For the love of Francis: Coppola offered a surprise to the SF International, and to Carroll Ballard, this year.

SFIFF52 Blogs: Five Reasons why SF Loves Coppola

Justin Juul May 1, 2009

Francis Ford Coppola picked up a beyond-deserved "Founder’s Directing Award" from the San Francisco Film Society this week, then went right on and gave it to someone he would like us to cherish: Carroll Ballard. It merits noting how this particular living legend has served the greater artistic community of San Francisco, while also helping preserve the beauty of the city itself. I offer five not-necessarily-in-order-of-importance reasons why SF loves FFC.

1. Because he saved The Sentinel Building (and North Beach)

If you’ve ever walked through North Beach with visiting relatives, you’ve probably stopped for pictures near the foot of The Sentinel Building, the giant glowing flatiron construction on the corner of Columbus and Kearny. As one of the only surviving structures of the 1906 earthquake, the birthplace of the Caesar salad, and the sometime recording studio for the Grateful Dead and the Kingston Trio, the Sentinel Building, a.k.a. Columbus Tower, is recognized as an official historical landmark today. But when FFC came across the place in 1972, it had fallen into disrepair and was on a fast track for demolition as part of the city’s "urban renewal/beautification" effort. Coppola recognized the historical significance and sheer awesomeness of the building, bought it, and then turned it into the headquarters for American Zoetrope, the Coppola-helmed production company behind all of your favorite films (Apocalypse Now, Kinsey, American Graffiti, Koyaanisqatsi, etc). And thank god he chose to settle where he did. The Sentinel building shares a two-block strip with some of the only other places in North Beach worth visiting if you’re not into strippers, mediocre food, and bad fashion—City Lights Bookstore, Tosca, and Vesuvio—effectively saving at least a corner of the historic neighborhood from the tacky and soulless claws of the tourism industry.

2. Because he feeds the homeless

North Beach Citizens (NBC) is a non-profit organization that helps homeless/low-income people in North Beach start their lives fresh. Once a citizen is accepted as a client by NBC, he or she is provided with a mailing address, a voice mailbox, two daily meals, clothing, a library, resource books, advocacy, and a supportive community of his peers. NBC also throws a few annual events including a fund-raiser called "Francis Cooks for North Beach," during which Coppola, the founder and chairman of NBC, dishes out Southern Italian fare matched with some of the best vino in town, his own of course.

3. Because he loves wine as much as we do

Speaking of wine, you gotta give the man some credit for saving the Inglenook Winery, one of the oldest estate wineries in California, from corporate control. Coppola bought a Victorian mansion and piece of land on the estate back in 1975 and then waited 20 years until the rest of it went up for sale. Now he owns the entire estate, including the vineyard, the winery, and the chateau where Inglenook’s founder, Captain Gustave Niebaum, ruled over Napa Valley with his family in the 1800s. Coppola eventually shed the Inglenook name, turned part of the chateau into a "history of cinema" museum, and renamed his new enterprise The Rubicon Estate Winery. This is where Coppola’s award-winning, high-end wines come from. The rest come from Rosso-&-Bianco, the no-frills winery Coppola runs in Geyserville.

4. Because he gives us good fiction

Since 1997, FFC has published "Zoetrope: All-Story," a multi award-winning literary magazine based in San Francisco in which high-profile contributors like T.C. Boyle, Miranda July, Bruce Dickinson, and others share space with up-and-coming short fiction writers and screenwriters. Each issue is treated as its own little art project and features an introduction by Coppola and a unique format designed by an esteemed artist. Past guest-designers include Lou Reed, Jeff Koons, Will Oldham, Gus Van Sant, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

5. Because he cares about artists, writers and journalists

FFC has played a major role in kick starting the careers of many well-known actors, actresses, and directors, but his mentoring doesn’t stop there. The office spaces he maintains in the Sentinel Building are specifically reserved for those in creative fields whether film-related or not. The Talbot Players, the Kitchen Sisters, and Fantoma Films all have their headquarters in the building and many well-known screenwriters, film festival founders, and journalists keep offices there. Coppola also maintains a small restaurant on the first floor of the building, Café Zoetrope, which serves as an after-work watering hole/conference room for neighborhood artists and anyone renting a spot upstairs. Faces seen on a regular basis include Jeremy Fish, Sean Penn, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and of course The Man himself, Mr. FFC. To keep the creative theme going, Coppola staffs his cafe with struggling artists and writers patiently waiting for their big breaks. Stop by on Tuesdays or Fridays for some good wine and conversation and be sure to tip before you leave…..

Justin Juul is the hardest-working, most sincere, and by far the best looking journalist living in San Francisco at this moment in time—at least that’s what his girlfriend says. While he waits for the rest of the world to catch on, Justin spends his nights pouring wine and slinging lattes for more established literary heroes, journalists, and film stars at Café Zoetrope.

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