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Sister Act 

A local writer wins a contest to help lesbians jump-start their film careers

Wednesday, May 8 2002
Sister Act Erin Eckles, a marketing writer for a Redwood City software company, will be taking a few vacation days next month: Her screenplay, Trapped, was one of three chosen to be made into short films by Power UP, the 2-year-old L.A.-based organization created to assist lesbians in making a leap in their movie careers. Eckles' script focuses on a complicated family reunion over a holiday weekend, as the central character returns with her partner and two kids to see her siblings, including a sister going through a sex change.

"It's a humorous look at lesbian sexuality in a long-term relationship, and how someone making this kind of life change shifts all the relationships in the family," Eckles explains. "It's not a change the person is making alone if they choose to stay in their family." The question for her protagonist, Eckles says, is, "How do you find a loving response to something you should be OK with that maybe you're not?" Lee Friedlander, the Southern California director of The Ten Rules (A Lesbian Survival Guide), was tapped by Power UP to direct Trapped, which Eckles acknowledges is autobiographical.

The Kansas native, who moved to the Bay Area six years ago, isn't making plans to trade her day job for a Santa Monica suite with an Underwood. "That would be great, but it's not very realistic," Eckles says. "It's a tough business. It's even tougher than working in Silicon Valley right now."

Kentucky Fried Movie Another group of local folks with straight jobs and show business ambitions are the five Charles Schwab employees (and one interloper) who band together twice a month to write and perform sketch comedy under the name Sunday Night Blues. Instead of hitting the stage live, however, SNB films its work for monthly broadcast on public access cable (Channel 29) and the occasional screening at Artists' Television Access. The group has shot 35 shows in its 2 1/2 years, says Blues man John Mongillo, but it's approaching a turning point. Like a high school garage band, SNB is for some of its players a hobby and for others a potential career; the latter are ready to commit to higher professional standards.

"I tend to like to shoot it over and over, but usually there are time restrictions," Mongillo explains. "It's tough to get everyone together. Most of us read the script on the fly; we don't even study much. It's not a positive." SNB performs its mix of improvised and written pieces with enthusiasm and brio, but Mongillo is one of the members who'd like to step it up a notch. "We're getting tired of doing these three-minute pieces," he confides. "The skits are getting too complacent. We're banging out a lot of stuff quickly, but I don't see where it can go."

SNB, which features the talents of Tracy Behm, David Majka, Symon Michael, Tripp Stapleton, Mata Swenson, and Mongillo, draws inspiration from Saturday Night Live, of course, but also from the Marx Brothers, Albert Brooks, and Mel Brooks. None of those comedians can claim visual sophistication as a strength, so SNB's elemental filmmaking approach isn't necessarily a disadvantage. But that won't continue to hold true as the group starts to make ambitious 20-minute comic shorts this summer, with an eye on the film festival circuit.

The troupe's audience to date has consisted mostly of friends, and with them "you never get honest feedback," Mongillo notes. The members of SNB would love to see some unfamiliar faces this Sunday, May 12, at ATA, 992 Valencia (at 21st Street). Show time is 7 p.m.; call 824-3890 or visit for info.

Best in Show The grand prizes in the S.F. International Film Festival's Golden Gate Awards competition went to Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco's Daughter From Danang and Laleh Soomekh's Dear Judge in a tie for Best Bay Area Documentary; David Chalker's Hypocrite for Best Bay Area Short; Thomas Riedelsheimer's Rivers and Tides for Best Documentary; and Matt McCormick's The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal for Best Short. Bohdan Sláma's The Wild Bees took home the Skyy Prize. ... KQED Public Broadcasting hired Jeff Clarke from the Houston PBS affiliate as its new president and CEO, effective June 10. Bet you can't name his predecessor (it was Mary G.F. Bitterman). ... The world just hasn't caught up with George Lucas' technological obsessions. Reportedly only 19 theaters around the country, the AMC 1000 Van Ness among them, will project his new flick digitally -- not much of an increase in the three years since his last big-screen Episode.

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Michael Fox


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