Monday, May 7, 2007

A Tribute to Papa

Last Thursday night the San Francisco International Film Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary with a one-time-only award given to a cinematic pioneer with close ties to the Bay Area. The recipient was George Lucas. The award was named in honor of the Festival founder, Irving "Bud" Levin (pictured right). I called him Papa.

The Festival, kicked off December 4, 1957, is the longest continuously running film festival in the Americas. For a history of the festival click here, or read a recent San Francisco Chronicle article.

I grew up on stories of the festival and my grandparents' travels around the world. In the library, amongst the pictures and memorabilia, hung a great caricature of Papa at the opening night of the festival. He was famous for his mustache and in this drawing it reached almost to the frame. I was always fascinated by it. My grandparents went to exotic places including many eastern block countries during the Cold War. They met fascinating people. When I was young they brought me back a doll from every country they'd travelled to. I still have them and added to the collection when I started travelling to the Former Soviet Union.

Grandma and Papa were on first name basis with many people "in the business", foreign dignitaries and even royalty. They went every year to NATO - no not the North Atlantic Treaty Organization rather the National Association of Theater Owners. And we always got some swag. Movie soundtracks, t-shirts and my personal favorite, Watergate coloring books. While other kids were drawing in Barbie or Superheros I was filling in the outlines of Nixon, Ehrlichman, Haldeman and the gang. There were at least 20 of those coloring books amongst the other toys at Grandma and Papa's house.

Papa always wore red socks. No matter where, casual or black tie. For many year he also smoked a cigar. Whenever I see red socks or smell a cigar, I think of him. He also drove a 1967 (or maybe 69, I can't remember) Camaro convertible which he kept in pristine condition. In the 50's Papa decided he wanted to go to Africa so he, Grandma, my dad and uncle (aged 10 and 8,) went on a driving tour of Central Africa for 3 months! When we were kids, every so often a projector was acquired and we would sit in the living room watching the reels from "The Trip to Africa". I think they were eventually converted to video but the quality wasn't very good. Too bad, I'd like to see them again.

Papa died in 1995. Several years later, in 2003, my niece T was born on his birthday. I still think of him often and I miss him. I'm glad the festival gave this special award to George Lucas. Not because of Lucas, who I am sure deserved it, but to remind people of Papa who made the Festival happen.

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