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article imageSan Francisco International Film Festival celebrates 54 years Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Apr 12, 2011 in Entertainment
Next week beginning April 21 the San Francisco International Film Festival will kick-off 15 days of film-showings, premieres and yes, lots of parties.
With over 188 films from 48 countries in 33 languages and almost two-dozen awards given out for cinematic distinction, the SFIFF has much to celebrate for its 54th year.
Among the many recipients of honors and awards will be director Oliver Stone. As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, He will be receiving this year's SFIFF "Founder's Director Award." Stone joins other illustrious SFIFF award recipients which include Francis Ford Coppola, Spike Lee, Warren Beatty and Clint Eastwood to name a few. The award was established over twenty years ago and like many things about the SFIFF, the festival keeps evolving, growing.
As reported by Janos Gereben last October in the San Francisco Examiner for five decades since its inception by Irving Levin in 1957, the SFIFF has become one of the largest film festivals in the nation. It has been enjoying new prestige through its fund raising administrative entity, The San Francisco Film Society, which was formed in the 1970's.
Through the SF Film Society the SFIFF has been able to organize year-round functions and outreach.
"We've expanded significantly and are very proud of our growth," said Graham Leggat, who has been serving as executive director of the SFIFF for the past five years. He told those in attendance at the Opening Press Conference on March 29, "we are part of a world-wide network, an on-going celebration of film culture."
Held atop the Westin St. Francis Hotel at Union Square, that Tuesday morning the Alexandria Room on the 32nd Floor with its sweeping views of the City was accommodating. Overflowing with guests, reporters, photographers, public relations reps and the like, the Opening Press Conference at the St. Francis Hotel was an event in itself.
Some attended the press conference to promote a film such as Suzanne Ramsey, a.k.a. 'Kitten on the Keys.' Attired in costume and high energy, she was there representing exotic "new burlesque." Ramsey is one of the stars in the film "On Tour" that will be featured on the closing night of the festival.
With so many films presented at the festival there is something for every mood and style. Everyone in attendance at the press conference at the St. Francis that morning were an eclectic mixture of many people with many points of view. All of them were interested in film and the arts and this reporter was honored to be there.
The various milestones mentioned such as the 20th anniversary for the school of The Festival Arts Program and fifth-year for the on-line publication has brought the SFIFF and the SF Film Society even more attention with daily outreach to the community. Such anniversary-milestones give witness to the festival's growing audiences, some very loyal and passionate. Leggat in his opening speech praised San Francisco as "this beautiful city" and its role in the significant and on-going growth of the SFIFF.
As also noted in the SF Examiner, The San Francisco Bay Area is ranked as number three in the movie market in the nation and number two for the speciality market for Independent, art house and documentary film genre's.
Since being at the helm in his executive director role, Leggat has seen the operating budget of the SFIFF increase triple-fold from $2 million in 2005 to over $6 million today. Staff employed at SFIFF has grown from 11 full-time to 33 employees.
Forty percent of the budget comes from earned income through ticket sales, benefits, etc. and 60 percent from contributions. According to Leggat corporate sponsorship has declined since the onset of the recession.
Yet from the lists in this year's festival program, sponsors like Blue Angel Vodka, Discoveries Vineyards and Dolby Stereo are prominent. Also listed as contributors are over a dozen private and community foundations, along with cultural institutions and hotels that have also donated.
Many in the art and film community that were present at the press conference were ecstatic that the SFIFF is able to thrive even amid an economic recession. According to the SF Examiner, over 80,000 patronize the SFIFF, that includes various film venues nationwide that show SFIFF films throughout the year.
For the run of the festival films are shown in locally or regionally-privately owned cinematic spots like The Castro Theater (at the heart of The Castro District, one of San Francisco most popular neighborhoods) and Kabuki Theater in Japan town Center on Geary Blvd, which is now operated by Sundance, owned by actor/director Robert Redford.
This year there will be four screening venues for the films and four event venues for the scheduled parties and awards ceremonies.
Leggat looks forward to the future and hopes the SF Film Society can help to secure these spots, especially the screening venues like The Clay Theater on Fillmore Street, not far from the Kabuki. The 100-year-old Clay Theater has been among the most treasured of neighborhood theaters in San Francisco. Yet, despite its beloved status with San Franciscans, The Clay has not been designated permanently as such formally or officially.
And, according to the SF Examiner, since 1991 Landmark Theaters has leased the small-house venue, originally built in 1910 as a 'nickelodeon' for the neighborhood. Owner Balgobind Jaiswal has not stated what his plans are for the theater. SF Examiner reporters were not able to reach him for comment.
Leggat told The Examiner he is determined to secure The Clay either by lease agreement or by purchase of the property for the SFIFF, through the SF Film Society. He wants to ensure the theater will remain a single-screen venue. Rumors of plans to remodel The Clay to a three-screen complex are unconfirmed.
Leggat told The Examiner back in October of last year, "it's already a narrow bowling alley." "What would it be like as three units?" He opposes such an idea. Leggat's hope is to renovate The Clay to make it more comfortable for movie-goers.
Meanwhile this year's SF International Film Festival literally expands the globe in its diverse array of films; from drama's to comedies, to documentaries and shorts made by filmmakers from all-over the world eager to express points of view from everywhere and walk of life. Some of the films are placed in a given section such as the one for "new directors," etc.
The SFIFF does keep an eye open on trends but does not confine its selections to such. Some films will make their debut and others will be vintage favorites such as the Federico Fellini classic "La Dolce Vita," which will be shown in a newly restored print.
"Our goal is always the same each year, to find the broadest selections to bring to the festival," said SFIFF programming director Rachel Rosen.
With a world-view and a vision for the future the SFIFF also recognizes that films and their unique stories can emerge from anywhere, even close to home. "We decided to include local filmmakers to the international group with our Cinema By the Bay," she said in a panel-discussion format that allowed for questions from the press.
Many in the audience at the press conference asked questions particular to their publication or news outlet's point of view. Yet all were curious as to the criteria established by the SFIFF for its selection of films.
"We have no set agenda or theme," said Rosen, We just look for films that we love," she said.
And obviously from all the variety and quantity of selection for this year, the SFIFF loves many films, perhaps even film making itself.
The 54th San Francisco International Film Festival presented by the SF Film Society begins on April 21 and ends on May 5, 2011. Tickets are now on sale.
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