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State of the Cartoon Report
by Karl Cohen
SF's Mark Fiore Wins Pulitzer for Polical Animated Cartoons
Mark Fiore, a political cartoonist and animator who rises above all others on the Internet, is presently on SFGate.com, Mother Jones.com, CBSNews.com and other sites.
Equal Opportunity Insulter: Fiore reserves his most searing sarcasm for bankers, Republicans, etc. Photo: courtesy M. Fiore
His submissions for the Pulitzer included "Science-gate" (12/09/09) which lampoons skeptics of global warming, "Obama Interruptus" (12/02/09) which portrays his trying to stay focused despite the distractions of the world around him, and "Credit Card Reform" (10/28/09) which takes on the fabulous mumbo-jumbo double-talk offers of the credit card industry.
In 2000, Fiore taught himself Flash, found two customers and started churning out Flash cartoons like crazy. Then the "dream job" he had always wanted appeared: the San Jose Mercury News hired him as their political cartoonist. Being on staff was great until he discovered his editor was under tremendous pressure to keep circulation and ad revenues up.
"It was awful," Fiore says. He lasted six months due to their restrictive editorial policy. (Translation: the Merc did not allow him to kick ass and say what he wanted because of editor's fear of loosing income if he really allowed his staff to speak freely.)
Fiore has been syndicating his weekly animated cartoons online since leaving the paper in 2001, earning high praise. The Wall Street Journal calls him "The undisputed guru of the form." He has received the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and other honors. Syndicated weekly to numerous Websites run by newspapers and other organizations, his work is seen regularly by millions of people.
With excellent voice work, music, and animation, Fiore's cartoons are extremely well produced. More importantly, he is free to say what he wants. He says he gets his ideas from the daily media. Whatever upsets him the most generally becomes the subject/butt of his next cartoon. Indeed, he dares to make fun of any subject that interests him.
One brilliant Fiore cartoon, "What If_" (6/25/08), suggests what might happen if a third candidate had entered the 2008 presidential race. In a faux political hit piece, Fiore has an advertisement attacking the candidate's ethics, patriotism, etc. "He has never once been seen wearing a flag pin. He has spent years studying at a religious school in the Middle East. Some call him a hero for the injuries he sustained under torture, yet he would sit down and talk with those who would harm us. His tax plan amounts to making the rich poor and poor rich - Jesus Christ, not the change we want!" See Fiore's work at
Imagemovers Starts "Dark Life" for Disney
Robert Zemeckis, who was one of the "Dirty Dozen" cabal of filmmakers at USC including Walter Murch and George Lucas, is keeping his team in the game despite Imagemovers's closure by Disney last month (see CS Apr10). "Dark Life," a science fiction set in the near future, when some humans have escaped environmental disasters by living under the sea, is slated for a fall 2010 release. But it is will contain little or no performance capture work, so I suspect the actors will perform on blue or green screen sets and Imagemovers Digital will drop in computer generated backgrounds. The studio is still set to close early next year.
Oakland Museum Celebrates Pixar
To celebrate Pixar's 25 years of animating excellence in the Bay Area, the Oakland Museum of California is mounting a massive show, with over 500 works, including several not previously seen, from July 31 to January 9, 2011. The show began in 2005 at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and over the past five years it has traveled around the world.
The local exhibit will also show off the museum's new major remodeling work, which kept it closed for months. The museum updated the exhibit so it will include art from "Up," "Toy Story 3," "Wall'E" and other recent projects. Adding a sense of novelty, there will be a giant "Pixar Zoetrope" that you can enter to see the moving images, and Artscape, "an immersive, wide-screen projection of digitally processed images that gives the viewer a sensation of entering into and exploring the exquisite details of the original artwork."
The exhibit covers about 11,000 square feet of exhibit space and is adjacent to Oakland's centerpiece, Lake Merritt, a lovely place to take a walk and grab a bite at Lake Chalet.
Disney/Pixar Sign Selick Contract
Variety announced no details except that the renown animator Henry Selick will work out of Pixar (he is still commuting from Portland but plans to move back soon) and that Henry's stop-motion work could be based on either his own ideas or adaptations. They also said, "Selick hopes to benefit from the Pixar brain trust and technology, but will continue to produce 'toons using his trademark stop-motion style."
Selick directed both "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "James and the Giant Peach" for Disney. After "James" was completed, Disney decided to only produce computer-generated animation. However, after creating overly expensive CG products that were not super profitable, they suddenly see the wisdom of returning to less expensive, Selick-style stop-motion or to hand-drawn animation - a historically rare case of technological de-evolution.
Lucas Expert at Extending "Star Wars"
Variety has announced Lucasfilm Animation is working on a Star Wars animated comedy series. The Daily Show's Brendan Hay and Robot Chicken's Seth Green and Matthew Seinreich, will be among the writers.
Posted on May 10, 2010 - 05:15 PM
Funding Cuts, Oakland Occupy and Lots of Film
This just in: Oakland's in crisis and worse than ever—shocking, isn't it!?!? As if the state's cuts of 28 million dollars in redevelopment was not enough to eviscerate the city, the Oakland Occupy is back on the streets while the "artless" city mothers and fathers are ignoring or stiffing the artists, gallery owners and many, multifaceted filmmakers!
Fortunately they are Nietzschesque: getting stronger and stronger. I only wish the latter were making a film about it, but, oh well a classic Oaklandish cine-outing for your delectation:
Short Erotic Bike Films
We will get to tragedies later—first the good news. One group doing amazing work is Youth Uprising in East Oakland. I've been hearing about them since they opened six years ago and am determined to get out, as soon as I can raise the bus fair, but I just talked to director Rafael Flores on the phone and it sounds fantastic.
Since opening in 2005, YU has gone from a barebones operation to a bustling, 25,000-square-foot and high-tech school and development center. With an ever-expanding membership of over 4000, mostly youth of color from East Oakland, they provided innovative classes on performing arts, remedial education, career development and Health and Wellness.
"Investments in young adults will result in the social and economic transformation of all residents," notes Flores. "We can create social change by harnessing the leadership of young people." See
As if YU were not enough, Flores also runs Green Eyed Media a production company founded that creates music, movie reviews, photography, documentaries and narrative films. It’s goal is to promote artists in the Latino, African-American and indigenous communities around the world, albeit not exclusively, so that those voices can be heard in the US entertainment community.
Dedicated to the spirit of activism and organized as a collective, Green Eyed Media was started by Flores and Cameron Austin in Seattle but soon expanded to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Their website,
, serves as a selling space for the independent artists who provide a wide array of freelance services for private companies or public institutions.
This is not unusual in Oakland where the Film Center was started in the old Army base seven and half years ago by Tim Oranahan, Sean House and Amy Zins, the old film commissioner, who helped squeeze out a break on the rent.
"The great experiment is still going strong," House recently told me. "It has actually become a model across the US when you start up studios or wish to gather around a film infrastructure."
"People said it wasn't going to work initially. What is the sense of putting two or three grip and electric companies in the same area? But it is like a great restaurant. If you have a lot of great restaurants, like up on Telegraph at Tamescal it becomes a destination. It is more 'co-opetition.' Everyone has their own flavor."
"There was enough articles written over the last eight years—including in your magazine, so that if you have a Google Alert showing Film Center, it is going to pop up," House continued. "The regional film commissioners, they talk about it and promote it. It is something they can show their local governments, that they are bringing funds in."
Next door to the Film Center, in West Oakland, Gregg Golding is shooting his second feature, “Illuminati Puppet” in April. “This film chronicles Sam Wright, a [fictional] conspiracy theorist author whose books concern the Illuminati, and who controls world finances, politics and pop culture," Golding told me.
"Meanwhile his old friend, Leon, is a health department worker who is investigating Madonna's, a fast food restaurant, which has both a kids playland, and an 'adult playland' which he suspects is a cover for drug use and prostitution."
Whoa?!?! As if this were not ambitious enough, when Sam stops over in the Bay Area, Leon, jealous of Sam's womanizing ends up dating a Illuminati drone infected with a government created STD that will kill him in three days. With the clock ticking, Leon and Sam dive down into the underbelly of conspiracy fighting replete with reptile-men, grey aliens, orangutan prostitutes and a fast food clown mascot.
This is Golding's second feature after "Struggled Reagan's”, an experimental comedy filled with adlibbed dialogue, trippy effects, and candy colored costumes that are equal parts Dali and power rangers, Japanese sci-fi and French New Wave. In it a squad of young people get super powers from their past traumas.
“I had the option of going more naturalistic with my 2nd feature” says Gregg, who is poking fun at Conspiracy Obsessers. “But the VFX heavy workflow of 'Struggled Reagans' inspired me to make another film that shows dreams and nightmares at least a bit.” “Illuminati Puppet” will be shot on the Red Scarlet by LA DP Yuki Noguchi who shot the TV series "Funny Man". The look will be somewhere between "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and "Phantom of the Paradise".
Meanwhile down the block from CineSource, it looks like Pixar is going anime—not that they'd ever dean to tell their beloved neighbor a mile away where rifle fire is heard nightly but the police still diligently stake out the stop signs for rolling stops. An ad on Craigslist indicated that they were looking for a Native Japanese speaking Maya Animator who can create gestures and expressions for three-dimensional characters (Full time, month of February, 2012).
Other then that, we have dozens of story leads which we hope to get to in our annual Oakland issue coming up in two months, if of course we can just get our keyboard fixed to type in so much information.
Some stuff we missed from last year was that after an international search, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival picked Oakland filmmaker Lexi Leban, who did the widely heralded doc "Girl Trouble" (2006) to helm the S.F. Jewish Film Festival, She takes over after the eight year run of Peter Stein. Currently working on a film about marriage equality, Leban is also collective minded and, since 2004, has been poart of a cooperative distribution company, New Day Films.
Vincent Cortez, and his Oakland-based production company, Mitchell Street Pictures, got a great mention for his stylish, vicious and idiosyncratic noir, "The Hush", produced for under ten gs, from Will Viharo in examiner.com.
"'The Hush' has the look and feel not only of classic film noir but also a graphic novel, with a muted color scheme and soft focus photography giving it a seductively dreamlike quality... could be anyone’s nightmare in Anyplace, USA... the unpredictable action, enhancing the eerie, ethereal effect[s]... Cortez even composed the outstanding Ry Cooder-type music... an absorbing ride through dark territory, with violence exploding around every corner..."
To bad Cortez isn't filmming the Oakland Occupy. They plan to take over buildings, close the port and shut down the 1%, or whatever little of its business passes through Oakland, a noir scenario.
The General Assembly also voted to boycott Israel, citing the inspiration of the incredible Arab Spring, even though Israel itself had a large Occupy—people camping in a Tel Aviv median strip starting two months before Occupy Wall Street—and the Palestinians nada. Their tiny Occupy protested the Israelis instead of their own dysfunctional leadership.
The Oakland Occupy took to the streets on Saturday, January 28, with a march of about 2000 people, including families and children, and the police responded with tear gas and arresting some 400. Together, they wasted more precious resources on top of the four million dollars the previously beloved Occupy has already cost us.
Unfortunately, the police are, well, the police—by definition more conservative and violent—and the radicals, well, to actually be radicals, they have to be truly innovative—at least move on a little more than the 50 year-old '60s strategies.
They didn't heed this writer's advice to start the "West Oakland Capitalmune" by hybriding the best of social activism and entrepreneurism and joining with the artists and green businesses. Surely some lefty landowner would have given us a building or five.
Some Occupiers did come to West Oakland, setting up tents, serving food and proving that the peaceful ideas of the Black Panthers can be reinvented for the 21st century (time to get them a statue in DeFremmery Park).
Instead, they marched to Kaiser Convention Center and attempted to liberate it, on the way clamoring through the popular YMCA and the City Hall, where they burnt a flag and broke a model of the city.
While the Oakland Police are the world's most inept demonstration wranglers, the Oakland administration hasn't the feintest idea how to Tai-Chi radicals and support Oakland's burgeoning art and film movement. Indeed, they stiffed CineSource on its ad bills and forced our parent company, A Media, to pay punishing insurance fees, even as we keep promoting Oakland film and art.
Posted on Feb 07, 2012 - 12:55 AM
Oakland’s Tough Times but Tougher Indies
by Doniphan Blair
Oakland suffered serious cinematic blows in 2011 like the halving of its Film Office from two to one and the loss of its adored director, Ami Zins. With word traveling gossipy fast in the film business and San Francisco hustling its film office to the hilt, this meant large losses, revenue and aesthetic, both to the city and to its filmmakers, both commercial and indie to whom Zins was also preternaturally disposed to serving.
Add the punishing recession, the divisive Oakland Occupy, and the elevated murder rate (110 murders in 2011, up 15 from 2010), and you might wonder why the New York Times just extolled Oakland as a great place to visit [http://mobile.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/travel/45-places-to-go-in-2012.xml].
Wellllll... Oakland's First Friday Gallery Crawl or Art Murmur is off the hook, a circus in the streets, a half a dozen great chefs have opened restaurants and West Oakland is becoming THE green, foodie, fire arts and film business incubator. Once Oakland's enormous contingent of filmmakers finally gets around to coalescing, a "Film Murmur" or "Oakland Mumble" or "Oaktown Cinevolution" or whatever will ensue.
Of course, Oakland's Pixar People and rock star shooters and sounders have been hecka busy, the former having gone live action, two pictures a year and billions more in revenue while the latter has been adventuring and image capturing across the globe non-stop through the recession. But Oakland is their bedroom community. They don't shoot here. Not even the Oakland Occupy was adequately or appropriately documented.
Despite the downgrade of the Oakland Film Office, some Hollywood and Hollywood North shoots did proceed, notably the great and iconoclastic Phil Kaufman doing scenes from "Hemingway & Geldhorn" at the ruined train station in deepest West Oakland—across the street from the Ur-noiresque Ben's Hotel. But that was a fully fenced in and defended closed set. Oaklandish shoots on the streets did not have it so easy.
Carmen Madden, whose first file was the classical "Everyday Black Man" (2009) and just moved her offices to down the street from the old train station, had her sophomore outing "The Fighter" put on hold.
Lisbon Oakfor finished his "Oaktown," addressing the quintessential Oakland complexities of interracial love, but after showing it to the Director's Guild in LA and getting some good feedback went back to the editing room.
Antero Alli, who has made ten features in Berkeley since 1994, is back with his always interesting jaundiced view. "Flamingos" (2012) starts with the colorful theme of a junkie hypnotist bank robber but soon segues to the 2012 Apocalypse discussions. Alli's conclusion, according to one of his acting workshoppers: If you want to predict the future, create it yourself.
Meanwhile the East Bay Professional Filmmakers Meet-Up got going with some lively discussion, meetings and projects mostly art or industrials pieces. After 11th or 12th shorts (she can't keep count) in 2.5 years produced within the time-limited "film race" context, Allison Ayer is tackling her first 30-40 minute piece [
, "A Certain Thirst", concerning a 30-something who, after the death of her father, takes over the family distillery and has to recreate his secret recipe.
The East Bay Media Makers Screening Club has started and will be showing "Domino: Caught in a Crisis" January 26th at the Arlington Cafe in Kensington. "Domino", by the prolific Spain/Berkeley resident Eve A. Ma looks interesting.
Film Acting Bay Area has been working to expand its classes and the local acting pool at Ex'Pressions in Emeryville which itself opened a digital film school, promising more projects and even a little work for local actors.
But, in the end, what we really need in 2012 is a remake of 2009, which brought us the birth of three powerful local feature makers defining three distinct Oakland genres: High Passion, Post-Modern Angst and Classical Color.
Cary Fukunaga, now a Brooklynite (the Oakland of the East) but born and raised here, blew up and blew even cynical souls with his vicious, colorful and desperately romantic "Sin Nombre". So shocked were the Hollywood bigwigs, it seems they ushered him into a room, and said, "Uh Cary, I mean Mr. Fukunage, what film would you like to direct next?"
Fukunaga's choice was "Jane Eyre", seemingly counterintuitive, but perfect because the classics need to be reinterpreted periodically, both to make understandable to the new generation and to sharpen the great artists who are constantly recreating culture in their image.
Meanwhile Frazer Bradshaw made the quintessential new Oakland film "Everything Strange and New." Its every man, played by a local carpenter/actor Jerry McGuire (who's still wandering around rightfully looking for his sequel) descends from two-kid-family-wife-giving-blowjobs to dope, queer studies and murder but with an eruditely implied mystical analysis.
Although "Everything" took the international critics or FIPRESCI award at the 2009 San Francisco International, an existential backslap across the water from Europe to Oakland, Bradshaw failed to find distro due to the common critique of innovators: "Neither fish nor fowl."
Carmen Madden did sell "Everyday Black Man" its deep black issues almost entirely unaddressed in the larger media. A reformed ex-con with a secret, makes a good entrepreneurial start as a rare black corner store owner but is stymied by a charismatic Black Muslim dope dealer. Well performed—the messianic crack-dealer is great—and beautifully shot and with a story that investigated precisely what hit the news that year, the murder within the mafia-like Black Muslim bakery, "Everyday" was prescient as well as excellent.
Madden ran into a wall last summer with her second outing, "The Fighter", about the travails of a young black man in the ring. The producer withheld payment at the last moment and didn't release her to raise funds elsewhere, a common bait and switch among producers.
This sort of mistreatment—halving of the film office, stiffing of filmmakers—will undoubtedly continue until an enthusiasm similar to the Oakland Art murmur is generated. Then we will be able to step up and take on the stories that are galloping ahead all around us in the polyamory-percolating art studios of West Oakland or gang-run realms of East Oakland, not to mention the liberal catastrophe of downtown.
Oakland is the future, where things are mixed, mixed up, rundown and still hopeful, romantic and beautiful. Indeed, there are a hecka brilliant and talented filmmakers, actors, models-into-becoming-actresses and alt-idea people out to represent. It might take a few months, or a few years, or a few decades but I predict it will.
Posted on Jan 09, 2012 - 02:32 PM
Oakland Angles Against Film and Art
by Doniphan Blair
After the Oakland Film Office left its star with CineSource Magazine for safe keeping, staff started using it to meditate on Oakland cinema.photo: S. Middlestein
As if Oakland's troubles are not enough, it continues angling against its film and arts communities, despite their proven capacity to generate money and mental health.
The city ended the performance piece that was the Oakland Occupy and its vibrant art scene. The entrepreneurial Art Murmur Gallery Night is an obvious success but, it too, is being threatened with tougher policing. And the elementary and high schools are phasing out art and music education.
On the film front, the city sacked its esteemed commissioner, Ami Zins, halved its Film Office staff and continues to squeeze its Film Center, putting their longterm residency at the old Oakland Army Base in question, see
Oakland has even turned against yours truly, stiffing CineSource on ad payments, postponing ad contracts, and hampering the studio that puts it together,
, with excessive bureaucracy and insurance requirements. Improving the latter are two simple ways for Oakland to save money.
On top of the millions paid here in taxes, fees and salaries by Hollywood, Hollywood North and commercial projects—that are now dropping due to the Film Office cutback, there is the immense contingent of filmmakers. Yet to achieve Art Murmur visibility levels, it will eventually, I am convinced, due to the Murmur's leadership, California's cutting-edge capacity and the sheer number of filmmakers.
How many exactly? Well, it's hard to say but whenever CineSource does an Oakland issue (April 2009, June 2011), our hits jump over 400%! We also know they are extremely diverse: from Pixar people to DIYers, some taking the limo to the airport, others making features for the price of a used Honda.
Contrary to the shouts of "We are the 99%," which are laudable in other regards, the rich are instrumental in keeping the high arts aloft, especially film. But they often don't know from new and visionary art frequently comes from below—as we can see with the Oakland Occupy or Art Murmur.
In two years, the Murmur has emerged from almost nowhere and now attracts some 5000 folks monthly for the gallery stroll, the circus-like atmosphere—replete with sidewalk artists, musicians and food vendors—and a few fine folk buying the increasingly better art. The Occupy also inspired musicians, plen air painters, silkscreeners and flash mobs—including an over a hundred dancer piece by One People—but it had poor media management, surprising considering the leadership the alt-media mag Adbusters.
'I should go back and be a student again, and do student films,' says Francis Ford Coppola in Gary Leva's great doc 'Fog City Mavericks.'
The Bay Area became an unbelievable center of cinema innovation and success in the 1970 and 80s with Lucas's "Star Wars", Coppola's "Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now", Saul Zaentz's "One Flew Over the Cukoos Nest", Philip Kaufman's "Right Stuff" and much more. Although that astounding paragon is unduplicatable, if we hope to even approach its heights, we need something fresh, more personal, postmodern and penetrating.
"I have always thought... that everything I did was an experiment for some future time... The irony is that... at the age of 65, I think I should go back and be a student again, and do student films, but with this great wisdom I have learned over these years," says Francis Ford Coppola in "Bay City Mavericks" (2008), Gary Leva's masterful documentary our Golden Cinema Age.
Master Francis also said, in 1991: You know, that suddenly one day, some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the next Mozart and make a beautiful film with her little father's camcorder. And for once, this whole 'professionalism' about movie making will be destroyed forever and lead into an art form... That's my opinion."
Instead of incredible adventures and period pieces ranging across time and space, these features will be about life. And where is there more life (and death) around here than in Oakland. It is simply too hard to be a gritty soulful filmmaker in San Francisco or Marin—a couple of the richest places on the planet. How can they serve as a location or inspiration or incubator—save for tragedy, like the absence of love among the elite?
The Art Murmur is pointing the way with some seriously self-revealing video art, notably at the
, owned by Jasmine Moorhead. This month, Monet Clark bares both her soul and her body, and some complex local issues like marihuana growing, in a half a dozen stunning, highdef and large-displayed performance pieces.
Monet Clark in her 'Look Book' series (lft-rt: Trimmer, Dakini and Muse), now showing at Oakland's
Despite a disinterested city, CineSource will continue advocating aggressively. Before she was fired, Ami Zins entrusted us with the Oakland Film Office's faux Hollywood star, symbolizing a sacred cinema troth. Indeed, CineSource recently acquired the URL ShootOakland.com (to be developed as interest and income allow), and started the campaign, "Shoot Oakland (Cameras Only, Please)".
A little flip, perhaps, since it plays with Black Panther iconography (if you think it is in bad taste, let me know) but brutal honesty and irony is necessary for art to access the untouchable. CineSource also supports a Panthers' monument in West Oakland's DeFremery Park, to honor and learn from that history—critical today with the Occupy Movement's talk of revolution.
On November 29th, eight people were shot in West Oakland, including a one year-old child—who tragically died. Would a "Shoot Oakland (Cameras Only Please)" campaign make any difference to those shooters? Probably not but the arts, including public service advertising, are still a good counterstrategy to low self -esteem and -expression. Although it was initially rumored the victims were making a music video—local rapper Kafani was nearby and Jewish-black-Canadian rapper Drake was mentioned, which would have added irony to injury, it appears untrue.
Between the Oakland Occupy on one hand, the Oakland Murmur on the other, and Oakland's city severe budget cuts, we have to figure out how to become more functional on our own through the arts, volunteerism and other innovations. Filmmakers with their expertise in mixed economies—grants, credit cards, interns and sales—can lead the way.
Cut the city bureaucracy through a blueribbon committee; stimulate the dialogue between the different parties; look for those embers of insight and genius and give them air, visibility and critique. At least that's what CineSource is hoping to do—feel free to
join with us
Posted on Dec 05, 2011 - 12:46 AM
Open Letter to Oakland Occupiers and all Bay Areans
Occupy Oakland has reached its "Kerensky Moment" (the 1917 democracy that proceeded the Bolsheviks). In spates of high drama suitable for film—which I pray someone has started shooting, Oakland has experienced police attacks, a general strike, anarchist revolts and lots and lots of discussion. We must now decide whether to move towards revolution, or other traditional lefty strategies, or evolution, inventing something fresh and quantum leaping forward.
Oaklanders just voted in a mail-in election whether to increase taxes for their impoverished city (results due November 18) but the tax base in general could be expanded through innovations like "Social Entrepreneurialism". Since the Occupies are horizontal democracy, I urge you to vote with your feet by going down to the Oakland City Hall and participating in what is essentially a city-wide meet-up and teach-in.
Although our November 2nd General Strike displayed an incredible diversity of people, goodwill and culture, and closed the Port of Oakland for a day, the anarchist punks—most of them out-of-towners according to Ismael Reed's great Op Ed in the NY Times (11/9/11)—decided they would vote for all of us by breaking windows (including small businesses supporting the Occupy), graffiti bombing the downtown, occupying a building and fighting with police, which brought renewed tear gas. This flashback to the cops' ill-considered attempt to evict Occupy Oakland on October 25 both made headlines across the country and scared the peaceful kids who make up the majority of the occupiers.
Rebellious youth are inevitable in all societies—and even more so rebellious ones—but they represent less than one percent of Occupy Oaklanders. During my many visits over the last few weeks, I found the other 99% of the occupiers almost unanimously rejected those tactics as well as philosophy. Indeed, some joined the clean up or chipped in for replacement glass. Those of us who actually live in Oakland's sometimes violent and impoverished neighborhoods are much more interested in decreasing violence and increasing employment—certainly not driving out businesses.
In fact, this where Oakland can shine. Our strong multicultural and egalitarian traditions means we can reach out to those different then ourselves, including the business community, who are by definition not part of the one percent dominating the national economy. Moreover, our hipster community—filmmakers, artists, Burning Man (and Woman) ers, marihuana growers and service providers—are allergic to committees, controls and staid theories but are perfect candidates for social entrepreneurialism.
The "peacefully, peacefully" and leaderless reform movements of the Arab Spring, in whose noble footsteps we occupiers follow, are powered by technologies produced by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. We must find a path that can incorporate these innovations and wealth generators with social improvements.
Occupy Wall Street first proclamation of October 6 was monomaniacally anti-corporate. Although this is understandable, since they are on Wall Street after all, it is in abject denial of the fact that it was written on a Mac, uploaded to Cisco servers and read on Blackberries. Moreover, in distinct contradiction to the occupy spirit, it was solely negative. It included no positive pronouncements about innovative ways of addressing underwater mortgages, sustainable agriculture, green technology and art and filmmaking, not to mention some way of certifying and supporting the functional corporations on which we depend.
Ironically, it was largely read on the blog of William Ayers, formerly of the Weather Underground, the violent 60s group which took their name from Bob Dylan, a master social entrepreneur who signed with Columbia Records in 1961 and then used the corporation to broadcast his evolutionary message to millions worldwide—including Ayers.
Of course, New York City is extremely rich and experienced almost no recession—90% of the TARP bailout checks were sent there—while Oakland has few actual members of one percent. The city is suffering 16% unemployment and is closing down schools, parks and libraries because there are not enough corporations or businesses to tax. At the recent City Council meeting, some businesses were threatening to leave. This is something that young people of color from East Oakland, middle class middle agers from the hills and artists from West Oakland uniformly oppose.
In point of fact, we are already operating some of the more advanced anarchist socialism on the planet. As a someone who has lived in communes, tribal societies and on the streets but is now a small business owner in debt to the banks but also receiving foodstamps and subsidized healthcare from Oakland's Highland Hospital, I feel sufficiently informed on the complexity of these issues.
Socialism is absurd for those laboring in Northern California's 18 billion dollar marihuana industry, a rather convenient and rich source of alternative social entrepreneurs funding. When Oakland Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan suggested "socializing" marihuana growing in Oakland into three large city-run farms, it was rejected out of hand as ridiculous. Oakland will remain on the cutting edge of marijuana issues as Attorney General Holder challenges dispensaries like Harborside, and it all ends up in the Supreme Court.
Social-minded entrepreneurialism is also evident in the Art Murmur movement (Oakland First Friday Open Gallery night); the Crucible, American Steel and other Burning Man related business that speckle Oakland; City Slickers who have over a dozen urban farms in Oakland; and the dozens of new businesses in West Oakland that have blossomed without massive government assistance, although some have gotten some help.
To honor our forbearers, from the strike leaders of 1946 to the Black Panthers, we have to come up with something fresh. Instead of closing our doors and minds, we have to embrace Green Business (a la Van Jones), art and film business (a la Art Murmur and CineSource), graphics business (a la A Media) and being more loving (a la Romantic Evolution).
In lieu of staggering down the tried and tired paths, we are perfectly positioned with our high tech associates, our marihuana billions, our fantastic multiculturalism and art visionaries to go beyond Occupy Wall Street's apparent retreat to the 1960s to a new 2010s: the Oakland Capitalmune. We could certify right corporate practices, get our artists and techies doing mentoring to disenfranchised youth, start Oakland Bucks for non-monetary exchange among local businesses, chip in to save strategic home owners and more.
Oakland is small, horizontal and friendly enough to devise a strategy that is rational, realistic, artistic and business-friendly as well as socially minded, simply so we can decrease unemployment, increase our tax base and to pay for our proposed socialist endeavors. Call it social entrepreneurialism or not, just leave out the hating, violence and conspiracy theories and add in a heaping helping of innovation and cooperation and we can invent a model that will work.
I think it also is a suitable story for film.
Posted on Nov 09, 2011 - 11:04 AM
Oakland: DIY Features Galore
The great DIY and camp filmmaker George Kuchar has passed to the cinema palace in the sky, propelled by prostrate cancer. Fittingly, if way too young, he was 69. Now he looks down benevolently on all fellow film travelers forging their own path, be it funky, operatic, queer or other. With its concentration of DIYers and deviants, George is definitely watching over Oakland—indeed, I just viewed four impressive indie or DIY features: "Devious, Inc.", "X's & O's", "Mercury's Rule" and "The Hush".
A tall, gangly, favorite-aunt type of guy, George came up making 8mm films in the Bronx with his twin brother, Mike and always offered oodles of encouragement at his classes at the San Fran Art Inst. "It's the best drug movie I have ever scene," he said of my own feature, "Sammy Delirium," thankfully eclipsing the Marxist critiques of my fellow students.
Despite some famous friends, George lived on the edge of poverty, in San Fran's Mission District, so he would have been comfortable at the recent
Oakland Underground Film Festival
, September 21-23, held in a massive warehouse in deepest East Oakland, with opening night at the gorgeous Grand Lake theatre.
The festival's director/programmer Kahlil Karn heralded "Ghandu" by Khashik Mukerjee, about punk Indian marshal arts fanatics, as "Hindu New Wave," but George would have flipped for "
" by xuXe. A rather sane and standup thirty-something, despite her name, xuXe directed, wrote, composed and played much of the music for the 50K film. She was assisted by an able cast and crew, a team of drag queens, and the Scarry Cow Film Collective of San Francisco where it was filmed.
A John Waters-esque musical with spot on performances and great colors and sound, "Devious, Inc." starts with a super-dreaded man telling a story to a mixed race group of children. It's about Ron, young black man with two elderly white parents, who is sick of working on the family shoe farm—yes, that is right boots, Birkenstocks, and his beloved and bejewel high heels which grow on corn stalks. The latter figures highly when he makes it to town, in his pimp suit and hat, in a desperate quest to earn the money to save the family farm—another plot twist that blends easily into xuXe's absurdist plot. After writing an outline, xuXe hired a couple of writers to fashion a script.
It includes Ron landing and then loosing a job at the fabulous shoe store, (where else?) also the site of a fab song and dance number, and getting into a hella struggle with Bitch, Queen of the Drag Queens, whom he finally bests at the Wheel of Fetish competition. With eight excellent songs, actors good enough to realistically render the radical plot twists, adequate photography and excellent color correction, "Devious, Inc" stands among the best indie features in recent memory simply because it hangs together so tightly—nothing distracts your enjoyment of its essences while many elements are fantastic.
Karn netted a few other masterworks for his third annual Oakland Underground. Another one of my faves was "Tarantino: The Disciple of Hong Kong" with its distressed 35 mm film look and sophisticated film criticism. French directors Jac & Johan (like Afghans, they use only one name) interview Hong Film stars, American actors and others, to analyze how Quentin Tarantino steals whole hog, rather then merely borrows, tropes of Asian cinema. Although I prefer the playful complexity, absurdity and intensity of "Pulp Fiction" to the cool character acting, set pieces and gore of "Kill Bill", "Tarantino: The Disciple of Hong Kong," like "Devious, Inc" was all one: a film about filmmaking that looked and felt film.
X's & O's
" directed and written by Kedar Korde is another excellent outing of immense Oaklandishness. Dig this: Korde, a San Jose native of Hindu stock, actually raised over $400,000 from family and restaurateurs with his pithily written rom-com (the budget is listed at $800,000 with inkind). Then, instead of doing DIY-deluxe, he went to LA, cast some talented up-and-coming actors, like Clayne Crawford, Sarah Wright and Warren Christie, and shot the flick there in 15 days, even renting an actor's trailer, but with exteriors done in Oakland and San Francisco. That's right, instead of availing himself of Oakland's lower rates and DIY scene, he shot LA for Oakland to get at the higher-rated acting pool.
Inspired by his high school and "multiracial friends who know how to swear in five languages," Korde said the film would not have worked set in Echo Park, LA, confirming what CineSource has been saying for years: Oakland is the perfect place to symbolize postracial or culture complexity (Korde also lives here). Playing fast and loose with all sorts of stereotypes, from ghetto to preppy and Asian, "X's & O's" concerns a nerdy scientist in love with a shallow beauty with whom his Lothario best friend is having an affair. Amidst the minefields of gender and racial stereotypes, often mined for humor, the Lothario schools the scientist in romantic strategy and he does finally get the girl—albeit not the "beauty," rather the brown lab partner not on his radar at first.
Like many indies, "X's & O's" (2007) had a checkered path to the silver screen. It was the opening night feature at the Hollywood Film Festival in 2009 but it was not accepted by other film festivals, including his home town's. "Once I got the rejection from CineQuest, we were done."
"This is the thing I am trying to get across to filmmakers, especially here, there's these rules, and they are not necessarily the fairest. It really is who you know." Indeed, Korde got into the Hollywood Fest because he had a friend who got "X's & O's" into the final review pile, although they did chose to make it opening night, and it did sell out. "You can't get too high off your acceptances and too low off your rejections."
It was picked up by the Weinstein's PictureHouse but they were having troubles and it might have disappeared into the outtake bin of history if it hadn't been pirated. Evidently some Russians, where the title was translated as "Formula Sex," due to the scientist and despite the absence of nudity, made it seem like porn. The downloading blew out the IMdb numbers and it became a viral phenom.
"My poor associate Molly [Celaschi], who took over trying to sell it, had hand cuffs on her—since the film was available for free. The only business plan we could come up with is going to the New York Times and say 'Hey we are cool with it,' hoping we could get some press [which he got, see
article from August 2009
"Here I was with a really out-of-the-box distribution plan, saying 'I am cool with people seeing it for free.' I know Molly was upset, because she is a producer, my investors were upset but I was like, 'Wow, at least it is getting watched.'" They ended up getting "X's & O's" onto Amazon, Netflix, iTunes, cable VOD, and retailers without ever having to sign over his rights to a distributor and are now earning a notable income. His dream is to repay his investors and make another film, for a million this time.
Korde has also started a monthly Oakland cinema soiree, FilmPlay, at the Grand Lake Coffee House (440 Grand), and the first one showed "X's & O's" September 10th. There next one is an open shorts screening on Oct 8th, a Saturday (connect with Korde through East Bay Professional Filmmakers Meet-up).
"Mercury's Rule," the sophomore outing for Jaylani Roberts, could not be more different the "X's & O's". Having lost her brother to street violence and worked as an art teacher in West Oakland, Ms. Roberts has put together a striking personal and humanist look at the severity of the streets. "Mercury's Rule" follows two young women as they jump from the homeless fire into the frying pan of working as assassins for a coke kingpin, the titular Mercury, played well by Ed Giles.
The acting is strong, with one of the women played by Roberts herself, the other by Noni Galloway, camera and editing adequate, with the intimate scenes of the two sisters—one tough, the other tender—excellent. The hit man story is an obvious metaphor for the existential injury felt in Oakland and our fourth feature, "The Hush", also follows a contract killer. George Kuchar would have applauded both, even though they are so different from his films and tastes, because they landmark the personal experience of Oakland.
But for a viewer to immerse in such complex and harsh worlds, you need a stable window. The same cast and tech would have been better applied to a simpler and more realistic slice of life drama. Roberts manages the many interesting characters and, although the film could use some color correction, there are some great shots, like the removing a bullet from the hard sister's stomach, which was spectacularly realistic.
The other hit man story, by Vincent Cortez from East Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood, is a very stylish looking noir. While "Mercury's Rule" waxes familial among the hit women and friends, Cortez's "The Hush" follows the hot leading man—played excellently by Zachary Gosset—on a nightmarish Odyssey into darkness, Become a man, he is instructed to do by a classic noir character—an old white guy in a skinny tie. That horror starts when he has to kill the girlfriend of a hit, who just happened to be there, which haunts him through the rest of the film.
A tad long and inpenetrable, "The Hush" is damn good looking, with both the actors and camera work excellent. With great music by Cortez, assistant directing by his wife Sophia, and overall incredible production, it is impressive, and even more so for the budget of under 10 gs (plus massive inkind).
George would be immensely proud and say "Don't change a thing," but in these smaller productions, while the acting and camera work and music are generally adequate to excellent, the story sometimes suffers—which means the editing isn't that great. Of course, one must also write better but you never quite know how it hangs till you see it.
What is not really truly and totally your movie has to be excised like a cancer because either it is good but it is from another movie or it is bad and it jars you—both distract from your movie. Just remove it, whole scenes if need be and put in a title card or narration, chopping your feature down to a short if necessary simply because for the film to work, like all art, it must be one with itself, of a piece.
By having the guts to cut what you worked so hard on will make your film. In Hollywood, the second most important role is often said to be the casting director, cause the right actor will just unfold into the part. That is also true for the DIYer—search, search search till you find the person who can tell your story for an hour and half. But in DIY land the editor is really king: find your true story, cut the rest and you'll be golden.
The film's budget is never an excuse, according to Korde, who likens the filmmaker of such films to the driver of a cut-rate bus who invites you on only to find there is no air conditioning, no seats, the bus doesn't make regular stops—and it still goes for one and half hours. Indeed, Korde is committed to commercial filmmaking, albeit from an alternative, indie, postracial but still person-of-color perspective hence supports the casting director view.
"My casting director, Dino Ladki, was the first person I met. [The casting director] is 90% of directing, at least for me. He understands the characters as much as you do. Indeed, [Ladki] was already talking about nuances before we started casting."
"The investors took a huge chance on me I can't really go back to them and say, 'Sorry,'" Korde continued, explaining why he is so dedicated to basic craft standards. But he also is eager to share his insight with others. "The people you need to approach to make films are not filmmakers, they are people who invest in other industries. While people were honing their craft, I was working on writing and how to pitch a movie to business people."
"The one thing I knew I had—I knew I could write dialogue, I would just create these scene that are dialogue based. I would go to parties and say, 'I have to tell you a story about a guy I met' and pretty much recite the scene and if people laughed, I was good. For a long time I didn't have a movie, just huge chunks of dialogue."
"I know filmmakers who got to NAB and study camera specs but when they are ready to shoot they throw out a Craigslist ad. The only thing matters is what happens in front fo the camera and that is the actors. You can give me a miniDVD—any camera—and a great actor and I will give you a movie."
Check Korde out at the next FilmPlay,on Oct 8 and let me know about any and all local indies, doc or narrative, feature or short.
Posted on Sep 29, 2011 - 05:01 PM
CineOakland Summer Successes and Failures
Well, my summer walkabout (car camping, hot springing and festivaling across Washington, Oregon, Shasta, New York City and state) is over and it is great to be back in Oakland, especially for the Art and Soul Festival (Aug 20-21) and its smoking hot headliner, Tower of Power, which is still pumping out high energy horn section hits at 40 (which makes many of them at least 60, a good sign for some of us).
Oakland was strutting its stuff in all its glory: mixed tribe—the punks, the gangbangers, the black middleclass, the Asians, Hispanics and Liberals— as well as race all in one place, in a downtown that finally looks like a real city's downtown, showing off its artists, of which it happens to have the highest percentage per capita anywhere but Brooklyn. They ranged from painters to fashion designers and craftees.
The one art not represented, however, was the one Oakland recently shafted: film. In fact, Mayor Jean Quan was there, smiling and pressing the flesh but looking tired and a lot older then during last year's election. I didn't want to lace into her but, basically, its ridiculous and now the turd is going to hit the spinning machine.
"You have to cut the arts. It doesn't make money," Walter Cohen, head of Community and Economic Development for Oakland, stated directly to a friend of CineSource.
Mr. Cohen, we beg, we beseech, to differ. I mean, like, how far are you from the Taliban, if a journey is just a thousand steps, and this flies in the face of fact. First of all, the arts in general is the greatest bootstrapping business ever invented. It turns bohemian slums into gentrified neighborhoods and bunches of canvas, wood and paint into thousands of dollars as the Art Murmur in uptown Oakland is proving right before our very eyes. Secondly, the Oakland was averaging 150 shoot days a year, which brings in around two million annually, a pretty good return on the Film Office's expenditure of $250,000.
In an effort at compromise, to remain liberal, Oakland retained the Film Office but halved it from two to one employee. A pennywise effort, it has already dimmed Oakland's appeal to bigger films and commercials, eventually leading to losses for the city in permit fees, rentals, restaraunts and some taxes as well as wages for film industry citizens.
Ami Zins, the soft-spoken but sharp Film Office director, was fired in early August and Oakland hoped to get by with her assistant Janet Austin. But Austin quit, jumping ship to the San Francisco Film Office where their director, Susannah Greason Robbins, an industry pro, knows how much an expert staff is worth. It would be hard to quantify Zins' value but she brought a bunch of Hollywood productions to Oakland, most recently Philip Kaufman's "Hemingway and Gelhorn", and she was much beloved by the film community, indie and industry apparatchik alike.
In the words of Oakland filmmaker Lisbon Okafor, "Of course, Ami and Janet were critical because I wanted to shoot in a one mile radius of Lake Merit. They made it all possible."
Okafor is just wrapping up his highly heralded "Oakville" with sound design by James LeBrecht, of the Berkeley Sound Artists, and color correction by the great Gary Coates at the new, full service posthouse, Colorflow at the Saul Zantz Center (making it a completely East Bay postproduction). Okafor rates acting as "85% of the any movie," but he says, "It is worth it to pay the extra for the look that only professionals can get and these guys are great. Okafor has a screening of "Oakville" at the Los Angeles Director's Guild[http://www.directorsguild.org/dga_members/dfscreenings/df_frogandwombat.html] in October where he hopes to make a splash, and a take a short cut through the festival circuit to a distro deal.
Beautifully shot, the film is quite timely—it is about relationships, Obama's election and hard economics—and innovative. It was developed from an outline by Okafor and his producer Cheryl LaTouche through improvisation and brainstorming with his actors Shannon Shepherd, Jeff Handy, Kay Ewing Donato and Benedict Ives and doing tons of takes. And it was shot on the tiny Canon 7D, which produced a rich colored image that Coates said was excellent.
Okafor's techinique parallels Direct Action, the improvisational cinema developed by another East Bay titan, director Rob Nilsson. Although Nilsson has been busy as ever, from going to Moscow to show a retrospective at the international film festival to finishing "The Steppes," another improv-ed feature from his Tenderloin yGroup, among other films, he has also been working hard at Film Acting Bay Area, at Expressions College in Emeryville (which started a digital filmmaking department this July).
At a recent evening of films from Nilsson's master class, I was utterly astonished by "Adoption," a collaboration among various students and Nilsson himself. concerning a woman meeting the mixed race daughter she abandoned as an infant. In a tour-de-force of "scriptwriting," improvised after weeks of researching and playing the characters in workshop, the "actors" went toe-to-toe for twenty tightly edite, if loosely shot, minutes that surveyed two entire lives and reduced the characters to bawling babies.
With Catherine Lerza as the mother, Anastasia Pritchard, the daughter, as well as Yollanda Gonzales, the adoption agent with direction by Mark Lecky, shot by Vincent Leddy and edited Galina Pasternak. If Nilsson, his accolytes and Okafor becomes the Mark Twain guides to the river nodes of cineOakland, we are in for a wild ride.
Indeed, if Okafor, a handsome guy who speaks with almost no accent (he is Nigerian), gets some LA action, and there's a good chance he will, certainly the name "Oakville" might do just a little something for Oakland...
But who will be there to pick up the phone???
Of course, you can call me, 888 5MEDIA5 and I can hook you up with some cherry locations or talent, or CineSource's rising readership (up 175,000/month) or if you need immediate equipment or crew call my friend, West Oakland neighbor and prime informant Tim Ranahan 510 268.3500. Or call the Oakland Film Office, I have been to find out what happened to Ami Zina, anf if they are inundated, they may come to their senses about filmmaking in Oakland.
Meanwhile, Samee Roberts, the head of most things cultural at the city and the genius behind the Art and Soul Festival, has a few applications for the now solitary Oakland Film position on her desk. But most are hires from within the city's existing staff, as required by a recent law, and not the professionals needed to rebuild a reputation. Meanwhile, the police and fire departments got their full budgets. It doesn't make sense, you can do all the social services in the world but it won't make Oakland a better place until you give people jobs and cultural expression but it all ties in since filmmakers like any business have to feel comfortable enough to come here .
Regardless, Oakland remains a fine place to make films—where talented professionals, gritty dramas and gorgeous locations both positive and negative live side by side. We have the Oakland Film Center, where Ranahan Productions could privatize the Oakland Film Offices services, and a lot of other talent from producer Debbie Brubaker to Freyer Lighting and Grip. Sadly, the Film Center did recently get Richarded out of their agreement with the Army base's developer Phil Tagami and may eventually move from that sweet spot at the center of the Bay Area, perhaps to an out of Oakland location, depriving the city of yet more revenue. San Francisco which once had Colossal and other studios is no longer the media hub for the Bay Area, especially with the Saul Zaentz Center coming back in Berkeley.
Oakland has great cinematic bones—as I write, Friday, August 26, "Dr. Strangelove" (1964) is showing at the Paramount, Oakland's classical downtown movie palace. I saw it there ten years ago—glorious, gargantuan and black and white. Other things cinema have been taking a summer hiatus and, while a lot of docs seem on track, I haven't heard of lot of indie features neither in Oakland or Marin, which was featured in the August Issue. Even Kreayshawn, Oakland rapper-filmmaker in LA I mentioned last cineOakland, had her Red Hot Chili Peppers video shot down, after it was fully shot and edited. They decided to scrap the colorful the wild imagery and "go with the opposite of that: a simple rooftop performance clip."
Well, that is sometimes the choice whether it is going a little less colorful, or to cut the arts, as William Cohen recommended, or cut the artists throat, as the Taliban have. Yes, it sounds bombastic of course there is no bookburning in Oakland. But we are in a very wild time with Arab Awakening movements shaking whole regions and a need to reevaluate Oakland and California severe recession, cultural confusion and structural ambiguity—and for this we will need a robust arts sector, from music classes in the schools which teach discipline and math to funding minimal support for art movements and Film Offices in our downtowns, reviving our economy, putting culture first and putting the best image on it. "Oakville," the marketing department of Oakland couldn't invent a better story, and Okafor takes it to LA next month.
Posted on Aug 26, 2011 - 11:36 AM