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January 27 at 11:00am

Sundance Proves A Filmmaking Renaissance Is Happening In The Bay Area

By Ted Hope

What would Variety, Hollywood Reporter, IndieWire, The Wrap, MovieCityNews, Filmmaker Magazine & Deadline report if a single film company took the following awards at Sundance this year?

  1. Narrative Grand Jury Prize
  2. Audience Award For Narrative Film
  3. Best Directing of a Narrative Film
  4. Best Directing of a Documentary Film
  5. Special Jury Award For Documentary Film #1
  6. Special Jury Award For Documentary Film #2

I can’t help but think they would announce the arrival of a powerhouse.

Well, allow me the pleasure of breaking such an announcement.  In case you missed it: a filmmaking renaissance is happening in The Bay Area.  All of the following films that premiered at Sundance and won an award there had a major Bay Area connection: Fruitvale, Afternoon Delight, Cutie and the Boxer, Inequality For All, and American Promise.

I don’t know when was the last time a film won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at Sundance as Fruitvale did this year.  Not only is director Ryan Coogler from Oakland, not only was the story and subject from The Bay Area, not only was the film shot in The Bay Area, and not only was it mixed at Skywalker, but the San Francisco Film Society & The Kenneth Rainin Foundation granted the film $200,000.

If that wasn’t enough to crow about, allow me the thrill of mentioning that this is the second year in a row that a film supported by the San Francisco Film Society & The Kenneth Rainin Foundation won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.  Yup, Beasts Of The Southern Wild received similar support last year as Fruitvale did this year.  Do we need non-profit support in order to make ambitious socially relevant cinema in America?  It sure damn looks that way, and if it is not necessary, it sure helps!  A market-driven entertainment economy encourages one thing; if we want diversity we must support our cultural institutions (and build new ones!).

But allow me to go on with the glory that this year’s Sundance has bestowed upon the cities by The Bay…  I don’t know when the last time a producer had both a documentary film and a narrative film in each of the Sundance competition.  I definitely don’t think a producer who managed that feat ever won awards for both films (okay, I once had a film in each section, but only one of them one an award).  Winning an award for each of their films is exactly what 72 Productions accomplished with Afternoon Delight‘s Best Directing of a narrative film award (directed by Jill Soloway) and Inequality For All‘s U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award (directed by Jacob Kornbluth).  And did you know that 72 ProductionsJen Chaiken sits on the San Francisco Film Society’s Board of Directors? And that the SFFS was Inequality For All‘s fiscal sponsor?  Surely you know that I4A’s incredibly inspiring subject, Robert Reich, teaches and lives in Berkeley, and yup, that is in The Bay Area. I imagine your collective head is now reeling in wonder about what is happening here; I know I am impressed, verily.

Yes, it’s true that the Directing Award at Sundance is one of the great honors.  Yes, the aforementioned Afternoon Delight won that award for Narrative, and Cutie and the Boxer, directed by Zachary Heinzerling, won for Documentary. The San Francisco Film Society’s Doc Film Fund gave Cutie and the Boxers $50,000…  That ain’t chicken feed.  And that’s a Bay Area connection for both sections’ Directing Award.  It must be something in the water!

But The Bay Area’s dominance continues on from there. It kind of takes your breathe away, doesn’t it?  The other winner of a Special Jury Prize For Documentary Film, Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson’s American Promise,  also received funding from The San Francisco Film Society. How great is it to give money  away to films that lift our culture up?  I suppose you don’t know that feeling until you’ve done it, but know what?  You too can do it and I will tell you how below…

Yup. Five films.  Count ‘em and tells what it all adds up to…

That is five films, six awards, at Sundance 2013 with Bay Area connections.  Pretty awesome.  In addition to all of that, the Bay Area was represented by other filmmakers at Sundance too; Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman were there with TWO films, one narrative, one doc: Lovelace and The Battle For AmFar. The list goes on and on and on.

If we added in all the films that did sound or mixed at Skywalker (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints among others) or did that AND had a key crew person from the Bay Area, like World Cinema Grand Jury Prize Winner, A River Changes Course (with editor Chris Brown), our list could be even longer.  When you combine what is happening here and what is going down in Texas (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Before Midnight, A Teacher, & Upstream Color), it sure seems like the regions are rising over the center.  And this may just be the wave before the flood…

That is not a rumbling you are feeling underground, that is the roar of a community’s heart beating as one, and quite rapidly at that mind you.  You don’t just have to be from Poland to have that flutter (if you watched the Awards, you will understand the reference).

I think it is now abundantly clear that if you love independent film, if you want diverse, ambitious film to prosper, you have to act now.  You must not delay.  You can either pack your bags and get the hell out of town and arrive in Fog City or one of it’s many surrounding communities, or you can show your love for such cinema by helping to support the San Francisco Film Society.  Either one will do.  Just take some action.  The momentum will carry you forward.

I am investing my time, labor, & mind to help building a better infrastructure for such cinema through the SFFS.  But it takes more.  Money almost always helps.  Please consider doing what you can to keep this exciting time alive.  Join SFFS & become a member. Support SFFS here.  It takes more than a village if we are going to build it better.  We can only do it together.

The San Francisco International Film Festival is the longest running film festival in the Americas.  I hope to see you there this year  (April 25- May 9th); we have some great stuff planned for you.  The San Francisco Film Society was founded 56 years ago.  It was built by the passion and commitment of several key individuals.  We lost one of those individuals just as the Sundance Film Festival began this year.  George Gund’s love and knowledge of cinema was as legendary as his great spirit and generosity.  I can not help but think of how wide his grin would be now in knowing the legacy his support has helped build.  Thank you, George.

 


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