Wrapping SFIFF58: A Truly Incredible Festival

What a whirlwind: proud to say that we wrapped the 58th San Francisco International Film Festival with 252 screenings of 183 films from 47 countries, which were attended by over 315 filmmakers and industry guests—a record number for the Festival—from over 15 countries. Over 15 days, we screened 67 narrative features, 35 documentary features and a total of 79 short films, and presented ten one-time only live events.

This Festival, we also awarded nearly $40,000 in prizes to emerging and established filmmakers with films representing 13 countries. Thanks to its unique programming choices and the always-enthusiastic San Francisco Bay Area audiences, we sold out 114 screenings this SFIFF.

“What an exhilarating time for audiences and programmers alike,” said Noah Cowan, SFFS executive director. “Over the past two weeks, we welcomed guests from all over the world, celebrated storytelling in its many vibrant forms, and piloted innovative ideas to enhance the festival experience. We are especially proud of the series of dynamic expanded conversations using film as a conduit to discuss the key issues and obsessions of contemporary culture. The programming team, led by Rachel Rosen, and I are grateful our sophisticated Bay Area audiences have embraced these exciting changes.”

Numerous guests graced the stage during SFIFF58, starting on Opening Night with Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine director Alex Gibney 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 Guillermo del Toro, Richard Gere, Jonathan Gold, Miranda July, Guy Maddin, Bob Mankoff, Breckin Meyer, Oren Moverman, Stanley Nelson, Alan Poul, Ryan Phillippe, Shira Piven, Isabella Rossellini, Winona Ryder, Jason Schwartzman, Jason Segel, Claressa Shields, Gaspard Ulliel, Alex Winter and Edgar Wright, among many others.

Presenters and awardees at Film Society Awards Night; Clockwise from top left: presenter Alan Poul, presenter Governor Jerry Brown, SFFS Executive Director Noah Cowan, presenterFrancis Ford Coppola, presenter Edgar Wright, awardee Guillermo del Toro, awardee Maurice Kanbar, awardee Richard Gere and awardee Paul Schrader; Photo by Pamela Gentile

Film Society Awards Night, the fundraising gala cochaired by Christine Aylward, Heidi Castelein and Victoria Raiser, honored four world-class film talents at The Armory on April 27. Honorees were Guillermo del Toro, recipient of the Irving M. Levin Directing Award, presented by Edgar Wright; Richard Gere, recipient of the Peter J. Owens Award for acting, presented by director and producer Francis Ford Coppola; Paul Schrader, recipient of the Kanbar Award for excellence in storytelling, presented by producer Alan Poul; and Maurice Kanbar, recipient of the George Gund III Craft of Cinema Award, presented by Governor Jerry Brown. A hilarious, yet tender memorial for Robin Williams was presented by Christopher Columbus.

Additional award recipients who were honored during the Festival included renowned observational filmmaker Kim Longinotto, who received the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award; and film scholar Lenny Borger, who was awarded the Mel Novikoff Award.

The Festival’s Big Nights continued successfully with the Bay Area premiere of the Centerpiece film, The End of the Tour, featuring a Q&A with director James Ponsoldt and actor Jason Segel. The festivities ended on a high note with the Closing Night screening of Experimenter, attended by director Michael Almereyda and actor Winona Ryder.

This year’s Live & Onstage program presented festival gems, including a double dose of an audience favorite—pairing live music by contemporary musical talents with film projection. On May 5, Cibo Matto performed a new score to a selection of films curated by Programmer Sean Uyehara in collaboration with the band, engrossing audiences in the historic Castro Theatre. On May 6, local favorites Kronos Quartet played Aleksandra Vrebalov’s haunting composition, originally commissioned for their performance, with films of original 35mm nitrate footage, pieced together by Bill Morrison in a unique visual exploration of World War I from footage that has never been viewed by modern audiences. Visionary Douglas Trumbull delivered the much-anticipated State of Cinema address, introducing audiences to the immersive cinema experience of the future. Miranda July swore audiences to secrecy with her New Society event, co-presented by SFMOMA. Welcome, Space Brothers: The Films of the Unarius Academy of Science with Jodi Wille  brought one of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the festival for cinema lovers and the sartorial alike, as Cinefamily LA programmer Jodi Wille introduced San Francisco audiences to the films of the Unarius, joined onstage by members of the Unarius Academy in their otherworldly costumes.

The Live & Onstage program also included Boomtown: Remaking San Francisco, addressing the ever-shifting economy of San Francisco through a variety of perspectives. Audiences absorbed Tim Redmond’s housing crisis analysis, chanted along with Black Lives Matter protestors, watched works in progress The Last Black Man in San Francisco (Joseph Talbot) and Never a Cover (Susie Smith, Lauren Tabak), enjoyed Sutro Tower: From Eyesore to Icon (Elisabeth Spencer) and West is San Francisco: A Symphony in Kodachrome (B. Berzins, Jim Granato, Nicole Minor, Doug Schultz, Anjali Sundaram and Phoebe Tooke), and witnessed nostalgia for the shifting cityscapes in Vero Majano’s storytelling over Mission archival footage and Jenni Olson’s narrative over San Francisco images in clips from The Royal Road.

SFIFF proudly teamed with several organizations on substantive programming collaborations, including the Telluride Film Festival (to present Stanton Kaye’s Brandy in the Wilderness and Barbara Loden’s Wanda), SFMOMA (co-presenting partner for Miranda July’s New Society), Alamo Drafthouse (guest curators of the Dark Wave section), California College of the Arts (series producer for Cinema Visionaries: Alex Gibney) and long-standing partner Pacific Film Archive (guest curators of Nothing But a Dream: Experimental Shorts). Taking the audience experience beyond the traditional festival filmmaker Q&A session, the San Francisco Film Society programmed enhanced screenings collaborating with luminary figures from many of the Bay Area’s key culture, technology and civic institutions—plus several notable out-of-town guests. These screenings included special introductions, guided discussions, and in-depth analyses. Representatives of such groups as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch and the Black Panther Party, and iconic individuals like Rachel Kushner, Nansun Shi and David Thomson, joined SFIFF filmmakers and programmers to explore the issues in a wide variety of Festival films.

SFIFF58 featured 13 shorts and 12 feature-length films from local talent or about the area across Festival sections. Among the Bay Area features were Advantageous by Jennifer Phang, How to Smell a Rose: A Visit with Ricky Leacock in Normandy by Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht and The Royal Road by Jenni Olson. Bay Area shorts were also abundant and included: Hotel 22 (Elizabeth Lo), Time Quest (John Dilley), Tradesman's Exit (Tom E. Brown), The Box (Michael I Schiller), Blackout: John Burris Speaks (Terence Nance), The Boombox Collection: Boots Riley (Mohammad Gorjestani), Discussion Questions (Jonn Herschend), A Long Way from Home (Jay Rosenblatt), Lava (James Ford Murphy), My Big Brother (Jason Rayner), Not Just a Tree: Friends of the Urban Forest (Reyna Colt-Lacayo, Marwaun Brooks, Walden Smith, Mauricio Romero), Stranded (Clio Gevirtz), Under the Heat Light an Opening (Zachary Epcar) and Ed & Pauline (Christian Bruno, Natalija Vekic).

SFIFF58 featured a number of films supported by the Film Society’s Filmmaker360 program. The supported films that screened as part of this year's Festival represent each of the several ways in which the San Francisco Film Society provides funding and creative services for independent film projects from around the globe as part of its year-round filmmaker services programs. Six 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 already garnered much acclaim on the global festival circuit, and a world premiere. Jennifer Phang's Advantageous and Leah Wolchok's Very Semi-Serious were developed as the respective directors took part in the SFFS FilmHouse Residency program; Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross's Western and Jenni Olson's The Royal Road were part of the SFFS Project Development program; Unexpected by Kris Swanberg was awarded a SFFS / KRF Filmmaking Grant for postproduction in the fall of 2014; and Romeo is Bleeding by Jason Zeldes was a 2014 Documentary Film Fund winner.

STANDING OVATION FOR ROMEO IS BLEEDING AT EL CERRITO HIGH SCHOOL; PHOTO BY PAT MAZZERA

SFFS Education’s Schools at the Festival (SATF) program, run by Youth Education Manager Keith Zwolfer, welcomed more than 4,450 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 20 school visits, reaching an additional 1,176 elementary, middle and high school students and educators. Celebrating its 25th 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.

SFIFF58 featured three Master Classes with various film professionals and industry leaders. The San Francisco Film Society joined California College for the Arts in presenting Cinema Visionaries: Alex Gibney, an engaging conversation with the director of Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine. In Designing Interactive Narratives, Ben Adair of Detour, Michael Epstein of Walking Cinema and Eli Horowitz explored how three unique approaches to interactive video, audio events and writing harness the powers of cutting-edge media technologies and the ingenious strategies of forward-thinking artists to produce nimble, immersive, site-specific story worlds. At The Walt Disney Family Museum, Pixar Animation Studios director James Ford Murphy and Pixar sculptor Greg Dykstra presented Discovering Characters in Pixar's Lava: A Sculpting Workshop for Kids, where participants aged 8–15 created their own volcanic characters.

This incredible (and historic) Festival would not have been possible without the extraordinary generosity of our sponsors and Board of Directors, the devotion of our members, the hard work of our amazing volunteers and the outstanding efforts of our community partners and copresenters. It would also not be possible for SFIFF to exist as it does without our passionate audiences: our deepest gratitude to you all for coming out and seeing movies — your love of cinema and openness and curiosity keep us going — without you, we simply could not do what we do. Thank you for letting us put together another program; it was a true pleasure watching the Festival come to life with you all.

Until the 59th —

The San Francisco International Film Festival


The 58th San Francisco International Film Festival ran April 23–May 7 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Castro Theatre, Landmark’s Clay Theatre and the Roxie Theater in San Francisco and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. Held each spring for 15 days, SFIFF is an extraordinary showcase of cinematic discovery and innovation in one of the country’s most beautiful cities, featuring nearly 200 films and live events, 14 juried awards with nearly $40,000 in cash prizes and upwards of 100 participating filmmaker guests.

Among SFIFF58’s over 135 sponsors, leading partners were Rdio, RBC Capital Markets, Blue Angel Vodka, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Bank of the West, TV5 Monde, the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office San Francisco, the San Francisco Film Commission, Dolby, the French American Cultural Society, and the Consulate General of France in San Francisco. NET-A-PORTER.COM generously sponsored the 2015 Film Society Awards Night Gala. Pereira O’Dell is the Festival's creative agency partner, Muse Brands is its design partner, and its website is powered by Ingeniux. Media sponsors included 7x7 and SF Weekly. Joie de Vivre Hotels and Resorts provided substantial support as the festival’s Premier Hotel Sponsor. More than 30 restaurant, beverage and food sponsors 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.