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A Berkeley documentary filmmaker takes audiences inside the wild world of futures trading

Wednesday, Oct 10 2001
Cadillac Desert "For a lot of people, viewing this film is like being held under water," Jon Else remarks wryly about Open Outcry, his one-hour documentary shot on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. "But I felt that was the only way to get an experiential bath of being down in the pits." Comprised of lengthy, fluid takes and voice-over commentary from longtime traders, Open Outcry is radical stuff for American public television, which tends to favor education over evocation. "I set out to make a film that was about the experience of capitalism," Else explains, "not a textbook guide to this particular branch of capitalism."

With 25 years of experience as a filmmaker and cinematographer, Else is one of the pillars of the Bay Area film community. He heads both the documentary program at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and its nascent Center for New Documentary. "It became clear by the early '90s that docs were becoming so expensive and the funding so restricted that most television documentary was done by a shrinking and risk-averse pool of producers," Else says. For filmmakers left out in the cold, "Documentary had become a culture of complaint." According to its skipper, the Center for New Documentary is a think tank designed to address the primary concern of indie filmmakers: Are there methods that will allow them to keep making films instead of merely writing proposals?

Open Outcry, which airs Thursday, Oct. 11, at 11 p.m. and repeats Sunday, Oct. 14, at 6 p.m. on KQED (Channel 9), has an unscripted freshness. Else explains, "It's one of the few documentaries I've done where there was a genuine process of discovery." In contrast, "With most docs, largely because they're about dead people or stories that have already happened, there's not much surprise in the course of the film." Although he shot Open Outcry at the height of the Internet boom in the spring of 2000, Else eventually replaced his cynicism with an appreciation for futures traders. "I think these guys are an enormous stabilizing influence in the economy, and the country is a somewhat safer place because of them. That was a surprise for me, frankly."

Verboten! Taking inspiration from Slamdance and its bitter offspring, the Chill Valley Film Festival -- a DIY showcase for local flicks turned down by the Mill Valley Film Festival -- unspools on Saturday, Oct. 13, at Olney Hall on the College of Marin campus. Marinites John Harden and Glen Kinion organized the event around the world premiere of their futuristic satire, Breakfast With the Colonel. The bill includes Nutcracker: An American Nightmare, directed by Glen Grefe and produced by Nick Aquilino, plus Aquilino's twice-rejected short, Dr. Island. There's more info and kvetching at

Lust for Life The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the S.F. Film Society are cooking up a monthly series, "The 7th Art: New Dimensions in Cinema," to start after the first of the year. The spotlight will be on new films that break fresh ground or older ones that were ahead of their time (such as Tron or One From the Heart). SFMOMA Curator of Media Arts Benjamin Weil, who originated the idea, was inspired by the notion of hybrids -- new combinations created through the appropriation of techniques and technologies pioneered by other art forms -- that prove unexpectedly influential by spawning trends. The series begins with a "soft launch" on Tuesday, Oct. 16, with Richard Linklater presenting Waking Life, then kicks off in earnest on Jan. 10 -- coincidentally, the day before New York bad boy Abel Ferrara (Ms. 45) returns to the Roxie for a week of rare screenings and unmediated volatility.

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Michael Fox


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