The San Diego Film Festival (SDFF), which runs Wednesday, Sept. 24, through Sunday, Sept. 28, at multiple theater locations, occupies an interesting space on the local arts calendar. A Downtown-based, party-centric event, SDFF presents a glitzy image in the vein of Toronto or Sundance. It's a different kind of focus than San Diego's other film festivals, which select their programming based largely on identity and ethnicity, often to advance the missions of the nonprofits that organize them.
SDFF's marketing campaign has been in full swing lately, highlighting the Hollywood films, stars, industry folk and critics who'll grace San Diego with their presence. Celebrities slated to attend include the great Alan Arkin (Little Murders), talented actress Michelle Monaghan (Gone Baby Gone), Beau Bridges, Alison Pill and Saginaw Grant.
Two of the marquee titles star Reese Witherspoon. Wild, which opens the festival, tells the story of a traumatized woman who undertakes a solo hike across America in order to recover from a recent tragedy. A Good Lie dramatizes the journey of Sudanese refugees coming to America after escaping a life of violent unrest.
Other films of interest include the Oscar favorite The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch, the Keira Knightley comedy Laggies and You're Not You with Hillary Swank. Most of these films will be at local multiplexes in a few months. Bad Country, a Willem Dafoe-starring neo-Western that looks very promising, provides an edgier option.
Despite its glitzy façade, SDFF does show narratives, documentaries and shorts from around the world. There are even a few with local importance. Chelsea's Light: A Brother's Story, a 30-minute documentary about the Chelsea King murder, was conceived by her teenage brother Tyler.
Parties, industry functions and critic panels (unfortunately, no San Diego film writers were asked to be involved) will take place throughout the five-day event. Individual film tickets, panel and party covers, day passes, festival passes and VIP passes range from $15 to $500. Get all the details at sdfilmfest.com.
Hector and the Search for Happiness: Simon Pegg plays a conflicted psychologist who leaves his humdrum life in London to travel the globe and research what makes people happy.
Jimi: All is by My Side: Andre Benjamin takes on the role of legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix in this biopic about the musician's rise to fame.
Last Days in Vietnam: Documentary that uses archival footage and interviews to explore the timeline of the United States' military withdrawal at the end of the Vietnam War.
The Boxtrolls: An evil exterminator threatens a community of cave-dwelling trash collectors who've raised a young, orphaned boy as their own.
The Equalizer: Denzel Washington takes names and kicks ass in this remake of the 1980s television show.
San Diego Film Festival: Stars, feature films, documentaries and short films will be showcased throughout this five-day event beginning on Wednesday, Sept. 24.
Tracks: Mia Wasikowska plays a young woman who goes on an epic journey across the deserts of western Australia with her animal companions.
Vivir es Facil con Ojos Cerrados: Antonio (Javier Camara), an English teacher and diehard Beatles fan, goes on a road trip in 1966 and attempts to meet John Lennon. Screens through Oct. 2 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
One time only
In Secret: Elizabeth Olson is one unhappy camper in this period-piece melodrama about unrequited love and desire. Screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 24, at the Mission Valley Library.
Crazy Bitches: A group of vain women learn the true lesson of beauty as they're picked off one by one during a weekend getaway. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 24, at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Koch Brothers Exposed: This 60-minute documentary compiles viral videos that depict David and Charles Koch's negative impact on American life. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25, at the Women's Museum in Point Loma's Liberty Station.
The Goonies: They never say die. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 24, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Casablanca: Bogie decides to give a damn at the end of this classic Michael Curtiz film co-starring Ingrid Bergman and Claude Raines. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 25, through Saturday, Sept. 27, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Up: The first 10 minutes will make you cry; the rest will warm your heart. Screens at dusk on Saturday, Sept. 27, at the Santa Clara Recreation Center in Mission Beach Park.
Mean Girls: "You go Glen Coco!" Not one but two people have said this to our film writer, Glenn Heath, in the last week. Screens at midnight on Saturday, Sept. 27, at the Ken Cinema.
Gone with the Wind: Watch Clark Gable not give a damn in this epic Civil War saga that's considered one of the great Hollywood films of all time. Screens at 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 28, and Wednesday, Oct. 1, at various theaters. Visit fathomevents.com for details.
In the Mood for Love: Wong Kar-wai's sensual, swooning Hong Kong romance is one of the most astounding films about love you'll ever see. Screens at 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 28, at Arclight La Jolla.
Least Among Saints: A soldier returning home from war befriends a teenager in need of help and guidance. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 29, at San Diego Public Library in East Village.
Night Moves: A trio of eco-terrorists blow up a dam in Oregon, then have to face the consequences when their action causes an innocent bystander to drown. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 30, at the Point Loma / Hervey Branch Library.
A Walk Among the Tombstones: Liam Neeson scours the dark underbelly of the city in Scott Frank's ghoulish crime film, looking for the killer of a drug kingpin's beautiful wife.
My Old Lady: Kevin Kline plays an American who inherits an apartment in Paris that houses a mysterious resident. It co-stars Kristin Scott Thomas and Maggie Smith.
Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation: Documentary about one of the most famous architectural projects ever, Antoni Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Ends Sept. 24 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Take Me to the River: The Memphis music scene gets an in-depth documentary that follows a new album featuring legends from Stax Records. Ends Sept. 25 at the Ken Cinema.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them: James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain play a couple who try to reclaim their relationship after experiencing a traumatic event.
The Maze Runner: In this science-fiction film, a community of boys tries to escape an elaborate maze after being kidnapped and having their minds erased.
The Skeleton Twins: Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig play estranged twins who reunite after both escape death on the same day.
The Zero Theorem: Christoph Waltz stars as a genius computer programmer in Terry Gilliam's mad-hatter film set in a fantastical future dystopia. Ends Sept. 25 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
This is Where I Leave You: Four grown siblings are forced to return home after their father passes away and states in his will that they must all live under the same roof for a week. It stars Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Jane Fonda.
Tusk: In this horror film by Kevin Smith, a writer goes missing after interviewing a mysterious seafarer, causing his best friend and girlfriend to follow in search.
Dolphin Tale 2: Even a dolphin needs to find love.
No Good Deed: Idris Elba plays an ex-con with dangerous intentions who seduces Taraji P. Henson's devoted housewife in Sam Miller's erotic thriller.
The Drop: When a robbery goes wrong, a low-level thug (Tom Hardy) must lean on friends and enemies alike to survive. It's the final film starring James Gandolfini.