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The San Francisco International Film Festival Turns Golden

Opening on April 26 with Emanuele Crialese’s GOLDEN DOOR, the San Francisco International Film Festival continues to celebrate its 15-day golden anniversary in high style. The 50th edition of the longest-running film festival in the Americas boasts an ambitious program of films and special events in the City by the Bay until the curtains close on May 10 with Olivier Dahan’s biopic of Edith Piaf, LA VIE EN ROSE.

“It’s quite an auspicious moment for us,” announced Graham Leggat, Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society, at a press conference announcing the SFIFF50 lineup. “A golden anniversary comes only once in an organization’s history, if at all. We’ve pulled out all the stops for this.”

Pulling out all the stops translates into a gold mine of global cinema—200 films from a record-high 54 countries—and a guest list of luminary film artists. Local legend George Lucas does not have to travel to a galaxy far, far away to receive a one-time only Irving M. Levin Award honoring a cinematic pioneer with close ties to the Bay Area. Spike Lee has done the right thing to earn the Film Society Directing Award. San Francisco resident Robin Williams will accept the Peter J. Owens Award recognizing an actor whose work exemplifies brilliance, independence and integrity. Peter Morgan will get the royal treatment with the Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting, crowning his spectacular run with THE QUEEN and THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND.

Writer-director Emanuele Crialese and lead actor Vincenzo Amato joined the opening-night crowd at the historic 1400-seat Castro Theatre to introduce GOLDEN DOOR (NUOVOMONDO). The animated Crialese, a Sicilian now living in New York, said his film was autobiographical and joked, “If I had stayed in Italy, I would almost certainly be a lawyer, so I want to thank you for saving me from that.”

“We didn’t commission this film, but we might have,” stated Leggat, noting that the touching emigrant saga held symbolic value for the International. “As we enter this 50th year, we are looking through the golden door of this festival.”

In many respects, SFIFF50 honors its past and local achievements while embracing the future. Gary Leva’s FOG CITY MAVERICKS made its world premiere, documenting the iconoclastic careers and notable impact of San Francisco Bay Area filmmakers. George Lucas, Saul Zaentz, Chris Columbus and John Lasseter participated in a Q&A after the Castro Theatre screening. Renowned editor Walter Murch appeared in person and onscreen as the subject of Edie Ichioka and David Ichioka’s documentary, MURCH. The festival’s Cinema by the Bay sidebar also put a spotlight on the work of Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht (ALL IN THIS TEA), Rob Nilsson (CARVED OUT OF PAVEMENT: THE WORK OF ROB NILSSON), Lynn Hershman Leeson (STRANGE CULTURE), Jon Else (WONDERS ARE MANY) and the feature debut of Miles Matthew Montalbano (REVOLUTION SUMMER).

During the first half of the festival, film historian and preservationist Kevin Brownlow was bestowed with the Mel Novikoff Award for enhancing the filmgoing public’s knowledge and appreciation of world cinema. Rosario Dawson and Sam Rockwell garnered the inaugural Midnight Awards to recognize dynamic young actors. Theater and artistic director Peter Sellars gave the State of the Cinema address. Visionary filmmaker Heddy Honigman became the recipient of the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award and presented her most recent work, FOREVER.

Described by Leggat as the “flagship film festival of the Americas,” the SFIFF50 has live-cinema Kinotek projects and a slate of worthy world films that will never appear in American multiplexes. Those unable to attend can experience some of the International past and present at http://video.yahoo.com/video/profile?sid=121950. For an exclusive window of time and a limited number of viewers, a handful of the festival’s features will be available in better-than-DVD quality for download at Jaman (http://www.jaman.com/festivals/sfiff/).

by Susan Tavernetti

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