56th San Francisco International Film Festival Wraps the Best 15 Days of the Year for World Cinema Lovers

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 56th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 25-May 9) with 263 screenings of 158 films from 51 countries, which were attended by over 210 filmmakers and industry guests from over 21 countries around the globe. During its 15-day run, SFIFF56 showed 67 Narrative Features, 28 Documentary Features and a total of 63 short films. 

This year the International awarded over $70,000 in prizes-one of the largest cash totals distributed by a U.S. film festival-to emerging and established filmmakers from ten countries around the world. Thanks to its unique programming choices and the always enthusiastic San Francisco Bay Area audiences, the International sold out 144 screenings this year. Of particular popularity were the many screenings and events featuring special guests such as Steven Soderbergh, Harrison Ford, Richard Linklater, Philip Kaufman, Julie Delpy, William Friedkin, David Gordon Green, Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig, Sarah Polley, Michael Cera and Kate Bosworth.

"This festival may be 56 years old, but it was my first, and I have been amazed and delighted with the enthusiasm and love of cinema demonstrated by our audiences," said Ted Hope, SFFS executive director. "The Film Society's programming team, led by our Director of Programming Rachel Rosen, assembled a fantastic program of films from around the globe. Combine them with Steven Soderbergh's State Of Cinema address setting the stage for our innovative A2E (artist to entrepreneur) filmmaker training, a number of amazing Live & Onstage events, and our star-studded and incredibly moving Film Society Awards Night, as well as an incredible array of guests from across the planet, and no one can deny that SFIFF56 was a truly extraordinary event. San Francisco should be as extremely proud of hosting this festival as I am of our team that produced it."

Sponsors and Partners
Among SFIFF56's 175 sponsors, leading corporate partners were Blackberry; Blue Angel Vodka; Grolsch; the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; Vimeo; Bank of the West; TV5 Monde; the French American Cultural Society and the Consulate General of France, San Francisco; Dolby Laboratories; Comcast; Visa; the Hong Kong Economic & Trade Office of San Francisco and the San Francisco Film Commission. Local businesses were eager to work with the International as well. More than 45 restaurants supported the Festival and about 180 hotel rooms were donated for Festival guests.

Star-Studded Nights
Film Society Awards Night, the fundraising gala cochaired by Todd and Katie Traina, honored four world-class film talents at Bimbos 365 Club on May 7. Honorees were Philip Kaufman, recipient of the Founder's Directing Award, presented by actor Clive OwenHarrison Ford, recipient of the Peter J. Owens Award for acting, presented by cinema legend George LucasEric Roth, recipient of the Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting, presented by renowned journalist Lowell Bergman; and local hero Ray Dolby, recipient of the inaugural George Gund III Award, presented by San Francisco Film Society Executive Director Ted Hope.

Attending the festivities were Vimeo's creative director Jeremy Boxer, San Francisco society hostess Dede Wilsey, former mayor of San Francisco Willie BrownNion McEvoy of Chronicle Books, designer Ken Fulk, San Francisco Ballet's principal Maria Kochetkova and musicians Vanessa Carlton and Tracy Chapman

Numerous guests graced the stage during SFIFF56, starting on Opening Night with What Maisie Knew codirectors Scott McGehee and David Siegel as well as actor Onata Aprile and continuing throughout the Festival. Filmmaker and media artist Jem Cohen received the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award and legendary cinephile Peter von Bagh was awarded the Mel Novikoff Award at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas. 

The Festival's Big Nights continued successfully with the Centerpiece film, Inequality for All, featuring director Jacob Kornbluth and subject Robert Reich. The festivities ended on a high note with the Closing Night screening of Before Midnight, attended by director Richard Linklater and actor Julie Delpy.

Several Festival screenings featured filmmakers who introduced their films and participated in on-stage Q&A sessions with SFIFF audiences. Amongst many others, these guests included Sarah PolleyMichael CeraKate BosworthMerry Clayton,Tata VegaRicky JayAmy Acker, Alexis Denisof and Peaches.

Award-Winning Films
This year, ten films were in juried competition for the 17th annual $15,000 New Directors Prize, given to a first-time filmmaker whose work exhibits a unique artistic sensibility. The jury, comprised of Charles Tonderai Mudede, Alicia Scherson and Betsy Sharkey, chose director Belmin Söylemez's Present Tense (Turkey). The film was chosen for "its intelligence, sensitivity, humor, honesty, humanism, great performances and its refusal to supply easy answers or neat solutions to the tough questions that confront a structure of feeling shaped by the powerful and also alienating forces of global capitalism, urban redevelopment and consumerist marketing." Honorable Mentions were given to William Vega's La Sigra (Colombia/France/Mexico) and Adrián Saba's The Cleaner (Peru). 

The FIPRESCI jury, comprised of Mario Abbade, Glenn Dunks and V. A. Musetto, chose Sébastian Betbeder's Nights with Theodore (France). The film was described as a "bold and inventive take on narrative and structure. This beguiling and truly original film is a glowing testament to a new generation of French filmmakers. Its mix of genre, documentary, and fiction makes for an enthralling experience." FIPRESCI, the influential international organization of film critics, supports cinema as 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 $70,000 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 8 at Rouge | Nick's Crispy Tacos. The documentary features jury was comprised of Bonni Cohen, David D'Arcy and Lisa Schwarzbaum. The GGA for Best Documentary Feature was presented to A River Changes Course by Kalyanee Mam (Cambodia/USA). Best Bay Area Documentary Feature was presented to The Kill Team by Dan Krauss (USA).

The Golden Gate Award Short Film jury consisted of filmmakers Cheryl Dunye, Amanda Micheli and Malcolm Pullinger. They awarded Best Documentary Short to Kings Point by Sari Gilman (USA). A Special Jury Prize in this category was awarded to Home by Thomas Gleeson (New Zealand). The Best Narrative Short was awarded to Ellen Is Leaving by Michelle Savill (New Zealand). First place for Best Bay Area Short went to 3020 Laguna St. In Exitum by Ashley Rodholm and Joe Picard (USA), with second place going to More Real by Jonn Herschend (USA). The GGA Youth Work winner was The Dogmatic by Lance Oppenheim (USA) with an Honorable Mention for Last Stop Livermore by Nat Talbot (USA). The Family Film winner was Luminaris by Juan Pablo Zaramella (Argentina). Honorable Mentions were given to I'm Going to Mum's by Lauren Jackson (New Zealand) and Jonah and the Crab by Laurel Cohen (USA). The Best Animated Short was Kali the Little Vampire by Regina Pessoa (Canada/France) and the winner of the Best New Visions was Salmon by Alfredo Covelli (Israel/Italy).
The SFIFF56 Audience Awards gave filmgoers the opportunity to select their favorite narrative and documentary feature. The Audience Award for Best Narrative Featurewent to Régis Roinsard's Populaire (France), with Ernest and Celestine (France/Luxemburg, Belgium) by Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner also tallying high votes from filmgoers. The Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature was given to Morgan Neville's Twenty Feet From Stardom (USA), with Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's After Tiller also scoring well with SFIFF audiences.

Live & Onstage Events
A clear highlight of the Live & Onstage program, the State of Cinema Address was delivered this year on April 27 by iconoclast Steven Soderbergh. In the days following the event, Soderbergh's address quickly went viral-the Film Society's video has attracted more than 42,000 page views since it was posted online-and garnered great national attention from such media outlets as the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington PostEntertainment WeeklyForbes and Film Comment, among scores of others. On April 26, Bay Area artists such as Mark Eitzel (American Music Club), Eli Horowitz (former McSweeney's managing editor), Atsuko Okatsuka (star of Pearblossom Hwy) Lucy Raven (RP31, China Town) and Boots Riley (The Coup) came together to present their passions, experiences, relationships and obsessions with the moving image in Show or Tell. The Live & Onstage program continued with Inside the Drunken Mind of Derek Waters where writer-producer-actor-comedian Derek Waters shared his personal discoveries of media from around the world, and gave us a peek at his new Drunk History television show for Comedy Central. With No More Road Trips?, Rick Prelinger took SFIFF audiences on a dream ride through 20th-century America made entirely from home movies that asked whether we've reached the end of the open road. The soundtrack for this fully participatory film was created by audiences at the screening at the historic Castro Theatre. On May 7, contemporary musicians Mike Patton, Scott Amendola, Matthias Bossi and William Winant provided a live score to the classic German expressionist film Waxworks (1924) in a live world premiere. Acclaimed indie filmmaker Richard Linklater, director of the Closing Night Film Before Midnight, was joined onstage by actor Julie Delpy to give SFIFF audiences insight into the creative process behind the conception of his groundbreaking Before series in A Conversation with Richard Linklater on May 8.

Local Cinema
The 56th International featured 22 local narrative features, documentaries and short films. Among the Bay Area features were Inequality for All by Jacob Kornbluth, The Kill Team by Dan Krauss, A River Changes Course by Kalyanee Mam and Spend it All by Les Blank. Bay Area shorts were also abundant and included The Blue Umbrella (Saschka Unseld), Checkmate (Lily Yu, Jasmine Ehrhardt, Stephanie Hoang), Cicada Princess (Mauricio Baiocchi), Conjurors Box (Kerry Laitala), Jurassic Floor (Garry Moore, Gregory Moore), Limitations (Lily Yu), Night Skies (Scott Feuerhelm), Shanghai Strangers (Joan Chen), Stepsister (Joey Izzo), There is No Crisis in American Education (Lily Yu, Jasmine Ehrhardt, Stephanie Hoang) and Verses (James Sansing).

Schools at the Festival
Attendance and participation were strong this year for SFFS Youth Education's Schools at the Festival (SATF) program. Many filmmakers participated, with 19 local and international guests (writers, producers, directors, animators and set/puppet builders) discussing their films and craft in classrooms during the program's 23 school visits, reaching over 1136 elementary, middle and high school students and educators. The participating schools were also invited to bring their students to the 18 screenings held at the Festival. More than 4,100 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.

Master Classes and Salons
Participating in three Master Classes, SFIFF56 filmmakers engaged with audiences on a deeper level by further discussing the ideas presented in their films and related works. In Making the Music Doc Rock award-winning documentary filmmaker Lian Lunson explored the realm of the music documentary providing insight on her creative choices in telling the stories of iconic artists. In Fifty Years of Filmmaking Academy Award winner William Friedkin revealed the secrets and stories of his maverick film career and his experience as one of the leading directors of the New Hollywood of the 1960s and '70s. During A Pixar Animation Workshop for Kids, director of SFIFF56 animated short The Blue Umbrella Saschka Unseld taught children aged 10-15 how to make use of basic stop-motion techniques to bring everyday inanimate objects to life.

The Festival's Salons took participants beyond the passive viewing experience and engaged them with in-depth discussions led by filmmakers and industry professionals about major issues and ideas related to cinema. At All the World's a Screen: Literacy in the Visual Age, Jacob Burns Film Center executive directorStephen Apkon led an engaging conversation about today's screen culture and how visual media transforms the way we teach, create and communicate. Interactive Impact: Making Change Through Audience Engagement brought together Shaady Salehi (Active Voice), Jen Gilomen (Bay Area Video Coalition), Alex Campolo (Harmony Institute), James Franklin (BRITDOC/Assemble) and filmmakers Jeremy Teicher (Tall as the Baobab Tree) and Kalyanee Mam (A River Changes Course) to demystify engagement strategies and explore tools to maximize the social impact of independent films.

A2E: Artist to Enterpreneur
This year marked the inauguration of the San Francisco Film Society's new pilot program, A2E: Artist to Entrepreneur, brainchild of Film Society Executive Director Ted Hope and the first program of its kind in the industry. A2E's programs focused on the practicalities of direct distribution with an aim to discover new models for filmmakers to forge sustainable careers in the current digital landscape. The hugely successful four days of panels, workshops and informal meetings connected and informed filmmakers, digital distributors and technology partners, powerfully leveraging San Francisco's position as the world's foremost hub of digital innovation. The weekend's activities were divided into two segments, OnRamp and LaunchPad, the first aimed toward informing filmmakers of direct distribution opportunities in today's tech landscape, the second centered on forging productive relationships between tech startups in various fields and the global filmmaking community. Participants included filmmakers Jules Bishop, David Breschel, Dane Clark, Laura Colella, Adam Collis, Jonathan Duffy, Tom Gilroy, Jordan Gross, Eliza Hittman, Elisabeth Holm, Mike MacMillan, Paul Mezey, Rola Nashef, Tommy Oliver, Adam Robinson, George Rush, Linsey Stewart and Laura Wagner; technology partners included Gravitas, Fandor, IndieFlix, Kickstarter, Kinonation, Snag Films, TopSpin, Tugg, VHX, Assemble, Dogfish, Elevison, Epoch, Flicklist, The Harmony Institute, Indie Artery, iWonder, JuntoBox Films, Lightt, Portico, Rally, and Seed & Spark. Films and filmmakers were selected in partnership with the British Film Institute, the Canadian Film Centre, Cinereach, Film Independent, Film London, Frameline, the Independent Filmmaker Project and the Sundance Institute. A2E Lab's presenting sponsor was Vimeo Pro.

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56th San Francisco International Film Festival
The 56th San Francisco International Film Festival runs April 25-May 9 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the Castro Theatre and New People Cinema in San Francisco and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. Held each spring for 15 days, the International is an extraordinary showcase of cinematic discovery and innovation in one of the country's most beautiful cities, featuring 200 films and live events, 14 juried awards and $70,000 in cash prizes, upwards of 100 participating filmmaker guests and diverse and engaged audiences with more than 70,000 in attendance.