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‘Sugarcane,’ ‘The Teacher’ Earn Awards at 67th San Francisco International Film Festival as SFFILM Enters a State of Change

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SFFILM announced the winners of the juried Golden Gate Awards competition and the Audience Awards at the 67th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFFILM Festival), the oldest film festival in the Americas, where Farah Nabulsi’s Palestinian drama The Teacher won the Audience Award for Narrative Feature.

Created the same year the Festival was founded in 1957, the Golden Gate Awards have served as a launching pad for internationally renowned filmmakers who are early in their careers. The awards are also notable as a qualifier for Oscar-eligible short films (films under 40 minutes) for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Previous Golden Gate Award winners include Panah Panahi, Reid Davenport, Nadav Lapid, Marlon Riggs, Céline Sciamma, Jia Zhang-ke, Stanley Nelson, Tasha Van Zandt, and many others across nearly seven decades.

“I am delighted by the jury and audience selections from the 2024 lineup. The 2024 winners represent both the global scope and bold artistry on display at the festival this year,” said Jessie Fairbanks, SFFILM’s Director of Programming. “I want to thank our jurors, who gathered here from around the country and screened films with our audiences every day of the festival. And we are very excited to continue this momentum with SFFILM’s Encore Presentation at The Roxie this weekend where you can catch the Audience Award winners and some of the jury titles.”

This year, the 2024 SFFILM Festival ran from April 24–28, with events held in theaters across the Bay Area. An encore program of this year’s slate runs May 2-4 at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.

The Festival opened with a celebratory hometown premiere of Sean Wang’s Dìdi (弟弟) across two sold-out theaters. With the Oscar-nominated director, producers, and numerous local cast members in attendance, Opening Night reaffirmed SFFILM’s commitment to the Bay Area’s robust filmmaking community. Audiences were generous and excited throughout the Festival.

Director Greg Kwedar’s much-anticipated Sing Sing, which stars Academy Award nominee Colman Domingo and local Bay Area artist Sean San José, received a warm welcome from a sold-out crowd on the Festival’s second night. Other notable moments included at-capacity screenings of Slava Leontyev and Brendan Bellomo’s Porcelain War; Vicki Abeles’ Counted Out, Julian Brave Noisecat and Emily Kassie’s Golden Gate Award-winning Sugarcane; Shiori Ito’s Black Box Diaries; and Farah Nabulsi’s Audience Award winner The Teacher.

The Festival honored local pioneer and champion of film exhibition Gary Meyer with the Mel Novikoff Award, and paid tribute to multi-hyphenates Chiwetel Ejiofor (Rob Peace) and Joan Chen, a local legend whose directorial debut, Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl, screened on 35mm for Festival attendees after an intimate onstage conversation with producer and President of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, Janet Yang. Two sold-out screenings complete with standing ovations of Josh Margolin’s Thelma, which stars the steely-yet-hysterical June Squibb, closed the 2024 SFFILM Festival. 

Since the pandemic hit in early 2020, fewer areas of the film and television industry have been hit harder than film festivals. While some carried on, switching to virtual fests (and even a short resurgence of the drive-in theater) proved well for some – Sundance still hosts a hybrid festival – others found themselves struggling to build their way back to 2019 attendance numbers five years later. Movie houses closed, some permanently, leaving festival programmers scrambling to find venues, sometimes hosting screenings in unorthodox locations like community centers, churches and any place they could prop up a screen.

For SFFILM, losing the Castro Theatre as a venue (it recently began a year-long restoration) as well as the AMC Kabuki multiplex, that meant some big changes. The normally 11-day festival was trimmed to a much leaner five days and with entirely new venues, taking moviegoers largely out of downtown and to the gorgeous woods of the Presidio and beauty of the Marina District. The Premier Theater at One Letterman in the Presidio, the Marina Theatre, the Vogue Theatre, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), the Dolby Cinema @ 1275 Market, and The Walt Disney Family Museum Theater became the the place where magic dazzled on the silver screen.

Two weeks ago, The Sundance Institute announced it would begin looking to vacate the Park City, Utah location of its world-renowned film festival, where it has been every non-pandemic January since 1981. Its contract with Park City expires in two years and they’ve sent the call out to other cities interested in giving the fest a new home, and having the benefit of ‘Sundance’ as its name (founder Robert Redford named the festival and its institute after the character he played in 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and not a city it’s beholden to opens the doors to just about anyone in what will look like the Olympics of film festivals.

The Slamdance Film Festival just announced this week that it will be picking up from its Park City roots to land in Los Angeles for the 2025 edition. The fest was created as a sidebar option to Sundance as that fest began to grow far outside of its independent roots to become a glitzy, star-driven Cannes in the snow.

Manijeh Fata, executive director of the San Francisco Film Commission, has already put the city by the Bay in for consideration.

“San Francisco stands as the perfect backdrop for the Sundance Film Festival, with a rich history in celebrating the groundbreaking works of independent filmmakers from around the world,” Fata said. “We are a hub for artistic expression that offers a unique blend of urban sophistication and natural beauty.”

The official deadline to signal interest is today, Wednesday, May 1, after which select cities will then participate in a proposal process May 7-June 1.

If you ask Anne Lai, Executive Director of SFFILM, she has a compelling story of hope for the future of the festival.

“The 2024 SFFILM Festival was a true celebration of Bay Area filmmaking and movie-goers,” she said. “We saw theaters packed with fantastic audiences enjoying wonderful films from around the world and from a thriving pipeline of independent filmmakers we have supported being able to come back and share their work in hometown premieres. This was our most successful Festival in years, and I am already looking forward to planning for the 68th edition next year.” 

The winners of the 67th Annual SFFILM Golden Gate Awards Competition are as follows:

Global Visions Award

Great Absence – Kei Chika-ura (Japan 2023)

Documentary Award

Sugarcane – Julian Brave NoiseCat, Emily Kassie (Canada 2024)

Bay Area Documentary Award

Seeking Mavis Beacon – Jazmin Renée Jones (USA 2024)

Narrative Short Award

Bogotá Story – Esteban Pedraza (Colombia 2023)

Documentary Short Award

The Medallion – Ruth Hunduma (UK 2023)

Bay Area Short Award

a film is a goodbye that never ends – María Luisa Santos (Costa Rica 2024)

Animated Short Award

La Perra – Carla Melo Gampert (Colombia 2023)

Family Film Award

Dynasty and Destiny – Travis Lee Ratcliff (USA 2024)

Youth Works Award

Sil-tteu-gi – Yezy Suh (USA 2023)

Audience Award: Narrative Feature

The Teacher – Farah Nabulsi (UK/Palestine/Qatar 2023)

Audience Award: Documentary Feature

Agent of Happiness – Arun Bhattarai, Dorottya Zurbó (Bhutan/Hungary 2024)

Honorable Mentions and Jury Recognition

Global Visions

Empty Nets – Behrooz Karamizade (Germany 2023)

New Director Jury Recognition

Banel & Adama – Ramata-Toulaye Sy (Senegal 2023)

Cine Latino Jury Recognition

Heartless – Nara Normande, Tião (Brazil 2023)

Documentary Honorable Mention

Black Box Diaries – Shiori Ito (Japan 2024)

Family Film Honorable Mention

Yuck! – Loïc Espuche (France 2024)

Youth Works Honorable Mention

Gentle Breeze – Wenwei Hu (China 2023)

Erik Anderson

Erik Anderson is the founder/owner and Editor-in-Chief of AwardsWatch and has always loved all things Oscar, having watched the Academy Awards since he was in single digits; making lists, rankings and predictions throughout the show. This led him down the path to obsessing about awards. Much later, he found himself in film school and the film forums of GoldDerby, and then migrated over to the former Oscarwatch (now AwardsDaily), before breaking off to create AwardsWatch in 2013. He is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, accredited by the Cannes Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival and more, is a member of the International Cinephile Society (ICS), The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics (GALECA), Hollywood Critics Association (HCA) and the International Press Academy. Among his many achieved goals with AwardsWatch, he has given a platform to underrepresented writers and critics and supplied them with access to film festivals and the industry and calls the Bay Area his home where he lives with his husband and son.

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