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The San Francisco Film Society wrapped its 53rd San Francisco International Film

The San Francisco Film Society wrapped its 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival (April 22 - May 6) with 293 screenings of 181 films from 46 countries, with 188 filmmakers and 104 industry guests from 23 countries in attendance and more than 75,000 filmgoers.

The Festival sold out 92 screenings during its 15-day run, including five sellouts of the 1,400-seat Castro Theatre (An Evening with Roger Ebert & Friends, An Evening with Robert Duvall, world premiere of All About Evil, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with Stephin Merritt and Micmacs), underlining the strong demand for the unique programming that the Film Society brings to the Bay Area. Continuing the festivities, Friday, June 11, the Film Society will host a benefit screening of Toy Story 3 at Pixar Studios in Emeryville.

In addition, Film Society Awards Night, the organization's gala fundraiser, chaired this year by Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein, exceeded its goal for the evening, raising more than $500,000. Proceeds from this event benefit the Film Society's Youth Education program, which serves roughly 10,000 Bay Area schoolchildren annually.

"Once again we have been thrilled with the enthusiasm and spirit with which our audiences embraced the Festival," said Graham Leggat, SFFS executive director. "Director of Programming Rachel Rosen brought a wonderful new energy to the program through such choices as an increased number of Live & Onstage events -- truly making the Festival a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Star-Studded Nights
Film Society Awards Night honored three world-class film talents at the Westin St. Francis April 29. Honorees were Walter Salles, recipient of the Founder's Directing Award, presented by director Roman Coppola; Robert Duvall, recipient of the Peter J. Owens Award for his acting career, presented by longtime friend, actor James Caan; and James Schamus, recipient of the Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting, presented by filmmaker John Waters.

Attending the festivities were actress Patricia Clarkson and director Ruba Nadda of Cairo Time; Morning's director/actor Leland Orser with wife and lead actress Jeanne Tripplehorn and producer Todd Traina; and the director and producer of Get Low, Aaron Schneider and Dean Zanuck.

"It's such a fun night," observed gala guest and supporter Laney Thornton. "Once a year, the film festival makes San Francisco seem like we're a city of celebrities." (originally published in Leah Garchik's May 4 column in the San Francisco Chronicle).

Every day at SFIFF53 was blessed with considerable star power beginning Opening Night with Micmacs director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and continuing throughout the Festival. Celebrated animator Don Hertzfeldt was in town to receive the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award. Soundtrack composer T Bone Burnett and his wife, noted writer/director Callie Khouri, both held special conversations on stage to discuss their work. Critically acclaimed Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu and Salles enthralled the audience with their thoughtful discussion of filmmaking before the screening of In Search of On the Road (A Work in Progress). Director and actor Josh Radnor and costar Kate Mara dazzled filmgoers at the Centerpiece screening of happythankyoumoreplease. Comedian Derek Waters cracked up audiences with his hilarious short films during A Drunken Evening With Derek Waters and Wholphin. Master Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda returned to the Festival with Air Doll, and accomplished Hong Kong producer Peter Chan and actor Cung Le attended the North American premiere of Bodyguards and Assassins. The Joshua Grannell's All About Evil brought out loads of talent including Peaches Christ, Mink Stole, Thomas Dekker and Natasha Lyonne. Roger Ebert graced the Castro stage with friends Terry Zwigoff, Philip Kaufman, Errol Morris and Jason Reitman for a tribute to Ebert that brought audiences to their feet for four standing ovations. The Festival wrapped up its star-studded events with Joan Rivers, here with codirectors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg for the Closing Night screening of Joan Rivers - A Piece of Work.

Live & Onstage Events
Kicking off the program was A Conversation with T Bone Burnett, during which the legendary musician discussed his work and attendees were treated to a clip reel featuring many of Burnett's finest achievements. On April 25 the acclaimed film editor, sound designer, intellectual maverick and nine-time Academy Award nominee Walter Murch delivered the State of Cinema Address to a packed house of engaged audience members. Filmmaker and Oscar nominee Sam Green awed audiences on April 30 when he performed his experimental documentary piece Utopia in Four Movements with live music by the Quavers. A Drunken Evening with Derek Waters and Wholphin had audience members rolling in the aisles as Waters and Wholphin editor Brent Hoff caroused on stage between showings of Waters' shorts. San Francisco's beloved Porchlight storytelling series captivated story lovers in the Kabuki's largest auditorium on May 3 with storytellers from around the globe relating tales of their filmmaking experiences. One of the most highly anticipated programs at SFIFF53 was Stephin Merritt's world premiere performance of his newly composed score to the 1916 silent film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Playing to a sold-out audience at the Castro Theatre May 4, Merritt, along with Castro organist David Hegarty, Daniel Handler and Johny Blood, presented stunning musical accompaniment to the delight of the captivated crowd.

Cinema by the Bay
This was an exceptional year for Bay Area cinema, with four outstanding films highlighted in the Cinema by the Bay section: Empire of Silver, directed by Palo Alto resident Christina Yao, is a lush epic that tells a timeless love story in which the heir to a banking dynasty in northeastern China is called upon to sacrifice personal happiness to guide his family through the tumultuous turn of the 20th century; Morning, produced by San Franciscan Todd Traina and written by, directed by and starring Leland Orser, follows a married couple stricken by grief after the loss of their young child; The Practice of the Wild by John J. Healey, a portrait of Beat poet Gary Snyder and his cantankerous compadre Jim Harrison, intertwines Bay Area bohemia, Zen Buddhism and musings on ecology and spirituality with the complex simplicity of a perfectly crafted stanza; and Seducing Charlie Barker, directed by Amy Glazer, which follows a talented, out-of-work Manhattan actor being supported by his demanding wife, who gets more than he bargained for when he meets an ambitious but vapid young temptress.

In all, the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival featured 21 local narrative and documentary feature and short films. Among the Bay Area narrative features were Granell's All About Evil and the Butcher Brothers' The Violent Kind. Presumed Guilty by Roberto Hernández and Geoffrey Smith and Utopia in Four Movements directed by Sam Green and Dave Cerf represented the Bay Area feature documentaries. Bay Area shorts were abundant and included Leonardo (Jim Capobianco) Afterimage: A Flicker of Life (Kerry Laitala), Alma  (Rodrigo Blaas),Kaden Later (Harriet Storm), Embrace of the Irrational (Jonn Herschend), The Darkness of Day (Jay Rosenblatt), Laundry (Danielle Katvan), Blink Another Day (Eric Wen), Escargots (William Yarbrough), Evening of Passion (Alexander Smallridge), Portrait (Raphael Linden) and What is Green? (Andre Hines, Marisol Navarro, Francis Judaria).

Schools at the Festival
Attendance and participation rose across the board this year for SFFS Youth Education's Schools at the Festival program. Many filmmakers participated, with 27 local and international guests discussing their films and craft in classrooms during the program's 39 school visits, reaching 1,330 elementary, middle and high school students. Teachers were also invited to bring their students to 17 school screenings held at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas. More than 3,500 students from schools across the Bay Area attended these Schools at the Festival screenings, part of the year-round Youth Education program. SATF 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.
 
Conversations at the Festival
Participating in Festival Conversations, filmmakers and panelists engaged audiences with further discussion of the ideas presented in their films. Three well-attended Chronicle Chats, opportunities to hear filmmakers discuss their subjects in-depth with San Francisco Chronicle reporters, rounded out the Festival Conversations. In addition, SFIFF53 offered industry members a number of professional sessions and networking opportunities, an extension of the year-round filmmaker services offered by the San Francisco Film Society.

Award-winning Films
Twelve films were in juried competition for the 14th annual $15,000 New Directors Award, given to a first-time filmmaker whose work exhibits a unique artistic sensibility. The jury chose Mexican director Pedro González-Rubio's Alamar (Mexico), explaining, "This lovingly made story of the growing bond between a father and son demonstrates exquisite poetry and sophisticated craft."

The FIPRESCI jury, comprised of György Báron, Jay Carr and André Roy, chose Frontier Blues by Babak Jalali (Iran/England/Italy). The jury said, "Frontier Blues encompasses the widest range of human experience, with a deftly balanced range of colors and tonalities, mix of contrasting characters, deadpan style and a love of its milieu both humorous and ironic." FIPRESCI, the influential 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 5 at Temple Nightclub - Prana Restaurant. The GGA for Best Investigative Documentary Feature was presented to Last Train Home by Lixin Fan (Canada/China). Best Documentary Feature was presented to Pianomania by Lilian Franck and Robert Cibis (Austria/Germany). Best Bay Area Documentary Feature is Presumed Guilty by Roberto Hernández and Geoffrey Smith (Mexico).

Best Documentary Short is The Shutdown by Adam Stafford (Scotland). The Best Narrative Short is The Armoire by Jamie Travis (Canada). First place for Best Bay Area Short goes to Embrace of the Irrational by John Herschend (USA), second place to Leonardo by Jim Capobianco (USA). The GGA Youth Work winner is Moon Shoes by Joel Vanzeventer (USA), and receiving Honorable Mention is Alisha by Daniel Citron (USA). The Best Work for Kids and Families is Leonardo by Jim Capobianco (USA). The Best Animated Short is Tussilago by Jonas Odell (Sweden) and Best New Visions is Release (USA) by Bill Morrison.

Audiences also voted on their overall favorite films in the Festival. The Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature went to Debra Granik's Winter's Bone, with Teddy Chen's Bodyguards and Assassins also scoring well with festivalgoers. The Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature went to Julia Bacha's Budrus, with Richard Press's Bill Cunningham New York and Davis Guggenheim's Waiting for "Superman" also tallying high votes from the viewers.

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