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Reel World 

Wednesday, Jun 23 1999
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Public Access
The lethargic giant of local television is finally emerging from hibernation, praise Jah. That would be KQED, one of the nation's top public television stations (in viewership and funding) yet an embarrassing laggard in original programming that isn't set in a kitchen.

Although KQED was a haven for local independent producers in the 1960s and '70s, the climate at the station turned decidedly corporate in subsequent years. (Those sponsor minicommercials would have been unthinkable once upon a time.) Now the pendulum is swinging and KQED has authorized an Independent Initiative to raise the participation and on-air profile of local filmmakers. A multicultural advisory panel comprising filmmakers, reps from prominent media arts groups, and KQED VPs is pushing several ideas, reports Jack Walsh, a filmmaker and public television administrator (The Living Room Festival) who's been hired as a station consultant.

First out of the chute is the Innovative Spirit Award, with the winner nabbing in-kind services (i.e., use of KQED editing facilities) plus $10,000. (June 30 is the deadline for submissions, with the focus on works shot in digital formats.) Another major step forward is the tentative October premiere of a regularly scheduled series (Sundays at 6 p.m.) of local indie work, replacing the erratic "Viewpoints" and "Docs of the Bay" strands. There's even talk of future co-productions between the station and local indie producers.

Alert viewers have noticed that independent work is spotlighted in KQED's June program as well as in on-air promos. A skeptic might be unimpressed, arguing that Lesbian & Gay Pride Month is prime time for indie documentaries. A cynic, meanwhile, would dismiss KQED's new strategy as a mere public relations exercise. I trust Jack Walsh when he looks around KQED and says, "I see a completely new administration that recognizes the assets of the independent community. It's a very positive moment here and holds a lot of opportunity."

Vertigo
You probably didn't include its height among the Castro Theater's unique charms, but it is the tallest building in the neighborhood. Sprint noticed -- and the cell phone service provider is waving a wad of cash around in an attempt to get permission to place an antenna on the theater's roof.

That "improvement," in turn, would necessitate rewiring the Castro's electrical system (at Sprint's expense, I might add). According to Victor Maher, facilities and purchasing manager for Blumenfeld Theaters, which runs the Castro, "It'll allow us to increase available amps and upgrade the theater." Thanks to complications generously provided by the fire marshal and the city permit office, the work is at least three to six months from starting.

You were hoping the windfall would pay for new seats, right? "In this day and age," Maher explains, "you almost need custom-made seats" to match the Castro's decor. Those run a minimum of $250 a pop, or 200 grand for the entire theater. While Maher postpones that expense, a new curtain is the next upgrade that moviegoers will see.

Mysterious Island
Sony Metreon hyped the IMAX screen to the exclusion of the 15 regular houses, so you might not have noticed that the theaters debuted with a load of new junk and three vintage San Francisco-themed films, Bullitt, Vertigo, and Birdman of Alcatraz. Will Metreon permanently dedicate one screen to made-in-S.F. classics, like the subversively uplifting socialist class satire Mrs. Doubtfire? Wait and see.

By Michael Fox
foxonfilm@aol.com

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Michael Fox

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