The new executive director becomes the fourth person in less than three years to lead the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) and arrives after five years at the head of TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.

Cowan’s appointment becomes effective on March 3 and follows the decision by producer Ted Hope to step down in October 2013 after 14 months in the role.

Cowan will oversee the Film Society’s expanding programmes in exhibition, education and filmmaker services.

Prior to Hope, Bingham Ray occupied the role all-too-briefly until his untimely death from stroke in January 2012 during the Sundance Film Festival.

Ray had served 10 weeks in the role after succeeding Graham Leggat, who died in August 2011 at the age of 51 after an 18-month battle with cancer following a six-year tenure at the Society.

“I am grateful to the board of directors of the Film Society for providing this remarkable opportunity,” said Cowan. “The Bay Area has a storied relationship to cinema’s century-plus history and is currently home to the technology companies that will decisively influence the medium’s future.

“SFFS is uniquely positioned to work with filmmakers, educators and enthusiastic local audiences to embrace the dynamic and exciting changes taking place within the industry and continue to ensure that great cinema is made, seen and appreciated.”

Cowan served as artistic director of TIFF Bell Lightbox since 2008. He worked as a Toronto Midnight Madness programmer from 1989 and was  co-director of the Toronto International Film Festival alongside director and CEO Piers Handling from 2004-08.

Prior to his association with Toronto he lived in New York from 1997-2004 and founded Cowboy Pictures.

The San Francisco International Film Festival is scheduled to run from April 24–May 8.