All Quiet on the Western Front

At local indie houses: Anti-Bush docs and, uh, "Sing-Along West Side Story"

\What effect will protest marches and saturation TV coverage of the war in Iraq have on attendance at indie movie theaters? Dennis Conroy of the Red Vic Movie House admits, "There is a population of people who are interested in direct action as opposed to sitting in a movie theater." But the Red Vic's near-term lineup of docs -- including The Truth and Lies of 9-11 on March 27, War Photographer on April 1-2, and Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election on April 3 -- seems designed to attract Bush haters. "Of course, we had no idea of the exact timing" of the invasion, Conroy says. "These films were out there, and because of the political climate we knew people would be interested in them."

"The Roxie has always been a cultural center, and people gravitate here," says the Mission District cinema's Joel Bachar. "We provide not an escape from reality, but an outlet and a forum." The Roxie programmed Gaza Strip, a sobering doc focusing on a fatalistic 13-year-old Arab boy, to open today. "Our audience knows they're going to be challenged," Bachar says. "They tend to seek out the broader perspective."

The Castro Theatre's longtime programmer, Anita Monga, reports that the dismal economy and threat of war have affected business for weeks. Entertainment is the watchword of the Castro's current CinemaScope series, featuring the "Sing-Along West Side Story" (March 27), Lord Jim (March 28-29), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (March 30-31). "My attitude," Monga says, "is summed up in Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels: There's a place, when people are feeling really bad, for the kind of uplift that beautiful art can bring."

Serene VelocityThe acclaimed local avant-garde filmmaker Ernie Gehr is fascinated by the movement of people in urban spaces. But while his movies deal with actual places and with the passage of time, he's uncomfortable describing them as documentaries. "People relate to the word in a way I do not," he says thoughtfully. "I feel the term is a dramatization of an event, a creative reshaping through a series of shots that is not, ultimately, too different from a fictional work." Of his new digital video works, Glider (shot around the Cliff House) and City (on Market Street), Gehr says, "Nothing was orchestrated consciously. I didn't tell somebody, 'Go and fall on a banana peel.' I pick up chance things on the street and I make my choices later."

In the mid-'70s, Gehr reworked a four-minute tracking shot of Market Street from the early 1900s into a half-hour film called Eureka. "I was interested in bringing out the markings of time, the abrasions, the guts of film being on the surface, the emulsion," Gehr explains. "These are all part of the material; as it ages it becomes more apparent." City, while shot in the same part of town, is neither a re-creation of nor an homage to that century-old footage. "It would be a total lie to say you could do something in the spirit or in the way people used to see things, either through the moving camera or another medium," Gehr declares quietly. "It's coming to cinema with the baggage I picked up in the last half-century, the baggage of seeing the moving image as an extension of art and as a way of creating art -- not just with paint or words, but with a moving-picture camera." Glider, Eureka, and City screen Sunday, April 6, at the S.F. Art Institute as part of an S.F. Cinematheque show, "Shadows of Time: New Work by Ernie Gehr." Check out www.sfcinematheque.org for details.

Down and Out in Beverly Hills For the eighth straight year, a group called Angel Harvest dropped by the post-Oscars Governors Ball this past Sunday at about midnight to pick up the leftovers, then distributed them to shelters around L.A. on Monday. According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' self-serving press release, "The food [was] the same Wolfgang Puck cuisine enjoyed by those Hollywood stars who attended the Ball." Maybe that's what Sam Shepard meant by the Curse of the Starving Class.

 
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