In one swift stroke, The Blair Witch Project may have erased the long-held resistance of mainstream audiences to narrative films shot on video. That's the optimistic view of Jonathan Wells, the S.F. founder and director of the ResFest Digital Film Festival and champion of the new means of film production. Younger filmmakers and moviegoers, he argues, "grew up with television and video games and they don't have the Lawrence of Arabia CinemaScope obsession."
Wells isn't naive, however; he recognizes that audiences accepted the Blair Witch aesthetic because it purported to be a documentary. As further proof that narrative films have some catching up to do, all three features that Wells and his cohorts chose for ResFest '99 are docs. (Dancin' fools will line up for Jon Reiss' adrenalized rave-up Better Living Through Circuitry; dogmatics won't miss The Humiliated, about the making of Lars von Trier's The Idiots.)
Arguably the most innovative filmmaking on display at ResFest, which begins its four-city tour Sept. 9 at S.F.'s Palace of Fine Arts, can be found in a dozen cutting-edge music videos (including a Björk piece by Wunderkind Chris Cunningham) and the bevy of mind-blowing shorts. "Image quality has come a long way, but if the content's compelling that's the important thing," Wells emphasizes.
Rising local documentary filmmaker Sam Green (The Rainbow Man: John 3:16) and producer Mark Smolowitz just enlisted increasingly indie-friendly KQED as a partner on their current project, The Weather Underground. The public TV station will provide five days of remote shooting, editing facilities and office space during postproduction, and the muscle and prestige of national presentation.
Although a recent flattering item about KQED in this space elicited a few cynical (and well-documented) rebuttals from filmmakers, Smolowitz attests, "I've only felt their openness to independents." The news gets better: A major funder who wishes to remain anonymous has chipped in a chunk o' dough. The filmmakers are planning two versions of the film -- a TV hour for broadcast and a longer cut for theatrical release -- for completion next year. The Weather Underground, for you apolitical young'uns, resurrects the controversial life and times of the 1960s militant radical group whose strength was centered in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Madison.
Bay Area filmmakers take it to NYC: Congrats to Cauleen Smith, whose Drylongso copped the Grand Jury Prize for best feature at the third Urbanworld Film Festival. And the upcoming Independent Feature Film Market hosts work-in-progress screenings of Frances Reid and Debbie Hoffmann's Long Night's Journey Into Day: South Africa's Search for Truth and Reconciliation and Mary Guzman's years-in-production Latina lesbian romantic comedy Desi's Looking for a New Girl. ... Not only was Stanley Kubrick a perfectionist during production, the Famous Control Freak was so obsessive about the presentation of his films that he handpicked the theaters in which they would screen. So it's a huge cosmic joke that the Red Vic, with its couches and other funky touches, will play Eyes Wide Shut for three days in November. ... Speaking of local spaces with great vibes, the groovy Werepad hosted a classy minibash last week after a press screening of The Acid House. Irvine Welsh's white Scottish trash met The House That Whitesploitation Built -- and everybody went home happy.
By Michael Fox