Update your Rolodexes, location scouts and independent filmmakers: P.J. Johnston is the new executive director of the San Francisco Film and Video Arts Commission. From a purely political standpoint, the 29-year-old S.F. native has an impressive resume, having served as one of Willie Brown's spokesmen since the 1995 mayoral campaign. Johnston -- who's spent the last several months as special assistant to the general manager of Muni, handling the press, lobbying supervisors, and running interference -- obviously knows how to get city officials on the phone, which should prove useful in greasing the wheels for feature films shooting on location. And since, as he notes, "Part of the duty of the film office is to balance the needs of the entertainment industry with the comfort level of San Francisco residents," it bodes well that Johnston also has friends in the Department of Parking and Traffic.
Johnston minored in film at Humboldt State (and confesses an interest in film theory and criticism) and admits he's had his eye on the Film Commission job ever since his arrival at City Hall. After popular longtime Executive Director Robin Eickman passed away suddenly last fall, Johnston threw his hat in the ring. His new job, he believes, "marries the very practical skills I've developed in city government with an area of personal interest I've always had." Accessible and voluble, Johnston clearly knows how to speak candidly without revealing anything.
Although big-budget Hollywood features are the Film Commission's top priority, Johnston contends he's committed to helping local low-budget artists. In his first week on the job, he's already exploring the idea of promoting and possibly airing the work of S.F. filmmakers on cable Channel 54 (community access). "I'd like to use the film office as a bully pulpit for local filmmakers more than we've done in the past," he declares.
Come July 9, the Lumiere will devote a second screen to calendar bookings. The strategy reflects the theater's partial success since adopting the limited-engagement format eight months ago, but it's also self-defense: Since the local dailies consistently bury their skimpy reviews of non-Hollywood movies, most foreign films and docs have zero chance of finding audiences in their first weeks. Filmgoers read calendars, however. The Lumiere's new slate hits the streets May 14 and features S.F. International Film Festival sensations Stop Making Sense (May 28) and I Stand Alone (June 11), plus a festival fave from last year, the dark English thriller Following (July 2). Also on tap: Mike Figgis' provocatively titled The Loss of Sexual Innocence (opening June 18 for two weeks).
As I write this, San Francisco bookings for Star Wars: Episode 1 -- The Phantom Menace haven't been announced, but I expect Lord George to handpick the Coronet, the Metro (both UA theaters), and the big theater at the AMC Kabuki. Star Wars merchandise goes on sale May 3, and that's the last reminder you'll need. Wal-Mart, for example, will stock Lucas-related dreck in 16 of its 36 departments. ... Computer animation and kid-flick junkies already know this, but Pixar is laboring to finish Toy Story 2 for Disney in time for Thanksgiving. And PDI (Antz) is in production on Shrek, a DreamWorks parody of medieval fairy tales with hired voices Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, and John Lithgow.