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Big Screen: SF Film Society Awards Gala

A blaze of flashbulbs lit up the St. Francis ballroom at the 52nd SF Film Society Awards Gala where high-wattage Hollywooders turned gala patrons into paparazzi.

The bad news? The ensuing rush to swarm honoree Robert Redford required hotel security to form a phalanx around the still-sexy septuagenarian star so he could safely return to his hotel room. Really, folks: we just don’t do that in EssEff.

The good news? This means the SF International Film Festival (led by SF Film Society Director Graham Leggat) has returned to its former star-studded glory.

The gala honored Redford (recipient of the Peter J. Owens Acting Award), James Toback (recipient of the Kanbar Screenwriting Award) and the big Kahuna himself, Francis Ford Coppola (recipient of Irving Levin Directing Award).

Introducing Coppola was film director James Gray who recalled the moment he was first inspired by film.

“My father took me into Manhattan to watch a movie. As the film started, we were enveloped by that overwhelming ‘whump, whump, whump’ sound of helicopters in the opening shot of Apocalypse Now. I was about 10 years old at the time,” said Gray. “ I’m sure Social Services picked up my father later!”

Gray went on to describe how that movie, and many others after, shook him to his core, changing everything in his life as he experienced film becoming art.

“I realized I was in the presence of greatness,” continued Gray. “That day, Francis, unknowingly, became my teacher. He continues to explore and dazzle us with his daring.”

Coppola graciously thanked the room and said he was truly “touched” to receive this honor from the SF Film Fest because, “You’re never a prophet in your hometown.”

“But I have a little surprise for you. What I really want to do is honor my friend and favorite filmmaker, Carroll Ballard,” announced Coppola, as heads swiveled about the room. “Carroll is a San Francisco filmmaker of the most beautiful films!”

Another surprise "honoree" was Leggat's acknowledgment of photog Pamela Gentile, an expert hot-shot who has soulfully captured the Festival's bold-faced and beautiful for the last 25 years.

Toasting Redford’s many accomplishments on-screen and in life, Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences President Sid Ganis teased, “The superlatives come easy. But on top of all that? He’s gorgeous!”

Honoree Robert Redford

(Word is that this “gorgeous” star and his equally lovely fiancee, Sibylle Szaggars, will marry this week.)

Film critic David Thomson introduced his longtime pal, James Toback, as a “brilliant rascal.”

“He is a filmmaker of incredible credentials,” said Thomson. “But the first time I met him, the one fact about himself that thrilled him most was that he lived in the building where gangster Frank Costello died.”

Toback, screen-writer and director of films such as Bugsy and now, Tyson, was decidedly thrilled to be honored.

“This award represents the first time I’ve been properly acknowledge in America,” said Toback, with a slice of wry. “So I’m leaving my heart to San Francisco!”

Earlier, gala co-chairwoman Penelope Wong told the audience how her very traditional Chinese mother used to allow Penelope and her brother to skip their after-school Chinese language program. So she could take her children to the movies.

“As soon as the curtain rose and the movie began to flicker, my mom would hush us and point up at the screen and quietly say, ‘Look’,” said Wong, explaining why she and her husband, Tim Kochis established the Film Society’s Nellie Wong Magic of Movies Education Fund.

“That is why I’m so passionate about the SF Film Society,” said Wong. “Because film allows you to open your eyes, open your heart. You learn about other cultures and people and even, yourself.”

P.S.: the Festival continues to spool through Thurs., May 7

Check out the photos below.

Honoree James Toback and film critic David Thomson

Surprise honoree director Carroll Ballard with his daughter, Norah Ballard and wife, Christine Ballard

George Lucas and SF Film Society Board Chairman George Gund III

Lucy Gray, film producer Saul Zaentz and his wife, Chika Kujiroaka

Director James Gray

SF Film Fest Awards Gala event co-chairs Penelope Wong and Tim Kochis

Susie McBaine and Connie Goodyear

Former SF Film Society Director Claude Jarman and his daughter, Sarah Jarman

Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences President Sid Ganis and his wife, Nancy Ganis

SF Film Society Board member Melanie Blum and Gina Moscone

Jeannette Etheredge, Attorney General Jerry Brown and Eleanor Coppola

Kay and Sandy Walker with Telluride Film Fest founder Tom Luddy and his wife, Monique Luddy

Filmmaker Todd Traina and his mom, Dede Wilsey

Rich Silverstein and Carla Emil

John Traina and his daughter-in-law, Katie Traina

ILM Executive Producer Gretchen Libby, Hooman with ILM's Erin Meyers

Willie Brown and SF Film Society Board member Doug Biederbeck