The most unusual Oscar season on record passed through San Francisco on Wednesday night with the fourth annual — and first-ever virtual — edition of SFFILM Awards Night.

A fundraiser for the epnoymous San Francisco-based arts organization, the event typically draws heavy in-person attendance from local Oscar voters. (There are more in the Bay Area than any other except for Los Angeles and New York.) But this year, they watched from home as honors were presented and accepted via Zoom.

The Oscar-winning actress Regina King presented the SFFILM Special Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance to the four principal stars of her feature directorial debut One Night in Miami — Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom, Jr. — stating, “I could not be more proud to say that I was the fifth wheel on this journey.” Ben-Adir asserted, “It really was the most joyous and stimulating creative process that I’ve ever had the honor of being a part of, and so much of that I owe to Regina.” Added Hodge, “I want to thank my brothers, because we did this together.”

“Sir” Sacha Baron Cohen, as his Zoom handle was listed, handled the honors for the Kanbar Award for Storytelling, which went to his The Trial of the Chicago 7 writer/director Aaron Sorkin, who he described as “a true master of the craft — he’s our Shakespeare of modern cinema… the greatest film writer of our generation.” Sorkin, ever the wordsmith, noted, “For most people it’s an honor just to be nominated. In my family it’s an honor just to be overlooked. So you can imagine how they and I feel about getting recognition like this from a group of people like you.”

Chloe Zhao, the writer/director of Nomadland, accepted the Irving M. Levin Award for Film Direction from one of the film’s stars, David Strathairn, who described it as an “exquisitely delicate, frank, compassionate and humbling look at this piece of the American pie.” Zhao, for her part, offered heartfelt thanks to SFFILM’s executive director: “Anne Lai, I want to give you a huge shoutout because you have believed in me since you read my first draft of my first feature, so thank you so much for being supportive all of these years.”

And finally, in an exceedingly gracious segment, especially considering some of the abusive reactions to Hillbilly Elegy, Amy Adams, one of that film’s stars, presented Glenn Close, another, with the SFFILM Award for Acting. Described by Adams as “a seeker of truth, and of compassion and of deep empathy,” Close noted, “The process of trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and to look out of their eyes using your imagination, great material and collaboration with, if you’re lucky, a team like we had on Hillbilly Elegy, where everyone is on the top of their game, so you can discover new things for yourself — that is what my heart and soul feeds on.”

SFFILM has helped to cultivate the burgeoning careers of filmmakers like Dawn Porter (the director of two of 2020’s most acclaimed documentaries, The Way I See It and John Lewis: Good Trouble), Boots Riley, Channing Godfrey Peoples (2020’s Miss Juneteenth) and Luke Lorentzen, each of whom paid tribute to SFFILM in interstitials that aired in between the presentations of the various awards.

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