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At the SFFILM Awards, a Vision of a Weinstein-Free Future

Foreshadowing a better movie industry? Let's hope so.


Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani

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Kate Winslet

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Kathryn Bigelow

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“I’d like to thank all the white men who’ve allowed us to be in this position,” began Kumail Nanjiani, star and cowriter of the surprise hit film The Big Sick, to uproarious laughter as he and wife Emily V. Gordon took the stage. “All those straight white men who funded us and supported us—if not for those straight white men, we truly wouldn’t be here right now.”

For one night, at least, it was easy to laugh about Hollywood’s bad men, who were noticeably absent at the 60th anniversary of the SFFILM Awards ceremony, held Tuesday night at the Palace of Fine Arts Exhibition Center. Rather, the evening’s three awards were presented to, if not exactly entertainment-world outsiders, then at least not-pervy-white-guys: Kathryn Bigelow (Detroit) for direction; to Nanjiani and Gordon, for storytelling; and to Kate Winslet for acting. Winslet, accepting her award from James Cameron, thanked the Titanic director for casting her 20 years ago. “And he didn’t ask me to lose weight,” she joked.

The decision to present awards to three women and a Pakistani man predated this fall’s revelations about widespread sexual abuse in the film industry, according to SFFILM executive director Noah Cowan. That decision only looked better in the wake of the torrent of news about men behaving badly, and the night’s tack away from Hollywood’s status quo offered those on hand an opportunity to address the Weinstein-shaped shadow being cast over the film industry.

“Our belief is that the work comes first—the performances, the writing,” Cowan said. “That needs to be the thing that we focus on the most. But we’d be remiss not to acknowledge that this very important conversation is happening right now, and that the awardees are playing a positive role.”

Winslet, in accepting the Peter J. Owens Award for acting, closed her remarks by acknowledging her female acting role models—Emma Thompson, Kathy Bates, Judy Dench, Jodie Foster, Julie Christie, and Judy Davis—“all women who taught me about looking out for one another. There has to be a sense of sisterhood and I think we’re really feeling that in the film industry.”

All three of the night’s awardees offered political food for thought. Bigelow, the San Carlos-born director behind Academy Award pictures The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, asked that UC Berkeley African American studies professor John A. Powell, the director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, present her the Irving M. Levin Award for film direction for her film Detroit, about race riots in that city in 1967. Powell, responding to those who questioned whether a white woman had the right to tell such a story of black pain, quoted bell hooks in calling Bigelow a “bridge in a society that is deeply divided.” Bigleow, in accepting the award, joked that she’d happily be the bridge for Powell to stand on.

Even while distancing itself from the ugliness permeating Hollywood today, the awards night’s move into the thick of awards season run-up gave the event a sheen of Hollywood glitz. In years past, the awards were held in the spring, concurrently with the organization’s film festival. Cameron (the ex-husband of Bigelow), left the set of Avatar II to attend the ceremony, which he said was only the second time in his career he’d blown off work. Winslet and Bigelow, two true A-listers, also lent additional buzz to the $1,000-a-plate event. (Bigwigs in the audience included John Pritzker, Jan and Maria Manetti Shrem, Ali Pincus, Stanlee Gatti, Dede Wilsey, Katie and Todd Traina, and Jack Calhoun, among others, including sizable contingents from Lucasfilm and Pixar, the Bay Area’s two giant production outfits.)

Cowan, who took over the film society three years ago after working at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival, said he hoped San Francisco could use the awards ceremony to insert itself in the Oscar-season build-up; already, he said, the region boasts one of the highest concentration of Academy voters in the nation. “It enhances our opportunity to impact the conversation about what matters in film but also in society,” he said. “But also, it’s just more fun, to bring San Francisco into the excitement of this competition. It can sometimes be frivolous, of course, but there’s also an impactful conversation about these awards. We want the Bay Area to be part of that.”


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