Ryan Coogler received a hero’s welcome.
At the 2022 SFFILM Awards Night on Monday evening, the Bay Area-raised film director was honored with the Irving M. Levin Award for Film Direction. “I’m from here, so this hits very different,” Coogler said while accepting the award for his body of work to date, which includes Fruitvale Station, Creed and both Black Panther films.
From behind the podium at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Coogler reflected on his early days as a struggling filmmaker: Moving back in with his parents in the East Bay after attending film school in Los Angeles. Being saddled with student loan debt while working a day job in San Francisco. Wondering if his dream to be a filmmaker would ever be realized.
Then, Coogler recounted, “I ended up getting into the Sundance Institute Screenwriting Lab. That’s where I met the great Anne Lai.” Lai – at the time working with Sundance, now SFFILM’s executive director – made the introductions that led to Coogler’s first filmmaking grant from SFFILM, then known as the San Francisco Film Society. The grant proved pivotal, helping him move out of his parent’s house and into production on his first feature film, Fruitvale Station.
One of Coogler’s guests for the evening, along with his wife Zinzi Evans, was one of his former college professors, who he thanked for having “a profound impact” on his life. “I didn't know I wanted to make movies seriously until my professor, Rosemary Graham, suggested it,” Coogler revealed. Graham retired this year after 30 years teaching English and Creative Writing at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, where she taught Coogler as a freshman in 2004.