The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival was founded by Mary A. Harris, a local attorney who was inspired to bring a film festival to San Luis Obispo after attending festivals in Los Angeles, and Telluride. The inaugural Festival was launched in 1993 with the support of a special grant from the City of San Luis Obispo, along with the key involvement of Jim Dee and the Palm Theatre. The Festival began with a focus on classic and restored films, with Harris as the Executive Director, and Cathy Peacock as Artistic Director. Veteran film director George Sidney was the first recipient of the King Vidor Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Art of Filmmaking, and Sidney became an enthusiastic booster for the event. In recognition of his contributions to film, as well as his involvement with the Festival, the Festival’s independent film competition was named in his honor.
Mary Harris continued to lead the festival for the next nine years. As Artistic Director, Cathy Peacock created the George Sidney Independent Film Competition which brought more independent cinema to San Luis Obispo helping to promote up-and-coming talent. They also added seminars to the festival which attracted a wide variety of filmmaking professionals from nearby Hollywood and all over the country.
In 2004, the festival moved from October to March and in 2007 welcomed a new Artistic Director, Wendy Eidson and in 2007 she became the Festival Director till 2021. Wendy focused on expanding and featuring new un-released independent films but continuing to incorporate the history of film into the festival every year, with classics, silent films and seminars and panels.
The 2007 festival played host to over 85 visiting filmmakers, close to 100 independent and classic films, and many special events, workshops and parties. Irving Thalberg recipient, Norman Jewison was honored with a King Vidor Award on the first weekend of the festival along with a screening of one of his great films, “Moonstruck.” Academy Award nominee, James Cromwell was awarded a King Vidor award on the second weekend and participated in an acting panel. Henry Jaglom, Melissa Joan Hart and many other excellent new and veteran filmmakers won awards in the George Sidney Independent Film Competition, and the famous surf filmmaking family, Bruce, Dana and Wes Brown were on hand for the second annual Surf Night in SLO.
The 2008 festival featured an exciting lineup of over 100 independent and classic films, special guests like Josh Brolin and David Crosby and King Vidor Award honoree, Peter Fonda. Surf Night in SLO sold out once again with a memorable tribute to 95-year old Bud Browne, the grandaddy of surf filmmaking. Legendary surfers, Gerry Lopez, John Peck, Fred Van Dyke, Linda Benson, Joel Tutor and many others were here to pay their respects and enjoyed one of Bud’s films, “Surfin’ the 50’s.” The new Hollywood & Vines events brought together great classic films with excellent local wines and food, at some unusual venues around the county. King Vidor was the focus of film retrospective.
The King Vidor Award for Excellence in Filmmaking
King Vidor, a former local resident, holds the record in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest career as a film director: beginning in 1913 with Hurricane in Galveston and ending in 1980 with a documentary called The Metaphor. In the course of his career, he directed sixty-four films, including War and Peace, The Fountainhead, and second-unit work on The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind. He made the transition from silent to sound and from black-and-white to color film, and he was nominated for five Academy Awards. King Vidor lives on through this noble namesake presentation, bestowed each year on the industry’s most deserving honorees.
We present the King Vidor Award as an annual tribute to a talented filmmaker, actor, or film artist in recognition of his or her exceptional artistic contributions to the motion picture industry and to filmmaking in general.
1993 – George Sidney
1994 – Delbert Mann
1995 – Edward Dmytryk
1996 – Robert Wise
1997 – Ernest Borgnine
1998 – Stanley Kramer
1999 – Jim Dee
2000 – Robert A. Harris & James C. Katz
2001 – Howard Keel
2002 – Elmer Bernstein
2003 – festival restructured
2004 – Eva Marie Saint
2005 – festival changed to March
2006 – Morgan Freeman
2007 – Norman Jewison & James Cromwell
2008 – Peter Fonda
2009 – Malcolm McDowell
2010 – Alan Arkin
2011 – Greg Kinnear
2012 – Richard Taylor
2013 – John Hawkes
2014 – Jeff Bridges
2015 – Peter Bogdanovich
2016 – Ann-Margret
2017 – Josh Brolin
2018 – Pam Grier
2019 – Alfred Molina
2020 – Lawrence Kasdan
2022 – Dale Dickey
2023 – Rick Carter
2012 – Timothy White, Celebrity Photographer
2013 – Leslie Iwerks, Documentary Filmmaker
2014 – Adam West, Actor
2015 – John Milius, Screenwriter/Director
2016 – Anthony Peckham, Screenwriter
2017 – Leonard Maltin, Film Critic/Author
2018 – Robin Swicord, Screenwriter/Director/Producer
2023 – Judd Hirsch
Made by Former Festival Director Wendy Eidson