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DISPATCH FROM SAN FRANCISCO | George Lucas, Robin Williams, and More Honored as SF Int’l Fest Celebr

DISPATCH FROM SAN FRANCISCO | George Lucas, Robin Williams, and More Honored as SF Int'l Fest Celebr

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the San Francisco International Film Festival welcomed about 600 of the city’s well-heeled residents to the Westin St. Francis Hotel in Union Square last night for the annual Film Society Awards night. Hollywood glitterati also made their way in for the big party, including Bay Area natives George Lucas and Robin Williams as well as director Spike Lee, recent Oscar-winning screenwriter Peter Morgan, and director Ron Howard. San Francisco Film Society executive director Graham Leggat greeted the crowd, taking the stage in the cavernous ballroom saying gleefully, “This is the longest running festival in the Americas…”

Schmoozing, cocktails and invitees strutting flashy evening attire was the order of the night at the pre-dinner cocktail party inside, while the celebs made their way down the press line for photos and interviews. The San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Marching Band eventually lead a parade into the adjoining ballroom for the dinner portion of the evening, followed by the honorary awards. First up was Pixar‘s John Lasseter who introduced George Lucas, the recipient of SFIFF’s one-time only Irving M. Levin Award (named in honor of the film festival’s founder). “…he had these wacky crazy ideas of doing digital filmmaking,” said Lasseter when introducing Lucas to the stage. “And think about it today. He changed filmmaking…and I was lucky enough to be fired from Walt Disney animation in 1983 and then got hired by Lucas’ company…”

“I am out of the mainstream and I can do things that aren’t too smart,” Lucas said, stirring laughter. He wrapped up his quick stage appearance saying, “I’m proud to be from here and proud the San Francisco International Film Festival is the oldest in America.”

Director Ron Howard introduced Oscar-winning screenwriter Peter Morgan who received SFIFF’s Kanbar Award Thursday. Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE

A bit of levity punctuated the evening as speakers chimed in with the score of the NBA playoff game between the local Warriors and the Dallas Mavericks, which regularly wound up the crowd into a roar of cheers. Director Ron Howard gave a score update before introducing “The Queen” writer Peter Morgan, who received the fest’s Kanbar Award for “excellence in screenwriting.”

“I hadn’t heard of Peter Morgan until [the fairly recent past] but I met him in the U.K. about a project I was working on, but he eventually passed on the project… Kind of makes you wonder what the hell I’m doing here…” Howard said to laughs. The pair are actually currently working on the drama “Frost/Nixon,” which Morgan wrote as a play and is adapting into a screenplay. Howard, of course, will direct.

“I have no idea what sport you’re talking about,” Morgan said with an accentuated stiff upper lip, referencing the basketball score updates. He then reflected on his award saying, “This is surreal. Thank you for honoring a writer at all…I’m thrilled, and it’s even not someone from the Bay Area. It was inconvenient for you to ask me, and it was inconvenient for me to come,” he said to still more laughter.

Director Spike Lee was up next, taking the stage in a white tux with black trim to accept his Film Society Directing Award. He elicited audience cheers with another basketball game update, “the score is 90 – 67…” And then noticed some parallels between himself and the festival. “I turned 50 [on] March 20, [so I was born] when this great festival began. ‘She’s Gotta Have It‘ premiered here in 1986, and I’m here now. So I feel like I’ve come full circle.”

San Francisco Film Society executive director Graham Leggat with girlfriend Charlie Lin following the evening’s events Thursday. Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE

Graham Leggat reminisced that when Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It” debuted at the SF fest in ’86, the city suffered a blackout just as the screening began, and Lee along with then executive director Peter Scarlet (now Tribeca Film Festival director) entertained the audience with an impromptu onstage Q&A by flashlight until the power was restored.

The gala evening climaxed last night with Robin Williams receiving the Peter J. Owens Award, which honors an actor whose work “exemplifies brilliance, independence and integrity.” Williams began his uproarious speech touting his Bay Area credentials, recalling his upbringing in tony Marin County (one of the nation’s wealthiest) just across the Golden Gate Bridge.

“When I got here 40 years ago [with my family], we lived in Marin, which is Spanish for “wealthy white people…” Williams said to bursts of laughter. He then praised San Francisco and credited the city for his eventual career choice. “This place is different…there’s a lot going on here. I found improvisation here…this city has a wild side, this city is an asylum…it’s a zoo…I can even walk around the streets of San Francisco and here…I’m normal. That’s what this place is about, creation. This place is always home, and it always will be…”

Leggat closed the evening saying the Film Society had raised the most ever at the evening’s fundraiser, which benefits film programs targeting 8 – 18 year-olds in the Bay Area.

But, there was one final order of business for Leggat. The basketball score… “With one minute to go, it’s Warriors 111 and Dallas 86.” The crowd cheered once again, and it was a good night for San Francisco.

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Hi Jonathan,

I was just checking in quickly from here in NYC and I noticed your comment conversation with Brian who is out in SF right now. I am not exactly sure how to answer your question, to be honest. I don’t know how to detail *how* we make our editorial decisions other than to say that we approach our decisions with the idea of trying to develop coverage of a wide array of people, places, movies and festivals.

Its actually inaccurate to say that we did not mention one word about Heddy Honigmann’s SF fest award. While it wasn’t an indepth report, we did single her out in Dennis Harvey’s SF360 opening fest article:

And we have mentioned her in other recent festival coverage as well.

As the head of a company that is working with Heddy Honigmann, I realize that you want more significant coverage and one of your colleagues recently emailed me to solicit such coverage. I requested more information which has yet to arrive.

But, to try to get to your original question, we made a decision to cover the festival’s awards night on May 4th based on our own travel schedule and trying to balance other editorial demands, combined with our feeling that the May 4th fundraiser was a signature festival program. Brian was simply not able to travel to SF for the May 1st tribute to Heddy Honigmann because he was here in NYC meeting other editorial demands.

I hope that this information helps.


eugene hernandez


jonathan miller

Thanks for your quick response. But “we cannot cover everything” is not an answer to my question -it is the starting point for my question!

Given that you cannot cover everything, how do you decide to cover Lucas/Howard/Williams, and not something/someone else? In “Indiewire”?

That is what i don’t get.


Two things… This is SFIFF’s 50th year and this was the event which climaxed the festival’s anniversary celebrations, so of course we felt it was important to attend, and were happy to do so. And, while we wish we could be at all festivals for the entire time, it’s impossible, so unfortunately we cannot cover everything. We do have more dispatches from SFIFF via our sister website at SF360 which we’ve re-printed in indieWIRE this past week highlighting the festival’s films.

jonathan miller

With all due respect, and realizing you may think this is self-serving but I do think I have a valid point, I really do not understand INDIEWIRE’S editorial position or line or mission. Perhaps, I hope, one of the editors can answer this question:

How is it possible for a publication called “Indiewire” to write about the San Francisco Film Festival and write about George Lucas, Ron Howard, and Robin Williams – and NOT even one word mention about Heddy Honigmann, one of the most widely respected independent documentary filmmakers in the world, whose most recent film is in San Francisco, and to whom the SF FF gave this week their PERSISTANCE OF VISION AWARD?

It just seems so upside down, and I would like to know why Indiewire is doing this?

FYI, here is the SF FF page about the award given to Ms. Honigmann, which also includes an article about her work by the noted critic John Anderson:

I do hope one of the editors will comment on this.

Thank you.

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