Before the Revolution

A local doc gets an Oscar nod, and Reel World bids a fond farewell

The day the Academy Award nominations were announced happened to coincide with the first session of Sam Green's video production class at the University of San Francisco. Did the co-director of The Weather Underground casually mention that he was in the running for Best Documentary Feature, as a not-so-subtle way of galvanizing his new students' attention? "Nah," he says, chuckling. "'Hey, kids, I got nominated for an Oscar today.' It sounds pompous."

But Green couldn't pretend it was just another day when he switched on his phone after class and found he had 19 messages. None was from agents or starlets, although Green was excited to learn (from another director's publicist) that he can score a free tux for the awards ceremony. When I mention that Drew Barrymore was reportedly in New Hampshire last week shooting a documentary about the campaign -- and might like to attend the Oscars with a real political filmmaker -- he laughs again. "I'm taking my housemate," he confides. Just as well, as Barrymore's last party with a Green ended badly.

Green puts the real value of the nomination this way: "Now the movie will go back into theaters [in big cities] and have this whole second life." The Weather Underground is currently playing the college circuit, with the director appearing with the film on New York-area campuses this week and in the Boston area in early March. Green's previous university screenings have convinced him that the apathetic student is a media myth. "I don't agree with the idea that kids are sleepy, or not political," he declares. "There's a big, growing movement that's eventually going to become something powerful."

Metropolis"As an architecture student coming out of school, no one's going to say, 'Design an entire city for us,'" says Peter Oberdorfer, creative director of Giant Killer Robots. "But that was the opportunity that was given to us coming out of school and going into visual effects." Oberdorfer and animation director John Vegher left the architecture world to found the SOMA-based computer-generated effects house in 1997, quickly building a reputation for visually striking environments with their contributions to What Dreams May Come (which won a 1998 Oscar for Visual Effects) and The Matrix. With its work on the upcoming Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (opening March 26) and Blade: Trinity (August), GKR is extending its range from virtual sets to character design.

GKR created the nemesis (or villain, if you prefer) for Scooby-Doo 2, and updated and reimagined other monsters from the original cartoon. "We have to go through a visualization process, because these things don't exist," Oberdorfer says. He adds, laughing, "If they did exist, they would just film it." With about 40 employees -- compared to the 150- to 500-person staffs at other visual effects companies -- GKR is committed to maintaining its boutique status, Vegher insists. Regardless of its size, such a shop has to please Hollywood studios. "I don't see any difference between the architecture industry and the film industry," says Vegher. "You have a client who, in general, is far less knowledgeable about what you're doing than you are, yet they have the ultimate say about what you're doing."

The Long GoodbyeThe inaugural Golden Gate Film Festival (Reel World, Jan. 21) is now scheduled for May 28-30 in the Presidio, according to founder James Nguyen. He says he is waiving the submission fee, although the fest's Web site (www.goldengatefilmfestival.com) hadn't been updated as of press time. ... Experimental filmmaker Gunvor Nelson, who was based in the Bay Area for many years before returning to her native Sweden, returns for a March 11 Cinematheque show. ... This column marks the end of Reel World in these pages, after a lengthy residence. I salute the artists, programmers, and venues that make the Bay Area film community so widely admired, and the readers/moviegoers who support them.

 
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