The First Cut Is the Deepest

Hollywood has honed test screenings to a noxious art, granting yea-or-nay power to moviegoers in locations such as Reseda and Sacramento who can’t name the director of Citizen Kane. The practice is intended to ultimately provide lowest-common-denominator entertainment to the masses. But there’s nothing inherently wrong with filmmakers emerging from prolonged immersion in a dark editing suite to see whether outsiders find their unfinished film clear or confusing, gripping or godawful. Documentary filmmakers, especially in the Bay Area, have long sought honest, open feedback from their peers in work-in-progress screenings. The bimonthly Rough Cuts series, produced by Chris Holbrook, brings the public into the mix in a rare and rewarding fashion. The evening begins with drinks (included in the ticket price, along with hors d’oeuvres) and socializing, followed by the screening of an advanced edit of a forthcoming nonfiction work. Then a moderator chosen from the local film community joins the filmmaker in soliciting the audience’s candid comments and critiques. Far superior to an anonymous survey card with check-off boxes, the interaction enables the documentary maker to identify structural flaws and character weaknesses, while viewers have the satisfaction of contributing to what will certainly be a stronger film. Tonight’s screening is Without a Net, a production by Kelly J. Richardson offering an intimate portrait of a group of youngsters trying to escape the slums of Rio de Janeiro by training for the circus and eventually performing on opening night. Rough Cuts is a productive symbiosis -- although one can’t imagine Orson Welles embracing the opinions of strangers
Tue., Sept. 7, 7:30 p.m., 2010

 
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