San Francisco International Film Festival

San Francisco International Film Festival
The San Francisco International Film Festival is one of the longest running film festivals in the Americas. Founded in 1957, it is held every spring. The festival is organized by the San Francisco Film Society, a non-profit arts organization that presents year-round programs and events in film exhibition, filmmaker services and media education.

The San Francisco International Film Festival was founded by film exhibitor Irving “Bud” Levin, who wanted to introduce locals to cinema as an art form, as well as to help secure San Francisco’s place in the international arts scene. One of the festival’s most notable achievements is the introduction of foreign films to American audiences. Throne of Blood by Akira Kurosawa (Japan) and Pather Panchali by Satyajit Ray (India) were among films screened at the inaugural SFIFF.

The festival didn’t become instantaneously popular because it lacked support from the major Hollywood studios. Studio executives claimed that active promotion of international films would threaten the American film industry and that the SFIFF would draw commercial attention away from the Academy Awards. It wasn’t until 1959 that a major American film was screened at the SFIFF. It was Beloved Infidel by Henry King, starring Gregory Peck and Deborah Kerr.

Over the years, the SFIFF has grown into a major cultural event in the Bay Area. According to the festival team, the SFIFF is an extraordinary showcase of cinematic discovery. Its line-up includes premieres, film competitions, new media showcases, innovative live music and film events, artist talks, the State of Cinema Address, and the Schools at the Festival Program, designed to introduce students aged 6 to 18 to the art of filmmaking and international film.

The SFIFF hosts a film competition for short films, documentaries, animated films, experimental films and videos, works for television, and documented works. The winners in a number of categories receive the Golden Gate Awards and cash prizes. Other awards given at the festival include the New Directors Award and the FIPRESCI Prize. The SFIFF is an Academy Award-qualifying festival for short (live action and animated) films.

Honorary awards presented at the SFIFF include the Irving M. Leving Directing Award (formerly known as the Akira Kurosawa Award and the Founder’s Directing Award), the Peter J. Owens Award for excellence in acting, the Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting, the Mel Novikoff Award for contributions to the Bay Area’s film community, the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award for the lifetime achievement in filmmaking, and the George III Craft of Cinema Award.

San Francisco International Film Festival

Photo: Pamela Gentile




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