Tuesday, May 05, 2015

SFIFF58: Very Semi-Serious

The San Francisco International Film Festival screening of Very Semi-Serious, an entertaining documentary about The New Yorker cartoonists, was at rush on Friday night, & audience anticipation was high. The film profiles Cartoon Editor Robert Mankoff, as well as a dozen cartoonists whose drawings appear in the magazine. Mr. Mankoff comes across as naturally humorous & the right person in the right job. The most interesting scenes show him critiquing the work of hopeful cartoonists at his Tuesday cartoon meetings, which are open to anyone & designed to attract new talent. I got a vicarious thrill out of seeing the offices of Condé Nast, though it was hard not to have doubts about the authenticity of Mr. Mankoff's hapless assistant.

The film's subjects range from George Booth, who sold his 1st drawing to The New Yorker in 1964, to the peculiarly soft-spoken Ed Steed, who looks like he's 16. He saw his 1st New Yorker cartoons only a couple of years ago & thought, "I could do that." The filmmaker was clearly drawn to Liana Finck, whose cartoons are initially too odd for the magazine. When Mr. Mankoff comments on her shy demeanor, she replies, "It might be Asperger's." Emily Flake calls out the magazine's glaringly obvious lack of diversity when she sums up the cartoons as "stupid cracker shit."

Cartoons, sometimes lightly animated, are generously peppered throughout, & all of them got big laughs from the festival audience. Brief moments of pathos are provided by a reference to 9/11 & scenes of Mr. Mankoff's & his wife looking sad as they discuss a recent family tragedy, whose details are left deliberately vague.

Director Leah Wolchok was in attendance for the Q&A, along with Mr. Mankoff & 2 of her associates, who might have been editor Nels Bangerter, & producer Deborah Shaffer. Ms. Wolchok was breathlessly excited to be presenting the movie. She used to work in San Francisco & clearly had a lot of friends in the audience. We learned that Mr. Mankoff initially declined her request to make a movie about him but agreed when she came back after having raised some money & filmed several of the cartoonists.

§ Very Semi-Serious
Director: Leah Wolchok
2015, USA, 86 mins.

§ 58th San Francisco International Film Festival
May 1, 2015   6:30 p.m.   Landmark's Clay Theatre
May 3, 2015   4:15 p.m.   Pacific Film Archive Theater
May 5, 2015   6:30 p.m.   Landmark's Clay Theatre

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