Sans SoleilMuch like the movies they present, film festivals reflect the vision of one or two people plus the inspired work of hordes of assistants. Since one man's good taste is another's snobby elitism, Peter Scarlet has garnered fans and detractors as artistic director of the S.F. International Film Festival since he began his job in 1984. Scarlet is leaving after the next fest in June, and it's as difficult to overstate his influence as it is to predict the shape of SFIFF 2002. (He's off to Paris to head the Cinematheque Français, a dream job for the Francophile but a cause célèbre that an American will run Henri Langlois' monument du cinema.)
With Scarlet traveling at press time, I checked in with Roxanne Messina Captor, the fest's new, high-energy executive director, imported from Los Angeles. A former ballerina and choreographer, Captor laughingly confirmed the rumor that she was in the 1980 camp classic Xanadu (as a mannequin who came to life as a spider woman). Captor eventually became a programming exec at TNT before starting her own production company, where she produced and directed Her Married Lover in 1999. High-powered and connected, Captor's appointment turns the LAX-SFO shuttle into a joy ride for the movie stars so coveted -- both on-screen and off- -- by board members.
In the festival's early years and through the '60s, Captor noted, "San Francisco was the festival. Over the last 10, 15 years, it's [been] not quite as popular in the U.S. as it is [among European filmmakers]. It's a fabulous Victorian house that needs some refurbishing. ... Does that mean having some Hollywood influence? Yes. It would have been nice to premiere American Beauty, for example. But I don't think we'd premiere Gladiator." Captor sees studio flicks in the opening and closing night slots as a way to attract -- and lure to more exotic fare -- those mainstream moviegoers who now shun the festival.
Meanwhile, the popular Brian Gordon is leaving his 13-year post heading the Golden Gate Awards (the SFIFF's juried competition) to helm the Nashville Independent Film Festival. Gordon's efforts led to the S.F. premieres of countless documentary makers, and to the U.S. premiere of Fatima Jebli Ouazzani's revelatory In My Father's House. After much prodding, Gordon admitted, "I played a role in discovering films and pursuing catalogs and establishing contacts with documentary production companies. On a film fan level, giving Stanley Donen a ride in the back of my Toyota Tercel is a great memory." Gordon's longtime aide-de-camp, Mimi Brody, will take over the GGA reins for the upcoming festival.
The Last LaughSpeaking of SFIFF discoveries, Elias Merhige's perverse Shadow of the Vampire just opened. "My career was launched in San Francisco," Merhige reported on a pre-holiday trip through town. "I sent my first film, Begotten, to Edith Kramer at the Pacific Film Archive. On her own volition she sent it to Peter Scarlet, who called me and said, "We'd like to premiere it.' ... They screened it for Scarlet and Susan Sontag." Merhige was soon plugging in a projector in Sontag's New York living room, where 21 of her trés influential friends had gathered. The buzz eventually reached L.A., where Merhige could now take meetings and, eventually, have lunch on the French Riviera with John Malkovich.
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