Longest-Running Film Festival in the Americas Enjoys a Spectacular Year with Superb Programming, Numerous Special Guests and Many Memorable Sold-Out Events
San Francisco, CA — The San Francisco Film Society wrapped its 57th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 24-May 8) with 263 screenings of 168 films from 56 countries, which were attended by over 300 filmmakers and industry guests from over 20 countries. Over 15 days, SFIFF57 showed 74 narrative features, 29 documentary features and a total of 65 short films.
This year SFIFF awarded nearly $40,000 in prizes to emerging and established filmmakers from 13 countries. Thanks to its unique programming choices and the always-enthusiastic San Francisco Bay Area audiences, the Festival sold out 113 screenings this year. Of particular popularity were the many screenings and events featuring filmmakers in person, and SFIFF was able to bring a record number of out-of-town guests to the Bay Area to engage with audiences through in-depth post-screening Q&As.
“In my first months as Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society, I have been especially grateful for the incredible support from all quarters — our board of directors, members, donors, sponsors and most of all the extremely talented staff,” said Noah Cowan, SFFS executive director. “This festival experience has energized the team here to find new ways to keep the extraordinary spirit of the festival thriving year-round.”
Sponsors and Partners
Among SFIFF57’s 170 sponsors, leading corporate partners were Grolsch, RBC Capital Markets, Blue Angel Vodka, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Bank of the West, TV5Monde, the French American Cultural Society, the Consulate General of France in San Francisco, Dolby, Bloomberg, the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office of San Francisco and the San Francisco Film Commission. Union is the Festival’s creative agency partner and its website is powered by Ingeniux. Media sponsors included 7×7 and SF Weekly. More than 45 restaurants supported the Festival, technical companies provided essential equipment, media partners promoted programming, numerous consulates and cultural organizations helped bring in special guests, and hundreds of hotel rooms were donated for Festival filmmakers.
Numerous guests graced the stage during SFIFF57, starting on Opening Night with The Two Faces of January director Hossein Amini and continuing throughout the 15-day event. Scores of Festival screenings featured actors and filmmakers who participated in on-stage introductions and Q&A sessions with SFIFF audiences; these guests included Patricia Clarkson, Gia Coppola, Zooey Deschanel, Romain Duris, Stephen Gaghan, Ryan Gosling, Bill Hader, Boyd Holbrook, Jeremy Irons, Don Johnson, Isaac Julien, John Lasseter, Richard Linklater, Chris Messina, Parker Posey, Emma Roberts, David Thomson, Bob Weir, Josh Wiggins and Kristen Wiig, among many others.
Film Society Awards Night, the fundraising gala cochaired by Victoria Raiser and Todd Traina, honored four world-class film talents at the Regency Ballroom on May 1. Honorees were Richard Linklater, recipient of the Founder’s Directing Award, presented by actor Parker Posey; Jeremy Irons, recipient of the Peter J. Owens Award for acting, presented by director and producer Wayne Wang; Stephen Gaghan, recipient of the Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting, presented by Zooey Deschanel; and Chief Creative Officer at Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios John Lasseter, recipient of the George Gund III Craft of Cinema Award, presented by actor Josh Gad.
Additional award recipients who were honored during the Festival include pioneering filmmaker and installation artist Isaac Julien, who received the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award; and legendary film historian David Thomson, who was awarded the Mel Novikoff Award.
The Festival’s Big Nights continued successfully with the Bay Area premiere of the Centerpiece film, Palo Alto, featuring a Q&A with director Gia Coppola and actor Emma Roberts. The festivities ended on a high note with the Closing Night screening of Alex of Venice, attended by director Chris Messina as well as actors Don Johnson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Katie Nehra.
Other notables spotted frequently attending SFIFF festivities were Tracy Chapman, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Coppola, Danny Glover, Lauren Hutton, Barry Jenkins, Delroy Lindo and Sam Rockwell, among many others.
This year, 11 films were in juried competition for the 18th annual $10,000 New Directors Prize, given to a first-time filmmaker whose work exhibits a unique artistic sensibility. The jury, comprised of Filmmaker Magazine Editor-in-Chief Scott Macaulay, Fandor cofounder Jonathan Marlow and writer Ella Taylor, chose director Benjamín Naishtat’s History of Fear (Argentina/France/ Germany/Quatar/Uruguay). The film was chosen for “its slyly assured reflection on suburban paranoia where Naishtat makes expert use of the implicit with a wit and visual flair unusual in a novice filmmaker.” Special jury recognitions were given to Noaz Deshe’s White Shadow (Italy/Germany/Tanzania) and Claudia Sainte-Luce’s The Amazing Catfish (Mexico).
Nearly $30,000 in prizes was awarded by Golden Gate Awards juries at SFIFF this year, with $15,000 going to winners in two categories: Documentary Feature ($10,000) and Bay Area Documentary Feature ($5,000). The Festival’s Golden Gate Awards were held on Wednesday, May 7 at Rouge | Nick’s Crispy Tacos. The Golden Gate Award Documentary feature competition jury was comprised of filmmaker Rob Epstein, journalist Nathan Heller, and Film Society of Lincoln Center Co-Executive Director Lesli Klainberg. The GGA for Documentary Feature was presented to The Overnighters by Jesse Moss (USA), and the GGA for Bay Area Documentary Feature was presented to The Last Season by Sara Dosa (USA). Special jury recognition was given to Return to Homs by Talal Derki (Syria/Germany).
The Golden Gate Award Short Film jury consisted of journalist Jonathan Kiefer, author Vendela Vida and filmmaker Diana Williams. They awarded Best Documentary Short to The High Five by Michael Jacobs (USA). The Best Narrative Short was awarded to two films this year: The Birds’ Blessing by Serge Mirzabekiantz (Belgium) and So You’ve Grown Attached by Kate Tsang (USA). The prize for Best Bay Area Short was also split and went to Santa Cruz del Islote by Luke Lorentzen (USA) and No One but Lydia by Rob Richert (USA). The award for Best Animated Short went to The Missing Scarf by Eion Duffy (Ireland) and the GGA for New Visions Short was given to Numbers & Friends by Alexander Carson (Canada).
The Family Film jury was comprised of teacher Donna Lee, writer Nicki Richesin and artist Jeena Wolfe who awarded Best Family Film to The Dam Keeper codirected by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi (USA). Special jury recognition was given to The Numberlys by codirectors William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg (USA). The Youth Works jury was Davis Avila, Sophie Edelhart and Julia Pollak, all local high school students. The Youth Work award went to Epitaph by Charles Blecker (USA). Special jury recognition was given to Bay Area Girls Rock Camp by codirectors Lily Yu, Judy Lee and Jeremiah Mellor (USA).
The SFIFF57 Audience Awards gave filmgoers the opportunity to select their favorite narrative and documentary feature. The Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature went to Justin Simien’s Dear White People (USA), with Chinese Puzzle (France/USA) by Cédric Klapisch also tallying high votes from filmgoers. The Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature was given to Mike Fleiss’ The Other One: The Long Strange Trip of Bob Weir (USA), with Stanley Nelson’s Freedom Summer (USA) also scoring well with SFIFF audiences.
Live & Onstage Events
This year’s eclectic Live & Onstage program delivered a double dose of a festival favorite — the pairing of silent film with new original works by contemporary musical talents. On April 29, Bay Area-based and nationally renowned Thao Nguyen appeared with her band The Get Down Stay Down for a unique program of shorts, some of which she co-directed with filmmaker Lauren Tabak. On May 6, Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields made his second Festival appearance, wowing the Castro crowd with a new score for Tod Browning’s The Unknown, which he performed with the help of local accordionist Daniel Handler. Long-running live program Porchlight returned to New People Cinema on May 5 after a year off, boasting on-stage appearances by a motley cast of filmmakers, film-lovers and friends, including Sara Dosa, Michael Jacobs and Xandra Castleton, who came together to present their passions, experiences, and relationships in ten-minute tales. The Live & Onstage program continued on April 28 with Stand Up Planet, a hybrid program of stand-up comedy and film that found TV comedian Hasan Minaj travelling the world from Mumbai to Johannesburg in search of the world’s most vibrant comedy scenes. On April 27, Academy Award nominee and acclaimed production designer K. K. Barrett took SFIFF audiences on a wild ride though the multi-talent’s body of work, including Spike Jonze’s Her and Where the Wild Things Are, and enlightened them about his creative process with the help of Pop-Up Magazine’s Derek Fagerstrom in A Conversation with K. K. Barrett.
SFIFF57 featured 21 local narrative features, documentaries and short films. Among the Bay Area features were The Last Season by Sara Dosa, Impossible Light by Jeremy Ambers and The Overnighters by Jesse Moss. Bay Area shorts were also abundant and included Angels (Jim Granato), Barn Dance (John Haptas, Kris Samuelson, Amy Seiwert), Bright Mirror (Paul Clipson), The Claustrum (Jay Rosenblatt), Cookie Wars (Natasha Lasky), Cosmic Flower Unfolding (Benjamin Ridgway), The Dam Keeper(Robert Kondo and Daisuke ‘Dice’ Tsutsumi), DeLuce 2: Architectura (Janis Crystal Lipzin), Entr’Acte (Lawrence Jordan), Entropic Apogee (Bill Manolios), Epitaph (Charles Blecker), Fat Chance (Jeanne C. Finley), The High Five (Michael Jacobs), No One but Lydia (Rob Richert), Point Reyes, CA (Sean Rossiter), Bay Area Girls Rock Camp (Lily Yu, Judy Lee, Jeremiah Mellor), Santa Cruz del Islote (Luke Lorentzen), Sin Madre (Buffy Almendares) and Spacetime (Ryan Wicks). The Live & Onstage programs also included some local highlights such as Thao Nguyen; San Francisco’s beloved nonfiction storytelling series Porchlight, hosted by Arline Klatte and Beth Lisick; and the world premiere of Stand Up Planet, preceded by live, politically minded comedy sets featuring Hasan Minhaj and local favorite Nato Green.
Schools at the Festival
SFFS Education’s Schools at the Festival (SATF) program achieved record attendance this year with more than 4,700 students (ages 6-18) and teachers from schools across the Bay Area attending 17 screenings of feature films and shorts programs over the course of the two-week Festival. Each screening included Q&A discussions with filmmakers and special guests. Twenty-six local and international guests (screenwriters, producers, directors, actors and animators) also discussed their films and craft in Bay Area classrooms during SATF’s 28 school visits, reaching an additional 1,100 elementary, middle and high school students and educators. Now in its 24th year, SATF aims to develop media literacy, broaden insights into other cultures, enhance foreign language aptitude, develop critical thinking skills and inspire a lifelong appreciation of cinema.
Master Classes and Salons
SFIFF57 featured three Master Classes with various film professionals and industry leaders. In Funny or Die: Anatomy of a Comedy Short, creative artists Alex Richenbach, Eliza Skinner and Jason Carden from Funny or Die offered insights into how they create their online short-form comedy content. Pixar digital matte painter Paul Topolos presented Painting with Pixar: A Workshop for Kids, offering participants ages 10-16 a hands-on look at the work of the art department in the production of animated films. And Angus McGilpin and John Loose of Dolby Laboratories presented Dolby Labs: The Sound of Movies, a behind-the-scenes look at the art and history of sound in film — from how it is created and designed in the mixing room to how it is experienced by audiences in the theater.
The Festival’s Salons engaged participants in in-depth discussions led by filmmakers and industry professionals about major issues and ideas related to cinema. At Future Audience, members of the SFFS Education team, Bay Area educators, and documentary filmmaker Marcia Jarmel (Havana Curveball) explored the challenges, resources and strategies of educational outreach and how and why to use films effectively in K-12 classrooms. Ellen Schneider and Shaady Salehi of Active Voice presented How Do We Know If We’re Making a Difference?, an interactive session about how different kinds of films can help fuel different kinds of movements. And using her new book The $11 Billion Year as a launchpad, film critic/reporter Anne Thompson led a spirited discussion about the future of the film industry with co-founder and chief content officer of Fandor Jonathan Marlow, Gary Meyer of Telluride Film Festival and EatDrinkFilms, and SFFS Executive Director Noah Cowan.
SFIFF57 featured a record-breaking number of films supported by the Film Society’s Filmmaker360 support programs, including winners of SFFS / Kenneth Rainin Foundation Filmmaking Grants, participants in the Off the Page screenwriting workshop and projects enrolled in the SFFS Project Development program. Seven SFFS-supported films hit Bay Area screens for the first time at the Festival and were lovingly received by local audiences, including a number that have already garnered much acclaim on the global festival circuit. These films were Kat Candler’s Hellion (SFFS / KRF grant winner — $70K for postproduction), Sara Dosa’s The Last Season (SFFS project development program), Sara Colangelo’s Little Accidents (SFFS / KRF grant winner — $50K for postproduction), Josef Wladyka’s Manos Sucias (two-time SFFS / KRF grant winner — $45K for production, $90K for postproduction), Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child (Off the Page screenwriting workshop participant), Jesse Moss’ The Overnighters (SFFS project development program) and Michael Tully’s Ping Pong Summer (SFFS / KRF grant winner — $50K for postproduction).
For general information visit festival.sffs.org.