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Maurice and More Mark a Special Year for San Francisco Film Fest

Maurice and More Mark a Special Year for San Francisco Film Fest

 SF Film Fest

The nation's oldest film festival, turning 60, honors James Ivory and spotlights social justice issues.

This year the San Francisco International Film Festival turns 60, and the beloved gay film Maurice turns 30. They both, however, are looking better than ever. A screening of a restored Maurice and a tribute to its director, James Ivory, will be among the highlights of the 2017 edition of the oldest film festival in the U.S., and indeed in all the Americas. Read on for more about this very special year for the festival, which opens today and runs through April 19. 00-maurice_04_0


When Maurice premiered in 1987, LGBT audiences were surprised and delighted: a rare same-sex love story with (spoiler alert) a happy ending. Unfortunately, those stories remain rather rare even today -- but fortunately, Maurice has aged quite well, and it's now being introduced to a new generation.

The film from director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant, longtime partners in life and work, has undergone a thorough digital restoration to assure top-notch picture and sound quality, and it's playing selected film festivals, including San Francisco's, in advance of a theatrical rerelease in May.

Ivory, who at age 88 is still active in film, 12 years after Merchant's death, plans to be at the screening and tribute, taking place April 14. He's happy about the restoration, although he reacts in a rather understated manner. "Everybody wants to see their films restored," he says, noting that these days digital is usually the way to go. The restoration comes from Cohen Media Group, which has acquired 30 Merchant-Ivory films, and Ivory oversaw the restoration with cinematographer Pierre Lhomme.

Maurice came roughly in the middle of the 44-year Merchant-Ivory partnership -- a collaboration that landed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest indie-film partnership in history. Ivory decided to do the film, he says, because he was so impressed with the source material -- E.M. Forster's posthumously published novel of the same name.

"His novels are full of very rich scenes, highly charged scenes, emotionally, and he also does wonderful characters," says Ivory, who wrote the screenplay with Kit Hesketh-Harvey.

In Maurice, the primary characters are Maurice Hall (James Wilby) and Clive Durham (Hugh Grant), who fall in love as students at the University of Cambridge in early-20th-century England. They (again, spoiler alert) keep their relationship platonic, given the taboos on homosexuality at the time. Clive, who has political ambitions, is content to lock his closet door and marry a woman, especially after seeing the tragic fate of a friend who is caught in a same-sex encounter. Maurice struggles with his sexuality, even consulting a hypnotist in an attempt to be "cured." But when he meets Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves), a handsome young gamekeeper on Clive's estate, he sees the possibility of love beyond society's boundaries regarding gender and class.

It's all beautifully rendered, with Ivory's thoughtful screenplay and direction, nuanced performances, gorgeous sets and costumes, and Richard Robbins's lovely music. There are notable turns from actors in supporting roles, especially Simon Callow as a teacher who gives the young Maurice an incredibly awkward and priggish lesson in the mechanics of procreative sex (knowing that Callow is gay adds some interesting subtext), Ben Kingsley as the hypnotist, and Denholm Elliott as a doctor who assures Maurice he can't be anything so filthy as a homosexual.

Although much has changed for LGBT people since Maurice's initial release, Ivory doesn't think audiences will view the film differently today. "The people who liked it 30 years ago are going to like it today," he says, adding that he's also happy to bring it to a new generation.

Given the British setting of so many (though by no means all) Merchant-Ivory films, it may surprise some to learn that Ivory is an American -- he was born in Berkeley, Calif., and grew up in Oregon. Nor was he a particular Anglophile when he started making films set in England -- it really, he says, all grew out of his love for Forster's work. Forster's novels were actually quite critical of the British class system and other aspects of the culture, Ivory notes.

Maurice also resonated with him, he says, because he had recently finished another Forster adaptation, A Room With a View, in which one of the main characters is a young woman engaged to a man she doesn't love. She's living a lie, while Maurice explores another "living a lie" situation. "Young people shouldn't live lies" is the overarching theme of both, he says.

Ivory was able to live his life honestly and productively with Merchant, whom he met in New York City in the 1960s. "He was an extraordinary figure, full of energy and interesting and very smart and very handsome," Ivory recalls. And "he was a genius as getting films made," Ivory adds.

Ivory has had only one film released since Merchant's death, 2009's The City of Your Final Destination; Merchant was involved in its development but died before filming began. This fall, however, will bring another Ivory release: Call Me by Your Name, a love story involving two young men on the Italian Riviera in the 1980s. Ivory and the film's director, Luca Guadagnino, adapted Andre Aciman's novel for the screen. Starring Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name was a hit at Sundance and will be released in November by Sony Classics.

Maurice, meanwhile, will be back in theaters beginning May 19 in New York City, with engagements planned in other major cities after that, plus, eventually, home video and on-demand releases.

During the San Francisco festival, Maurice will screen at 6 p.m. April 14 at the Museum of Modern Art. It's part of a festival marked by a spirit of activism and inclusivity -- more important than ever in today's political climate, festival organizers note. "We have so many offerings that have to do with social justice and the environment," says Rachel Rosen, director of programming. On the next pages, find out about some of them, and go here for the full schedule.


Beach Rats

Given the character of San Francisco, LGBT inclusivity is important to the fest's organizers. "We're very proud that that has been a hallmark of the film festival for decades," says executive director Noah Cowan. Among this year's LGBT-inclusive films is Beach Rats, which brought Eliza Hittman the Best Director award at Sundance this year. Set on New York's Coney Island, the film focuses on Frankie (newcomer Harris Dickinson), a handsome young man who cultivates a straight, macho image for his male friends and his girlfriend but is starting to explore another facet of his sexuality with men he meets online. The question is, will Frankie accept this aspect of himself -- and will his friends accept him? The film screens April 9 at 8:45 p.m. at the Museum of Modern Art and April 11 at 4 p.m. at the Roxie Theater.


Bending the Arc

Martin Luther King Jr. often said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice" (a sentiment that originated with 19th-century abolitionist Theodore Parker). This documentary chronicles the efforts of three doctors -- Paul Farmer, Ophelia Dahl, and Jim Yong Kim -- to bend that arc by bringing health care to some of the poorest people in the world. The film sees them work on rebuilding the health care structure of Rwanda, deal with a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis in Peru, battle the World Health Organization over costs, and fight Ebola, HIV, and more. Directed by Kief Davidson and Pedro Kos, Bending the Arc screens at 5 p.m. April 14 at the Castro Theatre.


Chasing Coral

As climate change deniers take power in the U.S., Jeff Orlowski's documentary Chasing Coral provides a needed corrective. In this companion film to Orlowski's Chasing Ice (2012), he and a team of scientists attempt to record the devastating effects of rising sea temperatures on coral, the foundational organism of the world's oceans. Former advertising executive Richard Vevers joined Orlowski and Zack Rago to create and deploy a waterproof imaging system capturing the declined in coral reefs in real time. The film promises spectacular photography documenting an environmental crisis. Screening April 6 at 6 p.m. at the Castro Theatre.



Defender depicts the work of San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi as he represents Michael Smith, accused of resisting arrest on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train. His arrest was recorded on officers' body cameras, and Adachi contends that racism played a role in the arrest and rough treatment of Smith, who is African-American. Adachi, who directed the film with Jim Choi, displays a passion for social justice that originated when, as a child, he learned that members of his family had been interned in camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II. The documentary has its world premiere in a free community screening April 15 at 3 p.m. at the Castro Theatre. It will be accompanied by Mohammad Gorjestani's short documentary Boombox Collection: Zion I, a portrait of Stephen Gaines, a.k.a. Zumbi, the front man of Oakland hip-hop duo Zion I.


This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous

Probably a must-see for LGBT audiences, This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeoustells the true story of the transgender social media star. Two-time Oscar-winner Barbara Kopple directed, weaving her footage with Gorgeous's videos as Gigi goes from gender-nonconforming boy to realizing her true identity as a woman. The documentary also spotlights Gorgeous's relationship with her conservative father, David, who takes care of her throughout her transition despite his struggle to understand it. Kopple and Gorgeous will talk onstage following the screening, along with Ian Roth, who oversees development and launch of YouTube Originals, and other guests. It all happens at 8:30 p.m. April 12 at the Victoria Theatre.

And remember, there's much, much more. Again, find the full schedule here.

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