All About Photo Awards 2019

Pamela Gentile: Portrait of a Film Festival

Pamela Gentile: Portrait of a Film Festival
Pamela Gentile: Portrait of a Film Festival
Two exhibitions in San Francisco!
I first saw Pamela Gentile's work at the PhotoAlliance portfolio reviews in San Francisco. She had precious B&W prints that fit easily into my hands. Though the prints were small, what the images contained was so substantial, that I kept looking up at this unassuming woman. And I kept repeating over and over during the review: "Why isn't this a book?" I said the same thing last week at her solo show opening at the Leica Gallery in San Francisco on April 6th. She was worried because a torrential downpour started at the same moment as her reception, but that didn't stop anyone from coming to see this latest rendition of her project, "A Portrait of a Film Festival."

Now these prints, when I saw them years ago, were rich and black and full of the anticipation of the premiere of a movie, the launch of a film, a career, a dream. (I lived in Los Angeles for years and was engaged to a cinematographer. I know the work that goes into making a movie. I know because I never saw my fiancé and hence, never married him. We laugh about it now, but back then I couldn't fathom how you could create a motion picture film and also create a life away from the set.) I'm not sure if balance is in the Hollywood lexicon, but it is in Pamela Gentile's long-term project about the San Francisco Film Festival.

Woodward's Gardens, Sundance Kabuki Cinema, San Francisco 2008

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Castro Theatre, San Francisco 2010

When I walked into the Leica Gallery to see "The Persistent Image", the title of this selection from Gentile's 30 plus years of documenting the festival, I felt the same excitement as when I first viewed the pictures. These prints are large in comparison to those I held in my hands. I can view some of them from across the room and still get the feeling that I get when the lights go down before the movie starts. And in these images, there were the literal lights, camera, action, movie stars in repose, directors in silhouette, screens glowing in the darkness, crowds rushing a theater, stages full of people we are thrilled to see and recognize, but there were also the quieter moments. There were pauses in the excitement as I traversed the gallery and saw an image of a parted curtain with just a peek at a pair of crossed legs (so sensual and mysterious), the blank marquee illuminated against the night sky (the end?), a theater door photographed from the stage (all is black except that exit to the real world where daylight is waiting to take us out of the space that the movie created for us). There's so much in this series. So much seen and unseen, and Pamela, with her experience and her access, has slipped in and out of the theaters, past the stars, and through the crowds, unnoticed, but able to capture it all. We in San Francisco are lucky because her work is being shown in two different venues. The exhibition at the Leica Gallery will be on view through May 31, 2017. And then there is another selection of Gentile's images at the San Francisco International Airport in Terminal 2 (pre-security). The SFO Museum presents "Atmosphere", a solo show of Gentile's portrait of the San Francisco Film Festival on view through June 13th, 2017. Both exhibitions will take you on a remarkable behind the scenes tour of the longest running film festival in the Americas, now entering its 60th year, and introduce you to some of cinema's greatest along the way.

Castro Theatre interior, San Francisco 1997

Erika Alexander (Lena) La Mission, Castro Theatre, San Francisco 2009

George Hamilton 2002

Joan Crawford (Nanon), Stephin Merritt, The Unknown, Castro Theatre, San Francisco 2014

Katie Traina, The Warfield, San Francisco 2012

Marquee, Castro Theatre, San Francisco 2014

Maya Lawson (Sis), Brand Upon the Brain!, Castro Theatre, San Francisco 2007

Philadelphia Jack O'Brien, Torture de Luxe, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, Castro Theatre, San Francisco 2014

Valeria Bruni Tedeshi (The Baker's Wife), Nenette et Boni Tindersticks, Castro Theatre, San Francisco 2011


Photographer Pamela Gentile first began photographing at local San Francisco music venues, including the Warfield and the Fillmore, and on tour with Chris Isaak. She soon becoming staff photographer and photo editor for the newspaper, SF Weekly. Gentile then focused her camera on her first love, the world of cinema.

While researching her Master's degree in film, Pamela Gentile fell upon work that would become the basis of her own original photographic career. She and a boyfriend, both film students, got themselves an assignment to cover the San Francisco International Film Festival as press-he wrote the story and Gentile took the pictures, allowing them unrestricted access to the films and directors. Immersed in auteur theory, Gentile wanted to photograph all the directors, famous and obscure. She was obsessed with the idea that the director was the creator behind the film. Her ability to connect with her subjects about film gave her pictures an edge, and when she showed them to the festival's directors, she was invited back. She's photographed the festival every year since then, and even carved out a bit of a niche, photographing the Telluride Film Festival, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, among others. Her photographs of film festivals have appeared locally and internationally and are collected in a large permanent exhibition in San Francisco's Presidio in the San Francisco Film Centre. The portraits of filmmakers and actors form an enduring historical record of the influential figures in World Cinema. Shot during screenings and events or in the odd moments in between which her work captures the atmosphere in a personal visual narrative of a film festival. Her complete body of work, over more than 30 years and continuing, establishes perhaps the most extensive archive of a film festival chronicled by a single photographer.

Gentile's work has appeared in Vanity Fair, The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Her photographs have been exhibited at the San Francisco Mint, the Kabuki Cinema which originally hosted the SF Film Festival, and the Presidio where a permanent collection of photographs reside.

Currently she is exhibiting work at the SFO Museum and the Leica Gallery in San Francisco.

Juliette Binoche 1987

Michael Cera 2013

Jiri Menzek, San Francisco 1990

Leg, Sundance Kabuki Cinema, San Francisco 2011

  All about Pamela Gentile
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