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Elisabeth Bartlett is blogging the festival scene from Cannes to Los Angeles.
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SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL BUCKS ECONOMIC TRENDS TO SET NEW RECORDS FOR REVENUE AND ATTENDANCE

Longest-Running Film Festival in the Americas Enjoys a Spectacular 52nd Year with Superb Programming, Numerous Special Guests and Many Memorable Sold-out Events

The San Francisco Film Society wrapped its 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival (April 23-May 7) with 272 screenings of 151 films from 55 countries, with 144 filmmakers and 54 industry guests from 25 countries in attendance, with an estimated 82,000 filmgoers. Over its packed 15 days the Festival set new record highs for attendance and ticket revenues, which latter exceeded 2008's previous record by roughly eight percent and the organization's 2009 budget goal by 20 percent.

In addition, Film Society Awards Night, the organization's gala black-tie fundraiser held at the midpoint of the Festival, exceeded its goal by 11 percent, grossing $501,500. Proceeds from this event benefit the Film Society's Youth Education Program, which serves roughly 8,000 Bay Area school children annually.

"We are thrilled by the record crowds that attended this year's International," said Graham Leggat, SFFS executive director. "This extraordinary enthusiasm, coupled with the unflagging support of our numerous stakeholders, means that the organization continues to look strong financially during difficult times."

The Festival sold out 110 screenings during its 15-day run, including four sell-outs of the 1400-seat Castro Theatre, underlining the strong demand for the unique programming that the Film Society brings to the Bay Area and setting the stage for the successful resumption of the Film Society's year-round programming following the Festival. This coming Monday, May 11, the Film Society will host a benefit screening of Up at Pixar Studios in Emeryville, while the Film Society Screen at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas reopens Friday, June 5 with Carlos Saura's Fados. The SFFS Screen offers daily programming of international, independent and documentary films year-round.

Sponsors and Partners
Among SFIFF52's leading corporate sponsors were Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Wells Fargo, Adobe Youth Voices, Blue Angel Vodka, Esurance, The Film Foundation, Gucci, Stella Artois and Visa. Local businesses were eager to work with the 52nd, as more than 50 local restaurants supported the Festival and more than 500 hotel room nights were donated for Festival guests, with a majority of the room nights coming from host hotel sponsor Joie de Vivre Hotels.

Star-Studded Nights
Film Society Awards Night honored four world-class film talents at the Westin St. Francis Hotel April 30. Honorees were Francis Ford Coppola, recipient of the Founder's Directing Award, presented by acclaimed director James Gray; Carroll Ballard, recipient of a Special Directing Award, presented by Francis Ford Coppola; Robert Redford, recipient of the Peter J. Owens Award for his acting career, presented by Sid Ganis; and James Toback, recipient of the Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting, presented by distinguished film critic David Thomson.

Attending the festivities were Dede Wilsey, Robert Mailer Anderson, Wilkes Bashford, Phil Bronstein, Jeannette Etheredge, Attorney General Jerry Brown and local film luminaries George Lucas, Walter Murch and Saul Zaentz.

The Festival also presented the third annual Midnight Awards, a late night awards ceremony created to honor dynamic young American actors. This year's Midnight Award recipients were Elijah Wood and Evan Rachel Wood, who conversed candidly and amusingly with host Beth Lisick and accepted their engraved silver martini shaker trophies with an energized late-night crowd.

Every day at SFIFF52 was blessed with considerable star power. Hometown heroes Benjamin and Peter Bratt introduced their Opening Night film La Mission and embraced their family and fans at a sensational, car-studded Opening Night party. Gena Rowlands took to the Castro stage in front of a packed house, where she addressed the audience after receiving a standing ovation. From Mexico, Diego Luna and director Carlos Cauròn attended the West Coast premiere of Rudo y Cursi, entertaining audiences with their humorous Q&A. Master Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda attended with Still Walking, and accomplished Hong Kong screenwriter Ivy Ho returned to the Festival with the North American premiere of her directorial debut, Claustrophobia. Director Marc Webb and stars Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt accompanied their film 500 Days of Summer at the Festival's Centerpiece screening. Academy Award-nominated director Atom Egoyan attended with his film, Adoration. Bruce Goldstein, preeminent film programmer of New York's Film Forum and founder of Rialto Pictures was honored with the Mel Novikoff Award for his visionary programming and dedication to revitalizing international classics. Stephan Elliot returned to the city where his Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was such a triumph with Noel Coward adaptation Easy Virtue. Longtime SFIFF participant Lourdes Portillo received this year's Persistence of Vision Award in honor of her singular persistence and dedication to broadening the scope of Latino and Chicano portrayals in films. She screened the U.S. premiere of her latest film, Al Más Allá. Renowned photographer Mary Ellen Mark shared her unique perspective on film, drawn from the 40 years she spent behind the scenes, in this year's State of Cinema address.

Cinema by the Bay
This was an exceptional year for Bay Area cinema, with five outstanding films highlighted in the Cinema by the Bay section. Acclaimed local filmmaking duo Allie Light and Irving Saraf's Empress Hotel painted a multifaceted portrait of a Tenderloin residential hotel and its eccentric and colorful residents, playing to four sold-out shows; Frazer Bradshaw accompanied his semi-experimental narrative feature Everything Strange and New, a piercing, meditative film that raises uncomfortable questions about the broken promises of the American dream; at the world premiere of Ferlinghetti, Christopher Felver's documentary portrait of the legendary poet and City Lights cofounder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti took the stage to be honored in person; My Suicide, David Lee Miller's feature about an alienated teen who sets off a chain of hilarious, disturbing and intense events after he announces his intention to film his own suicide spurned conversation among Festival audiences; and Bay Area resident Jonathan Parker brought his satire of contemporary art (Untitled) and stars, Adam Goldberg, Marley Shelton and Eion Bailey, who amused audiences onscreen and onstage in a Q&A following their screenings.

In all, the 52nd International featured 22 local narrative and documentary feature and short films. Among the Bay Area documentary features was Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider's Speaking in Tongues, which presents the world of language immersion programs in the San Francisco public schools through four schoolchildren's experiences. The world premiere packed four sold-out houses and brought out many grateful responses in conversations with the directors. In City of Borders, local filmmaker Yun Suh traveled to Israel and Palestine to document the community that has formed in Jerusalem's lone gay bar. Attending the world premiere of Jennifer Maytorena Taylor's New Muslim Cool, subject Hamza Peréz enthralled audiences with tales of his experiences as a Latino Muslim. Jim Granato's D tour engaged audiences in a powerful way, depicting the decisions Rogue Wave drummer Pat Spurgeon faced as his career took off and his kidney failed. The West Coast premiere was followed by onstage performances from subjects Pat Spurgeon and Rogue Wave, with special guest John Vanderslice.

Schools at the Festival
Many filmmakers participated in the Schools at the Festival program this year, with 34 local and international guests discussing their films and craft in classrooms during the program's 35 school visits, reaching some 1,300 elementary, middle and high school students. Schools were invited to bring their students to 15 special SAF screenings held at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas. Overall, more than 3,900 local students from schools across the Bay Area participated in Schools at the Festival programs. The year-round program 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.
 
Forums at the Festival
Participating in the third annual Forums at the Festival program, filmmakers and panelists engaged audiences with further discussion of the ideas presented in their films. A Sea Change director Barbara Ettinger and producer Sven Huseby led a conversation Ocean Acidification: Imagining a World Without Fish. The lively panel The Real Mad Men left many young people in attendance inspired to infuse their careers with innovation. Truth, Youth and New Muslim Cool panel presented a strong demand for more accurate, humanizing portrayals of Muslims in the media to a packed house. Passionate, driven young filmmakers, and the educators urging them on engaged in encouraging, hopeful conversations during the Youth Make Media, Incite Change panel. Three well-attended Chronicle Chats, opportunities to hear documentary filmmakers discuss their subjects in-depth with San Francisco Chronicle reporters, rounded out the Forums at the Festival program. In addition, SFIFF52 offered industry members a plethora of professional sessions and networking opportunities, an extension of the year-round filmmaker services offered by the San Francisco Film Society.

Live Events
One of the most highly anticipated programs at SFIFF52 was Dengue Fever's world premiere of their newly composed score to the 1925 silent film The Lost World. Playing to a sold-out audience at the Castro Theatre May 5, Dengue Fever presented a stunning arrangement to the captivated crowd. On April 30, filmmaker Travis Wilkerson awed the crowd as he delivered a political agitation/performance with the musical collaboration of folk musicians Los Duggans. Following the world premiere of the boys: the sherman brothers story, family, friends and fans celebrated as composer Richard Sherman took to the piano in the Disney Family Museum, singing along to the songwriter's familiar catalog for Disney films.

Award-winning Films
Eleven films were in juried competition for the 13th annual $15,000 New Directors Award, given to a first-time filmmaker whose work exhibits a unique artistic sensibility. The jury chose director Aida Begic's Snow (Bosnia and Herzegovina 2008), lauding its "beautifully observed, poetically textured sense of a place and people whose spirits are by turns fragile, funny, fierce and full-hearted."

The FIPRESCI jury, comprised of Mihai Chirilov, Rob Nelson and Charles-Stéphane Roy, chose Everything Strange and New by Frazer Bradshaw (USA 2008). The jury said they were "delighted to acknowledge the work of Bay Area-based director Frazer Bradshaw, whose first feature dares to cut against the grain of American independent filmmaking in its embrace of stylistic experimentalism and genuine interest in the intricacies of adult relationships." FIPRESCI, the renowned 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.

The International awarded close to $100,000 in total prizes this year with $60,000 to winners in three categories: investigative documentary feature ($25,000), documentary feature ($20,000) and Bay Area documentary feature ($15,000). The Festival's Golden Gate Awards were held on Wednesday, May 6 at Temple Nightclub-Prana Restaurant. The GGA for Best Investigative Documentary Feature was presented to Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country by Anders Østergaard (Denmark 2008). Best Documentary Feature was presented to Nomad's Land by Gaël Métroz (Switzerland 2008). Best Bay Area Documentary Feature is D tour by Jim Granato (USA 2008).

Best Documentary Short is Tongzhi in Love by Ruby Yang (USA 2008). The Best Narrative Short is Angels Die in the Soil by Babak Amini (Iran 2008). Best Bay Area Short is Immersion by Richard Levien (USA 2008). The Adobe Youth Film for Change Award winner is A Generation of Consolidation by Samantha Muilenburg and Brooke Noel (USA 2008). The Best Youth Work is No Light at the End of the Tunnel by Charlotte Burger (USA 2008), and receiving Honorable Mention is Poetry in the Dark by Daniel Kharlak (USA 2008). The Best Work for Kids and Families is Mutt by Glen Hunwick (Australia 2008). The Best Animated Short is Kanizsa Hill by Evelyn Lee (USA 2008) and Best New Visions is Circles of Confusion by Phoebe Tooke. This year's Golden Gate Awards for works made for television went to Chiang Hsui-chiung's Artemisia (Taiwan 2008) in the TV Narrative Long Form category.

Audiences also voted on their overall favorite films in the Festival. The Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature went to Cruz Angeles' Don't Let Me Drown (USA 2008). The Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature went to Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider's Speaking in Tongues (USA 2009).

Comments (1)

where are the pics of all

where are the pics of all the winners at the San Francisco FF.

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Bartlett Elisabeth
Blogging about the festival scene from Los Angeles

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