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The Defiant Ones 

Turning complex political ideas into human drama with "smoke and mirrors."

Wednesday, Nov 5 2003
"The thing that really drives me is I'm a very political beast and I have messages I want to get out to the world," says Lise Swenson, the Mission District video artist and activist who co-founded Artists' Television Access and TILT (Teaching Intermedia Literacy Tools). But, she admits, "I'm sick of preaching to the converted." So her debut feature, Mission Movie, is a conscious effort to submerge her progressive ideals in a colorful, engrossing narrative -- and cross over to mainstream audiences. Call it maturity, compromise, or artistic evolution, but as Swenson explains, "The most direct and effective way of storytelling in our culture right now is through fiction films."

In Mission Movie, Swenson and a core group of six collaborators intertwine the stories of artists and at-risk kids who come together to create a mural. "We've had to take very complex ideas and theories and transform them into human drama," Swenson relates. "My hope is that [moviegoers] don't engage this on a political level at all. It's smoke and mirrors -- you seduce people with the visuals, with the story, with the music, with the beauty of the actors."

Swenson submitted a rough cut of the film to Sundance, and is racing to deliver the finished version for programmers to view. The 16-year Mission resident is aching for her 'hood to get a taste of the spotlight. "I've been an urbanite all my life, but the Mission is really the neighborhood that taught me cross-cultural communication and tolerance," she says. "In a way, for me the movie is a love song to this place." As it happens, Swenson's eight-monitor video installation Enid, part of her series on aging and death, is up through this Saturday, Nov. 8, at the Lab, 2948 16th St. (at Capp).

The Last Metro If you haven't noticed a further drop-off in the Chronicle's film coverage in recent weeks, well, you're just not paying attention. Edward Guthmann, who's covered movies for the daily since 1984 (after two years at the Bay Guardian), moved over to the book beat in early October. "I wanted a shift in focus -- a bit of personal reinvention," Guthmann tells me. "I'll miss the dialogue I had with readers -- face it, a lot more people read about movies than books -- and I'll miss the opportunity to advocate for films and filmmakers that I think are interesting and have something to say. But I certainly won't miss sitting through junky movies that don't interest me, Cold Creek Manor being a recent example."

Guthmann spent most of his early years at the Chronicle writing features for the pink section, becoming a full-time critic after Judy Stone retired in 1991 and assuming her mantle as the paper's foreign-film enthusiast. He segued back to feature writer and fill-in reviewer last year, with Mick LaSalle assuming lead critic duties. A rotating bunch of nonentities picked up the reviewing slack in the weeks following Guthmann's reassignment, and former Arts Editor Ruthe Stein has now stepped into the breach.

The Town Is Quiet After seven years at the helm, Derek Mutch sold Limelight Books to writer Joel Enos. The theater, film, and performing arts bookstore, at 1803 Market (near Guerrero) since 1976, is closed until Nov. 15 while Enos catalogs the inventory and reconfigures the space. ... The S.F. Cinematheque's Irina Leimbacher, curator of the recent Germaine Dulac retrospective at the Pacific Film Archive, was in Toronto last week to introduce the late French artist's work at the Cinematheque Ontario. ... The San Francisco Film Society (parent organization of the S.F. International Film Festival) is no longer partnered with SFMOMA on the series "The Seventh Art: New Dimensions in Cinema." The museum hosts the next show, "Process Into Film: Post-Minimalist Practices in Film and Video," on Thursday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. ... Digital Independence, a conference on the aesthetic, technological, and regulatory issues that indie media-makers are grappling with in the digital age, takes place Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2004, at the Marriott Hotel. Visit for more details.

About The Author

Michael Fox


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