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Things I Learned at the San Francisco Film Festival Awards, from Lasseter to Linklater

Things I Learned at the San Francisco Film Festival Awards, from Lasseter to Linklater

The Awards night at the 15-day San Francisco International Film Festival, the nation’s oldest, in its 57th year, usually arrives about halfway through the marathon of screenings, Q & As, tributes and panels. On Thursday, San Francisco Film Society Awards went to Pixar chief John Lasseter, rewarded after decades of Bay Area stardom; Austin writer-director Richard Linklater (“Before Midnight”), who then screened his Sundance hit “Boyhood” to a standing ovation at the packed Castro Theatre on Friday night; screenwriter Steve Gaghan (“Syriana”) and veteran actor Jeremy Irons

One sign of the deep roots of this well-funded organization was the number of people acquiring expensive $25,000, $10,000 and $5000 tables at the black tie dinner. I sat with San Francisco politico and SFFS stalwart Melanie Blum, who has kept the funding arts organization behind the festival and many other education efforts on track during a tumultuous succession of leadership changes–from the untimely deaths of executive directors Graham Leggat and Bingham Ray to the year-long tenure of miscast producer Ted Hope–who segued to CEO of Fandor– and now, newly appointed Toronto import and arts pro Noah Cowan, who is already a popular figure within the SF film community.

The venerable Regency Ballroom was packed with a full Pixar contingent including bestselling author Ed Catmull, who founded the company with Disney computer-graphics renegade Lasseter, and later was backed by George Lucas–who saw a future in the marriage of computers and cinema– and Steve Jobs, from whom Disney bought Pixar. Catmull told me that writing his book “Creativity” took some eight years. Ex-LA Times journalist Amy Wallace helped him. But first he had to write things out–for the sake of an authentic voice–which she later shaped, along with structural input from his writers’ braintrust. 

Now Lasseter is returning Disney Animation to its former glory: see Oscar-winner “Frozen,” whose star Josh Gad introduced Lasseter, winner of the George Gund award. “This award means an awful lot because it’s San Francisco,” says Lasseter, wearing a natty tux rather than his characteristic Hawaiian shirt. “It’s the coolest award ever.”

I reminded Lasseter–who likes to hug people– that I first met him visiting the campus of the original Pixar in the industrial city of Richmond for an EW feature on “Toy Story,” where I got a lesson in computer animation from future directing star Pete Docter. “We premiered ‘Toy Story’ in this room when it was the Regency Theatre,” Lasseter told me. I later toured the fancy new model Pixar in Emeryville. He is grateful to Disney for knowing that good films are far more important than release dates–they let him push back “The Good Dinosaur”–and overhaul the directing team, not unusual for Pixar– so that it will come out in 2015 along with Docter’s anticipated “Inside Out.” There will be no 2014 Pixar release. 

“Rick gets it,” “Dazed and Confused” star Parker Posey said in her intro to Richard Linklater. “I love Rick’s nonconformist stance. He has a macro/micro talent.” Linklater, looking back, said: “Cinema saved my life! I feel closer to that punk East Texas kid in the Reagan 80s in a parallel universe.” He’s prepping three projects and hopes to shoot the one that gets funded in the fall. And he’s got three movies to present to the viewers coming up on TMC, including Ingmar Bergman’s “Fanny & Alexander,” which he just showed at the Austin Film Society.

Zooey Deschanel (child of Bay Area cinematographer Caleb Deschanel) presented to Kanbar screenwriting award winner Steve Gaghan (“Syriana”). “He’s interested in people,” she says. Gaghan’s brilliant little speech about avoiding writing a speech won over the black-tie crowd.

During the clip reel for Jeremy Irons’ Peter Owens award, I wondered if the versatile gravelly-voiced Brit might not be best remembered for both Claus Von Bulow and Scar. “You have no idea,” still gets a big round, all these years later.

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