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Aaron Sorkin and Chloé Zhao Announced as First Honorees at SFFILM Awards Night 2020


SFFILM’S Awards Season Celebration and Fundraiser Is Going Online to Support the Organization’s Year-Round Work Cultivating the Next Generation of Film Artists

San Francisco, CASFFILM has announced two notable filmmakers that will accept honors at SFFILM Awards Night, the organization’s annual fundraising celebration honoring achievement in filmmaking craft. This year’s highly anticipated awards show has shifted from its traditional seated dinner and onstage presentation format to a dynamic live-streamed showcase, taking place December 9.
The guests of honor at SFFILM Awards Night will be the recipients of the organization’s prestigious awards for film craft: Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7, Netflix) will receive the Kanbar Award for Storytelling, and Chloé Zhao (Nomadland, Searchlight Pictures) will receive the Irving M. Levin Award for Film Direction. The recipients of the SFFILM Award for Acting and additional honors will be announced in the coming weeks.
SFFILM Awards Night supports the organization’s year-round work to discover and nurture the next generation of film artists, not only through the SFFILM Festival and other screenings and events, but also through its SFFILM Education and SFFILM Makers initiatives. One of San Francisco’s best-attended annual film events and social circuit gatherings, SFFILM Awards Night leverages the Bay Area’s increasing awards season relevance and amplifies the region’s voice in the national critical conversation about film. The program recognizes the singular careers of some of the most remarkable figures in contemporary cinema with special tributes and high-profile presenters. Additional details about the structure of this year’s online edition of Awards Night will be revealed soon.

SFFILM Awards Night tickets are now available. All tickets include a charitable contribution that supports SFFILM's year-round work cultivating the next generation of world-class film artists. For more information about public participation levels and event access, visit For questions about press access and interview opportunities, contact
“We are thrilled to honor such exceptional talent at our SFFILM Awards Night and to bring an even wider audience together virtually this year for our annual fundraiser,” said SFFILM Executive Director Anne Lai. “Both Aaron and Chloé’s remarkable work resonate deeply for us, not only in their beautiful cinematic expression but also in presenting deep and complex characters and questions for us as a society today. We hope that by celebrating these artists, their films, and these values, SFFILM can have a positive impact on the cultural conversations that arise this time of year around highly anticipated awards contenders.”




Kanbar Award for Storytelling: Aaron Sorkin
The Kanbar Award acknowledges the critical importance that storytelling plays in the creation of outstanding films. The award is named in honor of Maurice Kanbar, a longtime member of the board of directors of SFFILM, a San Francisco film commissioner, and a philanthropist with a particular interest in supporting independent filmmakers. Past recipients include Lulu Wang (2019), Boots Riley (2018), Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (2017), Tom McCarthy (2016), Paul Schrader (2015), Stephen Gaghan (2014), Eric Roth (2013), David Webb Peoples (2012), Frank Pierson (2011), and James Schamus (2010).
Academy-Award winning writer and renowned playwright Aaron Sorkin broke into film with his 1993 adaptation of A Few Good Men, which was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture. Additionally, he won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, amongst other accolades, for The Social Network and also received Best Adapted Screenplay nominations for his work on Moneyball (alongside Steve Zaillian) and for Molly's Game, his directorial debut. Acclaimed across mediums, Sorkin created and produced NBC’s The West Wing, which won 26 Primetime Emmy Awards, including four consecutive Outstanding Drama Series victories. Additional credits include the films Malice, The American President, Charlie Wilson's War, and Steve Jobs; television shows Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and The Newsroom; and the Broadway stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, now the highest grossing American play in Broadway history. His newest film The Trial of the Chicago 7 is available on Netflix beginning October 16.
Irving M. Levin Award for Film Direction: Chloé Zhao
The Irving M. Levin Award for Film Direction is presented each year to one of the masters of world cinema and is given in memory of the founder of the San Francisco International Film Festival, which launched in 1957. Past recipients include Marielle Heller (2019), Steve McQueen (2018), Kathryn Bigelow (2017), Mira Nair (2016), Guillermo del Toro (2015), Richard Linklater (2014), Philip Kaufman (2013), Kenneth Branagh (2012), Oliver Stone (2011), Walter Salles (2010), Francis Ford Coppola (2009), Mike Leigh (2008), Spike Lee (2007), and Werner Herzog (2006).
Chloé Zhao was born on March 31, 1982 in Beijing, China. She was raised there and also in Brighton, England. After moving to the US, she studied Politics at Mt Holyoke College and Film Production at NYU. As a writer, director, and producer, her first feature Songs My Brothers Taught Me premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2015 and her second feature The Rider premiered at Cannes Film Festival’s Director’s Fortnight in 2017 and won the Art Cinema Awards. The Rider also won Best Film at the 2018 Gotham Awards. Her two upcoming features are Nomadland, a road movie set in the American West; and Marvel Studios’ Eternals. Zhao lives in California and adores her two dogs and three chickens.
SFFILM Awards Night is generously supported by Lead Financial Services Sponsor First Republic Bank and Live-Stream Sponsor Four One Nine. This year's event co-chairs are SFFILM Board members Gwyneth Borden, Joni Binder, Heidi Fisher, and Sonia Yu.





SFFILM is a nonprofit organization with a mission to champion the world's finest films and filmmakers through programs anchored in and inspired by the spirit and values of the San Francisco Bay Area. Presenter of the San Francisco International Film Festival, SFFILM is a year-round organization delivering screenings and events to more than 75,000 film lovers and media education programs to more than 15,000 students, teachers, and families annually. In addition to its public programs, SFFILM supports the careers of independent filmmakers from the Bay Area and beyond with grants, residencies, and other creative development services.  For more information visit

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