April 21, 2011 was a special date for two reasons.  Firstly, that date marked the opening night of the 54th annual San Francisco International Film Festival.  Secondly, it marked the first appearance for HeyUGuys at this particular festival.  We were lucky enough to be invited to this prestigious event and jumped at the chance to experience it firsthand.

Grolsch Film Works is a division of the Grolsch lager and beer company and were the sponsors of the opening night festivities.  Grolsch Film Works’ mission is to celebrate the world of independent film making by hosting screenings around the world, giving film makers the opportunity to give their pitch for the potential of funding and helping the future film makers of the world realize their creative visions.  Grolsch were very generous hosts, setting up a bevy of events for the attendees to experience and partake in.

The evening started out at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theater where the festival kicked off with the opening film, Beginners.  Press and onlookers alike braved the chilly winds of San Francisco in order to catch a glimpse and chance to speak with San Francisco Film Society members as well as the film’s director and stars.  As the guests started to arrive, the anticipation for the film grew and the events of the night as well as the festival itself, officially started.

Upon entering the theater, the attendees were treated to a beautiful historic building.  The beauty of the theater itself if difficult to describe and I could only wonder why I had never come to this place before.  I looked upon the vaulted ceiling with astonishment and admired the detailed wood work that was gilded in gold.  The large screen was covered in curtains and the seats were plush red velvet bringing back a sense of what theaters were like before the days of stadium seating.  As we entered the actual theater we were treated to a rather talented gentleman who was playing an organ that looked to be a permanent resident in front of the stage.  Soon after the music died down, it was time to make the introductions.

First to take the stage was San Francisco Film Society President of the Board, Pat McBaine.  McBaine talked a bit about the festival and the achievements made by the Film Society’s Executive Director, Graham Leggat. Under the five years that Leggat has been Executive Director, the society has experienced an increase in staff, in membership and in budget, which has also been balanced.  Leggat then took the stage and quite proudly talked a bit regarding the festival itself and how it is the oldest film festival in the Americas, hosting 191 films this year.  Leggat was also proud to announce  that this year’s Peter J. Owens Acting Award will be awarded to none other than Terence Stamp.

Once introductions were over and thanks given to those who made and continue to make the festival possible, Leggat then introduced the director, Mike Mills.  Mills took to the stage to preface the film with a little bit of history regarding the film’s autobiographical content.  As a Bay Area child himself, having his film open this particular festival resonated with Mills and he showed his appreciation for his audience by telling us “a film is nothing without an audience and you make it come alive.”  With that, Mills took his leave and the lights dimmed, signaling that it was time to start the film.  Having never taken part in an event such as this, I felt quite honored to be able to be a part of this experience.

Watching a film among an audience that included that film’s writer/director, various members of the press, budding film makers and those who just enjoy a good movie was an amazing feeling and one I’ll not soon forget.

Once the film ended, those who stayed in their seats were treated to a lively Q & A session with Mills that was moderated by the Film Society’s Director of Programming, Rachel Rosen.  The film’s star, Ewan McGregor was supposed to be in attendance for the film, as he hadn’t even seen it yet, but was delayed due to a cancelled flight. Starting his journey in France, he made it to Los Angeles as the film started and frantically made it to the theater in time to partake in the second half of the Q & A session.

The rapport between star and director was something to behold in that you could see how close these two men had become during the course of filming.  The Q & A may have been for the masses at the theater, but it felt more like witnessing an intimate conversation between two close friends.  Once the exchange of silly stories from filming finished, it was time to see what else Grolsch had in mind for the evening.

Making our way to the other side of San Francisco, we arrived at the after party which was already in full swing.  Held at the Terra Gallery, the outside hosted a green carpet which would seem to honor the green bottles of Grolsch.  Once inside, we navigated through the throngs of people and headed upstairs to the VIP area.  As we made our way up the stairs, the sounds of music from a live band and the smells of delicious food permeated our senses.  As we emerged from the stairwell, we witnessed a barrage of party goers mingling and enjoying all that the party had to offer.  Around the incredibly large room, various food stations were set up so the party goers could sample the international culinary delights from premier San Francisco eateries.  The room also hosted different stations serving up various types of drinks, while servers wandered the floor carrying trays of Grolsch beer.

As the party waged on, the honored guests of the night, quite stealthily arrived.  Both Mike Mills and Ewan McGregor made their way through the crowd talking with people as they approached, graciously accepting congratulations and handshakes. As the night wound down, it was time to take our leave.  We headed back to our hotel buzzing with the events of the evening.  I couldn’t help but think that if a night like this was just the start of the festival, what must the duration be like?  Thankfully this is an annual event that will hopefully continue on for another 54 years and beyond.

HeyUGuys would like to personally thank Grolsh Film Works for making this evening possible.  We would also like to thank Rami and Lucy with Frank PR for all of the hospitality that was shown to us.  It was an unforgettable evening and HeyUGuys was honored to have been involved with it.

*All photos courtesy of Brandi Anderson