"My whole comedic life started in San Francisco," says actor Aisha Tyler, recalling her first open mike at the old Holy City Zoo. Straight out of Dartmouth, the S.F. native returned home to build a stand-up career, one gut-churning gig at a time. Her persistence, material, and brassy charm got her to L.A. (and on The Tonight Show and Politically Incorrect) and led to hosting E!'s wisecracking Talk Soup for a couple of years. Now, Tyler confides from her car phone while tooling down Wilshire Boulevard, she's got her eye on the big screen. "I don't know that I'm ever going to completely walk away from comedy, but I do want to focus on film now, and that requires quite a bit of focus," she says.
Tyler has a couple of semi-improvised scenes with funnymen Kevin Pollak, Peter Boyle, Jay Thomas, and star Tim Allen in The Santa Clause 2, opening Friday. It's her biggest screen role to date, but the 6-foot Tyler, who works out with a trainer for three hours every morning, dreams of a whole lot more. "I would love to be the female Chris Tucker or the female Eddie Murphy, an action heroine who is funny and witty and sarcastic and sexy and can kick butt," she declares, brimming with enthusiasm. "The films that I went to see as a kid and that I go to see now are action films. I'm like a 4-year-old boy."
Eventually, as all L.A. conversations will, the talk turns to Tyler's new wheels. "Let me tell you," she says, waxing rhapsodic over her blue BMW six-speed, "when I was driving an hour each way to do a Fresno State show for $50, I earned it."
Smoke SignalsJames Fortier and Jon Plutte's Alcatraz Is Not an Island unearths a largely forgotten chapter of San Francisco history and a little-known civil rights movement of the tempestuous '60s and early '70s. The revelatory documentary about the 19-month Indian occupation of Alcatraz -- which began in 1969 with a one-night stay by 14 Native Americans -- played Sundance last year (after premiering here two years earlier at the American Indian Film Festival), then screened at the Taos Talking Picture Festival in spring 2001, where it was a Land Grant Award finalist. "I didn't think we would win," Fortier says, "but it was interesting that they ended up giving the land -- and this really was land in the heart of Indian country, mind you -- to some Swedish filmmakers. All I could think was, 'Some things never change.'"
Fortier subsequently trimmed Alcatraz Is Not an Island to a TV hour -- it airs Tuesday, Nov. 5, at 10 p.m. on KQED and Thursday, Nov. 7, nationally on PBS -- and he's gone around for the last several months showing it at universities and in Indian communities. He's found eager audiences, post-9/11. "The idea that a small group of disenfranchised people can take a stand in the face of overwhelming odds, who can not only garner public support but do so when confronted with the full weight of the federal government, is a lesson all people can learn from," Fortier says.
Legal EaglesI'm as sympathetic as anyone to copyright holders, but I wish common sense would occasionally prevail. Mere days before the planned Oct. 18 screening of Lech Kowalski's Johnny Thunders documentary, Born to Lose: The Last Rock 'N' Roll Movie, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' 100-seat theater, reps of the late guitarist's estate forced the cancellation of the show. Ostensibly, the filmmaker hadn't cleared all the music rights. Who won? Hard to say. Who lost? Hard-core Thunders fans.
Similarly, Will "The Thrill" Viharo had to replace I Was a Teenage Werewolf with a 16mm print of another film at his Oct. 25 "Thrillville" road show at Copia in Napa. Susan Nicholson, widow of American International Pictures producer James Nicholson, claims rights to the film. Love, not profits, motivates alternative and rep curators like Viharo, but tell that to the lawyers. "Our job is to get these movies on the big screen so people don't have to see them on video or TV," Viharo proclaims. "The casualties are the audience."