FESTIVALS: Artists Rage at SF's Film Art Fest; Kenneth Anger Returns
by Carl Russo
(indieWIRE/ 11.17.00) -- The San Francisco Film Arts Foundation gives filmmakers what they need most: love, support, and cheap flatbed rentals. For 25 years, the non-profit's SOMA District digs have served as a community center-cum-crash pad for a myriad of independent visions, spawning works from noodling experiments to Oscar-winning documentaries.
Now those visions are threatened by market forces as deep-pocketed dot-coms claim bohemian neighborhoods for office space. The threat of artistic extinction was a blaring theme at the 16th Film Arts Festival of Independent Cinema, FAF's annual showcase.
The fest wrapped November 11 on a furious note: pioneer underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger cursing the projection system at the SF Art Institute during a tribute screening of his films. That capped a pissed-off, but dazzlingly innovative lineup of 88 works that began November 1 at the Castro with the frank doc, "Blind Spot: Murder by Women."
"Blind Spot" continues a psychological study of troubled women that filmmakers Allie Light and Irving Saraf started in 1994's "Dialogues with Madwomen." Childhood traumas, extreme abuse, poverty and drugs are all common threads in the harrowing testimonies that six convicts give to the camera. Cutaways to cheesy reenactments of events do not lessen the blow: these women were caught in larger cycles of violence, and the surrogate families they've formed behind bars help make up for a powerful world of hurt.
The San Francisco underground's favorite mode of resistance, the prank, gave comic relief to sold-out crowds at the Roxie Cinema. Christian Bruno's and Sam Green's "Pie Fight '69" is a classic slice of hippie detournement delivered smack into the face of high society attending the 1969 SF Film Festival. A choreographed blitz of flying pies left patrons and newscasters dumbfounded, perpetrators arrested, and the carpeted steps of the festival a pile of multicolored goo.
Cut to the city's current mayor, Willie Brown, receiving three cream confections to his kisser in Whispered Media's "The Pie's the Limit." The hilarious video manifesto follows the radical Biotic Baking Brigade around the world as they dole out their "just desserts" to corporate baddies and slippery politicians.
The G-word -- gentrification -- is a daily woe for artists and non-profits under threat of being ousted by SF's land-starved "New Economy." A Mission District collective depicted in Carla Leshne's short doc "Eviction Free Zone" stage a bizarre, costumed protest against the dot-com giving them the boot. A clueless real estate agent steals the show as he is tickled by the spectacle.
The friction echoed in the streets on November 5 as Green Day and other local bands staged "Take Back San Francisco," a concert designed to get out the vote for a local ballot measure that would limit dot-com development. Later that night, Erica Jordan's drama, "In the Wake," unspooled at the Asian Art Museum. The lead character of the DV feature is -- what else? -- an artist who receives an eviction notice. Unfortunately her self-journey, aided by the old diary of a bohemian dancer, branches off in too many directions to gel.
New urban dilemmas took many other forms at this year's fest. S. Smith Patrick's "Commute" contrasts a road-raged yuppie with a hip, urban-chic gal who bikes to work, while Michael Wilson's "Turk Street" responds to the verbal threats he received for being a white videographer on the streets of the black Fillmore District. The mainstream media takes a bashing in three short sharp shocks: Kara Herold's 'zine-queen scene in "Grrly Show," Michael Connor's consumer nightmare in "Frank's Monday," and the digital makeover given to the real-life network anchors of Bryan Boyce's "Special Report," an instant cult classic.
Memories of better times for SF's arts scene glowed nostalgically at the beatnik reunion in Mal and Sandra Sharpe's "The Old Spaghetti Factory." Mal, TV's perennial man-on-the-street, bought a 1963 painting depicting the scene-makers of the North Beach hangout, then tracked down the survivors for a ceremony to re-hang the work. As poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti recalls, the spaghetti may have been lousy, but the neighborhood was a historical hotbed of artistic output.
Around the time that the Beats were fading and the hippies were starting to freak in the Haight, experimental filmmaker/author/occultist Kenneth Anger moved into a funky old mansion nearby, where he shot satanic passion plays with his signature homoerotic overtones. Though he is best known for publishing two books of Tinseltown tattles, "Hollywood Babylon I & II," his experimental shorts ("Fireworks," "Scorpio Rising") have won international praise since the 1940s.
Anger returned to SF on November 11 to receive FAF's James D. Phelan Art Award in Film before an enthusiastic crowd at the Art Institute's Cinematheque. His co-recipient for the Award in Video, Matthew Barney, was a no-show.
"This is not my film!" shouted Anger, disappointed with the projection of his shimmering classic "Eaux d'Artifice" (1953), a montage of the Fountains of the Villa d'Este in Rome. The images were satisfactory to everyone else in the room, and Anger warmed to the reception after a screening of "Lucifer Rising" (1970-1980), his space-age meditation on the myth of Isis and Osiris.
Image quality is a burning issue for Anger as digital video changes the game. "It's okay, but I don't love it," he declared in an interview with indieWIRE. "I mean it's nice to be able to immediately run it back and see whether you've got a good shot or not. But I've seen a film like 'Chuck and Buck' which was filmed on digital and then transferred to 35mm to release, and it looks really coarse."
Anger is currently weighing whether to collect short-ends of 35mm stock or to go digital for an upcoming project called "Gnostic Mass," a ritual performed by disciples of the late Aleister Crowley. "[DV] is around, I mean you gotta accept it," he said. "If I had my options I'd like to work on 70mm, because I like a lot of detail. And I can think of interesting ways to use a huge screen like IMAX that they never thought of."
The ambitious 72-year-old graciously accepted a $7,500 check from FAF before mingling late into the night with the next generation of iconoclastic artists and twisted fans.
[The Film Arts Foundation web site is at http://www.filmarts.org . Kenneth Anger's is at http://www.kennethanger.com. Carl Russo is a radio producer and frequent contributor to indieWIRE.]