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Wednesday, May 5 1999
The Exterminating Angel
Sure, the French pull it off, but politics and culture are generally best kept far apart. Consider Willie Brown's awkward appearance the other night at the S.F. International Film Festival tribute to Mexican director Arturo Ripstein. Presumably the mayor was on hand to lend prestige and gravity, but he read his lines as though he were auditioning for a Ron Howard movie.

Wallowing in pretentious solemnity -- mock humility doesn't work when you're wearing a $1,500 suit, as my Uncle Ralph used to say -- Brown announced a new S.F. State scholarship in memory of Robin Eickman, the longtime executive director of the S.F. Film and Video Arts Commission. After a proclamation for "Arturo Ripstein Day" was duly read, Brown commandeered the mike again to commend the director for joining the "laundry list" of renowned filmmakers to receive the Kurosawa Award for lifetime achievement.

Yes, Brown's pontifications were harmless drivel. But the crowd that had turned out to honor Ripstein -- a thoughtful, genuinely self-deprecating man whose films honor the misplaced dreams of a poor country's misfit sinners -- came for an artist, not a politician. Happily, a few moments later the mayor got out of the way, Ripstein was joined onstage by his wife and screenwriter Paz Alicia Garciadiego, and the audience cheered up considerably.

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World
Sofia Coppola's feature directorial debut, The Virgin Suicides, was chosen for the "Directors Fortnight" section of the Cannes Film Festival. Fest programmer Marie-Pierre Macia spent many years at the SFIFF before landing the Cannes job last fall, but I can't imagine she was ever a guest at the winery. ... I hold Dolby Labs in high esteem for its acoustically impeccable and wonderfully comfortable (even when a clueless Chronicle critic brings his dog to screenings) theater, but who came up with the bright idea of peddling merchandise on the Dolby Web site? Seems to me the world's worked well enough up to this point without Dolby luggage tags.

Crazy Quilt
In a pairing that Hubert Selby Jr. would cherish, Rob Nilsson's Chalk opens the (NYC) Lower East Side Film Festival on May 13. Closer to home, Nilsson has launched TAG2, a new incarnation of his no-bull, Tenderloin-based acting/filmmaking workshop. Call 255-7872 for particulars. ... Confidential to the Chronicle Datebook brain trust: Get psyched for Cameron Diaz sightings this summer, when the comedienne lurches into town to shoot a few exteriors for The Invisible Circus opposite Christopher Eccleston. ... Only in San Francisco: Werner Herzog provides the live translation when the Goethe-Institut screens his 1994 doc about the Bayreuth Festival, Die Verwandlung Der Welt In Musik (The Transformation of the World Into Music), on June 3. ... Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's documentary on the cult and culture of Extreme Games premieres June 10 on HBO. The duo's other hotly anticipated doc, The Pink Triangle, won't be ready for the S.F. Lesbian & Gay Film Festival and will likely make its debut at Toronto or another important fall festival. ... KQED is producing a wraparound to air with Debra Chasnoff's It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School on June 30. PBS affiliates in 13 of the top 20 markets have programmed the controversial doc. ... Summering on the Adriatic coast this year? Don't miss the tribute to local avant-garde legend Ernie Gehr at the 35th Pesaro International Festival of New Cinema in mid-June.

By Michael Fox

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Michael Fox


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