Acclaimed UK director Mike Leigh will be honored with inaugural Founder's Directing Award at the 51st San Francisco International Film Festival (24 April-8 May). The Founder's Award will be presented to Leigh at the Film Society Awards Night, the annual benefit gala, on Thursday, 1 May at the Westin St. Francis Hotel.
The Founder's Directing Award is presented each year to one of the masters of world cinema and is given in memory of Irving M. Levin, who founded the San Francisco International Film Festival, the longest-running film festival in the Americas, in 1957.
Mike Leigh will also participate at a public screening event on 30 April at the historic Castro Theater. The special event will include an onstage interview, a clips reel of his career highlights and a showing of Topsy-Turvy (1999), kaleidoscopic and visually entrancing backstage comedy/drama portraying the tumultuous world of 19th-century theatrical impresarios Gilbert and Sullivan.
Leigh's history with SFFS stretches back to 1986 when SFIFF held the first US retrospective of the director’s gritty and unsparing, often bitingly funny work. That program presented Leigh’s lesser known works, including short films and television films produced for the BBC in the 1970s and early 1980s. Leigh triumphantly returned to SFIFF in 1989 with High Hopes, the alternately hilarious and moving story of a working-class couple living in a tiny London flat.
Leigh is one of the UK and Europe’s most well-respected and loved directors. His film Naked (1993) won him the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival that year. Secrets and Lies (1996) won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, as well as an unprecedented five Oscar nominations. In 2004, his film Vera Drake was a major international hit that perfectly blended his interest in class-conscious drama and social realism. He is also known as an “actors’ director”, having helped make household names of such discoveries as Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, while further propelling the careers of Jim Broadbent, Jane Horrocks, David Thewlis, Alison Steadman and others. Newcomer Sally Hawkins was honored last month at the Berlinale for her performance in his newest film Happy-Go-Lucky.
"Mike Leigh is an extraordinary director who has forged a singular path in world cinema over a long and brilliant career," said Graham Leggat, executive director of the San Francisco Film Society. "We are delighted to welcome him back to the International on the heels of his well-deserved success with his latest comedy Happy Go Lucky at this year's Berlinale."
For 22 years the San Francisco International Film Festival has honored a master of world cinema with its Founder's Directing Award. Previous European auteur recipients include: Werner Herzog, Germany; Milos Forman, Czechoslovakia/USA; Francesco Rosi, Italy; Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal; Marcel Carné, France; Jirí Menzel, Czechoslovakia; Robert Bresson, France; and Michael Powell, England.