Time of the Gypsies

The S.F. International Film Festival loses a programming director

Citing financial pressures stemming from the lame economy, the San Francisco Film Society -- nonprofit parent organization of the S.F. International Film Festival -- jettisoned Programming Director Carl Spence. Assistant Director of Programming Linda Blackaby, who was hired along with Spence two years ago this month, was named director of programming. The selection process will continue to be augmented by guest programmers Roger Garcia and Michel Ciment as well as Executive Director Roxanne Messina Captor.

"The programming is still a team activity," said Blackaby, downplaying her promotion in a brief phone call just before leaving on a scouting trip to Montreal and Toronto. She offered soothing words for cinéastesfretting that the shake-up -- or, for that matter, any announcement emanating from fest headquarters -- heralds a swing toward mainstream (read: Hollywood) movies. "We're not talking about any dramatic shifts in emphasis," Blackaby affirmed. "I think the documentaries and the shorts are one of the glories of the San Francisco International Film Festivals. It's one of the distinguishing factors. We're still talking about Asian films, Latin American films. There are some areas of the world that we haven't had as much to do with in the last two years -- like Eastern Europe -- as we might have."

The Film Society has shed about a third of its office space as part of the cost-cutting campaign, according to longtime Director of Publicity Hilary Hart. But she foresees no reduction in the size of the next SFIFF (April 15-29, 2004) or in the number of visiting filmmakers. "We're not shorting the festival," Hart declares. "We want to look at places to cut where people aren't going to notice. Nobody's going to notice our offices are smaller."

Spence was unavailable for comment and his plans are unknown, but Hart said that he had been looking at other job possibilities before the Film Society arrived at its decision. His legacy is hard to assess after just two festivals, especially considering that the 2002 event was assembled by a new staff playing catch-up. Festgoers will likely remember Spence as a less than comfortable public speaker, but they should also recall his enthusiasm for sharing discoveries with San Francisco audiences.

Road TripUrban sprawl, among other factors, doomed the drive-in. "They were on the edge of town, but the town has crept up on them and overtaken them," says Melinda Stone, a filmmaker and media studies professor at USF. A few still remain, mostly in rural hamlets, and that's where Stone takes the California Tour, an evening under the stars featuring bingo, a sing-along, and a batch of short docs and experimental movies. "Although we might call it the middle of nowhere, [the drive-ins] are these magnetic draws," explains Stone.

On the morning of each show, Stone drives through town in a van with a bullhorn announcing screen tests. Taking California's pioneer days as the theme, she outfits volunteers with a backdrop, costumes, and lines from a 19th-century memoir. Stone then hand-processes the 16mm film in her hotel room and screens it for the crowd that night. "I grew up in a small town in Northern California where there was nothing like this going on," she says. The California Tour plays King's Drive-In in Armona (four hours east of S.F. in the Central Valley) on Thursday, Sept. 11; the abandoned Sunrise Drive-In in Fair Oaks (east of Sacramento) on Saturday, Sept. 13; and San Luis Obispo's Sunset Drive-In on Sunday, Sept. 14. For directions and other useful info, visit www.thecaliforniatour.com.

Every Man for Himself and God Against AllFrancis Ford Coppola's showing a newly restored version of his 1982 One From the Heart at the Toronto International Film Festival. Presumably it will play at a few theaters before the inevitable DVD release, bringing cheer to the multitude of Teri Garr and Frederic Forrest fans. Another of Northern California's adopted sons, Bernard Shakey, is at Toronto with his Greendale. Shakey is Neil Young's filmmaking alias. ... Congratulations to longtime Pacific Film Archive Director and Senior Film Curator Edith Kramer, who received the Chancellor's Distinguished Service Award from UC Berkeley. ... Foreign Cinema hosts a midnight screening of Loren Marsh's locally shot indie feature, Mission (Reel World, Aug. 15, 2001), on Saturday, Sept. 6, to celebrate its home video/DVD release.

 
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