Reel World

Bay Area filmmakers at Sundance

Stairway to HeavenIf you listen to the mainstream media, getting into the Sundance Film Festival is akin to winning the lottery. In fact, only a couple of filmmakers in the sexy dramatic competition land high-powered agents or three-picture deals. (And even they don't live happily ever after.) Most people go to Redford's rendezvous with more modest agendas.

To veteran East Bay writer/director Finn Taylor, in the fray with the dark love story Cherish (Reel World, June 6), Sundance is simply a market where he can sell his film to the highest bidder and repay his investors. The numerous local filmmakers chosen for the documentary competition aspire to neither fortune nor fame, although David Weissman and Bill Weber's phone has been ringing like crazy since The Cockettes (RW, April 25) was selected. "The announcement generates things that other festival announcements don't," Weissman reports. "It's definitely on everybody's radar screen."

Avon Kirkland, whose Ralph Ellison: An American Journey is already booked for a Feb. 19 PBS broadcast as part of the "American Masters" series, avers: "The selection recognizes a certain level of artistic quality and the enduring importance of Ellison's fiction and ideas. The only thing [at Sundance] is to get to the key critics, like the New York Times, and in the process alert others of their ilk to pay attention." Media exposure is also a priority for Johnny Symons, who documents four sets of gay men with children (including him and his partner) in Daddy and Papa (likely airing next June on PBS). "There are many more gay men who are starting to become parents, but it's still a tiny fraction," notes Symons. "It's super-exciting to be at Sundance. It'll help the issue get a lot more press." He laughingly confides that he's thinking of handing out rainbow pacifiers.

The other local docs in competition are Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco's Daughter From Danang and Lourdes Portillo's Señorita Extraviada. The Bay Area contingent also includes a pair of narrative features screening elsewhere in the festival: Silas Howard and Harriet Dodge's By Hook or By Crook (RW, June 6) and Lynn Hershman Leeson's Teknolust(RW, Jan. 3).

Lust for Life"It's a cross between [cinéma vérité master] Frederick Wiseman and Sesame Street," says Todd Herman with a dry chuckle, describing Life Itself, the impressionistic documentary he co-directed with Francis Kohler. The film evokes the work and world of artists Allura Fong, Sue Chan, and Michael B. Loggins, who are affiliated with Creativity Explored, the Mission District art studio for adults with physical and developmental disabilities. "It was like making a movie about your family," Kohler says, since he and Herman both teach at CE.

The one-hour picture, which screens Thursday, Dec. 6, at 6 p.m. at the Koret Auditorium in the S.F. Main Library (and plays Jan. 27 at the Exploratorium and Feb. 3 at the Red Vic), eschews typical narration, using lyricism and poetry to introduce the artists. At the same time, Herman says, "We would love the film to challenge anybody who has built a stereotype of what it is to be a person living with a disability." For more info, visit

On the TownThe producers of Nick Katsapetses' The End of Grace (RW, July 25) host a party/fund-raiser Thursday, Dec. 6, at Jelly's Pier 50 Club; call 564-0861 for details. ... Critic David Thomson (Hollywood: A Celebration!) regales the "CinemaLit" series crowd at the Mechanics' Institute Library with anecdotes from the studios' heyday on Friday, Dec. 7. Doors open at 6 p.m. at 57 Post; call 393-0100. ... Will Viharo's Ocean's Eleven boycott (RW, Oct. 17) commences this Friday outside the Jack London Cinema in Oakland; has the particulars. ... On a billboard at O'Hare, a credit card company touts its tag line -- "Travel in good company" -- with a shot from Easy Rider. Yeah, like Captain America and Billy frequented places that take Diners Club.

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