Traffic With his first feature (Fall and Spring) making the festival rounds, SoCal native Steve Sobel moved to San Francisco in the mid-'90s. He worked mornings at a South S.F. natural foods wholesaler, then returned to his Haight-Ashbury apartment to toil on Resin, a screenplay about his marijuana-steeped alma mater, UC Santa Barbara. But like many an impressionable lad before him, Sobel fell in with a crowd of hard-core local activists, and he and his script got politicized.
"I met the people at the Cannabis Buyers Club, and I got an incredible crash course in the horror of the drug laws," Sobel recalls via phone from L.A. As Three Strikes legislation moved from political football to law, Resin evolved into a sobering cautionary tale of a low-level campus pot dealer who runs afoul of the criminal justice system. Sobel is hardly naive about the practice of law: His mother is a civil attorney and his dad's a former criminal defense lawyer now sitting on the bench in the District Court of Las Vegas. Resin argues that the flaw of Three Strikes is that it was designed to lock up violent predators but can also be applied to petty criminals. "Most judges are against mandatory minimums because it takes away their discretion and power," Sobel explains.
Sobel and director Vladamir Gyorski shot Resin according to the minimalist rules of the Dogme 95 group (natural light, handheld cameras), which they felt "blurred the distinction" between drama and documentary. "It's about removing the obstacles that are preventing reality from coming through," Sobel explains. "The whole point of Dogme is to find the truth of the characters and their situation." Sobel freely admits that he found more truth in San Francisco than in his current sun-baked abode. "If I had written the script in L.A.," he says, "I can guarantee you it wouldn't have been as poignant and focused as it is." In advance of its theatrical release next year, Resin screens twice at the Victoria Theater on Thursday, Dec. 13, in a benefit for Families to Amend California's Three Strikes Law. Info and advance tix are available at (323) 464-1271 or at www.resin-themovie.com.
Fantasia This year's Krok International Festival of Animation took place on a ship cruising the Black Sea in August. On board were the Sprocket Ensemble's Nik (composer and leader) and Nancy (producer) Phelps, representing Nina Paley's Fetch (which features the Sprockets performing Nik Phelps' score). For those who think Final Fantasy or similarly pyrotechnic animations on the Net are the last word, the Phelpses report that artistry rules at Krok. "The Ukrainians and Russians on the boat didn't like Flash or computer-generated animation," Nancy says. "I think it's because they have such a beautiful tradition of handmade animation."
On a trip filled with surprises, the Phelpses learned that a wave of animators from Germany, France, and other European countries have been moving to Ireland. "It's apparently a fertile place for animators," says Nik. The Phelpses got an unexpected tour of the ramshackle Russian Film Studio -- most tourists see only Odessa's new construction, but an older Russian on the bus recognized the building and demanded they stop -- as well as the pond where Eisenstein shot the sea scene in Potemkin.
The Phelpses returned to San Francisco with new work from Sweden (Royal Rumpus, voted funniest film for its manipulation of images of heads of state taken from postage stamps), Portugal (Jose Miguel Ribeiro's Hitchcock homage The Suspect), and the Ukraine. These films receive their U.S. premieres, accompanied by a jolt of live music from Nik, on Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. at 111 Minna Street Gallery. Details are at 681-3189 and http://sprocket.laughingsquid.org/.
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