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First Person Plural 

A refugee returns to his native Cambodia, kisses for Robin Williams, and a Sofia Coppola update

Wednesday, Mar 5 2003
The first-person documentary has erupted into a full-blown genre in the camcorder age, but not all home movies are art. In fact, most are a yawn, devoid of buildup or payoff. When Spencer Nakasako starts a film, though, he doesn't fret about where the third-act climax will come from. "It makes people who are giving you money nervous," says the director of the visceral video diaries a.k.a. Don Bonus and Kelly Loves Tony with a laugh. "Maybe I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but when I'm in the middle of it I think about what [the subjects] are talking about and how to shape that into a movie, instead of what might happen or what isn't happening. Instead of trying to force the action or guide the action, I'm more concerned with how to flow with the action. It's a little bit like jazz, right? Somebody starts, and you have to play off that instead of going off on your own."

Nakasako's new piece, Refugee, follows twentysomething Tenderloin resident Michael Siv and a couple of his buds to Cambodia for a bittersweet reunion with the father and brother Siv never knew. Siv had taken one of Nakasako's video workshops, and he served as one of Refugee's editors. "Theoretically, if you go by Journalism 101, you never let the subject in the editing room," Nakasako notes, because the main character can't possibly be objective. But as a veteran of the process, the filmmaker welcomed the collaboration. "Basically, you're dealing with two truths. What's interesting is when you put those two truths together and see if it adds up." Refugee has its world premiere on Sunday, March 9, at 6 p.m. at the AMC Kabuki as the centerpiece presentation of the 21st S.F. International Asian American Film Festival; further screenings take place on Monday, March 10, at 1 p.m. at the Kabuki and Wednesday, March 12, at 7:30 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive. For details, see Night & Day, Page 33, or visit

Good Will Hunting Those who think "the talent" is based exclusively in New York and Los Angeles should know that the San Francisco branch of the Screen Actors Guild, which marks its 50th anniversary this year, boasts 3,000 Northern California members. It's true, however, that almost all make their livelihoods from TV (including re-creations for those hokey History Channel-style documentaries), commercials, industrial films, video games (especially voice-over work), indie films, and theater. One local guy who manages to cover his nut with film jobs is Robin Williams, a SAG member in good standing who brings a lot of work to the Bay Area. Williams will be honored for that and for his support of local charities with a Silver Branch Award at an anniversary bash on Sunday, March 9, at Atrium restaurant at 101 California. The evening doubles as a fund-raiser for SAG's 10-year-old BookPALS Literacy Program and as a viewing party for TNT's telecast of the SAG Awards Show. The bash is open to members of the film industry -- producers, casting agents, talent agents, film commissioners -- and to SAG members; call the local office at 391-7510 for the lowdown.

The Half-Naked Truth The S.F. International Film Festival's official competition selections for the Golden Gate Award for Bay Area Documentary Feature are Sam Green and Bill Siegel's The Weather Underground (Reel World, Dec. 11, 2002), Jamie Meltzer's Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story (Reel World, Feb. 5), Jon Shenk and Megan Mylan's Lost Boys of Sudan, and Charlotte Lagarde and Lisa Denker's Heart of the Sea: Kapolioka'ehukai. ... S.F. State alum Sandra Nettelbeck's English-language follow-up to Mostly Martha (Reel World, Aug. 21, 2002), the German kitchen clash that proved an international success, will be, according to the producers, a "portrayal of a marriage and a tale of friendship ... courage, devotion, and the triumph of the heart over the mind," centering on a female law professor. ... Writer/director Sofia Coppola is in post-production on her second feature, Lost in Translation, a Tokyo-set flick starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.

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Michael Fox


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