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San Diego International Film Festival

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San Diego International Film Festival
Festival co-hosts Jeffrey Lyons, Ben Lyons and Scott Mantz at a Critics Panel in 2016.
LocationSan Diego and La Jolla
Founded byKarl Kozak, Robin Laatz
AwardsGolden Eagle, Kumeyaay Eagle, Gregory Peck Award, Chris Brinker Award
Artistic directorTonya Mantooth

The San Diego International Film Festival is an independent film festival in San Diego, California, produced by the non-profit San Diego Film Foundation. The main event has traditionally been held annually in the autumn at venues in the Gaslamp Quarter, La Jolla and Balboa Park.

The festival hosts celebrity awards banquets, panel discussions, retrospectives, parties, premieres and contemporary independent narrative, documentary and short film screenings. Competitive juried categories vary year to year and have included foreign language, animated, Native American, military, social justice, equestrian, thrillers and local films made in San Diego.

Special advanced screenings for VIP members[1] and educational programs[2] for San Diego area high schools are held year round in addition to an annual formal "Oscar watch party" in the winter.[3]


The San Diego International Film Festival (originally just "The San Diego Film Festival") and its non-profit foundation were founded in 2001 by event planner Robin Laatz and her filmmaker husband Karl Kozak.[4]

Opening night films have screened at the historic Balboa Theatre.

In its first decade, films premiering at the festival included Roger Dodger, The Blair Witch Project, Fahrenheit 9/11, An Inconvenient Truth, Waiting for Superman, Napoleon Dynamite, Primer, The Machinist and Born Into Brothels.[citation needed]

The festival has been designated "Best Party Fest" and "Best Beach Fest" by the "Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide".[5] It has also been criticized along the same lines for being "more intent on throwing parties than putting quality films on the screen."[6]

New Leadership/Native Direction[edit]

In 2012, leadership passed to husband and wife producers Dale Strack and Tonya Mantooth.[7] According to Strack, they were modeling it after Napa Valley Film Festival, with a "longer term goal" of rivaling Sundance or TriBeCa.[6]

The festival expanded to a second location in La Jolla the same year.

Another new change was the establishment of a "Native American Advisory Board", whose name was changed in 2017 to "American Indian Advisory Board".[8] Tribes represented on the AIA board include Sac and Fox, Luiseño, Kumeyaay, Seminole, Lipan/Mescalero Apache and the Barona Band of Mission Indians. Notable members of the board include character actor Saginaw Grant (The Lone Ranger, Breaking Bad), Randolph Mantooth (Emergency!, Sons of Anarchy, brother of Tonya Mantooth) and Erica Pinto, the Chairwoman of Jamul Indian Village.[9]


Notable films premiering at the festival during this time include Silver Linings Playbook, 12 Years a Slave, He Named Me Malala, Goosebumps, The Imitation Game, Wild, Lion, Tiger, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Call Me By Your Name, Marshall, The Favourite, Widows, Boy Erased, Jojo Rabbit, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Marriage Story, The Irishman, and Parasite.[citation needed]

In 2013, New York area film critic Jeffrey Lyons was added as festival host and made honorary jury chairman. He acted as host or as co-host along with his with son Ben Lyons or with Access Hollywood film critic Scott Mantz, up until 2018, when Mantz hosted solo.

The festival added "International" to its name in 2016, having previously been known only as the San Diego Film Festival.[10]

In 2016, the festival established a Film Insider Series for VIP members to watch featured official selections and festival winners, premieres and special advanced screenings throughout the year.[11]

In September 2019, the festival began hosting free screenings of popular movies on Mission Beach.[12]

In 2019, the festival expanded to six days and hosted a second opening night film (The Irishman) at the La Jolla Village.[13][14]


Notable films premiering at the festival during this time include Nomadland, The French Dispatch, Spencer, The Power of the Dog, The Lost Daughter, The Banshees of Inisherin and The Inspection.

In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival was reduced to four days and presented 114 films both virtually and on drive-thru screens.[15][16]

As of 2020, the San Diego International Film Festival is a qualifying festival for the Canadian Screen Awards.[17]

In 2021, limited in-person screenings resumed at new venues including the Museum of Photographic Arts and the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park, as well as the Catamaran Resort in Mission Bay.[18] A special screening was held on the deck on a historic aircraft carrier at the USS Midway Museum.[19]

In 2022, after organizers at the Women's Museum of California's had ended their Women's Film Festival due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they joined forces with the San Diego Festival to present a women's series of films.[20]

In 2023, the film festival's opening night is being held at Westfield UTC AMC on October 8. Where, for the festival's 22nd year, they will have a showing of the Oscar winning film, The Holdovers.[21] The Festival will be occurring October 18–22 at Balboa Park's Museum of Photographic Arts, during those 5 days there will be showing 91 films of the 3,200 films that were submitted. The theme of this years Festival is "Celebrating the power of film", meaning films will be outlining the importance of film and its impact on our society and community.[22][23]


Alan Arkin was the first recipient of the Gregory Peck Award at the San Diego Film Festival in 2014

Gregory Peck Award[edit]

The Gregory Peck Award for Cinematic Excellence has been presented by the family of San Diego native Gregory Peck at the festival since 2014. Recipients at the San Diego festival include Andy Garcia,[24] Laurence Fishburne,[25][26] Keith Carradine, Patrick Stewart,[27] Annette Bening[28] and Alan Arkin.[29] The family originally presented the award at the Dingle International Film Festival in Ireland. Previous recipients include Gabriel Byrne, Jim Sheridan, Jean-Jacques Beineix and Laura Dern.[30]

Chris Brinker Award[edit]

The Chris Brinker Award was created by the family of Chris Brinker, a San Diego area producer best known for The Boondock Saints movies, who died of a brain aneurysm at the age of 42.[31] The award is given every year to the best first time director in competition at the festival.

Golden Eagle[edit]

Since 2014, honored celebrities and winning filmmakers have been presented with a "Golden Eagle" themed statuette, sculpted by Apache artist Ruben Chato.[32]

Kumeyaay Eagle Award[edit]

An annual award presented to the best film competing in the American Indian track.[33]

Night of the Stars Awards[edit]

The festival offers other awards - Auteur, Vanguard, Humanitarian, Rising Star, etc. - that vary year to year. Honorees include:

Gala Event Films[edit]

Year Opening Night Other Galas Closing Night Ref
2022 Armageddon Time (dir. James Gray) The Banshees of Inisherin (dir. Martin McDonagh)

The Lost King (dir. Stephen Frears)

Taurus (dir. Tim Sutton)

Empire of Light (dir. Sam Mendes) [48]
2021 C'mon, C'mon - (dir. Mike Mills) The French Dispatch (dir. Wes Anderson)

Spencer (dir. Pablo Larrain)

Belfast (dir. Kenneth Branagh)

The Power of the Dog (dir. Jane Campion)

The Worst Person in the World (dir. Joachim Trier)

The Lost Daughter (dir. Maggie Gyllenhaal) [49]
2020 Nomadland - (dir. Chloé Zhao) - drive-in

Drunk Bus - virtual village

Stardust (dir. Gabriel Range) - World Premiere

Blithe Spirit (dir. Edward Hall)

MLK/FBI - virtual village [15][16]
2019 Jojo Rabbit (dir. Taika Waititi) - Gaslamp

The Irishman (dir. Martin Scorsese) - La Jolla

The Kill Team (dir. Dan Knauss)

Motherless Brooklyn (dir. Edward Norton)

Clemency (dir. Chinonye Chuckwu, US)

Parasite (dir. Bong Joon Ho)

The Truth (dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda)

Marriage Story (dir. Noah Baumbach) - Gaslamp

A Hidden Life (dir. Terrence Malick) - La Jolla

2018 Can You Ever Forgive Me?

(dir. Marielle Heller, US)

Everybody Knows (dir. Asghar Farhadi)

Widows (dir. Steve McQueen)

The Favourite (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

Wildlife (dir. Paul Dano)

Boy Erased (dir. Joel Edgerton)
2017 Marshall (dir. Reginald Hudlin, US) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Call Me By Your Name (dir. Luca Guadagnino)

Thelma (dir. Joachim Trier, Norway)

Killing Gunther (dir. Taren Killam) - World Premiere

The Last Movie Star as Dog Years (dir. Adam Rifkin)

Dismissed (dir. Benjamin Arfman, US)

World Premiere

2016 Other People (dir. Chris Kelly, US) Lion (dir. Garth Davis, Australia)

Denial (dir. Mick Jackson, UK/USA)

Julieta (dir. Pedro Almodovar, Spain)

The Eagle Huntress (UK/Mongolia)
2015 Septembers of Shiraz (dir. Wayne Blair) Blackway as Go With Me

Diablo (dir. Lawrence Roeck)

Youth (dir. Paolo Sorrentino, Italy)

He Named Me Malala

2014 Wild (dir. Jean-Marc Vallée, US) The Imitation Game (UK/US)

The Equalizer (dir. Antoine Fuqua)

You're Not You (US) [52]
2013 12 Years a Slave (dir. Steve McQueen, UK/US)

The German Doctor (dir. Lucía Puenzo)

August: Osage County (US) [53]
2012 Silver Linings Playbook (dir. David O. Russell)

Seven Psychopaths (dir. Martin McDonagh)

Quartet (dir. Dustin Hoffman, UK)

The Sapphires (dir. Wayne Blair, Aus)

2011 50/50 (dir. Jonathan Levine, US) Like Crazy (dir. Drake Doremus) The Bully Project (dir. Lee Hirsch) [55]
2010 Waiting For "Superman" [56]
2008 The Lucky Ones (dir. Neil Burger) Morning Light (dir. Mark Monroe) [57]
2004 The Machinist (dir. Brad Anderson)

Primer (dir. Shane Carruth)

Dear Frankie (dir. Shona Auerbach)

Born Into Brothels (dir. Zana Briski)

2003 Broadway: The Golden Age (dir. Rick McKay)

Mothers & Daughters

2002 Rodger Dodger (dir. Dylan Kidd, US) Now You Know (dir. Jeff Anderson, US) Anything But Love as Standard Time (US) [60]


Films frrom San Diego that win or are nominated in the 48 Hour Film Project are screened during the festival every year.

The San Diego International Film Festival has partnered with the San Diego County Office of Education and the San Diego Unified School District to bring films about social issues like homelessness, water pollution and refugees to area high schools.[39]

The festival - along with the GI Film Festival, FilmOut San Diego, San Diego Asian Film Festival, San Diego Latino Film Festival, Horrible Imaginings Film Festival - submits films to San Diego Film Week, a city-wide spring showcase produced by Film Consortium San Diego. Submitted films are eligible to win San Diego Film Awards.[61]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Film Insider Series | San Diego International Film Festival". Retrieved 2019-09-27.
  2. ^ "Focus on Impact Film Tour". San Diego International Film Festival. Retrieved 2019-09-27.
  3. ^ "Awards Viewing Party | San Diego International Film Festival". Retrieved 2019-09-27.
  4. ^ "Questions for Robin Laatz". Voice of San Diego. 2006-09-23. Retrieved 2019-09-18.
  5. ^ "At San Diego Film Festival, no hitch is their niche - The San Diego Union-Tribune". 2018-04-17. Archived from the original on 2018-04-17. Retrieved 2020-01-16.
  6. ^ a b "San Diego Film Festival has a new chair, a new board, a new focus". San Diego Union-Tribune. 2012-04-13. Archived from the original on 2019-10-02. Retrieved 2019-10-02.
  7. ^ "The Mantooth-Strack Family Works to Produce the San Diego Film Festival". 92067magazine.com/.
  8. ^ "San Diego International Film Festival names American Indian Advisory Board". San Diego Union-Tribune. 2017-07-13. Archived from the original on 2019-08-01. Retrieved 2019-08-01.
  9. ^ "American Indian Advisory Board". San Diego International Film Festival. 2018-04-19. Retrieved 2019-09-04.
  10. ^ Blair, Iain (2016-09-29). "San Diego Film Festival Sets Its Aim for a Global Reach". Variety. Retrieved 2017-08-05.
  11. ^ Kühne, Olaf; Schönwald, Antje (2014-10-16), "Die mediale Erzeugung gesellschaftlicher Landschaft: San Diego im Film und in Internetvideos", San Diego, Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden, pp. 175–201, doi:10.1007/978-3-658-01720-0_5, ISBN 9783658017194
  12. ^ "Movies On The Bay | San Diego International Film Festival". 2019-08-21. Retrieved 2019-09-27.
  13. ^ "ArcLight Cinemas | Oct 17-20 | San Diego International Film Festival". 2019-09-19. Retrieved 2019-10-02.
  14. ^ "THE BUZZ: The San Diego International Film Festival is Near". Vanguard Culture. 2019-10-04. Retrieved 2019-10-07.
  15. ^ a b "The Re-Imagined 2020 San Diego International Film Festival". San Diego Magazine. Retrieved 2020-09-29.
  16. ^ a b "The Re-Imagined 2020 San Diego International Film Festival Announces Festival to Feature Virtual Village & Drive-In Movies! | San Diego International Film Festival". 2020-09-23. Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  17. ^ "Canadian Screen Awards 2020 - Eligible Festivals" (PDF). Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television - Academy.ca. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2020-11-08.
  18. ^ "In-Person Screenings". San Diego International Film Festival. Retrieved 2021-09-17.
  19. ^ "The San Diego International Film Festival's 20th Anniversary season will be celebrated throughout San Diego". NBC 7 San Diego. Retrieved 2021-09-28.
  20. ^ Sitton, Kendra (2022-10-07). "San Diego International Film Festival debuts new Women's Series". San Diego Downtown News. Retrieved 2022-10-14.
  21. ^ "San Diego Film Festival to Open with Oscar Contender 'The Holdovers'". Times of San Diego. 2023-09-13. Retrieved 2023-10-09.
  22. ^ "San Diego International Film Festival returns for 22nd year". Del Mar Times. 2023-09-19. Retrieved 2023-10-09.
  23. ^ "San Diego International Film Festival". www.sandiego.org. Retrieved 2023-10-09.
  24. ^ Zee, Michaela (2022-10-12). "Andy Garcia, Regina Hall, Lisa Ann Walter and More Added to Honorees at San Diego International Film Festival". Variety. Retrieved 2022-10-13.
  25. ^ a b Nissen, Dano (2019-09-05). "Laurence Fishburne, Jared Harris & Jillian Bell to be Feted at San Diego Intl. Film Festival". Variety. Retrieved 2019-09-06.
  26. ^ "Chatting with Laurence Fishburne as he heads back to town for San Diego Film Festival honor - The San Diego Union-Tribune". 2019-09-20. Archived from the original on 2019-09-20. Retrieved 2019-09-23.
  27. ^ a b Fernandez, Matt (September 11, 2017). "Kumail Nanjiani, Heather Graham to Be Saluted at San Diego Film Festival". Variety.
  28. ^ "Annette Bening back home for San Diego Film Festival award - The San Diego Union-Tribune". 2018-12-08. Archived from the original on 2018-12-08. Retrieved 2019-10-04.
  29. ^ "SDiFF Announces Annette Bening as the Gregory Peck Award Recipient". San Diego International Film Festival SDiFF. Retrieved 2018-04-07.
  30. ^ "The Gregory Peck Award: For Excellence in the Art of Film. | Dingle International Film Festival". 2016-02-25. Archived from the original on 2016-02-25. Retrieved 2020-02-10.
  31. ^ "San Diego Community News Group - Legacy of Point Loma producer lives on with Chris Brinker award". 2019-04-02. Archived from the original on 2019-04-02. Retrieved 2019-09-27.
  32. ^ "New 2017 Golden Eagle Award Unveiled". Archived from the original on 2018-10-15. Retrieved 2018-04-08.
  33. ^ "American Indian | San Diego International Film Festival". Retrieved 2019-10-02.
  34. ^ Milkowski, Jenny (2022-10-07). "The San Diego International Film Festival Oct. 19-23 -". KUSI News. Retrieved 2022-10-07.
  35. ^ Zee, Michaela (2022-09-07). "San Diego International Film Festival Reveals 2022 Lineup, Colson Baker to Receive Spotlight Award (Exclusive)". Variety. Retrieved 2022-10-07.
  36. ^ "Night Of The Stars Tribute". San Diego International Film Festival. 2018-04-19. Retrieved 2019-09-18.
  37. ^ Gray, Tim (2018-08-29). "Alex Wolff, Dominique Fishback to Receive San Diego Festival Honors". Variety. Retrieved 2018-08-30.
  38. ^ "Topher Grace and Kenny Loggins Honored at San Diego International Film Festival". Retrieved 2018-09-26.
  39. ^ a b Blair, Iain (2018-10-10). "San Diego International Film Festival Offers Diverse Slate of Features, Shorts and Documentaries". Variety. Retrieved 2019-09-27.
  40. ^ "San Diego Film Fest Honors Annette Bening, Jason Mitchell, Simon Helberg, and Kate Beckinsale". 2019-10-04. Archived from the original on 2019-10-04. Retrieved 2019-10-04.
  41. ^ McNary, Dave (2015-09-18). "'Star Wars' Star John Boyega Tapped for San Diego Festival Honor". Variety. Retrieved 2018-04-07.
  42. ^ "Equatorial Guinea-Set 'Where The Road Runs Out' Dominates San Diego Film Festival Awards". IndieWire. 2014-09-29. Retrieved 2018-04-07.
  43. ^ Accomando, Beth. "Preview: San Diego Film Festival". KPBS Public Media. Retrieved 2018-04-07.
  44. ^ Martella, Laura. "2013 San Diego Film Festival | Gentleman Norman". Retrieved 2019-09-18.
  45. ^ Wright, Anders (2010-09-22). "CityBeat's guide to the 2010 San Diego Film Festival". San Diego CityBeat. Retrieved 2019-09-27.
  46. ^ "Gus Van Sant to Attend Retrospective at San Diego Film Fest (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2019-09-27.
  47. ^ "San Diego Film Festival to honor Gus Van Sant". San Diego Union-Tribune. 2012-06-14. Retrieved 2019-09-27.
  48. ^ Zee, Michaela (2022-09-07). "San Diego International Film Festival Reveals 2022 Lineup, Colson Baker to Receive Spotlight Award (Exclusive)". Variety. Retrieved 2022-09-08.
  49. ^ "Gala Films". San Diego International Film Festival. Retrieved 2021-09-17.
  50. ^ "2019 San Diego Intl Film Festival". 2019-09-21. Archived from the original on 2019-09-21. Retrieved 2019-09-21.
  51. ^ "San Diego International Film Festival Announces 2019 Films & Honorees". San Diego International Film Festival. 2019-09-05. Archived from the original on 2019-09-21. Retrieved 2019-09-09.
  52. ^ McNary, Dave (2014-08-29). "Reese Witherspoon's 'Wild' to Open San Diego Film Festival (Exclusive)". Variety. Retrieved 2018-11-02.
  53. ^ "'12 Years a Slave' to Open San Diego Film Fest; 'August: Osage County' to Close". TheWrap. 2013-09-25. Retrieved 2018-11-02.
  54. ^ "2012 San Diego Film Festival Reveals Complete Line-Up". blurppy. 2012-09-25. Retrieved 2018-11-02.
  55. ^ "5 Must-See Films at the San Diego Film Festival". Retrieved 2018-11-02.
  56. ^ Wright, Anders (2010-09-22). "CityBeat's guide to the 2010 San Diego Film Festival". San Diego CityBeat. Retrieved 2018-11-02.
  57. ^ "2008 San Diego Film Festival Announces Award Winners". Film Threat. 2008-09-29. Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  58. ^ San Diego Magazine. CurtCo/SDM LLC. September 2004.
  59. ^ "The Reel Thing". www.sandiegomagazine.com. Retrieved 2019-09-18.
  60. ^ Reifsteck, Greg (2002-08-13). "'Dodger' A-OK to open San Diego fest". Variety. Retrieved 2019-09-18.
  61. ^ "San Diego Film Week 2019". San Diego Film Week 2019. Retrieved 2019-07-30.

External links[edit]