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The San Francisco International Film Festival Honors Kevin Spacey and Warren Beatty

an emily blunt report
(back story here)


The San Francisco International Film Festival is one of the oldest and most respected festivals in America. Heck they can even get pugilist Sean Penn to come to their shindig. This year they celebrated their 45th annual. They are very particular about what they screen and who they honor. It's all about every aspect in the art of film making to this festival. They are serious cinephiles!

So, when I was given last minute clearance to cover the Gala Awards event for them, I was more than happy to oblige.

First would be The Peter J. Owens Award, named for the longtime San Francisco benefactor of arts and charitable organizations, which honors an actor whose work exemplifies brilliance, independence and integrity. This year they honored Kevin Spacey.

Next would be The Akira Kurosawa Award for lifetime achievement in film directing is given each year to one of the masters of world cinema. This year they gave this honor to Warren Beatty.

While the stars mentioned above lounged by a swanky hotel pool sipping Pina Coladas and pouting over which designer's tux they'd wear, Armani or Versaci, my day began with frantic online reservations. I neeeded, wanted, to also take the time to meet with and interview Festival Print Coordinator Alex Cantin, an unsung hero of the festival (the article to follow).

Cramming fourteen hours into just under six I managed to arrive to the awards just as they began. Event phobic past Peter J. Owens award recipient, Sean Penn , introduced the audience to the man they love as an actor, the man he loves as a friend, Kevin Spacey.

Extraordinarily witty, Penn delivered his words in a traditional "roast" style. With a shared wink and "in" joke he advised he himself was responsible for all Mr. Spacey knew about acting (oh, how we laughed…) and how he and his acting friends wondered how this odd scary fellow, Kevin Spacey, slid into the spot light and was until then unobserved...under the radar yet so widely known by all…He of course was joshing and obviously the two have a warm endearing respect for each other.

Though it's true Kevin Spacey is somewhat of a public enigma. Really his super-stardom is a tad of a mystery too...I mean technically he's not the typical chiseled leading man type Hollywood usually backs. Not the textbook script guzzling hack they can bank on. And he's certainly not into playing the PR game. He's determined to keep himself aloof. So why's this palooka such a hit? Hmm, must be that immense talent he holds within that shone so bright it was inevitable…

After a brief well-done film montage of Spacey's work (spectacular work by San Fran film maker Jessie Lindow of Insurgency Pictures-- even though The Shipping News had been forgotten-again) one of the honored of the evening, Mr.Kevin -boom boom- Spacey, took the stage to thundering applause.

As expected he was the definition of grace and charm. Yeah, sure I'd like to dip him in Butterscotch Magic Shell ©brand syrup and slowly nibble it off, but my biased attractions aside, Spacey's really is one of our greatest (living) thespians. He's also been blessed with a rare uncanny old-fashioned charisma that makes all of those around him feel instantly welcome and comfortable. He's like a close personal friend, even in a room of four hundred and fifty. On top of that, unlike say Benicio del Toro or Sarah Jessica Parker, Kev's a mesmerizing-ly fluent speaker and simply hysterical with his delivery. Can we clone him...please!

Dressed in a handsome tuxedo, and donning an Ackerman smirk and a Keysor twinkle he
thanked his buddy Sean. He said Sean's "the most fantabulous two-fisted damn fine example of the most rootin tootin daredevil and courageous sonofabitch I have the pleasure of calling a friend!"

He also told us to note what a totally genuine artist and man Sean is for showing up for the SFIF45. Kevin said "you can't get him to the academy awards, but he shows up for San Francisco." Spacey's idea on getting Penn to the Oscars? "just bring the Oscars up to Marin County and don't invite the fuckin' press!" Too true. I worked with some of these rabid press folks at this season's award about swimming with sharks. I don't know exactly when or how they got this meanspirited but these celebs aint wrong. I just don't understand these press people.

But what I do understand is Spacey is a unique entity on any level, megastar or manly man. For example? When he began to accept his award, he didn't take the time to drone on about the "me" factor of the night, instead, he took the time in which he held his audience's attentions to tell us, in detail, all about the man behind his award, Peter J. Owens.

Like many listening to him, he hadn't had a good idea of who this fellow was. Spacey explained he felt like a "dumb ass" and really needed to know more, especially accepting an award in the man's name. He said he'd arranged to meet with the family of Mr. Owens, and look a little closer…

He told anecdotes about Owens' family pictures. He told of how Peter J. Owens had aspired to be an actor but went into real estate instead. And finally he told us about the man's philosophy, which held a parallelism with Spacey's own. Owens gave back to the arts for all the joy he had received. He believed spreading his wealth to assist others in their dreams. Giving voice to the struggling artist that may not otherwise have had the chance' the very same theme that runs behind Kevin and friends' Trigger Street companies. Some people really are good you see.

He finished with an impression of James Mason, giving his brief personal acceptance speech about his being proud to not only accept the award but his willingness to continue the Owens' policy to make the dreams of others come true by giving financial and spiritual support. As he walked off the stage, I was beaming for him, like I knew him. I was so proud-sniff! Such a goon I know.

Then Sharon Stone graced the stage to tell us about Akira Kurosawa, the great director and the namesake of the next award. She shared a little bit about how a Kurosawa film breaks the language barrier and transcends its message plainly, while engrossing you with subtle brilliance.

An old friend of Beatty's Yahoo chairman/CEO (& ex- big kahuna from Warner Brothers) Terry Semel, took the stage to introduce the Akira Kurosawa award recipient.

Semel was another man that could have toured as a speech monger. Elegant, and fantastic timing…of course Spacey still ruled! After he shared some moments about Warren and his long career we again watched a wonderful montage of the recipient's work by Insurgency Pictures to wet our whistles.

Warren Beatty took the stage in a demeanor that reminded me of Bullworth and firstly thanked the society for the honor. He made a point of pointing out a few people and letting us know their political agendas. There were reds, communists, northern California liberals with southern California bodies, and middle of the road centralists DLC Clinton democrats scattered through the crowd. I was just as clueless in Warren's references as when a sports game's blasting scores and names before me...

He then purred over his beautiful wife Annette Benning and thought maybe it's time for yet another child. What do they have six already? After he got that thought he light heartedly bemoaned the fact that his SFIF45 crystal award was round and Spacey's was phallic…He said he was still smarting over the multiple takes of the bedroom scene 'tween the two in American Beauty and wanted to know if this was some sort of metaphor he was missing.

Spacey not one to miss an opportunity to express his razor wit, leapt to the stage and exchanged his spiked award with Beatty's ball. The place just roared.

Warren, you may or may not know, has a unique way of delivering his speeches. They ramble a bit but are nonetheless fascinating for it. He's intelligent, extremely funny and even gives you a little insight into his true character-which seems to be a genius that thrives on pandemonium. He's a rich character and warm individual who is pleasantly still madly in love with his wife. Awe!

Warren's also still an extremely handsome man. I remember my mom (I mean this in a nice way) was smitten with him when I was a kid. Never one to go to the movies, she dragged my sister and I to see Shampoo then Bonnie and Clyde; it must have been a mini-festival. I thought geese; my mom has great taste in fellows. Though I preferred the look in Clyde, my mom plain faced debated Beatty looked good in any era. You go mom!

Remembering her adoration for Beatty, I called her after the show and told her about the evening. She was gloriously oblivious to Kev and surprisingly versed on Beatty. On my personal hero Kevin Spacey I got: "oh, dat vone from dat movie with the bad skin dat you like so much…(referring to Spacey in Pay It Forward, the only film I was able to drag her to and could never convince her it was make-up on the studmuffin's face) She continued with that parental vocal pat on the head: " Ya-ya, good for you dat's vunderful." Translation: when will she get a real job, go into real estate like me and stop this whole silly movie business thing… However when I mentioned Beatty she perked right up equal only to the Clooney encounter of 2000. " Oh, really! Vow! Vas he super handsome? Und how tall is he? Vat was he wearing? Details! Details! Go on vy you vaiting tell me!" Oh, mother…

After Warren's delightful orations the evening came to an end. A few folks ventured over to Tosca's Cafe for a martini or two…. But that's a whole other story -- which is found here.

And, as always there's a great back story preempting my arrival for the awards-- but it required an entire article itself and can be found here.



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