The success of the San Diego International Film Festival has much to do with CEO and Artistic Director Tonya Mantooth. With the movie business in her blood and an enviable career as a film producer, Mantooth has turned the festival into a widely recognized event. The SDIFF has hosted the U.S. premieres for blockbusters like 12 Years a Slave, Call Me By Your Name, Lion, The Imitation Game and Hidden Figures. “The increasing support of the studios and within the industry has been tremendous,” Mantooth says. “The success has been in slowly building and crafting the festival from a programming and business perspective.” Bringing awareness has also been important in exposing San Diego to independent films and stories that would otherwise never be told. Mantooth says, “The recently added education aspect brings the stories directly to high school students to engage them in conversations in how we can have differing views and still have healthy discussions about it.”
Thanks to a friendship with Mantooth and producing partner Tom Morgan, actress Susan Sarandon recently joined the SDIFF Social Impact Advisory Board. “Susan has always been very involved with the Social Justice Initiative. She helps us narrow the lens on our focus each year. She’ll look at homelessness, refugee stories and sex trafficking, and help us bring those stories into the mix,” Mantooth says.
As for the biggest standout moment since she’s worked for the SDIFF, Mantooth says it was being asked to give her favorite actress, Annette Bening, the Gregory Peck Award in 2016. Mantooth recalls, “She was just so genuine, and she gave me the biggest hug and recognized me as an executive director, which felt wonderful.” San Diego International Film Festival, Oct. 10-14, tickets for films and events