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San Francisco International Film Festival (abbreviated as SFIFF) is among the longest running film festivals in the Americas. Organized by the San Francisco Film Society, the International is held each spring for two weeks, presenting around 200 films from over 50 countries annually. The Festival highlights current trends in international film and video production with an emphasis on work that has not yet secured U.S. distribution. Since its inception, the International has grown to serve over 70,000 patrons, with screenings held in San Francisco and Berkeley.
In March 2014, Noah Cowan, former executive director of the Toronto International Film Festival, became executive director of the SFFS and SFIFF, replacing Ted Hope. Prior to Hope, the festival was briefly headed by Bingham Ray, who served as SFFS executive director until his death after only ten weeks on the job in January 2012. Graham Leggat became the executive director of the San Francisco Film Society on October 17, 2005. The Scottish-born Leggat died on August 25, 2011 from cancer, aged 51.
SFIFF is currently programmed by SFFS Director of Programming Rachel Rosen, Programmer Rod Armstrong, Golden Gate Awards Manager Audrey Chang, and Programming Coordinator Joseph Flores.
The 59th San Francisco International Film Festival took place from April 21 to May 5, 2016 at venues throughout the Bay Area.
Founded in 1957 by film exhibitor Irving "Bud" Levin, the SFIFF began as a philanthropic effort to secure San Francisco's place in the international arts scene as well as expose locals to cinema as an art form. The Festival played a major role in introducing foreign films to American audiences. Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood and Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali were among the films that screened at the first festival.
One obstacle in the early years was the lack of support from the major Hollywood studios, suggested reasons being the growing threat of international films' appeal and a fear that the festival would draw commercial attention away from the Oscars. It was not until 1959 that a major American film, Henry King's Beloved Infidel, starring Gregory Peck and Deborah Kerr, played at SFIFF.
Honors and Tributes
Irving M. Levin Directing Award
The Festival's directing award is given each year to one of the masters of world cinema, in memory of SFIFF's founder, Irving Levin. From 2003-2014, the award was known as the Founder's Directing Award. Prior to 2003, the award was known as the Akira Kurosawa Award. Recipients include:
Named for the longtime San Francisco benefactor of arts and charitable organizations Peter J. Owens (1936-91), this award honors an actor whose work exemplifies brilliance, independence and integrity. Recent recipients include:
Named in honor of legendary San Francisco film exhibitor Mel Novikoff (1922-87), this award is given to an individual or organization notable for making significant contributions to the Bay Area's richly diverse film community. Recent recipients include:
The George Gund III Craft of Cinema Award, given in tribute to the longstanding Film Society chairman of the board who died in 2013, honors a worthy member of the filmmaking community for outstanding and unique contributions to the art of cinema. Recent recipients include:
The Film Festival's Midnight Awards were given from 2007-2011 to honor a dynamic young American actor and actress who have made outstanding contributions to independent and Hollywood cinema, and who bring striking intelligence, talent and depth of character to their roles. Recent recipients include:
In 2017, the San Francisco Film Society made a "strategic move" to set its 60th anniversary SF Film Awards Night closer to awards season in early December.
Awards and Prizes
New Directors Award
This $15,000 cash award supports innovative thinking by independent filmmakers and shines the spotlight on an emerging director. Films in this juried competition must be the director's first narrative feature and are selected for their unique artistic sensibility or vision.
Golden Gate Awards
The Golden Gate Awards is the competitive section for documentaries, animation, shorts, experimental film and video, youth works and works for television. Eligibility requires that entries have a San Francisco Bay Area premiere and be exempt from a previous multiday commercial theatrical run or media broadcast of any kind. The festival currently awards cash prizes in the following categories:
Selected by the International Federation of Film Critics, the FIPRESCI Prize aims to promote film art, to encourage new and young cinema and to help films get better distribution and win greater public attention.
State of Cinema Address
Each year, the festival invites a prominent thinker to discuss the intersecting worlds of contemporary cinema, culture and society. Recent speakers include:
The San Francisco International Film Festival is known for its innovative live music and film events, which usually feature contemporary musicians performing original scores to classic silent films. Many of the scores were commissioned by the San Francisco Film Society as world premieres. Music/film pairings at SFIFF have included:
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