Decked out with virtual sets and Y3K software, and with the author of the first computer language as its subject, Lynn Hershman Leeson's Conceiving Ada (opening Friday, Feb. 19, at the Lumiere) has all the hooks to make it a hit in a San Francisco market punch-drunk on the vaporous magic of technology.
But good news: Leeson, a highly respected video and installation artist whose work consistently examines the ways in which new modes of communication connect and separate people, is in her debut feature more concerned with story and emotion than with the gibberish of gadgetry.
"I'm interested in reviving invisible histories and taking things that have been marginalized to the point of extermination and bringing them out of their hiding places into full view," Leeson explains in her bright 10th Street office. "At the time I started Ada, nobody knew about [Ada]. If it had been a man who invented that language, I'd be interested as well. It just happens more to women, to Third World people, to unempowered people. That interests me, that kind of edge that has affected our culture but has gone unrecognized."
Leeson just returned from the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, where her adaptation of Theodore Roszak's novel The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein was tweaked and critiqued by some real pros. The Lab's effort to develop alternative films is a rarity in the U.S., in contrast to the widespread support the arts receive in Europe.
"Not only do [Europeans] give a certain percentage of their taxes for culture, they support art even if it fails," Leeson says. "They believe in gestation. Here it's so commodified, it virtually doesn't exist as having any value in our culture."
Between Conceiving Ada opening here (the start of its national release), the Lab invitation, and an IFP Independent Spirit nomination as "Someone to Watch For," Leeson's profile has expanded well beyond the art world.
"I never think about positioning myself in order to do certain things; if it works out, I just hope I get to make more," Leeson shrugs. "But the more people know of you, the more accessible things become. People don't hang up on you as fast."
Sweet Smell of Success
The opening of Paulina this Friday, Feb. 12, at the Lumiere, followed by Conceiving Ada, marks the first time that two S.F.-produced films have opened in the same month since -- well, how about never? And as my Uncle Ralph used to say, support your local filmmakers. ... The Niebaum-Coppola cafe on the first floor of the Zoetrope building on Columbus is now slated to open the first week of March. In other food, er, film news, Elaine Coppola is producing a documentary on Chez Panisse's Alice Waters. KQED is already salivating, no doubt. ... The poetic Dutch documentary-maker Johan Van der Keuken receives the Persistence of Vision Award from the S.F. International Film Festival come April. Craig Baldwin's monster Spectres of the Spectrum won't be done in time for the SFIFF, but Mr. Montage (hmm -- sounds like a postmodern Batman villain) will curate a program of found-footage shorts for the "Indelible Images" series.