Getting a Ficks: With BAN5's film component, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts highlights the work of curators like Jesse Hawthorne Ficks, who's programmed for the Castro and other theaters. (Photo courtesy Jesse Hawthorne Ficks)

Curators at Bay Area Now 5

Sean Uyehara September 11, 2008

Bay Area Now, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ triennial exhibition, has developed a deserved reputation for presenting an energetic survey of current Bay Area artistic practice. YBCA’s film/video curator, Joel Shepard, programs the film portion of the exhibition, and over the years he’s showcased a survey of contemporary Bay Area film, commissioned new work from locals like Bill Daniel and Ellen Bruno and focused on live cinema. This year Shepard curates Bay Area film curators.

For Shepard, film programming is an art in itself. Or, at least it can be. And, more than that, curatorial work is also a service to artists. Shepard recognized this early in his film exhibition career. His love of film had drawn him to film production during his high school years, but he quickly learned that his talent wasn’t so much in making movies, but in presenting the best work out there to others. When looking at the current state of Bay Area film culture, Shepard was enlivened by the wealth of film programming talent out there. For BAN5 he asked six different curators/artists to present programs at YBCA’s screening room through mid-October. Programs begin this Saturday with Jesse Hawthorne Ficks’s Midnite for Maniacs.

Ficks immediately came to mind when Shepard was trying to assemble a slate of exciting Bay Area programmers. Ficks has developed a cult-like following for cult movies by presenting triple bills that emphasize, according to Ficks, "dismissed, underrated and forgotten films" at the Castro Theater. Said Shepard, "He puts a lot of attention into the cinema of the ’80s, not exactly a Golden Age of cinema, and not necessarily my favorite." Still, when Shepard attends Ficks’ programs, he senses the infectious energy, meticulous research and joy Ficks brings to his shows—and counts himself a fan not only of Ficks but of the films, too. Ficks will be on hand for his screenings at YBCA, presenting the films, trailers, and trivia with the running commentary and wit for which he has developed a devoted fan base.

The YBCA program does double duty, as it presents both the curator and the films. The installment of Midnite for Maniacs is another yummy triumvirate, titled "Grrrl Rockers of the 1980s!" First is Starstruck (1981), an "ABC After School Special" that features songs written by Lynn Ahrens of Schoolhouse Rock fame and presents the all too familiar girlhood dilemma—Do I work in a factory or sing? Next is perhaps the definition of a cult classic, Times Square (1980). Nostalgically documenting New York’s ultra-sleazy Times Square of the early ’80s, this film centers on two punky grrrls that have fled from a mental institution to form a band. The film was edited by studios to remove overtly lesbian content and includes music by the Ramones, Roxy Music, and the Pretenders. Finally, Breaking Glass, the British punk extravaganza, is a tour-de-force of pre-Thatcherite angst and youthful aggression chronicling the unlikely and twisted ascension and downfall of pop star Kate.

In addition to Ficks, Shepard’s series hails curators that exemplify the intensity and risk characterizing San Francisco’s independent film programmers. "Oddball Films" is the moniker that identifies Stephen Parr’s programming genius. In an age when it seems that it is impossible to be different, Oddball manages to remain extraordinary. The "Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project" is the aptly named group that not only presents urgent and authentic programs, but also provides training and equipment to a traditionally underserved community. "DocFest," led by Jeff Ross and Bill Banning, continues to champion independent and international documentaries, often discovering gems that eventually become mainstream hits. Kino21, curated by Irina Leimbacher Konrad Steiner consistently present the most provocative and politically charged documentary and experimental film work in the Bay Area.

Shepard bookends the program with another "midnight" series, this one Midnight Mass with your Hostess Peaches Christ. Peaches Christ is an underground drag phenomenon turned must-see San Francisco experience with fans around the world. As Shepard noted, "These programmers have one foot in and one foot out of the underground. With little resources they do a great deal and have made the Bay Area a really terrific place for film viewing."