For three decades, Strand Releasing has remained at the cutting-edge of arthouse distribution in America. Now, many of those filmmakers are returning the favor. For its 30th anniversary this fall, the company has commissioned 30 new short films shot on iPhones directed by world-class filmmakers. Entitled “30/30 Vision: 3 Decades of Strand Releasing,” the shorts will screen at several venues around the country this fall. The selection of shorts was produced by filmmaker Connor Jessup (“Simon’s Forest”), who also contributed to the selection.
Each short runs around one minute. Contributors include auteurs such as John Waters, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Catherine Breillat, in addition to emerging filmmakers like Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”), Andrew Ahn (“Driveways”), and Brady Corbet (“Vox Lux”). Two shorts from the project, from filmmakers Karim Ainouz and Fatih Akin, can be viewed here.
Strand Releasing was founded in 1989 by partners Jon Gerrans, Marcus Hu, and Mike Thomas. The company took its name from San Francisco’s Strand Theatre, and from its outset developed a focus on foreign-language, documentary, and American independent films. Its first theatrical release was Filipino director Lino Brocka’s “Macho Dancer,” the naturalistic tale of a gay prostitute in Manila. Despite the difficult subject matter, the film received rave reviews and helped establish Strand’s risky brand. Since then, the company has released more than 400 films.
Gerrans and Hu had been working at Vestron Pictures in the eighties, which was on the verge of bankruptcy after the release of “Dirty Dancing” in 1987. They partnered with Thomas, who ran the Strand Theatre, and reached out to the Sundance Institute for assistance. (They also received an initial $5,000 investment from Hu’s mother, who passed away earlier this year.) Sundance provided free office space for Strand during its first five years, when it became a key player in the distribution of landmark films in what would become known as New Queer Cinema. These included Tom Kalin’s “Swoon” and Gregg Araki’s “Totally Fucked Up.” The company also released acclaimed debuts of the early nineties such as Kelly Reichardt’s “River of Grass” and Lodge Kerrigan’s “Clean, Shaven.”
In a phone interview, Hu said that Strand always had a broad prerogative when it sought out new titles. “It’s always been eclectic,” he said. “A lot of people associate Strand with New Queer Cinema, but that probably represents maybe 15 or 20 percent of our library.” Nevertheless, the company saw enormous potential in reaching an underserved audience with its New Queer Cinema slate. “Gay audiences were hungry to see anything about themselves and the New Queer Cinema movement fulfilled a lot of that,” Hu said. “It was a time when people were really angry about the AIDS crisis. These movies really spoke to that.”
Strand continued acquiring queer films into the 21st century, with breakouts ranging from Apichatpong’s “Tropical Malady” to Alain Giraudie’s provocative “Stranger By the Lake.” In recent years, the company has adapted to the evolving distribution landscape, launching a Strand channel on Amazon Prime, and finding much of its business in the non-theatrical market.
Gerrans said he felt the audience interest was consistent even if the release mechanisms have made their job harder. “It’s the same people who are interested in quality arthouse films, films that have a vision,” he said. “It’s just getting harder to be in a position for them to see films.” Today, the Art House Convergence is collaborating on Arthouse Day around the country, with 150 participating theaters screening the same program of revered films, but many distributors are struggling to find the right homes for new releases.
In New York, the loss of the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema left a hole in the city’s exhibition space — and the national market for arthouse cinema — even as newcomers such as the Landmark at 57 West and Metrograph have come into their own. “We’ve lost a lot of great theaters,” Gerrans said. “You can tell audiences aren’t going further down the street to the theater that remains.”
Nevertheless, Strand continues to find new avenues for its library, and many of the new short films commissioned for the anniversary are a reminder of the scope of filmmaking talent that the company has helped launch. “I think the key is just making these films easily accessible to the audience that wants them,” Gerrans said about Strand’s library. “That’s the biggest hurdle we all have to overcome. I think the audience is there.”
Two of the new shorts can be viewed here. The first comes from Brazilian director Ainouz, whose “The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao” is the country’s Oscar submission. (Strand previously distributed Ainouz’s “Futuro Beach” and “Love For Sale.”) The short explores the explosion of a popular pacific insurgency in Algeria that erupted in Algeria after Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his candidacy for a fifth presidential term in February.
Turkish filmmaker Akin, whose “In the Fade” was the German Oscar submission in 2018, recently premiered his new feature “The Golden Glove” at the Berlin International Film Festival. Strand released Akin’s “Head On,” “The Edge of Heaven,” “Crossing the Bridge,” “The Cut,” and “Polluting Paradise.” The short is a recitation of “Exile Poem” by Turkish literary giant Nazim Hikmet, who was persecuted by the country and imprisoned for his anti-authoritarian views before dying in 1963. The poem is read by Turkish writer and activist Elif Shafak.
The entire compilation will screen at the following venues this fall: The Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis on November 21; the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus on November 22, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on December 5, the UCLA Film and Television Archive at the Billy Wilder Theatre in Los Angeles on December 13, and in New York at the Museum of Modern Art at a date to be announced soon. Select films will be exhibited at other spaces around the country and on select media platforms.