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Noah Cowan Talks Leaving Toronto to Join San Francisco Film Society as Executive Director (EXCLUSIVE)

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood February 19, 2014 at 2:00PM

The San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) confirms what we reported earlier--Noah Cowan will start as Executive Director of the organization, effective March 3.
San Francisco Film Society
San Francisco Film Society

Over five years at TIFF Bell Lightbox, the cinema museum space in Toronto, Cowan supervised a $5-million annual budget and a staff of 30. He learned how to lure moviegoers to first-run programming, and curated a number of exhibitions including Grace Kelly and visual artists Yang Fudong and Candice Breitz, as well as major retrospectives related to the history of Chinese cinema and the Indian superstar Raj Kapoor. He and Handling curated the David Cronenberg exhibit that recently closed at the Lightbox's HSBC Gallery at the Lightbox. Cowan was also responsible for a large educational portfolio, including the TIFF Cinematheque, the TIFF Kids International Film Festival, several student learning programs and large-scale collaborations between film and visual arts institutions around the world.

San Francisco FilmHouse
San Francisco FilmHouse

From 1997–2004 in New York, Cowan logged some real-world distribution experience at Cowboy Pictures, releasing international arthouse films, but returned to the Toronto Festival in 2004. In 2002, Cowan founded the Global Film Initiative, a nonprofit organization devoted to worldwide understanding through film. In partnership with the Museum of Modern Art, the foundation funded, acquired, created, and distributed educational material for socially meaningful cinema from the developing world. He moved over to the new TIFF Bell Lightbox in 2008.

Cowan joins the San Francisco Film Society—now in its 57th year—during a period of expansion in each of its three main program areas: exhibition, education and filmmaker services. The San Francisco International Film Festival is the longest-running film festival in the Americas. Additional year-round exhibition programs include a Fall Season slate of specialized film series featuring the best work from France, Italy, Switzerland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the San Francisco Bay Area, and a range of public and members’ screenings and events.

The SFFS Education department produces year-round media literacy programs to over 10,000 K–12 learners, in addition to college and university programs that introduce students to careers in filmmaking.  SFFS recently celebrated the launch of FilmEd, a new online community and toolkit that provides curricula and media to facilitate classroom instruction and connects filmmakers and educators across the globe.

Filmmaker360, the Film Society’s filmmaker services program, supports emerging independent filmmakers nationwide and oversees one of the largest film grant programs in the country, dispersing nearly $1 million annually to incubate and support innovative films and filmmakers. Recent Filmmaker360 success stories include recent festival hits such as Ira Sach’s "Love is Strange," Kat Candler’s "Hellion," Jesse Moss’ "The Overnighters," Destin Cretton’s "Short Term 12," Ryan Coogler’s "Fruitvale Station," and Zachary Heinzerling’s Oscar-nominated "Cutie and the Boxer" as well as Benh Zeitlin’s 2012 Best Picture nominee "Beasts of the Southern Wild." 

This article is related to: San Francisco Film Society, San Francisco International Film Festival

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.