In its 14th year — and fourth under new leadership — the 2015 San Diego Film Festival (SDFF) is bringing some major star power to La Jolla — and a bit of “The Force” to boot.
During Variety’s Night of the Stars Tribute, 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 at Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla, SDFF will honor Academy Award-winning actor Adrien Brody (“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Midnight in Paris”) with its Cinema Vanguard Award, while newcomer John Boyega, who plays the rogue stormtrooper, Finn, in the much anticipated “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” will be honored with a Rising Star Award. The 23-year-old British actor also stars in the upcoming satirical thriller, “The Circle,” alongside Tom Hanks and Emma Watson.
SDFF vice-president of programming Tonya Mantooth said festival organizers are ecstatic to have wooed Brody to town for the event, and to be screening his new film, “Septembers of Shiraz,” 7 p.m. Sept. 30 (opening night) at Reading Cinemas in downtown San Diego. The film, which also stars actress Salma Hayek, is based on Dalia Sofer’s 2007 novel of the same name. Set during the 1979 Iranian revolution, a successful jeweler is torn from his family and wrongly imprisoned by the Revolutionary Guard under suspicion of being a traitor. A Q&A with Brody moderated by festival host Jeffrey Lyons follows.
“He’s such a nice guy and such a well-respected actor,” said Mantooth of Brody, who at age 29 became the youngest recipient of a Best Actor Oscar for his role in 2002’s “The Pianist” (also going down in history for the lip-lock he planted on actress Halle Berry upon learning he’d won). “We worked really hard to get his film the last few months,” Mantooth said.
In addition, Brit Marling (“Sound of My Voice,” “Arbitrage”) will be given the Auteur Award, which recognizes a multi-faceted actor, and Academy and Golden Globe Award-winning actress Geena Davis (“Thelma and Louise,” “The Accidental Tourist”) will receive the Reframed Humanitarian Award (in conjunction with Reframed Pictures, the production company co-owned by Davis’s “Thelma and Louise” co-star, Susan Sarandon).
“We’ve been working and building this relationship with Susan Sarandon and her partner Thomas Morgan (of Reframed Pictures) for the last five or six months (to highlight) social justice and global issues documentaries,” Mantooth said.
“The discussion was to honor Geena Davis for her work around gender inequality issues.”
The Reframed Party, 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2 at the Quartyard, 1102 Market St., will benefit SDFF’s new initiative to bring social justice films such as those screening during this year’s festival, to San Diego-area high schools on an ongoing basis.
One of those Mantooth hopes to bring to students, is “Storied Streets” (2014), a film about homelessness produced and directed by Sarandon and her son, Jack Henry Robbins.
• Other San Diego Film Festival highlights:
This year’s festival, which received more than 2,000 submissions from around the world, also includes the world premiere of “Diablo,” a western starring Scott Eastwood (“Gran Torino,” “Invictus”), son of actor/producer Clint Eastwood — the screening for which has already sold out.
“We knew that film was in production and we were tracking it for the last four months,” Mantooth said, noting that film’s investors are all flying in for the screening. “A number of other festivals were vying for this. We were really, really honored that they chose us.”
In addition, Sarah Silverman, the comedian known best for her ironically off-color humor, stars in two of this year’s SDFF offerings, including her breakout leading dramatic role in “I Smile Back,” screening 5 p.m. Oct. 2 at ArcLight Cinemas in UTC and 8:30 p.m., Oct. 3 at Reading Cinemas in San Diego.
In the film, Silverman portrays a suburban mother and wife dealing with severe depression and addiction.
“When it premiered at Sundance (Film Festival), a lot of people said she was destined to get an Oscar nod for it,” Mantooth said of the film’s early buzz. “It’s a film I really hope people come out for, because Sarah Silverman’s fantastic.”
For those who prefer Silverman’s satirical side, she also stars in the comedy-drama “Ashby,” in which her character’s son, played by Nat Wolff, befriends a seemingly benign, elderly neighbor who turns out to be a retired CIA assassin (played by Mickey Rourke).
“It’s a really funny premise,” said Mantooth, who is equally excited to be featuring the world premiere of the film “Sex, Death and Bowling,” starring Adrian Grenier of TV’s “Entourage.”
“It’s a really smart independent film and kind of a wonderful ‘you can’t go home again’ story,” Mantooth said of the independent family drama, in which Grenier’s character returns to the small town where was raised — and banished from. “There’s a strong LGBT theme in there and I thought the topic was handled in such a smart, sophisticated way.”
“Sex, Death and Bowling” director Ally Walker will attend SDFF for a Q&A following the screening, 5:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2 at Reading Cinemas in downtown San Diego.
• MORE INFORMATION: For ticket prices and the full event schedule, visit sdfilmfest.com
--- San Diego Film Fest’s Night of the Stars Tribute ---
• What: Appearing on the red carpet and receiving awards: John Boyega, Adrien Brody, Geena Davis and Brit Marling
• When: Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. 5:30 p.m. red carpet and cocktail party; screening of Brody’s new film, “Septembers of Shiraz,” 7 p.m. Q&A with the actor
• Where: Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, 700 Prospect St., La Jolla
• Tickets: $150
• Info: sdfilmfest.com