Field of Dreams
Thanks to its multiple locations, black school buses, and ubiquitous newspaper ads, the Academy of Art College is arguably the most visible educational institution in town. But somehow it's managed to keep under wraps its current transformation into a big-league film program. "We were kind of a music video school," says David Oliver Pfeil, director of Motion Pictures & Television. "There was no emphasis on screenwriting or film." While AAC had a reputation for turning out talented CG animators for the likes of Pixar and PDI, students weren't necessarily prepared for other jobs in the industry.
When Pfeil came up from L.A. two years ago to head the grad school, AAC owned a whole lot of video gear but just three 16mm cameras. "Shooting film is the only way to learn how to shoot film," says the Emmy Award-winning Pfeil, who toiled in the southland for three decades as a producer, director, and cameraman. Since he took over the film school in September, AAC has added 36 film cameras, including four 35mm cameras and 20 Bolexes. (The 5,000-student school has plenty of digital video cameras, of course.) AAC also hired a quartet of screenwriting instructors and built four shooting stages with standing sets (including a New York apartment) for training in directing, acting, lighting, cinematography, and production design.
Can AAC compete with USC and UCLA? The L.A. schools have the major advantage of access to Hollywood professionals, but also employ a high-concept approach that, in Pfeil's view, doesn't match the reality of the business world. "They create great screenwriters now and again, and a great director now and again. But generally, when their students get out they know a lot about film but can't go out and do much with it. I feel a broad knowledge of film is imperative, but specialization is what will get students work."
Fear Strikes Out
With edgy new festivals like ResFest and S.F. Indiefest siphoning Gen X, Y, and Z moviegoers, the S.F. International Film Festival shed about 25 years by cutting a digital trailer complete with electronic soundtrack. The next step was dividing the program into categories, to make it more accessible for filmgoers who don't normally use Otar Iosseliani's name in a sentence. The transgressive program in this year's lineup, for those who must embrace everything outside of the norm, is Lies from Korea. Inside tip: One of the TBA slots has been earmarked for Suzhou River, an independently produced Chinese film about romantic obsession (among other things).
Angels in the Outfield
The Regency II's final indignity: The last film to dance upon its silver screen March 26 was a piece of Madonna dreck. ... The Independent Spirit Awards have turned into a hideous Indiewood spectacle, with badly scripted jokes and shameless celeb-gazing. No surprise, then, that Bay Area filmmakers won the two prizes with the smallest financial potential and the most artistic cachet. Owsley Brown III garnered the Truer Than Fiction Award for Night Waltz: The Music of Paul Bowles, while Cauleen Smith (Drylongso) received the Someone to Watch Award. It's hard to be spoiled by that kind of firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Fox is host of Independent View, which airs Fridays at 10:30 p.m. on KQED Channel 9.