Movie screenings in the toilet, and other ways to throw a good party

In the (unisex) restroom at Pizzetta, an Italian restaurant at 23rd Avenue and California, patrons sit and watch a Super 8 film that Christian Schneider shot in Venice. "They're having a hard time getting people out of the bathroom," he remarks with amusement and pride. Schneider also installed video screens in the toilet and hall at B44, a Catalan bistro in the Financial District, treating diners there to another of his short cinematic odysseys. "It's an opportunity to put more art in people's lives," he explains.

The urge to show movies outside of a passive theatrical setting is not a new one for filmmakers (or programmers). The trick, though, is finding "straight" businesses willing to go along. Down at 300 California, an office building full of creative techie types, Schneider and his company, Ideagarden (www.ideagarden.org), were invited to construct a mixed-media show, which includes video screens above the elevators. Worker bees watch until their car comes, then listen to the soundtrack on the way up. Schneider produces a new DVD compilation each month, comprising half a dozen shorts totaling 10 to 12 minutes. (The February lineup includes work by locals Reuben Maness, Julia Chidley, Nathan Burazer, Paul Lundahl, and Rob Costin.) "It's not subversive," Schneider says. "It's a partnership." He explains that some companies use the films to brand themselves, while others have less serious goals. "Businesses want to be interesting, and to throw a good party," Schneider says. The folks at 300 California host a reception for the artists in "Art in Unexpected Places" on Thursday, Feb. 13, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Tableau FerrailleHard as it is to believe, an African movie has never been broadcast nationally in the U.S. on public television -- until now. California Newsreel, the venerable SOMA nonprofit distribution and production company, has signed up some 60 PBS affiliates for its three-part series, "Africa in the Picture," comprising features by Ousmane Sembene, the late Djibril Diop Mambety, and Issa Serge Coelo. Although Newsreel is offering a 13-month window (through February '04) in which to air the films, most stations are showing them now to mark Black History Month, a perfect tie-in. Another bonus: It's free programming for the stations, since Newsreel persuaded a few foundations to underwrite the cost.

Newsreel's Cornelius Moore, who spearheaded the series, notes, "Film is quite important in putting forth ideas and history to people on the African continent. It's good for us to see something that reflects their perspective, from the inside." Especially, he sighs, with the upcoming Bruce Willis-in-Nigeria flick, Tears of the Sun, likely to pander to American misperceptions. "People know the myths and stereotypes of Africa, but they don't know the reality," Moore says. "Most of the films in this series are set in urban environments, and Americans may have the idea that Africa is still rural and 'in the bush.'" KQED airs Mambety's Le Franc and La Petite Vendeuse de Soleil on Sunday, Feb. 16, and Coelo's Daresalam on Feb. 23; all screenings begin at noon.

Before the RevolutionThe Film Arts Foundation's annual election of board members is usually a routine event with little entertainment value, but not this year. Typically, a slate of candidates -- some groomed for leadership over time and others with financial resources and contacts that make them equally valuable -- is presented for automatic approval by the Film Arts membership. But untypically, filmmaker Doug Wolens (Butterfly) mounted a successful campaign at the Jan. 30 meeting to win a seat on the board.

"I'm concerned, with any organization, that the status quo can lead to a disconnection" from the membership, Wolens explained. "Because I'm a local independent filmmaker and I have the same concerns and face the same difficulties of the other members, I'll vigorously use my voice and my vote to ensure that the members' needs and desires are not discounted." Wolens is a bridge to the foundation's grass-roots origins, and as such is somewhat controversial. Most board members welcome his demonstrated passion, but others are wary of his disruptive potential. If nothing else, he's raised the energy level of the members.

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