First Fraenkel Film Festival in San Francisco: what to see

The Fraenkel Film Festival, at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco, sees ten Fraenkel gallery artists choose films that impact their work

Still from the film Contempt.
Brigitte Bardot in Contempt, directed by Jean-Luc Godard, 1963, chosen for the Fraenkel Film Festival programme by artist Christian Marclay
(Image credit: Rialto Pictures)

When planning celebrations for its 45th birthday this year, San Francisco gallery Fraenkel was keen to branch out from the exhibitions and publications that it had produced in the past. Enter the inaugural Fraenkel Film Festival, which runs from 9 – 20 July 2024.

‘We were trying to think of something that would celebrate the vibrant arts and cultural scene here,’ says director Christian Whitworth. A conversation with ‘friend of the gallery’ advertising legend Rich Silverstein put films in the frame. ‘He suggested the idea of having an artist choose a film that we then screen at a local cinema,’ relays Whitworth. ‘And all of us said, “Why stop with one artist? Why not ask ten of our artists to choose two films each?”’

Artists’ picks at the Fraenkel Film Festival

Still from the film Blade Runner.

Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, 1982, chosen by Martine Gutierrez

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

The calibre of talent on Fraenkels’ roster makes this a particularly enticing idea – as does the programme of films. Street photography icon Lee Friedlander chose Old Hollywood favourites The African Queen and Casablanca, while futuristic performance artist Martine Gutierrez (recently featured in Wallpaper* and Inez & Vinoodh’s photographic portfolio of American creatives) went for sci-fi classics Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell. Sophie Calle, an artist who zooms in on the uncanny everyday, chose Agnes Varda’s 2000 scavenger documentary The Gleaners and I.

Still from the film The Gleaners and I.

The Gleaners and I, directed by Agnès Varda, 2000, chosen by Sophie Calle

(Image credit: Janus Films)

Crucially, the artists are not picking their favourite films here – rather the ones that had, and still have, notable impact on them and their work. Carrie Mae Weems describes her two films as ‘exist[ing] on opposite sides of the coin. [Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 drama] Wild Strawberries uses Northern light to inscribe the coolness of whiteness; [Barry Jenkins’ 2016 gay coming-of-age story] Moonlight uses Southern light to inscribe the emotional depth of blackness.’

Still from the film Moonlight.

Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, 2016, chosen by Carrie Mae Weems

(Image credit: A24)

The film screenings are taking place at the Roxie cinema – a San Francisco institution in operation since 1912 – and proceeds from the ticket sales will be donated to the venue. Whitworth says this is a crucial part of the project. ‘[The narrative recently] in San Francisco has been about the doom loop, which is the idea that the pandemic has given rise to working from home and has hollowed out downtown cores,’ he explains. ‘We're fighting against that by relishing the local.’

Still from the film Casablanca.

Casablanca, directed by Michael Curtiz, 1942, chosen by Lee Friedlander

(Image credit: Park Circus)

Whitworth says the response from the local community has been positive. ‘There are, and I mean this in the greatest of compliments, so many photo nerds in the Bay Area,’ he smiles. ‘They come out for our exhibitions, but it's great to see that they're also huge cinema enthusiasts… people are really excited by the relationship between photography and film.’

The communal experience of the cinema is something that can’t be replaced, he argues. ‘All of us can sit at home and stream any of these movies, but it’s the experience of getting out and seeing a movie in a theatre with a group of other people who are [also] reacting to it. That is really exciting.’

Fraenkel Film Festival 2024, until 20 July, at Roxie Theater, 3117 16th Street, San Francisco. Find the full programme at For more information, see

Still from the film The Idiots.

The Idiots, directed by Lars von Trier, 1998, chosen by Sophie Calle

(Image credit: MUBI)

Still from the film The Truman Show.

The Truman Show, directed by Peter Weir, 1998, chosen by Richard Misrach

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Lauren Cochrane is Senior Fashion Writer of The Guardian and contributes to publications including The Face, ELLE, Service95, and Mr Porter. Based in London, she writes about everything from catwalk shows to art exhibitions and pop culture. She is author of The Ten: The Stories Behind the Fashion Classics.