Reel World

High Plains Drifter, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, How the West Was Won

High Plains Drifter
Billionaire George released the home-video versions of Star Wars: Episode 1 -- The Phantom Menace last week in both pan-and-scan and (for a few dollars more) letterboxed versions. If presentation is so important to Lucas -- remember how he dictated exactly which theaters could show his turkey, cherry-picking only those screens in each city with state-of-the-art sight and sound? -- how could he justify a pan-and-scan VHS version? Maybe because The Great Marketer is unwilling to leave even a dime on the table.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
After eight years on staff, the last four as the Film Arts Foundation's exhibition coordinator and director of the Film Arts Festival, Mark Taylor is moving on. He's been checking out the dot-coms, but don't worry: Taylor's in no great danger of selling out. To the contrary, he's hoping to play a subversive role in the headlong rush to supplant film with digital gewgaws, and movie theaters with computer monitors.

"Our Internet buddies, with their rhetoric about replacing everything that came before them in moving image media, show a lack of appreciation for the history of the independent film movement," Taylor asserts. It was indie filmmakers, he points out, who made public broadcasting so innovative in PBS's early days, and who fought to create the Independent Television Service (ITVS), a crucial source of first-rate multicultural TV programming in these increasingly conservative times. So Taylor, a filmmaker himself, reasons that artists should be appropriating the Web for their benefit -- not the other way around. See, at the moment, the Web sites that sprang up to distribute/stream short films are more concerned that filmmakers adhere to an arbitrary running time (say, five minutes) and less interested in envelope-pushing content. "We as a society should figure out a way to support our storytellers with the new toys, rather than forcing our storytellers to conform to the new toys," he argues. Does that sound like a sellout to you?

"This area is still thriving," Taylor says, pointing to Genghis Blues' Oscar nomination, the two local documentaries that snared the top prizes at Sundance, and the seven Bay Area docs (out of 12 slots) picked for PBS's summer 2000 "P.O.V." lineup. "I'm going to miss having this vantage point," he concedes. "But I don't want to be one of those people who hinders things from happening, which is what burnt-out curators do." Taylor's successor is filmmaker Liz Canning (Handmirror/Brush Set Included), who's in postproduction on her debut feature, Orphan of the Airwaves.

How the West Was Won
2000 is shaping up as a helluva year for Bay Area documentaries. It's only April, but Long Night's Journey Into Day and Paragraph 175 are at the head of the list for Oscar nominations. Meanwhile, Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider's Born in the U.S.A., a highly critical view of the American birthing industry's reliance on technology, was selected for PBS's "Independent Lens" strand. And the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, with Pam Rorke Levy producing, directing, and writing, just finished an even-handed doc titled Final Choice: America Struggles With the Right to Die, premiering in August on KQED. ... You prefer docudrama? Rated X, the story of those oh-so-tragic S.F. porn pioneers Jim and Artie Mitchell, premieres May 13 on Showtime. ... Come October, SFMOMA hosts "Friendly Witnesses: The Worlds of Warren Sonbert," eight marvelously vibrant programs of restored and recently discovered films by the late, great San Francisco experimental filmmaker.foxonfilm@yahoo.com

Michael Fox is host of Independent View, which airs Fridays at 10:30 p.m. on KQED Channel 9.

 
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