The San Francisco Film Society announced that Frank Pierson will be the recipient of the Kanbar Award for excellence in screenwriting at the 54th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 21 – May 5). The Kanbar Award acknowledges the crucial importance of a script in the production of an exceptional film and is named in honor of Maurice Kanbar, a longtime member of the board of directors of the Film Society, film commissioner and philanthropist with a particular interest in supporting independent filmmakers.
A former Time magazine correspondent, Pierson began his screen career as a story editor, and later producer/director, on the popular CBS TV series Have Gun Will Travel in the early 1960s. He also wrote for Studio One, Alcoa Goodyear Theater, Route 66 and Naked City, popular series during the so-called Golden Age of Television.
Pierson’s first feature screenplay, as cowriter, Cat Ballou (1965), earned him an Oscar nomination, and he won an Oscar for his finely observed solo script for Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Other collaborations include the classic individual-against-the-unjust-prison-system drama, Cool Hand Luke (1967), which also netted him an Oscar nomination, as well as adaptations of Scott Turow’s bestseller Presumed Innocent (1990) and Bobbie Ann Mason’s novel In Country (1989).
Pierson made his feature directorial debut with The Looking Glass War (1970) and subsequently helmed the 1976 Barbra Streisand/Kris Kristofferson remake of A Star Is Born as well as King of the Gypsies (1978), all of which he also scripted.
In the ’90s, Pierson returned to his roots on the small screen, directing a series of well-reviewed, award-winning films ranging from 1992’s Citizen Cohn and 1995’s Truman, both for HBO, as well the First Amendment drama Dirty Pictures (Showtime, 2000). In 2001, he earned acclaim for Conspiracy, the highly dramatic reenactment of the secret Wannsee Conference that led to the Nazi plan for the extermination of all Jews in Europe. Conspiracy won him the Directors’ Guild award for best direction of a television movie, an Emmy nomination, a Peabody award and a BAFTA. He has also served as a consulting producer on Mad Men, an award-winning series about the advertising world in New York in the 1960s, and The Good Wife.
Pierson is a past president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Writers Guild of America and is deeply involved in issues of copyright and the moral rights of artists as well as their economic welfare. He is artistic director of the American Film Institute and has been part of the Sundance Institute film laboratory.
Previous recipients of the Kanbar Award are James Schamus (2010), James Toback (2009), Robert Towne (2008), Peter Morgan (2007), Jean-Claude Carrière (2006) and Paul Haggis (2005).