Reel World

In the Wake; Playing Mona Lisa

Sister, My Sister Being single in your mid-30s ain't all it's cracked up to be -- especially if you're a woman. Tommy's friends all seem to be getting married or giving birth, while she's still hung up on her cheating ex-boyfriend. (Surrealistically, the larger-than-life louse speaks to her from billboards.) Adding insult to injury (San Francisco-style), Tommy's getting bounced from her apartment. In In the Wake, local filmmaker Erica Jordan's second feature, encouragement arrives from an unexpected source: a 90-year-old diary Tommy picks up at a garage sale.

"A lot of Hollywood films have one plot line," notes Jordan. "You don't have what's happening socially and what has happened, and why a person is experiencing what they're experiencing. Having those different layers interests me." To that end, Jordan visually conjures the distant era of the diary through rarely seen images amassed in the wake of the 1906 quake. Incredibly, she received the footage gratis from a New York collector sympathetic to the financial straits of an independent filmmaker. "I guess I wrote a pretty convincing e-mail," Jordan says, still incredulous.

Jordan shot In the Wake on digital video, which enabled her to film all over the city and on Muni without a permit. (A Reel World shout-out to all you guerilla filmmakers doing likewise.) Those who saw Jordan's beautiful and elegiac 1995 debut, Walls of Sand (which played a dozen festivals and museums and is due out on video one of these days), will be happy to hear that Jordan is still committed to a poetic storytelling aesthetic. "Instead of trying to tell you something about history, or communicating a historical experience, it's a more emotional and visual way of showing how history repeats itself and that we can learn from that," Jordan explains. Not the least bit interested in propagating the woman-as-victim genre, Jordan gives Tommy (played by Julia D'Orazio) a new relationship and gets her life moving again. "My interest is making films about women and how they find power and a sense of freedom in the world," Jordan says. The Film Arts Festival presents a "special preview screening" (so as not to disqualify the film from Sundance consideration) of In the Wake at the Asian Art Museum at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5. Admission is $8; call 552-FILM.

Fun"Hi, cookie," rasps Alicia Witt, doing a hilarious Harvey Fierstein impression. The movie they shot here in the spring of "99, Playing Mona Lisa, opens this week, and Witt was at the Ritz cheerfully doing the interview thing. "Harvey's a fantastic shopper. We went to Fillmore Street, and he had been in town for literally a week and he knew everybody in every store. We were looking for wrap-party presents and I had a specific budget -- it wasn't a huge-budgeted movie -- and he'd say, "How much is this?' They would tell us and he'd say, "Oh, we don't like the person that much.' And we'd leave." Witt cracks up at the memory, then offers an unsolicited testimonial. "I have to say [that] if I could live anywhere, I'd probably live in San Francisco. I'm a big runner, and I love Golden Gate Park. I love the people. They're so nice, so normal. See, it's one of the only cities I've been to where people are nice to talk to but they're also not completely boring." Clearly, no one took her to Tosca.

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