Dec 15, 2023
A Letter from Our Executive Director
Fellow Film Lovers,
While December is a busy time of year for family, friends, and gatherings, a favorite for me is to spend some time reflecting on the year that was. From moments to projects, from wishes to realities, it never fails to astound me just how much happens in a year. And certainly the times we are experiencing together is an era of massive cultural, political, and creative change.
I am proud to say that 2023 was a very rewarding year for SFFILM, and for the artform we serve. While change is constant, the films, filmmakers, and thousands of people who came together to see their work this year created connection, joy, inspiration, and understanding in only the way movies can—by making us see the world through the eyes of an artist, on a big massive screen, united in awe.
Join me in celebrating the highlights of our year in SFFILM, and thank you for supporting movies, and the people who make them.
Executive Director, SFFILM
San Francisco International Film Festival Highlights
The 66th San Francisco International Film Festival presented by SFFILM ran from April 13–23 at movie theaters around the Bay. It was a rousing success. It also marked our own personal SFFILM history books as the first time we opened the Festival in Oakland featuring Peter Nicks’s moving documentary Underrated: Stephen Curry. With a full slate of in-person programming and events, the 2023 SFFILM Festival featured stories from both local and international filmmakers. We hosted packed theaters for many of this year’s most salient films and filmmakers. This included Celine Song’s Past Lives, Savanah Leaf’s Earth Mama, Anna Hints’s Smoke Sauna Sisterhood, and many more. To see the full wrap up of the 2023 SFFILM Festival, take a look back at our Wrap Notes blog from SFFILM writing contributor Kate Bove.
Summertime is Strategy Time
Summer is the season that SFFILM turns to strategic planning and reporting, taking stock of our goals, programs, and preparing for the fall event season. In late July, we convened our second Accessibility Congress, a gathering to better understand crucial accessibility needs of filmmakers and audiences, and to share learnings and best practices between film organizations from around the Bay, and the country.
Peer organizations who both presented and participated in discussion groups included 3rd i South Asian Film Festival, Arab Film and Media Institute, Austin Film Society, BAMPFA, BAVC, Berkeley Film Foundation, Berlin and Beyond Film Festival, Black Public Media, Bothin Foundation, CAAM, Catapult, Chicken & Egg, Cine+Mas Latino Film Festival, DOCNYC, Early Bird Films, Film Independent, FilmSF, Frameline, Full Spectrum Features, IDA, Drunken Film Festival, ITVS, Jewish Film Institute, Kenneth Rainin Foundation, KQED, May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust, Mill Valley Film Festival, MOMA, New Orleans Film Society, Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability, Portland Art Museum, QWOCMAP, Rainin FWD, Redford Center, ReelAbilities, Roxie Theater, San Francisco Foundation, Secret Sauce Media, SF Indiefest, SF Urban Fest, Sonoma International Film Festival, Sundance Institute, Superfest Film Festival, The Gotham, The William G. Gilmore Foundation, Video Consortium, Vision Maker Media, and the Walter and Elise Haas Foundation.
We are so grateful to all of the participants who came to the congress and helped everyone move beyond compliance.
SFFILM Special Presentations and Doc Stories
For the fall season, SFFILM presented multiple events with many notable filmmakers. In adherence to rules set forth by the Writers Guild of America, and SAG-AFTRA—both unions which were on strike in summer and fall—we welcomed directors to screen their films for our fantastic audiences. We started in September with director Roger Ross Williams who joined us in person for the Castro Theater premier of his narrative debut Cassandro. Next we closed out the month with a screening of Fair Play in the state-of-the-art Premier Theater at the Letterman Digital Arts Center with director Chloe Domont for a post-screening Q&A. Next was a screening of the recently A24 acquired All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt with SFFILM-supported director Raven Jackson and Academy Award-winning producer Barry Jenkins at the Roxie Theater. And if all that wasn’t enough for the fall season, we had one more major event to share with movie lovers.
SFFILM Doc Stories is our annual love letter to the most moving nonfiction films of the year. We featured a number of award winning filmmakers in San Francisco for this celebration of documentary filmmaking. They included our opening night film American Symphony with Doc Stories alum and director Matthew Heineman in attendance. In addition, we screened Rachel Ramsay’s Copa 71 as our Centerpiece film and closed out the series with Wim Wender’s most recent film Anselm. Take a look at the Doc Stories lineup here, and be on the lookout for when we announce dates for the 10th anniversary in fall of 2024.
SFFILM Artist Development and Youth Education Highlights
It’s been a busy year at the SFFILM Artist Development headquarters known as FilmHouse. We hosted many events in FilmHouse from artist talks and production meetings to filmmaker parties and table reads. We also welcomed our Youth FilmHouse residents into the space in-person to meet with working filmmakers and learn more about building careers in the film industry.
We also celebrated new—and returning—faces into the SFFILM family through granting and professional support. With the SFFILM Rainin Grant we awarded seventeen filmmaking teams cash grants up to $25,000 for screenwriting, development, and post-production on their films. This grant also comes with a two-month residency at FilmHouse. Learn more about the recipients and their projects on our blog and at this special profile by MovieMaker Magazine.
For nonfiction filmmakers, we proudly announced the selection of our Documentary Film Fund Recipients. The SFFILM Documentary Film Fund is our decade-plus long program to support feature length documentaries in post-production. Since its inception, we have distributed nearly $1 million to filmmakers all over the world, and this year we presented grants to four filmmaking teams whose films exemplify the next level in nonfiction storytelling. Learn more about DFF and this year’s recipients on our blog.
SFFILM’s Education program is in its 32nd year serving the youth of the Bay Area. Students are welcomed into the magic of movies at Schools at the Festival, Youth Filmmakers Camp, Schools at Doc Stories, special school day programs like the Art and Science of Lucasfilm, a visit to the Pixar studios, and preview screening events for families like Disney Pixar’s Elemental, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, and Wonka. Here’s a delightful recap from SFFILM Director of Education Keith Zwölfer of a family screening of the documentary film Story & Pictures By from local director Joanna Rudnick featuring children’s book author and illustrator Christian Robinson.
This morning we had a full house of excited and wiggly grade schoolers who were happy to express their excitement every time they saw a famous children’s book up on screen that they recognized. If you ever wondered what a true superstar is in the eyes of kids ages 5-10, then you need to look no further than the reactions that Christian received. Before the Q&A started, Christian and Joanna had arrived in the lobby with about 20 minutes left in the film. Every time a student came out to use the bathroom they stopped in their tracks when they opened the door into the lobby, their jaws dropped in awe when they realized who they just laid eyes upon. Then from the onstage Q&A, my favorite question came from a youngster who simply asked, “Can I shake your hand?” Christian came down and obliged his request and gave him a bonus high five. Christian’s grandma, who was featured in the film, was also in the audience along with some other family members. She received a huge round of applause when Christian acknowledged her from stage.
Awards Season at SFFILM
Awards Night continues to be a successful event honoring the best and brightest in the filmmaking landscape, and serves as SFFILM’s biggest fundraising moment of the year. We presented awards to four filmmakers who have made a major impact in 2023, and for achievement in their craft. Our Irving M. Levin Award for Film Direction presented by actor Ryan Gosling went to Greta Gerwig in honor of her global box office record-shattering film, Barbie, among her multiple other fantastic films. The Nion McEvoy & Leslie Berriman Award for Storytelling presented by actor Raúl Castillo went to Roger Ross Williams for his new foray into fiction storytelling. The George Gund III Award for Virtuosity presented by actor John Ortiz went to Cord Jefferson for his consistent contribution to the medium with filmmaking and writing credits on the hottest television shows, and now as a first time feature film director. And finally, our Maria Manetti Shrem Lifetime Achievement Award for Acting was presented to the inimitable Nicolas Cage for his creative and illustrious film acting career spanning several decades. In an only in San Francisco moment, musical icon Tom Waits graciously presented the honor to Mr. Cage. Take a look at our social media for soundbites from their award speeches and read this wonderful piece from KQED and this one from the SF Chronicle about the evening.
Stay In Touch With SFFILM
SFFILM is a nonprofit organization whose mission ensures independent voices in film are welcomed, heard, and given the resources to thrive. SFFILM works hard to bring the most exciting films and filmmakers to Bay Area movie lovers, to support emerging filmmakers, and to educate youth through cinema. To be the first to know what’s coming, sign up for our email alerts and watch your inbox.