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Reel World 

Wednesday, Aug 4 1999
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Rachel's Daughters
When last we checked in with Doug Wolens, the S.F. lawyer-turned-filmmaker was traipsing around the country with his Amsterdam stoner travelogue, Weed. The 1997 documentary ultimately played in 43 cities and proved a major self-distribution success; as you'd expect, it was especially popular on college campuses.

Wolens eagerly promoted every booking, even stopping on his way to L.A. at a Colinga pay phone to honor a scheduled interview with a Garberville radio station. Put on hold for a few minutes, he listened with amazement as the DJ chatted with a young woman sitting atop an old-growth redwood -- part of a radical strategy to protest and prevent Pacific Lumber's logging operations in Humboldt County. Five days later, Wolens hauled his camera 180 feet up the tree to meet Julia Butterfly Hill.

"I am not a spiritual person," Wolens declares. "I am not an environmentalist. I smoke cigarettes, I drink tons of coffee, I eat cheeseburgers." Now he was face to face with a true believer who had given the tree a name (Luna) and said things like, "Everything that fits under everything else fits under love."

Hill's been sitting in the tree nonstop since Dec. 10, 1997, conducting interviews and speaking with supporters and Earth First! cohorts on a cell phone. For his part, Wolens has spent six nights in the tree. "My plan was to be the fly on the wall," he explains. "But in a 6-by-8-foot platform cluttered with mail, food, and motorcycle batteries, there's no space."

Wolens also interviewed Pacific Lumber employees along with local apple farmers and truck drivers, and the feature-length Butterfly evolved from a profile of a single activist into a portrait of a community. That didn't stop Hill, who's celebrated two birthdays atop Luna, from giving Wolens a forest name singularly appropriate to a filmmaker: Little Sleep.

Wolens hopes to premiere Butterfly (which was shot on film, a rarity in these days of cash-starved documentaries) at an Amsterdam doc fest in November; Film Arts Foundation's "True Stories" series presents a work-in-process screening Wednesday, Aug. 11, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. And if you missed Weed's one-night stand at the Red Vic a couple of years ago, it comes out on video Aug. 16.

Mad City
Some folks cite Joan Chen as our town's best movie actress, but she's segueing into directing. My Uncle Ralph votes for Sharon Stone, although her primary domicile is L.A. Wake up, people! The Bay Area's best thespian is none other than Channel 4 reporter Wallis Alviar, surely the most underrated screen talent in this time zone. Yes, Alviar's a one-trick pony, but it's one helluva trick: At some point in every single live report she does on the 11 o'clock news -- standing in the windy night, gazing into the camera, reciting her well-rehearsed spiel about some act of carnage or missing teddy bear -- she'll gracefully drop her eyes down and to the left in a gesture that says, "Yes, I'm an objective journalist with a veneer of a highbrow accent, but I'm spontaneous and real and I care so fucking much!" It's obvious, to me at least, that Alviar has greater ambitions than Pam Moore's job; she wants Susan Sarandon's career.

Top Hat
Fall's a-comin': The Pacific Film Archive initiates its new interim space Sept. 11 and 12 with free screenings from the PFA's collection. The lineup includes a Mexican melodrama, a Japanese detective comedy, and The Conversation, which Francis Coppola has on deposit at the Archive. ... Regret to Inform, Barbara Sonneborn's Academy Award-nominated doc about Vietnam War widows, opens Sept. 24 at the Lumiere.

By Michael Fox
foxonfilm@aol.com

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Michael Fox

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