Freedom on My Mind

New responsibilities for the head of the Film Arts Foundation

After 23 years at the wheel, Gail Silva has relinquished the day-to-day responsibility of overseeing the nonprofit Film Arts Foundation. In her tailored new role -- which comes with the title of president -- the beloved champion of Bay Area indies will consult with producers and directors on their projects and fund-raise for both Film Arts and the Ninth Street Media Arts building where it's based (along with several other local film organizations). The transition had been planned for a while, says board chair Henry Rosenthal. "It essentially moves Gail to where she has been focusing for quite some time, and formalizes that process," he says. "Everything has been agreed to in principle, and we're just hammering details now."

A national search for a new executive director will commence in January, and is expected to take about six months. In the meantime, Claudia Viek stepped in last month as interim executive director. A consultant and 14-year veteran of the SOMA-based Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, Viek is more than a caretaker. "We want to take a fresh look at the program," she says. "How can we position Film Arts in the most compelling way?" She points out, for example, that with the upsurge in local festivals, the 15-year-old Film Arts Festival is no longer the only showcase for Bay Area work.

Silva declined comment pending an official announcement, but Viek asserts, "Gail will still be the face of the organization with filmmakers and in the independent filmmaking community." Citing Film Arts' 3,500 members -- yet noting across-the-board cuts in arts funding -- Viek says, "This a strong organization going through a normal growth transition."

Short of BreathAfter staging an 18-day marathon for each of the last two years, the S.F. International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival will revert to an 11-day event in '04. "Creating and sustaining a festival energy and pace for a lot of folks involved in a film festival -- from audience to staff to industry people to filmmakers -- was difficult over 18 days," says fest Co-Director Michael Lumpkin. "There are a lot of other factors at play -- those were the two years the economy was going down -- but we didn't see a substantial increase in attendance," he adds. The number of films and screenings, which did not increase when the festival stretched, likewise will not decrease next year.

Jesus of MontrealThe remarkable thing about Denys Arcand's wise and witty The Barbarian Invasions is its agility in sidestepping cynicism and sentimentality. That's no small feat for a film that revolves around a dying professor. "If you're truthful," says the perpetually amused French Canadian writer/director, "then you realize that, yes, life is desperately dark, yet at the same time it can be absolutely fabulous, the way people are extraordinarily kind to one another in some circumstances."

Invasions, which premiered locally as part of an Arcand tribute at the Mill Valley Film Festival two months ago, revisits the sexually active and charmingly verbose intellectuals of Arcand's 1986 breakthrough hit, The Decline of the American Empire. "When you're 40," the director explained during his October visit, "the big question is, 'Who are you going to sleep with in the next 48 hours?'" The new movie reflects how his priorities changed as he closed in on 60. "I'm trying to tell you where I am in my life and what is it that I'm afraid of, and I'm trying to describe to you my ideal death," Arcand confided. The Barbarian Invasions, which is already getting standout reviews and year-end award consideration, opens Friday at the Embarcadero.

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