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. USA/Mexico

“This Is My Desire,” Arie Esiri/Chuko Esiri
Using a dual storyline format to portray life in Lagos, this moving drama’s protagonists dream of emigration and flight from the teeming city. Nigeria

“Tove,” Zalda Bergroth
Shimmering portrait of the irrepressible bisexual artist and illustrator Tove Jansson, writer and illustrator of the globally beloved Moomins children’s book series. Finland

“Valley of Souls,” Nicolás Rincón Gille
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. Colombia/Belgium/Brazil/France

“The Whaler Boy,” Phillipp Yuryev
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. Russia/Belgium/Poland

Narratives: US

“Cryptozoo,” Dash Shaw
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. USA

“Holler,” Nicole Riegel
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. USA

“Home,” Franka Potente
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. Germany/Netherlands

“I’M FINE (Thanks for Asking),” Kelley Kali/Angelique Molina
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. USA

“Ma Belle, My Beauty,” Marion Hill
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. USA/France

“Strawberry Mansion,” Kentucker Audley/Albert Birney
Whimsical and unique, this story of a dream auditor falling in love with the woman he’s scrutinizing depicts the priceless sanctuary of imagination. USA

“Supercool, Teppo Airaksinen
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. USA

Documentaries: International

“Captains of Zaatari,” Ali El Arabi
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. Egypt

“Cuban Dancer,” Roberto Salinas
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. Italy/Canada/Chile

“The Last Autumn,” Yrsa Roca Fannberg
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. Iceland

“Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliche,” Paul Sng/Celeste Bell
Raucous music adorns this deep dive into the life of Poly Styrene, frontwoman of the pioneering English punk rock band, X-Ray Spex. UK/USA

“Radiograph of a Family,” Firouzeh Khosrovani
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. Iran/Norway/Switzerland

“Seyran Ateş: Sex, Revolution and Islam,” Nefise Özkal Lorentzen
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. Norway

“The Spokeswoman,” Luciana Kaplan
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. Mexico

“Writing With Fire,” Rintu Thomas/Sushmit Ghosh
A trio of fearless female journalists expose rampant sexism and corruption in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in this moving and triumphant documentary. India

“Zumiriki,” Oskar Alegria
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. Spain

Documentaries: US

“After Antarctica,” Tasha Van Zandt
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. USA/Canada

“Homeroom,” Peter Nicks
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. USA

“In the Same Breath,” Nanfu Wang
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. USA/China

“Lily Topples the World,” Jeremy Workman
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. USA

“Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It,” Mariem Pérez Riera
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. USA

“Unseen Skies,” Yaara Bou Melhem
Contemporary artist Trevor Paglen prepares his most ambitious project to date in this intimate and stunningly beautiful journey inside his mind and art. USA/Australia

“We Are as Gods,” David Alvarado/Jason Sussberg
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. USA

For the full short film lineup, check out SFFILM. 

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