Dont Look Back

Pissing off the local cinephile community at the S.F. International Film Festival

In a move that's riled the local film community, the S.F. International Film Festival has overhauled its competitive section, the Golden Gate Awards. (The GGAs honor documentaries, shorts, and TV features from around the world with festival screenings and prize money.) First, the number of categories has been reduced from 23 to 13, with form (Documentary Features, Documentary Shorts) replacing subject (Current Events, First-Person Documentary) as the organizing principle. "The [original] categories came out of educational film festivals and served their purpose in establishing the importance of documentaries and shorts in the festival," says Linda Blackaby, SFIFF associate director of programming. "Our goal is to make it less ambiguous for [producers], who call us and want us to tell them what category to [submit] in." Ultimately, Blackaby says, "We're trying to clarify the awards and make them more prestigious."

To that end, pre-screeners will now cull what they feel are the top 50 percent of entries, which panels will then view in order to make nominations. Four juries comprised primarily of out-of-towners will see those "Official Selection" movies in the festival and pick the winners. Historically, juries of local moviemakers, programmers, and critics bestowed the GGAs; now their participation has been downgraded. "There was something special about our community giving the awards," one upset local artist e-mailed me. Blackaby concurs, but notes that it's hardly uncommon for festivals to bring in outside jurors. Besides, she argues, exposing the top docs and shorts to industry players (from L.A. and N.Y., presumably) can only be a boon to their makers. "I'm a firm believer in building allies in the world for filmmakers," she declares.

The Bed You Sleep InBefore he left San Francisco and the United States nine years and nine months ago (by his count), Jon Jost (All the Vermeers in New York) made several rigorously beautiful pictures that built to devastating emotional climaxes. Jost's latest, Six Easy Pieces, draws its title not from the iconic '70s Nicholson flick but from the freedom of digital video. Jost compiled the work -- a selection of rather abstract meditations on architecture, ego, and our fleeting place in history -- when he lived in Lisbon and Rome in the late '90s. "There was no intention to make a movie," Jost says when I reach him in Portland, late in his 18-city U.S. tour. "It was just things I was shooting. I walk around, and the material says, 'You just made a film.' That's a very pleasurable thing for me."

The affordability of video allows artists to develop at a faster pace, Jost asserts. "I could go shoot [film] for a couple of months once every year and a half or two years, and I was considered prolific," Jost explains. "DV allows me to shoot every day, and I feel my eye is 10 times better. It allows one to practice and hone one's craft constantly." Jost is carrying a spiffy digital projector on tour, which, he promises, more than does justice to his stunning images. "You think I'd be working in some shitty medium just because it's cheap?" The S.F. Cinematheque screens Six Easy Pieces with Jon Jost in person on Sunday, Dec. 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the S.F. Art Institute, 800 Chestnut (between Leavenworth and Jones); visit www.sfcinematheque.org for details.

Big WednesdaySan Franciscans are stoked about surf flicks. Latest evidence: a packed benefit screening of the Rell Sun documentary Heart of the Sea: Kapolioka'ehukai at the Castro a couple of Sundays ago during the Film Arts Festival. The Red Vic Movie House caught the wave many moons ago, and now plays new and vintage surf movies on every calendar. "A lot of the people coming are not our general audience," reports Dennis Conroy, a longtime member of the collective that operates the theater. "They're just people who are obsessed with surfing." Conroy salutes the filmmakers for finding their niche audience. "They're surfers themselves, and they do cross-promotions with surf shops," he explains.

All right, but don't a few of the Red Vic's spliff-smoking regulars also get off on the big swells? "I'm sure people are coming in stoned, but I can't make a claim for that," Conroy replies with a chuckle. "It's not like you walk into the place and it's stinking up with reefer." Observing that the crowd is comprised of athletic types, he says, "I don't know if surfers and stoners are the same people." The Red Vic reprises 100 Ft. Wednesday through Monday (except Thanksgiving Day); go to www.redvicmoviehouse.com for show times.

 
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