San Francisco International Film Festival

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San Francisco International Film Festival
Location San Francisco, California, USA
Language International

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.[1]

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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

SFIFF is currently programmed by SFFS Director of Programming Rachel Rosen, Programmers Rod Armstrong and Sean Uyehara, Golden Gate Awards Manager Audrey Chang, and Programming Coordinator Joseph Flores.[5]

The 58th annual festival will take place April 23 to May 7, 2015 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the Castro Theatre, the Clay Theatre, and Roxie Theatre in San Francisco, and the Pacific Film Archive Theater in Berkeley.[6]


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.[7] 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.[8] It wasn't until 1959 that a major American film, Henry King's Beloved Infidel, starring Gregory Peck and Deborah Kerr, played at SFIFF.

Honors and Tributes

Founder’s Directing Award

This award is given each year to one of the masters of world cinema, in memory of SFIFF's founder, Irving Levin.[9] Recent recipients include:

Prior to 2003, the festival's directing award was known as the Akira Kurosawa Award. Recipients include:

Peter J. Owens Award

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.[15] Recent recipients include:

Kanbar Award

The Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting acknowledges the crucial role that strong screenwriting plays in the creation of great films.[18] Recent recipients include:

Mel Novikoff Award

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.[20] Recent recipients include:

Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award

The POV Award honors the lifetime achievement of a filmmaker whose work is crafting documentaries, short films, animation or work for television.[22] Recent recipients include:

Midnight Awards

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.[25] Recent recipients include:

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.[26] 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 categores:[27]

  • Documentary Feature - prize: $20,000
  • Bay Area Documentary Feature - prize: $15,000
  • Documentary Short - prize: $5,000
  • Narrative Short - prize: $5,000
  • Animated Short - prize: $2,000
  • Bay Area Short, First Prize - prize: $2,000
  • Bay Area Short, Second Prize - prize: $1,500
  • New Visions Short - prize: $1,500
  • Youth Work - prize: $1,500
  • Family Film - prize: $1,500

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes the San Francisco International Film Festival as a qualifying festival for the short films (live action and animated) competitions of the 81st annual Academy Awards.[28]


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.[29]

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:

Live Music & Film

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:

See also


  1. "San Francisco Film Festival Bucks Economic Trends to Set New Records for Revenue and Attendance." 7 May 2009. San Francisco Film Society. 29 June 2009,37&pageid=1077
  2. Article about hiring of Ted Hope
  3. Notice of death of Bingham Ray
  4. Notice of death of Graham Leggat
  5. SFFS Staff page
  6. Release San Francisco Film Society 5 September 2012
  7. Amazonas, Lee. "The Festival that Wouldn't Die." 31 July 2009
  8. Knickerbocker, Paine. "After Triumphs and Minor Disasters, the 20th Anniversary." San Francisco Chronicle. 1977. 31 July 2009
  9. Fardooq, Sajid. "The Godfather Takes Center Stage at SF Film Fest." 1 April 2009. 24 July 2009
  12. SFIFF press release
  13. Awards 54th SFIFF
  14. Awards 53rd SFIFF
  15. Brooks, Brian. "Redford to Receive San Francisco Film Festival Honors." 10 March 2009. 24 July 2009
  18. Bigelow, Catherine. "Big Screen: SF Film Society Awards Gala." 5 May 2009. 24 July
  20. Pine, Dan. "S.F. film fest honors famed Jewish film restorer." 30 April 2009. 24 July 2009
  22. Guillen, Michael. "SFiFF52: Al Mas Alla-On-Stage Conversation With Lourdes Portillo & John Anderson." 28 April 2009. 24 July 2009
  25. "Midnight Awards for Evan and Elijah." 25 March 2009. 24 July 2009
  26. Hawley, Michael. "SFIFF52--Michael Hawley Anticipates Line-up." 24 July 2009
  27. SFIFF press release
  28. "Short Films Awards Festivals List." 24 July 2009.
  29. Eder, Klaus. "The Purpose of FIPRESCI Is to Support Cinema as Art." 24 July 2009

External links