Friday, April 28----It was men in tuxedos and women in evening gowns as the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) celebrated its Gala Awards Night in the ballroom of the historic St. Francis Hotel last evening. A crowd of several hundred of the city's movers and shakers assembled to toast SFFS award winners, including legendary screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere, prolific director Werner Herzog and "actor's actor" Ed Harris.
The evening opened with a brief hello from SFFS Board members Karen and John Diefenbach, who introduced the evening's master of ceremonies, SFFS Executive Director Graham Leggat.
Leggat, who in his first year at the helm of North America's oldest film festival, has already shored up the prestige of the event. Looking dapper as usual, Leggat warmly greeted the crowd and tantalized them with the promise that "next year, during our 50th anniversary, this Festival will become the benchmark by which similar events chart their future."
The first ceremony was a toast to the 10th anniversary of the Sisters Cities relationship between the cities of San Francisco and Paris. Consul General Frederic Desagneaux and former Mayor Willie Brown led the toast, further cementing the relationship between two cities known "for their beauty, their tolerance and their multi-cultural diversity."
While attendees savored the delicious dinner of boeuf marchand de vin, poain flan and legumes du saisonnier, Leggat introduced local film legend Saul Zaentz, the Oscar-winning producer of the films ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST and AMADEUS, who was to present the Kanbar Award for Screenwriting. Zaentz was in rare form as he regaled the crowd with stories about the award's recipient, an old friend and collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere. A clip reel was shown featuring such Carriere masterpieces as BELLE DE JOUR, VIVA MARIA, THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE, THE TIN DRUM, THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING and many others.
Carriere took to the stage with an energy that belied his 75 years, thanking the audience, and reminiscing that he had written the screenplay for THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING while in San Francisco. He still has links to the area, having just completed the screenplay for his third collaboration with director Milos Forman, the historical drama GOYA'S GHOSTS, produced by Saul Zaentz, and starring Javier Bardem, Nathalie Porman and Stellan Skarsgard. "After a film is produced, the script gets thrown into the garbage", Carriere mused. "The screenwriter must give all his creative input to his collaborators, particulary the director", Carriere continued. "I accept this award and share it with my fellow screenwriters."
Next up, SFFS Executive Director Graham Leggat introduced Sid Ganis, the President of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, kidding that this was a personal penance for the Academy's perplexing snub of the SFFS Directing Award recipient's most widely seen and acclaimed film.
That film was last year's GRIZZLY MAN, the story of wildlife activist Timothy Treadwell, whose naive support of grizzly bears was ended when one of his charges mauled him to death. The director being honored was the singular talent, Werner Herzog.
Ganis described the director as "a wizard of film, who has excelled in narrative films, documentaries and strange hybrids of the two....a man with an extraordinary appetite for the world around him." Herzog came to the stage amidst an ovation from the audience. Drawing on his characteristically dry wit, Herzog thanked his many friends in San Francisco, including Pacific Film Archives' Tom Luddy and filmmaker Les Blank.
Herzog described a four year period in the late 1980s when he lived in the Bay area and taught at the University of California as a memorable time in his life, and one that recharged his batteries for what is now a tremendously prolific period in his 40-year career. Herzog dedicated his award to his "continuing search for the ecstasy of truth in an age of virtual reality, reality television and photoshop deception."
Last but certainly not least, actress Amy Madigan came to the podium. The Oscar-nominated actress was there to praise her frequent co-star and current husband, acclaimed "actor's actor" Ed Harris. She described their mutual connection to San Francisco, having first met while doing a play in the city. She praised Harris' "tenacity and will, his willingness to devote himself to a part both physically and emotionally." Madigan continued to praise Harris for the "depth, integrity and honesty that he brings to his work, and to his life as a loving husband and father".
After a clip reel was shown with segments from the actor's 25 year career, including such film landmarks as THE RIGHT STUFF, A FLASH OF GREEN, APOLLO 13, THE TRUMAN SHOW, A BEAUTIFUL MIND, POLLOCK, THE HOURS and last year's tour-de-force in David Cronenberg's A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, Harris bounded to the stage to receive the Peter J. Owens Award for Distinguished Acting.
The actor was visibly moved by the standing ovation from the assembled crowd. He haltingly thanked his wife, who he said "convinced me to come out of my shell and receive some recognition." Clutching his young daughter at his side, Harris proceeded to reminisce about his times in San Francisco that had been instrumental in his career, including his stage work with Sam Shepard and his filming of the role that launched his career as astronaut John Glenn in director Philip Kaufman's THE RIGHT STUFF.
Harris freely admited that he usually avoids such public displays, but felt a debt to SFFS Executive Director Graham Leggat, who during his time at New York's Museum of Modern Art, was helpful in the realization of Harris' dream project, the self-directed portrait of Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, a role that won him numerous awards around the world. "Graham was extremely gracious in introducing me to the right people at the Modern who fueled my passion for Pollock, and gave me the insight in how to direct and play this complex role." Harris, a salt of the earth type, and a man of few words, left the stage with a wide grin and a twinkle in his deep blue eyes.
The evening concluded with Leggat's promise for an amazing 50th year anniversary for the San Francisco International Film Festival in 2007, which he and his hard-working staff are already in the planning stages for. Happy Birthday, SFIFF!!