Reel World

S.F. Film and Video Arts Commission; Rodney Ascher

City Hall
Location scouts and unit managers, update your Rolodexes: Martha Cohen is the new executive director of the S.F. Film and Video Arts Commission. Her appointment was made official at the ineffectual commission's Sept. 25 meeting, although she'd actually stepped into the post a few weeks earlier. A freelance unit manager and location scout for KRON for more than a decade, Cohen signed on at City Hall as Mayor Jordan's neighborhood liaison. When Willie Brown came to power, Cohen's political skills were sharp enough to land her a gig as his advance person. "Martha's forte is trouble-shooting enormous projects and cutting through the labyrinth of city government," outgoing Executive Director P.J. Johnston said.

Despite Johnston's absurdly brief 18-month tenure (which included a six-month leave of absence to work on Brown's 1999 re-election campaign), he proved a strong supporter of the local film community. "I was able to go a long way toward convincing our leaders that filming is good for San Francisco, and that the local film scene ought to be supported," he said. But Johnston also recognized that the film office is a political backwater, and he eagerly accepted his new job as Brown's press secretary. Our take: Bringing film shoots to town is a low mayoral priority at a time when tourism is booming and hotels are already full.

Naturally, Cohen sees it differently. "People dream when they go to the movies, and this city is so much a part of people's dreams," she said. "Anybody who comes with a dream -- from across the bay or across the country -- I want them to contact this office and we'll help them to achieve their goal."

Since he moved here three years ago from Miami, video artist Rodney Ascher has impressed folks on all sides of the art/commerce jumble. "I have one foot in a bunch of different worlds," Ascher explains. "I know the guys at Artists' Television Access but I know some guys at ad agencies. I probably don't fit in everywhere, but I have a loose connection to a lot of places. Maybe my stuff is not quite art and not quite pop trash."

His stuff is massive fun, from the resonant sock-puppet saga of murderer Henry Lucas (The True History of Crime: X Equals X) to an exquisitely animated musical interlude (Alfred) to his straight-ahead documentary portraits (The Collectors). "With animated stuff I worry about every pixel and color and detail, so it's nice to get away from working in the vacuum," Ascher says. "Recognizing that I'm not the most fascinating subject in the world is a good thing in the long run."

With an L.A. agent lining up commercial and music video work, Ascher is an unlikely candidate for a Cinematheque show. In fact, he just finished a faux newsreel-style video aimed to go up on the Unbreakable Web site next month. Sarcastically titled The Triumph of Victory, the short piece was inspired by a man who survived a fall without a parachute during World War II. It screens with a vivid cross-section of Ascher's work Oct. 8 at the S.F. Art Institute.

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