The longest-Running Film Festival in the Americas Enjoys a Spectacular Year with Superb Programming, Numerous Special Guests and Many Memorable Sold-Out Events

The San Francisco Film Society wrapped its 55th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 19 - May 3) with 289 screenings of 174 films from 45 countries, which were attended by 201 filmmakers and industry guests from over 20 countries around the globe.

"I want to thank the terrific San Francisco Film Festival for this terrific award in this terrific film community," exclaimed David Webb Peoples, recipient of this year's Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting.

Festival audiences shared Peoples' enthusiasm. The festival sold out 178 screenings during its 15-day run, including the 1,400-seat Castro Theatre for both Merrill Garbus (tUnE-yArDs) with Buster Keaton Shorts and the Closing Night film, Ramona S. Diaz's Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey, underscoring the strong demand for the unique programming that the Film Society brings to the Bay Area. Particularly popular were the over 124 screenings featuring special guests. 

"San Francisco audiences are passionate about independent and international cinema," said SFFS interim director Melanie Blum. "For 15 days they have enthusiastically filled the SFIFF theaters to appreciate the creative programming of exceptional films, gifted filmmakers and once-in-a-lifetime live events selected by Director of Programming Rachel Rosen and her talented team. The 55th SFIFF was a truly remarkable celebration of international cinema."

Film Society Awards Night, the organization's gala fundraiser, cochaired this year by Susie and Pat McBaine and Katie and Todd Traina, raised more than $500,000. Proceeds from this event benefit the Film Society's Youth Education program, which serves 10,000 Bay Area students and teachers annually.

Sponsors and Partners
Among SFIFF55's over 200 sponsors, leading corporate partners were Wells Fargo; Grolsch; Blue Angel Vodka; Mozilla Firefox; Esurance; TV5 Monde; Bank of the West; the French American Cultural Society; the Consulate General of France, San Francisco; Visa; the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office; Comcast; the San Francisco Giants; and the San Francisco Film Commission. Local businesses were eager to work with the International as well. More than 55 restaurants supported the Festival and more than 300 hotel room nights were donated for Festival guests.

Star-Studded Nights
Film Society Awards Night honored four world-class film talents at the Warfield Theatre on April 26. Honorees were Kenneth Branagh, recipient of the Founder's Directing Award, presented by film critic Elvis Mitchell; Judy Davis, recipient of the Peter J. Owens Award for acting, presented by director Fred Schepisi; David Webb Peoples, recipient of the Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting, presented by actor Delroy Lindo; and filmmaker Benh Zeitlin, recipient of the inaugural Graham Leggat Award, presented by actor Peter Coyote.

"I've always been astounded and had a degree of reverence for American generosity," said Judy Davis. "Some of the most important and moving moments of my career have been with Americans ... I must thank you for that. It is one of the great American qualities, frankly, your generosity."

Attending the festivities were Google V.P. Marissa Mayer, venture capitalist Dick Kramlich and his wife Pamela, Web 2.0 venture capitalist David O. Sacks and his wife Jacqueline, San Francisco society hostesses Denise Hale and Dede Wilsey, socialite Vanessa Getty, investor Paul Pelosi, CEO of Shaklee Corporation Roger Barnett and his wife Sloan and newly appointed head of Bulgari North America Alberto Festa.

Numerous guests graced the stage during SFIFF55, starting on Opening Night with Farewell, My Queen director Benoît Jacquot and continuing throughout the festival. Celebrated documentarian Barbara Kopple was in town to receive the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award. Directors Harmony Korine, Aleksei Fedorchenko and Jan Kwiecinski attended the Festival for the world premiere of their omnibus film The Fourth Dimension starring Val Kilmer and produced by Vice Media's Eddy Moretti, who were also both in attendance. Cinephile par excellence Pierre Rissient received the Mel Novikoff Award and entertained a crowd of film-lovers during a conversation at the Castro Theatre.

The Festival wrapped up with a few final high profile screenings. The Centerpiece film, Your Sister's Sister, was shown to an exclusive crowd with star Rosemarie DeWitt in attendance. The festivities ended on a high note with the packed Closing Night screening of Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey, attended by Journey -- Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain, Ross Valory, Deen Castronovo, Arnel Pineda -- and director Ramona S. Diaz.

Live & Onstage Events
Kicking off the Live & Onstage program on April 21 was the State of Cinema Address, delivered by bestselling novelist, essayist and short-story writer Jonathan Lethem. On April 23 was Merrill Garbus (tUnE-yArDs) with Buster Keaton Shorts, during which Garbus provided scores for short films starring Keaton by adapting her previous work and collaborating with local wunderkind guitarist Ava Mendoza. David OReilly Says Something featured a lively discussion with OReilly, one of today's most innovative and engaging animators, on April 26. San Francisco's beloved Porchlight storytelling series returned to the Festival, captivating story lovers on April 30. The event featured five storytellers telling tales of their filmmaking experiences, accompanied by video clips. Local "live documentarian" Sam Green returned to the Festival on May 1 for two sold out shows of the world premiere of The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, which featured live musical accompaniment by indie superstars Yo La Tengo.

Local Cinema
The 55th International featured 20 local narrative and documentary features and short films. Among the Bay Area features were Bitter Seeds by Micha X. Peled, Cherry by Stephen Elliott, Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey by Ramona S. Diaz, Informant by Jamie Meltzer, Mosquita y Mari by Aurora Guerrero, The Sheik and I by Caveh Zahedi, Tokyo Waka by John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson, The Waiting Room by Peter Nicks and Twixt by Francis Ford Coppola. Bay Area shorts were also abundant and included Bizness (Mimi Cave), La Luna (Enrico Casarosa), Aquadettes (Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari), Nothing (Tracey Snelling), The Love Competition (Brent Hoff), Fin de Siècle (Kathleen Quillian), Inquire Within (Jay Rosenblatt) and Words of Mercury (Jerome Hiler). 

Schools at the Festival
Attendance and participation were strong this year for SFFS Youth Education's Schools at the Festival program. Many filmmakers participated, with 31 local and international guests discussing their films and craft in classrooms during the program's 20 school visits, reaching over 700 elementary, middle and high school students and teachers. Teachers were also invited to bring their students to the 18 screenings held at the Festival. More than 3,650 students and teachers from schools across the Bay Area attended these Schools at the Festival screenings, part of the year-round Youth Education program. 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.

One elementary school boy endearingly sought new insight into cinema after a screening of The Storytellers Show when he asked filmmaker Katie Mahalic (The Vacuum Kid) "Is it hard work to be a filmmaker? Do you get sweaty?" 

Master Classes and Salons at the Festival
Participating in three Master Classes, filmmakers and experts engaged audiences with further discussion of the ideas presented in their films and related works. British professor Malcolm Turvey compared and contrasted French filmmaker Jacques Tati's comic style with those of American silent comedians such as Charlie Chaplin; journalist Susie Cagle unpacked the various forms of visual journalism and traditional reportage she employs to bring humor and humanity into news analysis; and film critic Mick LaSalle used film clips and excerpts from his new book, The Beauty of the Real, to showcase the contemporary French actresses who are doing the best work of their lives. Three Salons offered the opportunity to engage in in-depth conversations beyond the typical post-screening Q&A. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist of the Pesticide Action Network, led The Threat of GMOs; story consultant Richard Saiz led Measuring Change Through Film; and professor and filmmaker Kristine Samuelson led A Sense of Place.

Award-Winning Films
Eleven films were in juried competition for the 16th annual $15,000 New Directors Prize, given to a first-time filmmaker whose work exhibits a unique artistic sensibility. The jury, comprised of Felipe Bragança, Karyn Kusama and Wesley Morris, chose director Nadav Lapid's Policeman (Israel), calling it "a great work on tackling the politics of Israeli masculinity, class and culture with humor, daring and forceful filmmaking that remains difficult to forget." They also gave an Honorable Mention to Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia's OK, Enough, Goodbye. (Lebanon/United Arab Emirates).

The FIPRESCI jury, comprised of Andrés Nazarala, Claire Valade and Dennis West, chose The Exchange by Eran Kolirin (Israel/Germany).The jury described it as a "quietly subversive portrait of a man unhinged" and selected it "for the strength of its original use of cinematic language in exploring the fabric of reality, for its surprising yet unsettling sense of humor, for the coherence of its unique artistic vision." FIPRESCI, the influential international organization of film critics, supports cinema as an art and as an autonomous means of expression. The San Francisco International Film Festival is one of only three festivals in the United States to host a FIPRESCI jury and award a FIPRESCI prize.

A total of $55,000 in prizes were awarded by Golden Gate Awards juries at the International this year, with $35,000 going to winners in two categories: Documentary Feature ($20,000) and Bay Area Documentary Feature ($15,000). The Festival's Golden Gate Awards were held on Wednesday, May 2 at Rasselas Restaurant & Jazz Club. The documentary features jury was comprised of Laura Gabbert, Dennis Lim and John Maringouin. The GGA for Best Documentary Feature was presented to It's the Earth Not the Moon by Gonçalo Tocha (Portugal). Best Bay Area Documentary Feature was presented to The Waiting Room by Peter Nicks (USA).

The short film jury was made up of Vicci Ho, Jon Korn and Jan Krawitz. They awarded Best Documentary Short to I'm Never Afraid by Willem Baptist (Netherlands). The Best Narrative Short was awarded to Surveillant by Yan Giroux (Canada). First place for Best Bay Area Short went to Aquadettes by Zackary Canepari and Drea Cooper (USA), with second place going to Workers Leaving the Googleplex by Andrew Norman Wilson (USA). The GGA Youth Work winner was Metro by Eric Brownrout and Nick Escobar (USA), with Life as a Collage by Forrest Penrod (USA) receiving an Honorable Mention. The Family Film winner was The Storyteller by Nandita Jain (England), and the Honorable Mention went to The Vacuum Kid by Katie Mahalic (USA). The Best Animated Short was Belly by Julia Pott (England) and Best New Visions winner was 20Hz by Ruth Jarman and Joseph Gerhardt (England).

The SFIFF55 Audience Awards gave filmgoers the opportunity to select their favorite narrative and documentary feature. The Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature went to Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano's The Intouchables, with Aurora Guerrero's Mosquita y Mari also scoring well with festivalgoers. The Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature went to Peter Nicks' The Waiting Room, with Rory Kennedy's Ethel also tallying high votes from the viewers.  

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55th San Francisco International Film Festival wrapped

<>Rachel Rosen, director of programming for the San Francisco Film Society, Benoit Jacquot, director of FAREWELL, MY QUEEN, and Melanie Blum, SFFS interim executive director, arriving at Opening Night of the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 19, 2012.  Photo © Pamela Gentile, courtesy of San Francisco Film Society

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