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Benh Zeitlin to receive the inaugural Graham Leggat Award at SFIFF

The San Francisco Film Society announced today that Benh Zeitlin, director of the highly imaginative and much acclaimed independent narrative feature Beasts of the Southern Wild, will be the recipient of the inaugural Graham Leggat Award at the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 19 - May 3). The award will be presented to Zeitlin at Film Society Awards Night, Thursday, April 26 at the historic Warfield Theatre. The Graham Leggat Award honors Leggat and the Film Society's support of filmmakers through its Filmmaker360 programs.  
The Film Society and its highly regarded Youth Education program will be the beneficiary of the star-studded fundraiser honoring Zeitlin; Kenneth Branagh, recipient of the Founder's Directing Award, given to a master of world cinema; Judy Davis, recipient of the Peter J. Owens Award which honors an actor whose work exemplifies brilliance, independence and integrity; and David Webb Peoples, recipient of the Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting. Susie and Pat McBaine and Katie and Todd Traina are chairs of this year's Film Society Awards Night gala, and Melanie and Larry Blum are the honorary chairs.

"Benh Zeitlin, one of the many filmmakers whom the Film Society has supported, has completely captured our imaginations and enthusiasm from our first meeting with him," said Melanie Blum, the San Francisco Film Society's interim executive director. "In fact, Graham was part of the original granting panel that awarded Benh one of two SFFS/Kenneth Rainin Foundation Filmmaker postproduction grants, totaling $105,000, for Beasts of the Southern Wild."

Leggat, the former executive director of the Film Society who passed away last August, was above all else a film lover, and one of the things he cherished most about his job was the opportunity to cultivate filmmakers and help them to succeed. As he stated from the stage at Opening Night in 2009, "For the past five decades the Film Society has been something of a high end florist. It's taken the best films from around the world -- the flowers of world cinema, if you will -- and put them in the vase of the San Francisco International Film Festival." In August of 2008, under Leggat's leadership, the Film Society underwent an organizational transformation and, through an agreement with Film Arts Foundation, became stewards of programs that serve filmmakers directly. "Since then," said Leggat with a wry grin, "we've become less of a florist and more of a nursery. And part of that increased responsibility has meant caring more about the wonderful filmmakers of the Bay Area and the world at large." Thanks largely to Leggat's vision, the Film Society has grown to become a true filmmaker organization that supports films and filmmakers at all stages of production through Filmmaker360. For more information visit Filmmaker360.

Zeitlin is a director, animator, composer and a founding member of Court 13. He lives in New Orleans where dogs, cats, ducks, chickens and a 350-pound swine run wild in his home. Director of award-winning shorts Egg, Origins of Electricity, I Get Wet and Glory at Sea, he was named by Filmmaker Magazine as one of the "25 New Faces of Independent Film." Zeitlin participated in Sundance Labs and won the NHK International Filmmakers Award at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival with his film Beasts of the Southern Wild, and in 2010 and 2011 he was awarded SFFS/Kenneth Rainin Foundation Filmmaking Grants for postproduction.

Beasts of the Southern Wild won the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Dramatic Competition at Sundance 2012 and will be released June 27 by Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film centers upon a forgotten but defiant bayou community cut off from the rest of the world by a sprawling levee where a six-year-old girl exists on the brink of orphanhood. Buoyed by her childish optimism and extraordinary imagination, she believes that the natural world is in balance with the universe until a fierce storm changes her reality. Desperate to repair the structure of her world in order to save her ailing father and sinking home, this tiny hero must learn to survive unstoppable catastrophes of epic proportions.

Additional recognition came today when it was announced that Beasts of the Southern Wild will make its international debut next month at the 2012 Cannes International Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section.

For tickets and information for Film Society Awards Night only call 415-561-5049 or email

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