Postcards From America

Experts debate the evolution of gay filmmaking

Gay and lesbian cinema is at a crossroads, hampered to some degree by its own success. A sizable urban queer audience now exists, ready to embrace feel-good date movies like Trick and But I'm a Cheerleader. But that audience generally shuns challenging films that proffer less idealized representations of gay characters. Since producers and investors care primarily about ticket sales, filmmakers aiming higher than an easy laugh or fumbling foreplay are more marginalized than ever. Hence the "Persistent Vision" conference held last week at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, coinciding with the 25th annual S.F. International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival and attracting more than a hundred academics, filmmakers, and programmers passionately engaged in the evolution of queer film.

But "evolution" may be too tame; "revolution" might be more like it. Sitting on a panel called "From Perversion to Product Placement: The Business of Queer Identity," Concordia University prof Chantal Nadeau attacked "the syndrome of the obvious, showing things people recognize rather than things they don't know." Winnipeg filmmaker Noam Gonick (Hey, Happy!) joined in, condemning the "bourgeois white middle-class consensus reality" that dominates gay cinema. The panel had begun on a lighter note by considering how rapidly the mainstream appropriates queer culture. For example, Fenton Bailey, co-director of The Eyes of Tammy Faye, noted that distinctions between pop culture and the avant-garde have become spurious. "This whole mainstream-underground thing doesn't work anymore," said the British-born, L.A.-based documentary filmmaker. "All you've got is a hierarchy of buzz."

Wings of DesireInMotion Pictures, the Jacksonville, Fla., company that rents DVDs and portable players at airports, recently opened an outlet at SFO (next to the See's candy cart in the United terminal). It seems telling that the nation's capital of early adopters was slow to be added to the InMotion network, after such business-traveler meccas as Minneapolis and Vancouver. (In another blow to Willie Brown's pride, San Jose's airport scored an InMotion stand months ago.) Too bad the selection is so boring, with no foreign titles and only a handful of independent films -- and that's counting Shadow of the Vampire and The Usual Suspects as indies. If you're only going to stock mainstream Hollywood releases with big stars, where are Airport and Airplane!, for crying out loud?

Steal AmericaSan Francisco filmmakers are about to enjoy their highest national profile since Lynn Hershman's Conceiving Ada and Jennifer M. Taylor and Vicky Funari's Paulina! opened wide in 1999. David Siegel and Scott McGehee's The Deep End opens Aug. 1, Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World arrives Aug. 3, and Jake and Josh Kornbluth's Haiku Tunnel opens Sept. 13. ... Resfest's fifth annual tour of digital media runs Sept. 6-8 at the Palace of Fine Arts, followed by sojourns to Seattle, Chicago, London, New York, L.A., Seoul, Bristol, and Tokyo. ... Claymation pioneer and Gumby creator Art Clokey was spotted at the Saul Zaentz Film Center in Berkeley working on the sound for an upcoming TV special starring his flexible green hero. ... Portland-based video and performance artist Miranda July accepted a Collaborative Residency at Zeum @ Yerba Buena Gardens, where she and 10 lucky teenage girls will create original work Sept. 18-30. (Call Naomi Okuyama at 820-3338 for applications.) Ultraconservative parents should remember that July had a hand in Wayne Wang's racy The Center of the World.

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