Summer 2020: A Message from SFFILM’s Executive Director Anne Lai

Dear friends,

As I enter my sixth month as Executive Director at SFFILM, I am eager to connect and share some reflections on my journey so far. While I sadly missed the opportunity to meet many of you in person with the cancellation of our Festival, I’m now excited to begin with this letter to invite an open dialogue with you — our community of film lovers and filmmakers — and look forward to doing so as I work alongside the Board and staff to create the future vision of our organization. While we will continue to find ways to support filmmakers and exhibit films in every way that we can, of paramount importance is to ensure that SFFILM moves forward as an explicitly anti-racist institution and a driver of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.

With its 63-year history, SFFILM faces the critically important task of looking closely at itself. Conceived and launched as the first North American film festival, the organization gained a reputation as a showcase for the latest international films and a gathering spot for both Hollywood and foreign film notables. Over the past decade, SFFILM expanded to build a prominent Artist Development program dedicated to supporting emerging filmmakers and embracing the Bay Area filmmaking community, and significantly developed its Education program focused on students, teachers, and families. As I stepped into SFFILM, I was encouraged by the range, boldness, and diversity of voices emerging from our year-round work. And, as I joined the audience of our SFFILM at Home events, I was inspired by a sense of connection and shared love of film across the Bay Area.

While we cherish this rich history and honor its impact, we also acknowledge the privilege that this organization was built upon. It is up to us to interrogate the biased and oppressive systems that we continue to operate within and push to dismantle them. This brings us to a series of questions we have been asking ourselves: How do we better support emerging artists? How do we better fulfill the needs and desires of a more diverse range of film viewers? How do we better address inequity in filmmaking? And how do we best achieve these goals through the lens of inclusion, social equity, and anti-racism? We have taken this to heart and want to share what we’ve been taking action on:

  • Auditing our inner workings: We are collecting demographics from our submissions and selection pools across Programming and Artist Development to help us understand our body of artists — from there we can work to address inclusion and equity in a more impactful way.

I see film as one of the most compelling, contemporary, and beautiful forms of storytelling, and I believe storytelling has the power to change minds, to open the door to challenging dialogue, to heal emotional wounds, and to share a collective sense of humanity. We can be at our most vulnerable when watching a movie. And we can be at our most inspired and empowered. It is my goal to lead a film organization that brings that same level of vulnerability and empowerment into every space we create. Film remains a critical art form to reach so many people. As part of that ecosystem, we at SFFILM want to make sure we are embracing and championing a reflective and deep range of voices and perspectives — storytellers of color including Black, Latinx, Asian, MENA, and Indigenous; immigrant and international storytellers; LBGTQ+ and all gender storytellers; storytellers with disabilities; and intersections of all these communities — through every avenue of our programming.

All of us at SFFILM are part of this commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, and are continually learning (and unlearning) from our collaborators, our filmmakers, and our filmgoers. We thank you for all that you have shared so far and look forward to hearing from you along this journey of continued evolution and action.

More soon.

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Presenter of the SFFILM Festival, SFFILM is a year-round nonprofit organization delivering screenings & events to 100,000+ film lovers annually.

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Presenter of the SFFILM Festival, SFFILM is a year-round nonprofit organization delivering screenings & events to 100,000+ film lovers annually.