Reel World

Filmmakers David Elton, Tom Johnston and Eric Tignini; Indie artist-in-residence Charles Burnett; Production of Plato's Cave

Three Kings"Excuse my heavy breathing," says David Elton, on the phone from the L.A. neighborhood of Beverlywood. "I'm walking up a hill." Not so many of those in Scottsdale, Ariz., where Elton and his high school pals Tom Johnston and Eric Tignini ached to make movies. They opted for S.F. State, attracted by its big-city setting as much as by its film program, and after graduating in 1984 segued into careers in the industry -- art department supervisor, script supervisor, and assistant director, respectively -- working on major movies. Still close, the trio recently collaborated on an indie feature, Jerome, which opens Friday at the Four Star. "Seventeen years later, the dream is somewhat realized," Elton says dryly.

Jerome is the taut, twisting tale of a blue-collar guy (Drew Pillsbury) who shoves his welding job, hits the highway, and picks up trouble in the form of a dame (Wendie Malick, cast against type). "It's no accident that our lead character has a dream," Elton comments. "His journey mimics what the three of us did with Jerome." The route to the Four Star was just as unpredictable: After hopscotching from festivals in Berlin, Melbourne, Stockholm, and Taos, Jerome premiered on the Sundance Channel last fall. "It's one of those little tiny movies that's had a spotty release," Elton sighs.

The three amigos are big Coen Brothers fans, so rest assured that Jerome has its share of laughs. "In the darkest places, I might add," Elton says, slightly winded. What's next? "We want to move on to bigger budgets -- actually, we want to be able to pay people -- but still make character-driven stories." Elton and at least one of his cohorts will be at the Four Star for the 7:30 weekend screenings, with S.F. State film prof Jim Goldner proudly introducing his former students this Friday night.

To Sleep With AngerThe 25-year career of Charles Burnett -- the L.A.-based filmmaker and an artist-in-residence starting in April at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts -- is a frustrating mosaic of indie triumphs (Killer of Sheep) and studio interference (The Glass Shield). "It's very difficult for me to get projects because there's a notion that I'm not a collaborator," says one of America's great filmmakers, who also happens to be African-American. "If you have any kind of critical acclaim and people identify you as an artist -- "He makes art films' -- that is a stigma. What counts is box-office success, not critical success." Burnett believes -- along with the rest of us -- that the movie biz is controlled by paranoid fools. "People are intimidated by people who know something. That's why writers with 30 years' experience are gone. They're only hiring people who are on the way up or on the way down, because these are the only people who will suffer indignities. If you're going to be in this business, develop character and know when to say no." A free April 6 screening of Burnett's Nightjohn kicks off a retrospective running through the 21st at Yerba Buena, with the filmmaker present for the April 13, 14, and 15 screenings.

How to Get Ahead in Advertising"So many images in our society are created with the intention of imprisoning us," cautions S.F. filmmaker James Short. His stage production of John Dobson's play Plato's Cave employs butoh dancers and collaged sequences from Short's films to examine our eagerness to accept any image -- even films -- as the real thing. Plato's Cave runs April 5-8 at the Theater of Yugen Noh Space (2840 Mariposa).

 
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