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Is San Francisco not only the home of the Golden Gate bridge, but also a bridge to gold, as in, Oscars? It increasingly appears to be, with more Academy members based in the Bay Area — particularly members of the visual effects and sound branches — than any other city, save for Los Angeles and New York. And, in addition to hosting the oldest annual film gathering in America, the San Francisco International Film Festival, which takes place each April, the city also now has a foothold — as of 2017 — in the awards season proper, namely, its SFFilm Awards Night.
SFFilm, a nonprofit organization, is the parent organization of the film fest, and SFFilm Awards Night is its annual fundraiser for local arts education. It also is the city’s premier film event of the year, attracting, on Monday night, marquee honorees — Vice supporting actress Amy Adams, Widows co-writer/director Steve McQueen and Sorry to Bother You writer-director-songwriter Boots Riley — plus dozens of Academy members from a cross-section of different branches, including current Academy vice president Sid Ganis (PR) and board member John Knoll (VFX); Steve Segal (short films and feature animation); Dawn Porter, Oscar nominee Connie Field and Oscar winners Allie Light, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (documentary); veteran Skywalker Sound team member Andre Fenley (sound); Lucasfilm general manager Lynwen Brennan (members-at-large); ILM publicity vet turned independent consultant Ellen Pasternack (PR); Aggie Guerard Rodgers (costume designers); Strand Releasing co-president Marcus Hu (executives); and Marnie actress turned executive director of the School of Motion Pictures, Television and Acting at Academy of Art University in San Francisco Diane Baker (actors).
At Monday’s awards ceremony — which followed an Academy members-only reception, opening remarks by SFFilm executive director Noah Cowan (who said this year’s honorees represented “Bay Area values”) and a fundraising drive that raised more than $250,000 for SFFilm’s arts education efforts — each honoree was introduced by a friend or collaborator.
Widows star Michelle Rodriguez presented McQueen with the Irving M. Levin Award for Film Direction, an honor previously presented to Kathryn Bigelow (2017), Guillermo del Toro (2015), Richard Linklater (2014), Oliver Stone (2011), Francis Ford Coppola (2009), Spike Lee (2007) and Werner Herzog (2006). She said, “You saw in me potential. You saw in me something that was quivering underneath that hadn’t been seen before, that I didn’t even know existed.” McQueen, for his part, said that being a director is about “bringing people together” to create “a family,” emphasizing, “It’s not about ‘me,’ it’s about ‘we.'”
Novelist Ishmael Reed presented Riley — whom he called “an original” who will “guide a younger generation to fresh cinematic territory” — with the Kanbar Award for Storytelling, an honor previously presented to Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (2017), Tom McCarthy (2016), Paul Schrader (2015), Eric Roth (2013) and James Schamus (2010). Riley, a product of SFFilm, said, “The truth is, as new as I am to filmmaking, any award would be great, but this is something that brings it all home.” He added, “Joining SFFilm as a filmmaker-in-residence in 2014 was the thing that made this able to happen.” Riley advised others to take advantage of SFFilm’s offerings, including its karaoke nights, noting, to laughter, that his only prior film-related award was SFFilm’s “Best Intention” karaoke prize.
Vice writer-director Adam McKay (who, on Sunday night, participated in a Q&A with Michael Lewis following a screening of his film at The Castro), presented Adams, who plays Lynne Cheney in his film, with the Peter J. Owens Award for Acting, an honor previously presented to Kate Winslet (2017), Richard Gere (2015), Harrison Ford (2013), Robert Redford (2009) and Robin Williams (2007). After hilariously challenging the audience to distinguish between Adams-related trivia that is true (e.g. she once worked at Hooters) and false (she is a registered notary public), McKay said, in all seriousness, that his film “turned on” the performance by Adams, with whom he first worked on his 2006 comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Adams thanked McKay for “entrusting me with your vision” and inspiring her “to step outside of her fear.”
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