Paris Is Burning

The Lesbian & Gay Film Festival adds a new $10,000 prize for documentaries

Paris Is BurningThe upcoming S.F. International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival has added even more cachet to its documentary lineup with a new $10,000 prize. Feature-length docs making their Bay Area premiere will compete for Stu & Dave's Excellent Documentary Award, with three visiting jurors picking the winner. No fewer than 25 films in the June 13-30 fest are eligible, including Stephanie Jordan's profile of local female firefighters, Some Real Heat, and Dee Mosbacher's historical survey of women's music, Radical Harmonies. Longtime festival supporters Dave Ring and Stu Harrison (who had an executive producer credit on Scout's Honor) have committed to fund the prize for a minimum of three years. Is the name corny and irreverent? Of course, but there's no harm in leavening the public perception of gay docs as heavy and depressing.

Another wrinkle this year is the SFILGFF's expansion by a week at the Castro, to 18 days, without increasing the number of either films or screenings. By slashing overlapping shows and adding 40,000 seats, the event trades the bragging rights of multiple sellouts for a huge reduction in frustrated moviegoers. But festival director Michael Lumpkin frets, "Can we sustain that festival energy and atmosphere for another week? Can the staff make it through?"

Down to Earth Director Paul Weitz (American Pie) admitted he's quite the obsessive movie-watcher during his visit to S.F. last month with brother (and co-director) Chris to preview their buoyant About a Boy (which opened Friday). Paul confides that during the shooting of this picture, unlike their previous films, he felt confident enough to watch other movies without fear of being overly influenced. He screened Casino and The 400 Blows -- and, alas, cops to stealing the freeze-frame that ends Truffaut's childhood saga. "I have this terror that at some point I'm going to become so isolated from actual people that everything is going to be based on some other film," Paul confessed. The brothers describe their next project as Broadcast News set at the Culinary Institute of America.

THX 1138Unlike George Lucas, who adores new technology and the power it gives him to create more grandiose digital effects, British digital-video pioneer Mike Figgis employs it to escape the tyranny and laborious pace of traditional filmmaking. "Most films stink of postproduction," Figgis lamented on May 9 after screening his latest risk-embracing experiment in improvisation, Hotel, at SFMOMA as part of "The 7th Art," a series presented with the S.F. Film Society. "The technicians are in control in cinema, not the actors." As a champion of character-driven movies -- remember Leaving Las Vegas? -- Figgis is overjoyed about the portability and spontaneity of digital moviemaking. "This is the best time in the history of film for filmmakers," he declared unequivocally. "The rules are very open." As for Lucas, here's all you need to know: The first close-up in Star Wars Episode Whatever: Claptrap of the Drones goes to ... R2D2.

Recess: School's Out Thomas Burns' Revolutions Per Minute, produced at Stanford, won a Student Academy Award last week in the Documentary category. Bay Area finalists included Birju by Heeraz Marfatia (S.F. State) and Counterfeit Film by Brett Simon (UC Berkeley) in the Alternative category and Elizabeth Witham and Biz James' Precipice (Stanford) in the Documentary category. ... Filmmaker Kevin Epps reports that the success of his Straight Outta Hunters Point has inspired others in his 'hood to push ahead with their own music and film projects. Epps' edgy, kinetic doc screens May 23-27 at the Red Vic, where it played to sellout crowds in February. ... Carl "Ratso" Russo's mind-bending Groovie Movie Soundtracks returns May 26 to the Spotlight show on KUSF-FM (90.3). For an unhealthy dose of vintage TV scores from other lands, including disco from the 1976 German sci-fi series Star Maidens, tune in from 2 to 4 p.m. ... "We see microcinemas poised to be the grunge of independent film," says Seattle émigré Joel Bachar, describing the small, DIY alternative exhibition spaces springing up in every city. For five years, Bachar was a key player in Seattle's underground film scene, programming a monthly screening series, including several lineups that toured the U.S. and 32 other countries. "Independent Exposure," his new monthly venture with Film Arts Foundation, debuts May 28 at 8 p.m. at 111 Minna Gallery, joining stalwarts ATA, the Werepad, the new nothing, and Cinema Salon on the sizzling alternative exhibition scene.

 
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