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Grand Illusion 

Bay Area filmmakers respond to a call for short works about the events of Sept. 11

Wednesday, Feb 20 2002
Grand Illusion In early October, local filmmakers Jay Rosenblatt and Caveh Zahedi put out a call to 100 peers for short pieces inspired by the events of Sept. 11 (Reel World, Oct. 24, 2001). "At first, no visual ideas seemed sufficient to respond to the enormity of what had occurred," recalls local documentary maker (and Stanford communication prof) Kris Samuelson, one of those who contributed. "We finally decided to step back and put it in the context of a century of upheaval." The World as We Know It, her collaboration with partner John Haptas, consists of original footage (shot for another film years ago but never used) of a Titan missile silo outside Tucson, soundtracked with interviews with a World War I survivor and a World War II vet. "The point is that it is not a change from the world as we know it," Haptas explains. "Yet again the flags are unfurled and violence ends up being the solution, even though we've seen time and time again that it doesn't work."

World's tone is one of despair, while S.F. filmmaker Valerie Soe's Carefully Taught -- which takes its title from a tune in South Pacific and borrows its Technicolor images from midcentury Hollywood musicals -- is wryly ironic. "The audio," says Soe, "is my rant about how 9/11 unnerved people and is being exploited by President Bush to push forward the conservative agenda." Soe had been thinking of making a film even before the call for submissions went out. As she says with a chuckle, "That's the way filmmakers respond to something -- a divorce, getting laid, things blowing up -- by making a movie out of it." Both shorts screen as part of the S.F. Cinematheque program "Underground Zero: Filmmakers Respond to 9/11," Thursday, Feb. 21, at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; call 978-2787 or visit

Freedom on My Mind Wendy Braitman, the co-founder (with Michael Ehrenzweig) and longtime director of the S.F.-based International Film Financing Conference (IFFCON), has been tapped to launch an international documentary film fest in the Washington, D.C., area. SilverDocs: The AFI/Discovery Documentary Festival (as it's presently called) will debut in June 2003 under the auspices of the American Film Institute and the Discovery Channel.

Braitman's choice spells the end of IFFCON, which introduced U.S. filmmakers to international producers and distributors and made S.F. an essential stop on the annual film circuit for key industry figures. "I'm going to do a mini-IFFCON event at SilverDocs," Braitman vows, "and it's possible there might be an IFFCON for narrative films somewhere else. But I couldn't raise enough money to keep it going here. And I ran out of energy because there was no funding." Adds Braitman, who has no plans to relocate, "The bright spot is that the Bay Area is the center for documentary films in this country, and I'm happy to be here for inspiration." Along those lines, congrats to B.Z. Goldberg and Justine Shapiro's Promises, the latest local doc to snare an Oscar nomination.

The Dark End of the Street The Balboa Theater celebrates its 76th birthday on Feb. 27, but it may not live to see March. Negotiations between the Levin family and new operator Gary Meyer, who tripled attendance at the neighborhood house in the first six months of 2001, are stuck over maintenance and renovation expenses. There are no bad guys in this scenario; it's simply tough for a low-margin, second-run theater to cover large expenditures.

"There are things that must be done to meet code and to provide comfort for customers," Meyer explains, "but it becomes very difficult when you're competing against new theaters. There's a certain audience that likes what we're doing, but the date crowd goes for the glitz." Neither Supervisor Gavin Newsom, who made a lot of noise about preserving neighborhood theaters, nor Supe Jake McGoldrick, who used the Balboa for a town hall meeting, are returning Meyer's calls and e-mails. "It's reality-check time," Meyer says. The Feb. 27 bash will feature vintage silents with live musical accompaniment and a birthday cake. We hope that Meyer has good news to announce that night.

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Michael Fox


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