Reel World

Rebels With a Cause; International Film Financing Conference

The Strawberry StatementYou've probably heard William Safire's revisionist history of the '60s. In the words of Santa Cruz filmmaker Helen Garvy, his take goes something like this: "It was all sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. The politics that did exist were violent and confrontational, and we were the ones doing the violence. We failed and we all sold out." As an officer of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the mid-'60s, Garvy was in the thick of the action -- and knows very well both the movement's admittedly violent acts and its genuine contributions to the civil rights and anti-war efforts. But unlike other radicals of her generation -- and like Safire -- Garvy had the tools to get her voice heard.

For her in-depth documentary Rebels With a Cause, opening this week at the UC Theater, Garvy sought out and interviewed two dozen former SDS leaders. She's still on the road, traveling with the film from Seattle to New York to Cambridge, where I caught up with her the morning after a rousing screening at the Harvard Film Archive. "The hard part was how to keep the spirit and give a feel for the period, giving details but not getting lost in the minutiae," she explains. After all, the film spans more than a decade, beginning several years before the SDS's 1968-70 peak when 400 chapters swelled with 100,000 members.

Garvy is less interested in stirring up nostalgia for more politically active times than in teaching younger viewers that individuals can make a difference. "The message that all the media distortion gives people is it's not worth trying," protests Garvy, author of the popular textbook Before You Shoot: A Guide to Low-Budget Film and Video Production. "But it is worth getting involved." She loves what Texas organizer Alice Embree says in Rebels: "Politicians will go whichever way the wind blows. We were the people making the wind blow." Rebels With a Cause opens Friday, Dec. 1, for a one-week run at the UC Theater; call (510) 843-3456 for more info.

American Movie You won't mind if we leapfrog right past the holidays to January, will you? Somewhere between the S.F. Indiefest and Park City's Shiverdance, the International Film Financing Conference (IFFCON) stages its annual Open Day for Bay Area filmmakers at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The Jan. 12 symposium/schmoozefest is calibrated each year to match what's on indie filmmakers' minds. "Six months ago," IFFCON co-founder Wendy Braitman relates, "I thought Open Day would be dominated by digital media. At this point, after watching it not deliver in the way we hoped, it proves that you can't totally throw out the old ways. Traditional media is not going away."

In other words, filmmakers trying to map out financing and distribution strategies are finding it tougher than ever. "Theatrical distribution is becoming so difficult for independent film," Braitman sighs. "There's just not much relevance of Miramax to the independent filmmaker anymore." As such, a panel on new distribution models caps the schedule, along with the ever-popular pitch session (wherein filmmakers publicly -- and succinctly -- describe their projects to the pros). The program begins with a conversation between Studio Next CEO Ira Deutschman (founder of distributor Fine Line Features) and independent producer Mary Jane Skalski (formerly of production company Good Machine). "They've been through the boom of the indie film movement in the '90s, and are well situated to talk about where we go from here," Braitman explains. Open Day is limited to 400 people; the tab is $150 before Jan. 1. Find more info at or at the Center for the Arts box office (978-2787).

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