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All the Buzz on Film Festival Awards, Celebrity Tributes and the Film Awards Season.

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First SFFILM Awards Night honorees announced: Chinonye Chukwu, Marielle Heller, and Lulu Wang







Star-Studded Gala Is a Fundraiser for SFFILM’s Year-Round Work Cultivating the Next Generation of Film Artists, a Film Industry Awards Show, and a San Francisco Social Occasion

San Francisco, CASFFILM has announced several of the film luminaries confirmed to attend and accept honors at the 2019 SFFILM Awards Night, the organization’s annual fundraising celebration honoring achievement in filmmaking craft. This year’s edition of the dinner and awards presentation event—now firmly established in the fall industry and social calendars after moving from the spring in 2017—takes place Tuesday, December 3 at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts Exhibition Center.

The guests of honor at SFFILM Awards Night will be the recipients of the organization’s prestigious awards for film craft: Chinonye Chukwu (Clemency, NEON) will receive the inaugural SFFILM Special Award for Breakthrough Directing, Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Sony Pictures Entertainment) will receive the Irving M. Levin Award for Film Direction, and Lulu Wang (The Farewell, A24) will receive the Kanbar Award for Storytelling. Additional awards and celebrity presenters will be announced in the coming days.




SFFILM Awards Night supports the organization’s various year-round work in cultivating the next generation of film artists, particularly through its SFFILM Education and SFFILM Makers initiatives. The event is one of San Francisco’s most highly anticipated social gatherings and an important industry stop to leverage the Bay Area’s increasing awards season relevance. This is the third year that Awards Night has taken place in December, further solidifying its position in the city’s fall calendar after decades as part of April’s San Francisco International Film Festival and its role as a key event in shaping best-of-the-year conversations for influential northern California film lovers.

“We are thrilled that SFFILM Awards Night, now fully integrated into the December calendar, has once again inspired such exceptional talent to join us,” said SFFILM Director of Programming Rachel Rosen. “These remarkable individuals were selected because their fine work embodies the values of the Bay Area—in particular their role in championing innovative cinema, making the industry more diverse and inclusive, and actively participating in the artistic and social dialogue that is so important today. We hope that by celebrating these artists, their films, and these values, SFFILM can have a positive effect on the awards conversations that dominate this time of year.”

SFFILM Special Award for Breakthrough Directing: Chinonye Chukwu
This will be the inaugural SFFILM Special Award, designed to recognize an achievement that reflects the organization’s mission—to champion the world’s finest films and filmmakers through programs anchored in and inspired by the spirit and values of the San Francisco Bay Area. In this case, SFFILM wishes to call attention to the accomplishment of Clemency in treating an essential social issue with great delicacy, humanity, and artistic vision.

Chinonye Chukwu is a filmmaker, educator, and social justice advocate. She is the founder of Pens to Pictures, a filmmaking collaborative that teaches and empowers incarcerated women to make their own short films, from script to screen. Her most recent feature film, Clemency, premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and won the Grand Jury Award in the US Dramatic Competition. Chukwu’s next feature film will be A Taste of Power, based on the memoir by the first and only female leader of the Black Panther Party, Elaine Brown. She was named one of Variety’s “10 Screenwriters to Watch” earlier this year. 

Irving M. Levin Award for Film Direction: Marielle Heller
The Irving M. Levin Award for Film Direction is presented each year to one of the masters of world cinema and is given in memory the founder of the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1957. Past recipients include Steve McQueen (2018), Kathryn Bigelow (2017), Mira Nair (2016), Guillermo del Toro (2015), Richard Linklater (2014) Philip Kaufman (2013), Kenneth Branagh (2012), Oliver Stone (2011), Walter Salles (2010), Francis Ford Coppola (2009), Mike Leigh (2008), Spike Lee (2007), and Werner Herzog (2006).
Marielle Heller is an award-winning director, writer, and actor who has built an impressive and multifaceted career carefully crafting a unique voice that has earned her critical acclaim on a number of projects. Her meticulous directing style can next be seen in her highly anticipated feature, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which is set to release on November 22 of this year. The film stars Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers, and recently premiered to rave reviews at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Heller previously directed the three-time Academy Award-nominated film, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, starring Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, just three years after the release of her highly lauded directorial debut, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, which earned her an Independent Spirit Award. In the development of that film, she was the proud recipient of the Sundance Screenwriting and Directing Fellowships.

Kanbar Award for Storytelling: Lulu Wang
The Kanbar Award acknowledges the critical importance that storytelling plays in the creation of outstanding films. The award is named in honor of Maurice Kanbar, a longtime member of the board of directors of SFFILM, a San Francisco film commissioner and a philanthropist with a particular interest in supporting independent filmmakers. Past recipients include Boots Riley (2018), Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (2017), Tom McCarthy (2016), Paul Schrader (2015), Stephen Gaghan (2014), Eric Roth (2013), David Webb Peoples (2012), Frank Pierson (2011), and James Schamus (2010).
With the rare ability to captivate audiences with her sincere storytelling, Chinese-American Lulu Wang continues to establish herself as a writer and filmmaker to watch. Most recently, Wang released her second feature The Farewell, which she both wrote and directed. The film first premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the US Dramatic Competition, earning Wang a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize. Since then, Wang’s sophomore feature has garnered a multitude of praises, including Variety naming Wang among its “Top Ten Directors to Watch in 2019.” The film was recently nominated for multiple awards including “Best Feature” and “Best Screenplay” at the 2019 Gotham Awards. Wang’s debut feature film, Posthumous, stars Brit Marling and Jack Huston. On behalf of the film, Wang was awarded with the Chaz and Roger Ebert Directing Fellowship at the 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards, as well as the 2014 Film Independent Project Involve Directing fellowship.

SFFILM Awards Night will be taking place in the Exhibition Center at the Palace of Fine Arts, the recently renovated, spacious, and dynamic event space managed by Non Plus Ultra Inc, San Francisco’s premiere events management company. The event is generously supported by Lead Financial Services Sponsor First Republic Bank, Young’s Market Company, and SFFILM’s exclusive year-round beer sponsor Fort Point Beer. This year’s gala co-chairs are SFFILM Board members Gwyneth Borden, Heidi Fisher, and Sonya Yu.




SFFILM is a nonprofit organization with a mission to champion the world's finest films and filmmakers through programs anchored in and inspired by the spirit and values of the San Francisco Bay Area. Presenter of the San Francisco International Film Festival (April 8–21, 2020), SFFILM is a year-round organization delivering screenings and events to more than 75,000 film lovers and media education programs to more than 15,000 students, teachers, and families annually. In addition to its public programs, SFFILM supports the careers of independent filmmakers from the Bay Area and beyond with grants, residencies, and other creative development services. For more information visit




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