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Four Great Film Festivals 

San Francisco hosts an eye-popping, jaw-dropping 40 film festivals every year, plus another dozen or so touring series. The homegrown bashes serve every slice of the ethnic, sexual, political, and film genre spectrum. Here are the four that plug most directly into the city's fragmented psyche.

SF IndieFest

IndieFest is a ramshackle mix of intimate point-of-view documentaries and sub-Sundance, off-the-radar features. The February fest attracts a young, adventurous crowd on the prowl for discoveries and more than a little appreciative that the vast majority of the filmmakers are in their 20s and 30s. This year's edition, the 10th, opened with Shotgun Stories, Jeff Nichols' slice of rural Arkansas, and counted among its highlights Britton Caillouette's lyrical, one-of-a-kind, first-person surfing/social issue pic Sliding Liberia, which took home the Audience Award on the documentary side.

MadCat Women's International Film and Video Festival

Female filmmakers command the spotlight at MadCat, but what truly distinguishes this electrifying, put-it-all-on-the-line Mission District festival is the degree to which it challenges its audience. The farthest thing from a kvetchfest or pity party, Ariella Ben-Dov's brainchild champions experimental film and a radical, poetic approach to traditional issues. Shorts dominate the lineup, with each program centered on a theme (borders, families, hand-crafted art). The 12th house-rocking edition, coming in September and comprising the cream of emerging women filmmakers from around the world, continues to advance the notion of a deeply personal cinema.

San Francisco Silent Film Festival

From the first program he staged in 1996, co-founder and artistic director Stephen Salmons was determined to avoid — nay, demolish — the fixed-in-amber, museum-precious attitude that shrunk the audience for silent movies to a tiny group of film historians and nostalgic octogenarians. Encompassing melodrama and comedy, camp and scholarship, Salmons and his cohorts host an irreverent treasure hunt with something for moviegoers of every age. The annual summer weekend extravaganza (coming up July 11-13, and augmented by an all-day blowout in early December) has succeeded in turning the presentation of early film masterpieces, curiosities, and lost classics into not only an art, but also the hippest ticket in town. In the perfect marriage of venue and event, the Silent Film Festival unspools at the Castro Theatre, which opened for business in 1922.

Noir City

Noir City is Eddie Muller's dead-of-winter guided tour through the glorious gutter of 1940s and '50s B movies immortalized as film noir. Muller is forever excavating the postwar underbelly of Hollywood — low-rent crime stories, fatally doomed romances, and diamond-hardboiled detective sagas — to find the stuff nightmares are made of. Stylish, street-smart, and resolute about exposing every lie packaged and peddled with the American dream, noir is forever. Thanks to Noir City, San Francisco is its capital.

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)


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