"Have no fear — Pam Grier is here!"
That's how festival Director Wendy Eidson set the stage Saturday for the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival's biggest night, the King Vidor and Independent Film Awards.
The red-carpet awards ceremony, held at the Fremont Theater in downtown San Luis Obispo, featured a tribute to 1970s movie icon Pam Grier, considered the first female black action star.
"I wanted to thank you for supporting my career and supporting the film industry," Grier, 68, said as she received the King Vidor Award for Excellence in Filmmaking. "Thank you so very much for this honor."
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Grier, the star of "Coffy," "Foxy Brown" and "Jackie Brown," is the third woman to receive the festival’s highest honor — following Eva Marie Saint in 2004 and Ann-Margret in 2016 — and she’s the first woman of color. Other past recipients of the King Vidor Award, named after the Oscar-winning director of “War and Peace,” include Josh Brolin and Morgan Freeman.
"I was so moved by this award," Grier said, because of how much she admires Vidor. "He was passionate about his work, as I have been passionate about my work."
Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz talked about his introduction to Grier in "Jackie Brown" — "That movie means a lot to me," he said — before introducing a video reel featuring clips of some of Grier's most memorable onscreen roles, ranging from "The Big Bird Cage" and "Black Mama, White Mama" to "Escape from L.A."
"I'm exhausted going down that memory lane," Grier joked afterward, smiling as she wiped away tears.
She wore a Western-inspired outfit that wouldn't have looked out of place on her Colorado horse ranch, including a tan fringed leather jacket, light brown ankle boots and a fawn-colored, wide-brimmed felt hat with a brown leather band.
After presenting the King Vidor Award to Grier, Mankiewicz interviewed the actress onstage in a lengthy conversation laced with laughter and occasional profanity.
In front of a crowd that included Andrew Davis, who directed her in "Above the Law" and "The Package," Grier shared anecdotes from her career — recalling how she and music legend John Lennon got kicked out of a well-known Hollywood nightclub and reminiscing about the time she taught famed Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini how to make fried chicken.
Grier also shared how much she loves the Central Coast: "Art and wine, the vibe is so cool here."
Saturday's ceremony kicked off with the George Sidney Independent Film Awards.
"Beauty Mark" won the award for best feature-length narrative film, and "Becoming Who I Was" won best documentary feature. Short films "Prince of Smoke" and "Two Strangers Who Meet Five Times" also won prizes, as did student film "Man on Fire."
The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival concluded Sunday evening with the Closing Nights Awards.
In the Central Coast Filmmaker category, "Broke: The Santa Barbara Oil Spill of 2015" won best documentary feature, "Maudie" won best short narrative and "The Boatmaker" won best short documentary. "Daddy" received best student film.
Audience Awards went to documentary feature "Fiddlin'," narrative feature "Streaker," short documentary "My Indiana Muse" and narrative short "Reception." "Skid Row Marathon" took the prize for Best in the Fest.
Winners in the Filmmakers of Tomorrow showcase included "Peel," "Mindtrap," "One Life" and "Gourmet Stray."
A selection of award-winning films will play Monday through Thursday at Downtown Centre Cinemas in San Luis Obispo.
Also on Sunday, Festival founder Mary Harris presented the Spotlight Award to Oscar-nominated screenwriter, director and producer Robin Swicord, whose credits include "Memoirs of a Geisha" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." The award recognizes professionals working behind the scenes in the film industry.