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The Freedom of Expression Award - presented annually at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival since 2005 - honors the unfettered imagination, which is the cornerstone of a just, free and open society. Past recipients include Norman Lear, Kirk Douglas, Lee Grant and more. Read on for a full list of Freedom of Expression Award recipients.
Twenty-five years after his film debut, Joe Berlinger is still no stranger to controversy. Berlinger's powerful Crude (2009) highlighted Chevron's wanton destruction of the Amazon rain forest, resulting in a corporate million dollar lawsuit that cost the filmmaker more than the entire budget of the film. His portrayal of the notorious Boston gangster in Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger (2014) methodically exposed corrupt misdeeds within the highest echelons of the American justice system. Intent to Destroy (2017) is Berlinger's most complex film, a comprehensive chronicle of the Armenian Genocide that simultaneously takes on Turkey's powerful denial machine; a painful erasure that has effectively silenced numerous U.S. presidents.
Writer, activist and iconoclast Norman Lear was honored with the 2016 SFJFF Freedom of Expression Award before a sold-out Castro Theatre audience for his career in television that produced some of the most memorable, nuanced and provocative shows of the 20th century, including All in the Family, The Jeffersons and Maude as well as his political action work with People for the American Way. Lear was on hand to accept the award and participate in an onstage interview with former SFJFF Executive Director Peter Stein. The interview was accompanied by a screening of the new documentary on Lear's life and career, Norman Lear, Just Another Version of You.
The 2015 Freedom of Expression Award was presented to the formerly blacklisted actor, director, and writer Lee Grant, before a packed Castro audience who were enthralled by her sharp and witty commentary on her life in theater and film. They were impressed with the scope and breadth of her directorial work on many important social issue documentaries and her lifelong dedication to stand by her convictions no matter the price. The award ceremony was accompanied by a 35th anniversary screening of her directorial debut Tell Me a Riddle, presented on 35mm film, in conjunction with the 35th anniversary of SFJFF.
Theodore Bikel is a modern day troubadour and a legend amongst American Jews who have been able to connect to their European heritages for decades through his immortalization of the tragicomic Jewish shtetl life. Having portrayed Fiddler on the Roof's Tevye countless times, it was small wonder that Bikel would be honored by SFJFF alongside a screening of Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholem Aleichem which establishes a connection between Bikel and Aleichem, the most famous of Jewish folk storytellers.
The half-dozen key films Alan Berliner, the Brooklyn-born filmmaker has directed simultaneously entertain, challenge and then redefine the very notion of what a documentary is in the first place. His work is experimental, deeply personal, both rich in visual and sonic structure, and astoundingly original and unlike the work of any other contemporary filmmakers. His project First Cousin Once Removed was screened at SFJFF 2013 in tandem with his Freedom of Expression Award recognition.
Elliott Gould successfully personified the radicalism of his time by portraying a free-love swinger, a campus radical, and a cheeky battlefront army medic in Robert Altman's 1970 anti-war classic M*A*S*H. What Gould achieved was revolutionary. Coming after a decade of chiseled features and vapid star vehicles, his success not only countered existing stereotypes, but his choice of distinctly unorthodox roles were perfectly in sync with the unconventional values of the period. A brilliant raconteur, Gould delighted the 2012 SFJFF audience with stories and witticisms from his life alongside a screening of his latest film Dorfman in Love.
SFJFF recognized living screen legend Kirk Douglas with the 2011 Freedom of Expression Award, who in 1960 defied industry practice and the national mood by insisting on giving rightful credit to screenwriters blacklisted in the midst of Hollywood's Communist paranoia. With over 87 films, 10 plays, and nine books to his credit, as well as three Oscar nominations, Douglas continues to regard breaking the blacklist as his proudest career achievement. A memorable onstage interview with Douglas was accompanied by a retrospective screening of the classic film Spartacus.
Sayed Kashua is a towering figure in the Israeli arts community and the country's leading satirist. Kashua's satire manages, miraculously, both to skewer everyone and somehow bring Arabs and Jews together in wincing, barrier-breaking laughter. Atypically, Kashua chooses to do all his writing in Hebrew rather than his native Arabic. He wrote the acclaimed Israeli sitcom Arab Labor (SFJFF 2008) and was the subject of Sayed Kashua - Forever Scared at SFJFF 2010, when he received the Freedom of Expression Award.
Aviva Kempner chronicles tales of Jewish heroism with tenacity, skill and endless passion. A filmmaker, her documentaries are artfully and painstakingly researched; the results celebrate and illuminate little-known stories of Jews who had heart and chutzpah. She received the Freedom of Expression Award for Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, one of the festival's breakout favorites at SFJFF29.
Péter Forgács is a master filmmaker and finder of lost images. He has preserved the memory of European Jewish families of the 1930s and 1940s by retelling their stories through their own home movies. Internationally celebrated as a media artist, Forgács has created more than 30 films over the last twenty years. His anthology of home movie testimonials from Hungary has mesmerized audiences for decades. Including the 2008 FOE screening of Miss Universe 1929 - Lisl Goldarbeiter, A Queen in Wien, Forgács has exhibited a number of his works at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, which can be found here.
Dani Levy is a unique and paradoxical voice in contemporary independent filmmaking: a Jewish filmmaker who has lived and worked in Berlin for over 3 decades, a politically incorrect scriptwriter who is a box office success, and a farceur with a serious social intent. A Dani Levy film is invariably laced with humor, empathy and a tragicomic sense of the absurd. His films catalyze necessary public discussions, but like all powerful art, they are fueled by a deep private need. He received the 2007 Freedom of Expression Award and screened his film My Fuehrer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler.
Israeli director Amos Gitai has distinguished himself as one of the most persistent and fearless explorers of the landscape and mythologies of Jewish life, both in the Diaspora and in Israel. SFJFF26 screened both his narrative feature Free Zone and documentary feature News From Home/News From House and presented him with the Freedom of Expression Award. A full list of Gitai's films which have screened at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival can be found in the JFI archive.
The inaugural Freedom of Expression award honored 3 filmmakers; Walter Bernstein and Norma Barzman, both screenwriters and former blacklisters, and Jay Rosenblatt, renowned independent filmmaker, who has made over 20 films and is the current Program Director of the Jewish Film Institute. The 2005 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival shone a spotlight on Jews and the Hollywood Blacklist of the McCarthy era.