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by Susan Royal

  Forever Hollywood director Todd McCarthy with Warren Beatty
(Left to right) Leslie Hayman, Kirsten Dunst, A.J. Cook, and Chelse Swain star in Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides.
Sofia Coppola's feature-film directorial debut, The Virgin Suicides, opened the 43rd San Francisco International Film Festival on April 20. Based on Jeffrey Eugenides' acclaimed novel, the film features Kirsten Dunst, James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Josh Hartnett, Danny DeVito and Scott Glenn.

The Virgin Suicides, set in the early 1970s, focuses on the five beautiful Lisbon sisters, legends in their Michigan neighborhood. The sisters, who have never been allowed to date, represent everything that is mysterious and desirable to the boys in the small suburb where they live. High school heartthrob Trip Fontaine (Hartnett) falls for Lux Lisbon (Dunst) and convinces her parents (Woods and Turner) to let him and his friends take the sisters to the prom. The outcome of that evening, and how it changed the lives of the sisters and their young male admirers, is related in a haunting narration by Giovanni Ribisi.

A celebrated designer and photographer, Sofia Coppola also co-wrote "Life with Zoe," a segment of New York Stories, and wrote and directed the short film Lick the Star, which had its world premiere at the San Francisco Film Festival in 1998. "We're especially pleased that Sofia Coppola's first feature as a director, The Virgin Suicides, will open this year's Festival," says Peter Scarlet, the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Film Society. "She is a filmmaker who has longstanding ties to the San Francisco community and her debut introduces an exciting new voice in American independent cinema."

The festival bestowed its Peter J. Owens Award for an actor "whose work exemplifies brilliance, independence and integrity" to Winona Ryder.

Michael Almereyda's adaptation of Hamlet, starring Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Venora, Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles and Bill Murray, was the closing night film.

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