Personal to independent filmmakers: There is an upside to financing your movie with your credit cards. Consider Evan Aaronson's bizarre 1997 "vacation" in Peru after he'd finished shooting Baggage with M. Emmet Walsh and Mariette Hartley. A couple of guys befriended him in a Lima bar, then kidnapped him. "They put a gun to my head," the recently transplanted Angeleno recounted. "They wanted my credit cards." The joke was on the crooks, however: The cards were maxed out.
Big joke, says Aaronson. "They put a sheet over my head and said, 'You're going to die now.' It kept on building and getting worse and worse. I felt like I was in a Tarantino movie. I begged and pleaded for my life. I thought, 'I'm literally dying for my art now.'" The ordeal ended happily, obviously, and Aaronson went on to raise the money to finish Baggage -- a month ago, in fact. He hasn't struck a print yet, however, so projected video is the format for the Nov. 19 ATA screening of his tale of redemption initiated by an innocent luggage mix-up.
"It's a personal film and it has a positive message," Aaronson says. "I wouldn't put it in the edgy category. I don't necessarily feel that indie films have to be edgy." Maybe not, but the Sundance gatekeepers aren't looking for feel-good films. And they're in for a bit of a shock if they remember his audacious mockumentary Nothing (which you can find at Lost Weekend and other quality video stores) or saw his music videos for the Negro Problem and the Kottonmouth Kings.
Apparently it's inevitable that film directors acquire Machiavellian techniques. "I learned that to be a good leader you have to be strong," says Aaronson, who moved to San Francisco in June "to get into the whole new media scene." "You can't really show your insecurities that much." And the secret to directing actors? "You have to be a good parent and tap into a certain psychology to get them to do the things you want them to do. But you have to make them think that it was their idea."
A Better Tomorrow
Six of the most provocative and socially conscious documentaries produced in the Bay Area in the last 12 months are screening at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts through Valentine's Day. Ruby Yang's Citizen Hong Kong (on Wednesdays) put camcorders in the hands of five young people during the hand-over, but Yang instantly rebuts any suggestion that her film is journalism.
"It's more of a personal journey for me and the five people I feature," says Yang, who's well-known in the industry for her editing and postproduction work for directors Wayne Wang and Joan Chen. "The hand-over was an important chapter in Hong Kong history and that moment will always be there. But Citizen Hong Kong is about culture and identity, not the hand-over."
Yang and her subjects have half-jokingly agreed to shoot a sequel in 10 years. (The seven-year increments that Michael Apted favors aren't long enough for Yang's taste.) In the meantime, Yang moves smoothly between narrative and nonfiction. "Whether it's a Hollywood film or a documentary," she notes, "it always boils down to the story."
Michael Fox is co-host of Independent View, which airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on KQED Channel 9