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Entre Nous 

This week: A lesbian longshorewoman, a horse head in bed, and a quickie interview with the filmmaker behind Morvern Callar

Wednesday, Jan 15 2003
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East Bay filmmaker Lauren Himmel's debut feature, Treading Water, played more than 30 festivals around the world, including Mill Valley in 2001 and the S.F. International Lesbian & Gay fest last summer. A naturalistic study of the tensions among a female longshoreman, her girlfriend, and her repressed New England family, Treading Water earned Himmel the Outstanding Emerging Talent Award from L.A.'s Outfest and a DVD deal from Wolfe Video, a leading distributor of gay and lesbian features. Yet Himmel never viewed her movie as a treatise on lesbian relationships. "That was definitely secondary for me," she relates over the phone from New York. "It was really about a family that never talked about anything."

It's a measure of progress that the new generation of queer filmmakers is (with some caveats) no longer ghettoized, and most aspire to make challenging films for mainstream audiences. "There's a lot more to stories than just gay elements," Himmel points out. The trick, she explains, is having a gay or lesbian following without being pigeonholed. "When you're 'just' a gay filmmaker and you're showing your film to investors and trying to get people on board for future projects, they think those are the only kind of projects you're interested in."

Himmel has spent a lot of time in New York and London writing her next script with Nicola Phillips, a British clinical psychologist, management consultant, and author (The Big Difference: Life Works When You Choose It). On the Table, which is at least a year away from pre-production, deals with the fallout 17 years after a family flees to Canada with their adopted baby rather than returning him to his birth parents. "I'm excited about exploring something that doesn't connect to me at all, in terms of my personal experience," Himmel says. "I'm trying to challenge myself by having people do things I don't really understand."

National Velvet "Sex, death, and animals are my obsessions," an amused Michelle Rollman says candidly. "And, of course, a lot of images I have of sex and death are from the movies. I've always been kind of glued to screens." Rollman and I were strolling through "Dark Horse," her disturbing, darkly humorous exhibition at SOMA's New Langton Arts. The centerpiece is Sleep, a lush, drowned-in-red re-creation of the horse's-head-in-the-film-producer's-bed bit from The Godfather (Rollman's sneakers are even splashed with red paint). "It's a very small scene in the film," Rollman admits, "but it's one I carry around, and I presume other people carry it around as well."

A Colorado native now based in New York, Rollman did her graduate work at the S.F. Art Institute and lived here for virtually the entire '90s. "Yeah, I have a serious girl-and-horse thing," she says with a laugh as we study Horse Refusing a Fence, a scratched-brass drawing of the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe from The Seven Year Itch, only with the actress' face replaced by a mare's head. Then we sit on odoriferous bales of hay, watching Rollman's Misty of Chincoteague, a poignant six-minute video that employs Eadweard Muybridge's famous photos to evoke the saga of shipwrecked steeds. "I have to have a sense of humor," Rollman concedes, "since melodrama is definitely part of what I do." "Dark Horse" is up through Feb. 8 at New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom (between Eighth and Ninth streets); call 626-4516 or visit www.newlangtonarts.org for details.

An Angel at My Table Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay burst on the international film scene two years ago with Ratcatcher, a stunningly perceptive and beautiful coming-of-age story that some people deemed depressing. "I always thought it was quite weird when people said that," Ramsay told me when she was here in October. "It's an uplifting film, in its own way. I wasn't trying to make something grim. I thought it was poetic rather than social realism."

Her new film, Morvern Callar, is another bracing character study. "Some people will switch off on the character because she's an extreme character, but that was everything that was interesting about it, you know?" Ramsay said, lighting one of her ever-present smokes. "If you take that away, there wouldn't have been a film." She admitted that shooting the love scene was a bit of a problem, though. "Where the fuck's the camera, when you have sex? Where's the point of view?" Originally, she shot the scene with a fixed camera. "It felt like we were never showing any of the emotion, and it just felt like I'd seen it a million times," Ramsay recalled. Using a hand-held camera, the director achieved a shimmering spontaneity and intimacy. And it didn't hurt that she told the actors, "Have fun. Do anything you want to do."

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Michael Fox

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