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SFFS sponsors film education and trains cinematic professionals

Fri, 30 Dec 2011 14:14:00
Article by:
Julie McCoy
Bay Area residents are gaining a better understanding and appreciation of film and getting the opportunity to see movies that aren’t necessarily playing in local theaters, thanks to the San Francisco Film Society – SFFS.

Everything SFFS does is focused on key three areas: exhibition, education, and filmmaker services, explained Deputy Director Steven Jenkins. In the area of exhibition, SFFS presents the annual San Francisco International Film Festival. Launched in 1957, the San Francisco International Film Festival is the oldest and longest-running festival in the country, according to Jenkins.

SFFS also operates Film Society Cinema, a 143-seat state-of-the-art theater in the New People building in Japantown.

Some upcoming films playing at Film Society Cinema at 1746 Post St. –– between Webster and Buchannan Streets – include: Paul Goodman Changed My Life [Jan. 3–5], a film directed by Jonathan Lee that pays tribute to the late social critic, poet, advocate for youth and co-founder of Gestalt therapy; King of Devil’s Island [Jan.6–12], which is based on a true story about a boys reform school off the Coast of Norway; Summer Pasture [Jan.16–17], the story of a Tibetan couple dealing with modernization; Fullmetal Alchemist [Jan.20–26], a Japanese film based on Hiromu Arakawa’s original Fullmetal Alchemist manga and “one of the most anticipated animated films of 2012,” and Sleeping Beauty [Jan. 27–Feb.2], “a dark and disturbing film” that played at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011 and is “very, very, different from the Disney version” and not appropriate for children, according to Rachel Rosen, the director of programs.

“Our purpose is to celebrate moving images,” Rosen explained. “What we’re giving people is the opportunity to see different kinds of cinema. We like to highlight all of the different kinds of film that are available. The main idea is to get the best possible selection of films from around the world. That’s not going to change.”

Rosen added, “There’s a huge range of films we’re presenting this year. Hopefully, people can find one thing they’re interested in and try something different. They’re entertaining, accessible and enjoyable. We’re not just for insiders. We’re for the whole city.”

In the area of education, SFFS has a program called Filmmakers in the Classroom, in which youths are paired with teachers who are trained by filmmakers, according to Joanne Parsont, director of education. The teachers are trained to instruct students in all areas of media literacy. The SFFS’s education program introduces international cinema and media literacy to more than 15,000 teachers and students and presents 120 classes and workshops annually.

Also as part of the education program, SFFS provides summer camps in which children get to experience making films. Additionally, SSFS presents a Children’s Film Festival each fall. Parents are provided with a discussion guide so they can discuss the movie they have seen with their children. SFFS first started offering youth education year-round in 2005, added adult level classes in 2008 and a college and university program in 2009, according to Parsont. The college and university program provides college students who are emerging, budding filmmakers with scholarships and networking opportunities and connects them with SFFS’s filmmaker services department. “I think there’s a lot of opportunities that people aren’t aware of that we have expanded over the years,” she said.

In the area of filmmaker services, SFFS has grants programs that give money to narrative feature filmmakers, according to Michele Turnure-Salleo, director of filmmaker services. Each year, SFFS provides a $15,000 Hearst Screenwriting grant. Additionally, SFFS gives a $100,000 grant for just a few films. SFFS also has fiscal sponsorships which allow individuals to make a donation to a project and write it off as a tax donation. And it has a residency program called Film House that provides office space to San Francisco filmmakers for six months.

“There are a lot of things you can do with us at different stages of your project,” Turnure-Salleo explained. “We look for both great projects and great people to work with. We go out of our way to help filmmakers.”

This past November, SFFS welcomed new Executive Director Bingham Ray. With his extensive background as a major studio executive, founder of October Films, adjunct professor at NYU and consultant to numerous film societies, festivals and companies, Ray will be a very valuable asset to SFFS. “He has a long and storied career in the film industry,” said Jenkins. Ray replaces Graham Leggat, who died in May.

Leggat, who had been with SFFS since 2005, helped the organization become active year-round.

In 2012, SFFS will continue its community outreach efforts, Jenkins explained. “We want to bring more people to the party,” he said.
SFFS has an annual budget of $7 million, according to Jenkins. Of that, approximately $1.5 million comes from in-kind donations of products and services. Another source of revenue is membership, which can range anywhere from $60 to $10,000, depending upon the level chosen. [Members receive discounts on tickets and invitations to members-only special screenings. They can also sponsor a film.]

Additionally, SFFS receives money from grants from foundations, such as the Hewlett Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts, governmental agencies, private donations, ticket sales to the International Film Festival – a gala event during the festival that generally brings in half a million a year – an annual fund campaign, corporate sponsorship and the organization’s Board of Directors.

SFFS also provides classes on film craft and film studies for which it charges a fee.

SFFS dates back to the first International Film Festival, which was held in December 1957, according to creative director Miguel Pendás, who is the unofficial SFFS historian. The International Film Festival was launched by movie theater operator Irving “Bud” Levin, whose father, Samuel H. Levin, had bought a lot of theaters in San Francisco, including the Cornet, Vogue, Metro and Balboa.

“He [Irving “Bud” Levin] wanted to do something special, and he wanted to do a festival,” explained Pendás. “He backed it on himself, and he backed it with his own time and staff, but little financial support from the public. It was very small for a very long time. He envisioned a festival like the one that is held in Cannes and Venice.”

Levin ran the festival for eight years and then let others run it. For example, it was run by the Chamber of Commerce, as well as Claude Jarman – an actor who starred in a number of movies of in the 1940s and 1950s, including The Yearling – and Albert Johnson, a film professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

SFFS has grown and changed greatly over the years, but one thing has remained constant: The organization has always been committed to fostering appreciation and knowledge of film and recognizing the cultural importance of film. “I think film is unique as an art form in that it can sort of stay with you throughout your life,” said Jenkins.

“At its best, it can provide the viewer with unexpected possibilities, and in rare instances, make me see the world it differently and my place in it. It’s both a mirror and a window. It reflects back at you.”

Held each spring for two weeks, the festival features some 150 films and live events, with more than 100 filmmakers in attendance and nearly two dozen awards presented for cinematic excellence. It attracts an annual audience of more than 80,000. This year, the festival will be held from April 19–May 3.
 
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