When the San Francisco International Film Festival kicks off on April 23rd, it will mark the festival’s 52nd year, making it the longest running film festival in country. By existing for so long, the festival has established itself as one of the premier fests to attend each and every year.

With the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge, the festival appeals to many not only because of its beautiful scenery and warm weather, but because some of Hollywood’s biggest stars attend as well. The festival attracts an annual audience of more than 80,000 people, far more than most festivals.

This year’s festival opens with La Mission from director Peter Bratt and starring his brother, Benjamin Bratt. The “centerpiece” movie is 500 Days of Summer, starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

There is no doubt that this year’s festival will be jam-packed with star-studded events while awards of achievement will be given out to very big and legendary honorees, including Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Redford. Executive director of the San Francisco Film Society Graham Leggat, spoke to MovieMaker to discuss the upcoming festival, which runs from April 23rd to May 7th in the Bay Area.

Nora Murphy (MM): The festival is celebrating its 52nd year. How has it stayed relevant for so long?

Graham Leggat (GL: By responding year after year to various changing landscapes—in production, exhibition and distribution as well as audience interests, new talent and burgeoning national cinemas, topical subjects and urgent causes, emerging technology, new social formations, etc.

MM: How does the San Francisco setting contribute to the atmosphere of the festival?

GL: Given the sophistication and intelligence of our audiences and the welcoming spirit and beauty of the city, visiting filmmakers often feel like they died and went to heaven.

MM: What can attendees expect from this year’s scheduled events?

GL: Not only a wonderful survey of world cinema, but also a snapshot of contemporary society as it coming into being.

MM: This year you’re honoring Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Redford, James Toback, Evan Rachel Wood and Elijah Wood. What process goes into selecting someone for one of your honorary awards?

GL: We invite the most talented filmmakers in the world and then hope like hell their schedules permit.

MM: A new director will walk away with $15,000 cash prize. On what grounds will he or she be selected?

GL: That in his or her first film, screened at the festival, we see not only originality, innovation, authenticity and technical proficiency, if not mastery, but also some mysterious sense that this person is a natural and will go on to have a superb career.

MM: What plans do you have for the future to keep the festival running successfully?

GL: Plans are twofold: First, to make sure the festival’s parent organization, the San Francisco Film Society, remains healthy and vigorous year-round in the areas of exhibition, education, production assistance and publications. And second, to continue to invest in programming research and development, so to speak, making sure that we have a clear sense of where the best films in the world are and have strong relationships within the industry to be able to secure those films for the festival.

Visit http://fest09.sffs.org/ for more information.