The 55th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 19 – May 3) will present the 2012 Mel Novikoff Award to “the little known yet enormously influential Pierre Rissient for his tireless work behind the scenes on behalf of international cinema.”
Rissient is described as being revered by filmmakers of all ages around the world, from Clint Eastwood, who frequently shows him the rough cut of his work, to Werner Herzog, who calls him “the yeast in the dough,” to Quentin Tarantino, who dubs him “a samurai warrior” because he has devoted his life to supporting filmmakers from around the globe.
In the early 1950s Rissient began his film career as a programmer at the Cinéma Mac-Mahon in Paris. He and his fellow programmers, including Bertrand Tavernier, introduced American film noir and other genre films, by Fritz Lang, Joseph Losey, Otto Preminger, Raoul Walsh and others, to the new French directors including Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. He worked as assistant director for Chabrol and Godard, directed several short films, and eventually two features. In the 1960s he again partnered with Tavernier to promote the films of John Ford, Sam Fuller, Abraham Polonsky and Jacques Tourneur in French theaters. Over nearly five decades his most significant contribution to international cinema has been as a consultant and scout — official and clandestine — for the Cannes Film Festival, with a focus on discovering new talent in Asia and North America. The careers of directors Jane Campion, Clint Eastwood, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, King Hu, Abbas Kiarostami, Im Kwon-Taek, Sydney Pollack, Jerry Schatzberg and Quentin Tarantino have all benefited from his advocacy.
The award, named for the pioneering San Francisco art and repertory film exhibitor Mel Novikoff (1922 – 1987), acknowledges an individual or institution whose work has enhanced the filmgoing public’s knowledge and appreciation of world cinema.
Previous recipients of the Mel Novikoff Award are Serge Bromberg (2011), Roger Ebert (2010), Bruce Goldstein (2009), Jim Hoberman (2008), Kevin Brownlow (2007), Anita Monga (2005), Paolo Cherchi Usai (2004), Manny Farber (2003), David Francis (2002), Cahiers du Cinéma (2001), San Francisco Cinematheque (2001), Donald Krim (2000), David Shepard (2000), Enno Patalas (1999), Adrienne Mancia (1998), Judy Stone (1997), Film Arts Foundation (1997), David Robinson (1996), Institut Lumière (1995), Naum Kleiman (1994), Andrew Sarris (1993), Jonas Mekas (1992), Pauline Kael (1991), Donald Richie (1990), USSR Filmmakers Association (1989) and Dan Talbot (1988).