The Weather Underground, S.F. filmmaker Sam Green's study of the violent splinter group that bombed government buildings in an effort to halt the Vietnam War, is precisely the kind of movie the Sundance Film Festival was created to showcase. But Green was a nervous wreck waiting for the call that would tell him it had been accepted into the 2003 documentary competition. In a recent conversation, I ask him if he's going to take bomb-shaped key chains to Park City to promote his screenings, and he chuckles politely. "People have been saying, 'Tchotchkes, you need tchotchkes.' But there's nothing that's appropriate. We have to keep this dignified. It's such a sensitive subject." Before 9/11, The Weather Underground was simply a historical documentary; now some people view it as an indictment of terrorism and others as a call to civil disobedience. "It's a story that takes place 30 years ago, but the idea of people opposing war and taking militant action for peace is timely," Green says. "Every morning, when I wake up and read the paper and see Bush pushing harder and harder to get into war, I'm very happy and excited about going to Sundance and showing the film."
The Bay Area is also represented in the documentary category by Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, Nancy Kates' finely etched portrait of the late civil rights activist who organized the 1963 March on Washington, and My Flesh and Blood, Jonathan Karsh's gripping saga (just acquired by HBO for broadcast in 2003) of a Fairfield woman and her 11 adopted special-needs children. "I have a passion for interviewing real people and for getting real stories out to the public," says Karsh, who hosted KPIX's Evening Magazine and is a freelance CNN correspondent. Kates, who was at Sundance in 1996 with her short doc on female Vietnam vets, Their Own Vietnam, is a little spooked by the barrage of attention, including a call from the William Morris Agency. "It's shocking to go from the sanctum of the editing room, where we were for a long time, to being in the public eye. Obviously, it's a great honor, but there's a certain amount of apprehension that goes with all this." Brother Outsider is already set to air nationally on PBS on Jan. 20, the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.
In the narrative competition, SOMA filmmaker Mark Decena describes his Dopamine as a "modern-day love story based on an obsessive fascination with everything being deconstructed. It looks at whether love is a chemical thing or actual chemistry between people. Someday we are going to figure it out, and I'm not sure I want to be around for that." Elsewhere at Sundance, avant-garde filmmakers Keith Evans, Christian Farrell, and Jeff Warrin will show trippy new work in the experimental Frontier section. Matt Dillon's City of Ghosts, co-written with East Bay noir author Barry Gifford, screens out of competition, while The Legend of Suryiothai, the Thai epic that Francis Ford Coppola just finished editing and subtitling for American release, gets its U.S. premiere.
The Battle for ChileThe wheel is turning at the Film Arts Foundation, where journalist and gadfly Robert Anbian has rejoined the fold as director of development and marketing. Anbian was the outspokenly political editor of FAF's monthly mag, Release Print, from 1985 to 1996, and he asserts that the bastion of local independent filmmakers has veered from its original raison d'être. "Film Arts was never an organization that only supported the arts," Anbian explains. "It was founded as an activist organization fighting for democratic access to the media and for the most robust expressions of free speech and cultural diversity."
Anbian's new job is to raise both money and FAF's visibility, and he's primed to join the fray. "Expect to see screening and broadcast programs that debate contemporary issues," he promises, "revitalized activism to fight threats to civil liberties on local and national levels, expanded educational outreach to disadvantaged and excluded communities, and renewed support for those indies who need it most -- social-issue documentarians and experimental and fiction filmmakers who are challenging the conformities of commercial media." Maybe Anbian would like some of those bomb-shaped key chains.
Golden GateThe wave of year-end prestige films approaches, with movie sections everywhere soon to be jammed with advertisements touting a Top 10 selection by the New York Times or Best Actor kudos from the likes of the L.A. Film Critics Association. You'll see a new group cited in this winter's ads: the San Francisco Film Critics Circle. Formed in time to bestow year-end plaudits, the group comprises 15 critics, including reps from the Chronicle, Examiner, San Jose Mercury News, Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times, Metro, Bay Guardian, East Bay Express, and SF Weekly (that would be yours truly). The SFFCC deliberates Dec. 12 and announces its winners shortly thereafter. Watch this space.
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