Asif! member Lenny Borger honored with Mel Novikoff award from SF Film Society


Legendary Archivist and Master Subtitler to be Honored


San Francisco, CA – The San Francisco Film Society will present the Mel Novikoff Award to master translator, scholar and film sleuth Lenny Borger at the 58th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 23-May 7). After the awards presentation on Sunday May 3, 1:00pm at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, the event will feature a conversation about the hunt for “lost” films and the unsung art of subtitling with Borger and Variety‘s Scott Foundas followed by a screening of the rediscovered 1929 silent masterpiece Monte-Cristo.

“The work of interpreting dialogue for subtitles is a critical but unexamined art that can have a huge impact on an audience’s appreciation of a film,” said Rachel Rosen, San Francisco Film Society’s director of programming. “Lenny Borger’s stellar work making French cinema come to life for English-speaking audiences and his passion for bringing lost classics back to the screen make him a true behind-the-scenes hero of world cinema.”

Fans of classic French cinema have unknowingly profited from Lenny Borger’s skill in unearthing rare and previously unseen French film treasures. For his work on subtitle translations Scott Foundas called Borger “a kind of medium, channeling the linguistic spirit of a given film and making it live anew for English-speaking audiences the world over.” Raised in Brooklyn, Borger considered the double-bills at the Carnegie Hall Cinema and Bleecker Street Cinema his film school education. He taught himself French by listening to chansons francaises, and received a research grant to pursue doctoral work in Paris in 1977. Borger abandoned his academic work to devote himself to covering the French film scene as a correspondent and film reviewer for Variety after a chance encounter with their Paris bureau chief. At the same time, he began scouring the European continent in search of rare and “missing” French films from foreign archives. His first discovery was the nitrate camera negative of Raymond Bernard’s The Chess Player, found in the vaults at the East German Film Archives where it had been concealed by the Nazi occupiers of France. A trip to Prague yielded even more exciting results: incomplete Czech distribution prints of Henri Fescourt’s Monte-Cristo—one of the highlights of our Festival’s tribute. Borger’s resume includes entirely new or extensively revised subtitles for films by Jean Renoir (Grand Illusion) and Jean-Luc Godard (Breathless, Contempt), many of them for Rialto Pictures and the Criterion Collection.

Borger is also a sought-after French film scholar, critic and historian. In recent years, he has programmed a selection of rare French films for the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Italy and co-curated a retrospective of director Julien Duvivier for the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Henri Fescourt’s Monte-Cristo adapts Alexandre Dumas’ timeless melodrama of injustice and revenge into a lavish, emotional spectacle. Exploiting all the sophisticated storytelling tricks of the late silent era, the two-part epic spans years and continents. With the coming of sound, the film tragically failed to find an audience, but today’s filmgoers are at last ready for this opulent masterpiece.

The award, named for the pioneering San Francisco art and repertory film exhibitor Mel Novikoff (1922-1987), acknowledges an individual or institution whose work has enhanced the filmgoing public’s knowledge and appreciation of world cinema.

Previous recipients of the Mel Novikoff Award are David Thomson (2014), Peter von Bagh (2013), Pierre Rissient (2012), Serge Bromberg (2011), Roger Ebert (2010), Bruce Goldstein (2009), Jim Hoberman (2008), Kevin Brownlow (2007), Anita Monga (2005), Paolo Cherchi Usai (2004), Manny Farber (2003), David Francis (2002), Cahiers du Cinéma (2001), San Francisco Cinematheque (2001), Donald Krim (2000), David Shepard (2000), Enno Patalas (1999), Adrienne Mancia (1998), Judy Stone (1997), Film Arts Foundation (1997), David Robinson (1996), Institut Lumière (1995), Naum Kleiman (1994), Andrew Sarris (1993), Jonas Mekas (1992), Pauline Kael (1991), Donald Richie (1990), USSR Filmmakers Association (1989) and Dan Talbot (1988).

The Mel Novikoff Award Committee members are Francis J. Rigney (chairman), Rachel Rosen (ex officio), Helena R. Foster, Maurice Kanbar, Philip Kaufman, Tom Luddy, Gary Meyer, Anita Monga, Janis Plotkin and Peter Scarlet.

Tickets to An Afternoon with Lenny Borger are $13 for SFFS members, $15 for the general public. Box office opens online March 31 for members and April 3 for the general public.

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58th San Francisco International Film Festival
The 58th San Francisco International Film Festival runs April 23-May 7 at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Castro Theatre, Landmark’s Clay Theatre and the Roxie Theater in San Francisco and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. Held each spring for 15 days, SFIFF is an extraordinary showcase of cinematic discovery and innovation in one of the country’s most beautiful cities, featuring nearly 200 films and live events, 14 juried awards with nearly $40,000 in cash prizes and upwards of 100 participating filmmaker guests.

San Francisco Film Society
Building on a legacy of more than 50 years of bringing the best in world cinema to the Bay Area, the San Francisco Film Society is a national leader in exhibition, education and filmmaker services.

The Film Society presents more than 100 days of exhibition each year, reaching a total audience of more than 100,000 people. Its acclaimed education program introduces international, independent and documentary cinema and media literacy to more than 10,000 teachers and students. Through Filmmaker360, the Film Society’s filmmaker services program, essential creative and business services, and funding totaling millions of dollars are provided to deserving filmmakers at all stages of their careers.

The Film Society seeks to elevate all aspects of film culture, offering a wide range of activities that engage emotions, inspire action, change perceptions and advance knowledge. A 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, it is largely donor and member supported. Membership provides access to discounts, private events and a wealth of other benefits.

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