San Francisco festival history

SFIFF mixed red carpet glamor, art

Founder Irving Levin’s inaugural fest opens Dec. 4, emceed by Franchot Tone. First Golden Gate awards for best director and picture go to Satyajit Ray and his “Pather Panchali.”

Festival scores its first major Hollywood title with “Beloved Infidel,” with Gregory Peck as F. Scott Fitzgerald — a dud, alas. Marcel Camus’ “Black Orpheus,” Brit comedy “The Mouse That Roared” and Bruce Conner’s experimental landmark “A Movie” are better received, and more reflective of the fest’s daring.

Juror Jean Renoir and official hostess Mary Pickford preside over a fest whose Soviet visitors are kept from visiting Disneyland by fears they’ll defect. John Cassavetes’ “Shadows” premieres, but Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” is yanked by distributor at the last minute.

With the fest taking place during the Cuban missile crisis, patriotic themes from U.S. Sixth Army Marching Band counter the Red Menace of an opening night film from Bulgaria. All-star “Guns of Navarone” reps fest’s first hit major-studio premiere.

Showing off a local designer’s near-topless creation, North Beach dancer Exotica stirs red-carpet furor. As Levin steps down, UC Berkeley prof Albert Johnson becomes program director.

The Golden Gate awards, as originally conceived, are eliminated, appeasing the Academy establishment, which thought they competed with the Oscars, and paving the way for glittery tributes to Hollywood royalty.

Returning chairperson Shirley Temple Black quits over “pornographic” Swedish feature “Night Games.” Blonde bombshells Carroll Baker and Jayne Mansfield also ruffle feathers by appearing in outfits that could use more feathers.

Claude Jarman appointed exec director. Explosion of fresh cinematic voices worldwide includes works by Jerzy Skolimowski, Claude Berri, Jiri Menzel, Agnes Varda, Bo Wilderberg, Milos Forman, Jan Troell, Jacques Rivette and former S.F. cable car driver Melvin Van Peebles.

“Funny Girl” star Barbra Streisand and tributee John Huston are initially turned away from their own events by overzealous gatekeepers.

Pranking hippie “renegade filmmakers” take slapstick aim at fest’s black-tie opening night crowd with 300 cream pies. Costa-Gravas’ “Z” is stolen from projection booth. Bette Davis draws 2,300 to a Masonic Auditorium tribute.

Bill Cosby-emceed opening night at the new Palace of Fine Arts Theater turns mucky when heavy rain backs up restroom pipes, halting Pasolini’s Maria Callas starrer “Medea.”

33-year-old Francis Ford Coppola gets a tribute in the year of “The Godfather”; Clint Eastwood brings directorial bow “Play Misty for Me.” Plus “Murmur of the Heart,” “The Sorrow and the Pity,” “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” “WR: Mysteries of the Organism.”

A very public split between Jarman and Johnson leads to latter’s ouster.

Sam Peckinpah is tipsy but polite about aud’s criticism of his violent ouevre. American Nazis protest opening night’s “The Odessa File” as “anti-white.” A 34-year-old Nancy Pelosi, now the nation’s first female House Speaker, is hired as a fest event planner.

Tributee Joseph L. Mankiewicz says film bizzers have never “been so single-mindedly dedicated to making a fat, hot, quick buck as today’s. The pimps have taken over.” Meanwhile, fellow guest Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” is becoming the highest-grossing pic to date.

Scalpers command $40 for $3 tix to newly Oscar-crowned Jack Nicholson’s p.a. Former blacklistees Gale Sondergaard and scenarist Lester Cole discuss Hollywood during the McCarthy era.

Jarman steps down. Alec Guiness’ appearance reps sole time SFIFF schedules a tribute as its opening-night event. Among attendees: O.J. Simpson and g.f. Nicole Brown.

Akira Kurosawa shows “Kagemusha,” intro’d by George Lucas and Coppola, who had persuaded 20th Century Fox to release it.

25th opens with George Cukor’s “Rich and Famous,” stars Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen in attendance. Equally glam: 76-year-old tributee Dolores del Rio.

Event is skipped for only time in its history to date, as a collaborative arrangement with L.A.’s Filmex requires SFIFF switch from fall to spring. The deal collapsed, but the dates stuck.

World premiere of Jonathan Demme’s Talking Heads concert pic “Stop Making Sense” turns the Castro Theater into a gigantic dance floor. Peter Scarlet arrives as new program director. Tributee Ginger Rogers snipes at “the filthy mouths we’re hearing in films today — I’d rather stay home and make jam.”

Kurosawa returns to accept the first annual lifetime-achievement award named after him. Spike Lee premieres debut feature “She’s Gotta Have It.”

Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 10-part “Decalogue” series is presented whole. John Woo’s “The Killer” heralds Hong Kong action’s new wave. Zoetrope’s 20th anni celebrated with 70mm prints of “Apocalypse Now” and “One From the Heart.”

Geena Davis, Satyajit Ray, Jonas Mekas get tributes. “The Player” is opening night film. “At the Max: The Rolling Stones in Concert” drags fest to deep-suburban theme park Great America, since no local Imax screens exist yet.

“Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” world premieres, aptly enough at the Castro.

Peter J. Owens Award goes to Nicolas Cage. Bow of “Following,” $6,000 first feature by future Hollywood franchise maestro Christopher Nolan.

Opening-nighter “The Virgin Suicides” is directorial debut from Sofia Coppola, whose blood relatives have placed more films in SFIFF than any other clan. Iran’s austere master Abbas Kiarostami jokes: “I want to empathize with those who didn’t enjoy (my) film.”

Clint Eastwood, Stockard Channing and Kenneth Anger are honored. Future Tribeca Fest chief Scarlet ankles for Cinematheque Francaise.

Roxanne Messina-Captor assumes fest’s executive directorship, orchestrating p.a.s from Warren Beatty and Kevin Spacey.

Robert Altman and Dustin Hoffman are salty tributees.

After fest’s conclusion, Messina-Captor is let go by board of directors.

Graham Leggat’s first fest extends to “satellite” venues including an Irish pub and fire station. Demonstrating the idiosyncracy of Bay Area cineastes once again, tributee Werner Herzog packs the 1,411-seat Castro despite myriad prior local appearances.

50th anni session unspools April 26-May 10; honorees include Spike Lee, George Lucas, Peter Morgan, Robin Williams.

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