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Reel World 

Wednesday, Apr 7 1999
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O Lucky Man!
Simon Overton has an impossible dream. The 59-year-old English expat and former projectionist wants to turn the shuttered Royal Theater into a year-round venue for British films. He envisions 4 p.m. tea shows for retirees and midnight shows for Polk Street's restless singles, as well as the British, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh film festivals under one roof. "I'd hate to see the Royal converted into a shoe shop or another video place," Overton sighs.

We'll briefly interrupt Overton's vision with the reminder that single-screen theaters are prohibitively expensive to operate. (He figures it'll cost $75,000 just to clean and prep the Royal for reopening.) At the same time, the art houses are quite adequately clogged with films from England. More discouraging yet, slow ticket sales forced Overton to cancel a fund-raising dance and auction scheduled for this Friday -- and that tepid response may signal the public's lack of enthusiasm for an all-British cinema. (Overton had the stellar idea of inviting Oscar nominee Lynn Redgrave to lend her support to the cause, but her agent demanded a $25,000 appearance fee.)

One gets the feeling that Overton loves movie houses -- from the projectors to the architecture -- perhaps more than movies. "I've been thrown out of cinemas for overstaying my welcome," he chuckles. With other preservationists, Overton fought unsuccessfully to protect an ancient theater in the 500 block of Haight Street from a new career as a garage or condos. He dreams of renovating and illuminating the painted-over stained glass window behind the Royal's facade, and bringing over the art deco curtains from the defunct Alameda Theater.

He and his wife, Kathleen, even cleaned graffiti from the front of the theater a few weeks back. "Somehow I feel the Royal is my baby," he says. "I'm hopefully trying to protect a future investment." Though he enjoys his job as a supervisor at the Moscone Center, he vows: "I'm prepared to give that up. I want something more challenging and I want to really do something that's worthwhile."

Overton welcomes all offers of money, time, labor, and ideas; he can be reached at 437-6789. Or show up at the Fine Arts Cinema on April 27 and 28 for a British triple feature -- chosen by Overton.

Forever Activists
As predicted in this space several weeks ago, Bay Area filmmakers nabbed fully half the slots in the '99 lineup of "P.O.V.," PBS's first-rate summer series of independent documentaries. The Legacy: Murder & Media, Politics & Prisons, Michael J. Moore's stinging study of California's "three strikes" law, opens the season on June 1. The other local films selected for national exposure are Emiko Omori's Rabbit in the Moon, Lourdes Portillo's Corpus: A Home Movie for Selena, Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg's The Double Life of Ernesto Gomez-Gomez, and Barbara Sonneborn's Oscar-nominated Regret to Inform (slated for a special, higher-visibility fall broadcast).

They Live by Night
Plan way ahead for Oct. 29, when Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet accompany Tod Browning's iconic Dracula (1931) with a live performance of Glass' new original score. Presented by the S.F. Jazz Festival at the breathtaking Paramount Theater, this is the Halloween event to die for.

By Michael Fox
foxonfilm@aol.com

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Michael Fox

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