Journey Into Fear

Like Law & Order, our column is ripped from the headlines

The day before he hopped a plane for the world premiere of Rob Nilsson's Attitude, screening as part of a tribute to the East Bay director at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, lead actor Michael Disend dropped me an e-mail. "The SARS epidemic has had a devastating effect on the festival, and many, many people from abroad -- nearly all, we're told -- have decided to stay away. Of our original party of four, two have dropped out. I've bought masks for Rob and myself and have made an ancient immunization liquid formula called Four Thieves Tonic, which was originally used by grave robbers during the Black Death era in Europe. Supposedly no pernicious microbe or germ can survive a second when it contacts a bloodstream soaked in this odious-tasting brew! Rob and I are not going to be stopped by some damned SARS scourge, no matter how unwise our decision may eventually turn out to be. If I'm sick for a year, it'll be worth every second!"

Disend's bravado had faded by the next dawn, however. "At 5 a.m.," he wrote before heading to the airport, "the whole venture appears in a new and decidedly grimmer light. I've done lots of dumb things in my life, but this indeed may be among the dumbest." After a day at the festival, Disend sent another dispatch. "About half the youngish staff are wearing face masks, while the others roam around in the universally giddy state of film buffs." As his missive continued, it was clear that the defiant duo was aroused, not spooked, by the freaked-out city. "Rob and I were sitting near the Ferry, goofing on the rusty old tugs, and we came up with two good ideas for new films -- strong, liberating concepts that came directly from the stimulus of the putative epidemic." Maybe more filmmakers should imbibe the Four Thieves Tonic.

The AdjusterCanadian writer/director Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter) drew a full house to SFMOMA last Thursday night for Family Viewing (1987), his still-disturbing and funny second feature. Lamenting how the success of sex, lies, & videotape changed the indie world just a few years later, Egoyan noted, "There's no innocence [anymore] about going out there and shooting a film. There's a whole culture that has attracted a lot of people who are not really filmmakers. They are manufacturers; they are entrepreneurs. It's like the Gold Rush."

While admirers savor the cerebral, self-reflexive qualities of Egoyan's work, his approach admittedly puts off mainstream audiences. "I wish sometimes I wasn't so self-conscious, but it's the only way I can proceed," he said. "It's the only way I can make the work close to me." Much of the discussion centered on Egoyan's last intricately constructed film, Ararat, a complex investigation of history, memory, and identity spinning out from the 1915 Armenian genocide by Turkey. "As an Armenian boy, it would have been nice to have someone come in and stop it," he said, responding to a question about the U.S. invasion to oust Saddam. "Of course," he continued wryly, "we didn't have the resources" -- like oil -- that might have encouraged an intervention. Close, Egoyan and visual artist Juliao Sarmento's installation, is currently on view at the museum.

Before the RevolutionEast Bay writer and director Ann P. Meredith is crusading to make the Bay Area the third region (after New York and L.A.) to boast a chapter of Women in Film and Television. The aim, she says, is to "recognize and organize" women in the industry. "It's a networking organization, absolutely," Meredith declares, open to everyone from directors to costume designers, actresses to lighting pros. A BAYWIFT membership meeting is slated for Thursday, April 24, at 6:30 p.m. at Film Arts Foundation, 145 Ninth St. (between Mission and Howard). Contact Meredith at (510) 883-1948 or for more details. ... You can still call it the Rafael, but its new name -- bestowed in appreciation for philanthropic munificence -- is the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center. ... ImageMakers, a weekly one-hour series of shorts and docs from around the globe, debuts at 6 p.m. Sunday, April 20, on KQED. ... Oliver Stone will be in India when his Fidel Castro doc Comandante has its first San Francisco screening on April 30 at the S.F. International Film Festival, so he'll do the post-show Q&A via long-distance phone.

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