Mar 14, 2018
San Francisco, CA — SFFILM will present the Mel Novikoff Award to Annette Insdorf at the 2018 San Francisco International Film Festival (April 4–17). The award presentation will take place on Saturday, April 14 at 1:00 pm at the SFMOMA Phyllis Wattis Theater, and will feature an onstage conversation with Insdorf, followed by the screening of Hollywood legend Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942). One of the great director’s final films, To Be or Not to Be met a dour reception from critics upon its release thanks to the screwball comedy’s audacious subject matter—Hitler and the Nazi Party—as well as the untimely death of its female lead, the radiant Carole Lombard. The film’s sincere and poignant comedic focus has been absent a champion for too long; who better than Insdorf, author of the definitive work on Holocaust cinema, to lead the charge.
“Annette Insdorf is a master at doing exactly what the Mel Novikoff Award celebrates,” said SFFILM Director of Programming Rachel Rosen. “She’s able to communicate deep insight about cinema in a way that is both enlightening and completely engrossing. Her enthusiasm for movies is highly contagious—and her explorations of how and why they work the way they do are never less than fascinating.”
The award, named for pioneering San Francisco art and repertory film exhibitor Mel Novikoff (1922–1987), acknowledges an individual or institution whose work has enhanced the filmgoing public’s knowledge and appreciation of world cinema.
Annette Insdorf has made an indelible impact on the state of filmic discourse as an educator, festival juror, in-demand interviewer, television personality and producer. For the past 30 years, her ability to illuminate the complex relationship between film and viewer has lit the pathway for readers, and viewers, the world over to appreciate and understand great cinema. An internationally renowned professor in the Film Program of Columbia University’s School of the Arts, she is the host of the Reel Pieces movie series at New York’s 92nd Street Y, where she’s enlightened audiences and enlivened screenings with hundreds of in-person filmmaker interviews and panels, including such pathbreakers as Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, and Jeremy Irons.
Insdorf has also provided commentary on the Cannes red carpet, organized and moderated panels at the Telluride Film Festival, and is currently hosting two series on FilmStruck. A prolific author, she’s published four scholarly books (Indelible Shadows: Film and Holocaust, Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski, Francois Truffaut, and Philip Kaufman) whose engaging style and approach has taken them far beyond academia. This past year, she even managed to increase the pace of production, with Cinematic Overtures: How to Read Opening Scenes and Intimations: The Cinema of Wojciech Has, released in 2017.
About To Be or Not to Be: “The Nazi blitzkrieg of Warsaw provides the backdrop for the exploits of a band of Polish actors that never stops “performing”—whether to the thunder of applause or bombs. Occupying center stage are Jack Benny as the vain, hammy, and jealous Josef Tura, and Carole Lombard as his clever, luminous, and less-than-faithful wife, Maria. Lubitsch translates painful events into a timeless meditation on ego, vulnerability, role-playing, and the need for humor.”
“It is finally survival that To Be or Not to Be is about; it explores with sympathy and irony characters who must act in order to live, or adapt and improvise in order to subvert and overthrow. Lubitsch—a German Jew directing in America in 1942—may have been taking action in the only way available to him: The film asserts that art can heighten and transform experience to the point of effecting social change. To Be or Not to Be can be interpreted as an affirmation of its own capacity to delight and disturb, or to face horror with the ammunition of sharp humor. It suggests that art (including films) can prepare for life-a stage where the two meanings of ‘to act’ are inextricably linked.” — Annette Insdorf, Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust
Previous recipients of the Mel Novikoff Award are Tom Luddy (2017), Janus Films and the Criterion Collection (2016), Lenny Borger (2015), David Thomson (2014), Peter von Bagh (2013), Pierre Rissient (2012), Serge Bromberg (2011), Roger Ebert (2010), Bruce Goldstein (2009), Jim Hoberman (2008), Kevin Brownlow (2007), Anita Monga (2005), Paolo Cherchi Usai (2004), Manny Farber (2003), David Francis (2002), Cahiers du Cinéma (2001), San Francisco Cinematheque (2001), Donald Krim (2000), David Shepard (2000), Enno Patalas (1999), Adrienne Mancia (1998), Judy Stone (1997), Film Arts Foundation (1997), David Robinson (1996), Institut Lumière (1995), Naum Kleiman (1994), Andrew Sarris (1993), Jonas Mekas (1992), Pauline Kael (1991), Donald Richie (1990), USSR Filmmakers Association (1989), and Dan Talbot (1988).
The Mel Novikoff Award Committee members are Francis J. Rigney (emeritus), Rachel Rosen (ex officio), Helena R. Foster, Maurice Kanbar, Philip Kaufman, Tom Luddy, Gary Meyer, Anita Monga, Janis Plotkin and Peter Scarlet.
Tickets to Mel Novikoff Award: Annette Insdorf: To Be or Not to Be are $13 for SFFILM members, $16 for the general public. Box office is now open online at sffilm.org for SFFILM members and opens March 16 for the general public.
2018 San Francisco International Film Festival
The longest-running film festival in the Americas, the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFFILM Festival) is an extraordinary showcase of cinematic discovery and innovation in one of the country’s most beautiful cities. The 61st edition runs April 4-17 at venues across the Bay Area and features nearly 200 films and live events, 14 juried awards with close to $40,000 in cash prizes, and upwards of 100 participating filmmaker guests.
SFFILM is a nonprofit organization with a mission to champion the world’s finest films and filmmakers through programs anchored in and inspired by the spirit and values of the San Francisco Bay Area. Presenter of the San Francisco International Film Festival, SFFILM is a year-round organization delivering screenings and events to more than 75,000 film lovers and media education programs to more than 10,000 students and teachers annually. In addition to its public programs, SFFILM supports the careers of independent filmmakers from the Bay Area and beyond with grants, residencies, and other creative development services.