Her close-up: Director of photography Marsha Kahm prepares Yvonne Rainer for interview in Jack Walsh's "Feelings Are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer".

Walsh sets off on Rainer's parade

Michael Fox April 9, 2009

With the benefit of experience, Jack Walsh brings exceedingly reasonable expectations to his new project. "From the time you start something, it’s anywhere from five to seven years," he says. Walsh actually increases that estimate before we get off the phone, which is partly an indication that the economy is worsening by the minute.

The San Francisco filmmaker has embarked on Feelings Are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer, a feature-length documentary about the groundbreaking choreographer and experimental filmmaker. Walsh is in the midst of rounding up $125,000 for production and the cost of hiring an editor to begin cutting clips from Rainer’s dances and films with the new material. His immediate aim is to raise the budget in time to shoot the June premiere of the septuagenarian choreographer’s new work in Los Angeles, followed in the fall by a spate of New York interviews with various Rainer collaborators from the Judson Dance Theater in the mid-‘60s to the present.

"My goal is to bring Yvonne and her work to a larger audience," Walsh declares, a considerable challenge given the experimental (though influential) nature of Rainer’s art. On one hand, it’s a perfect match of filmmaker and subject, for Walsh has been making avant-garde films since 1983. In works such as Dear Rock (1993) and The Second Coming (1995), he melds pop-culture references and nontraditional narrative structures in entertaining ways that challenge mainstream perceptions.

However, as the producer of the straightforward historical documentaries Hope Along the Wind: The Story of Harry Hay (2002) and Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria (2005), Walsh has also guided projects geared for PBS broadcast. As co-director of the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC), Walsh has long been engaged in the struggle for alternative voices to infiltrate and communicate with mass audiences.

A single and wholly unexpected revelation drew Walsh to the Rainer project. As he was reading the S.F.-born artist’s recent memoir, Feeling Are Facts: A Life, he was shocked to learn she didn’t start making art until her mid-twenties.

"That’s an important story to get out there because there are assumptions about performing artists that they start at a young age and peak in their twenties," Walsh explains. "This is very much a different narrative. It is a youth story, because what may interest young people is this thing that you have your career all figured out by the time you’re 20. For many people, that’s not the case. If you don’t do it by the time you’re 22, it doesn’t mean your life is over."

At this early stage in production, Walsh can’t predict the shape and tone of the film. He knows he’ll integrate sequences from Rainer’s films, and he’s enlisted local cinematographer Marsha Kahm (The Cockettes, Hope Along the Wind, Smitten) to shoot the new footage. Beyond that, he takes a pretty laissez-faire attitude.

"Frankly, I think artists have the best intentions when they start to write something up for [grant] proposals," Walsh says, "But you make your choices [in the editing suite] based on what you have. All kinds of things both wonderful and unexpected, and disastrous, happen within a project. The end result is what comes out of all those conditions."

Between the natural creative process and, yes, the darkening climate for funding as the recession wears on, Walsh adopts an even longer view. But that doesn’t necessarily make him a pessimist.

"In reality, I think the conditions now are about 10 years to get a really good project made," he muses. "As a result, better films are made because you have to reconsider everything—all your material—in much greater detail. When you look at the project that gets the most attention and the most awards, that’s when you realize that having that longer period makes for better films."

Walsh pauses for a moment. "It’s not a failure on the side of the artists," he notes. "It’s a failure on the side of those who provide funding."

Notes from the Underground
We’re saddened to report that longtime local publicist Bill McLeod died Mar. 29 of natural causes at 59. Bill was the rare publicist who didn’t condescend to young critics new to the movie beat, nor act as if every title his clients released was great or important (or even watchable). He managed to be both exuberant and dignified, and a supremely decent guy. … Cofounder, artistic director and erudite force of nature Steven Salmons has departed the S.F. Silent Film Festival after 17 years. Anita Monga, whose lengthy tenure as programmer of the Castro Theatre overlapped with that of former Castro manager—and current Silent FF executive director— Stacey Wisnia, will serve as interim artistic director through the 14th annual shindig July 10-12. … Andy Abrahams Wilson’s feather-ruffling doc about Lyme disease, Under Our Skin, which played the Mill Valley Film Festival last October and dozens of fests and community events around the country since its Tribeca FF premiere a year ago, begins its theatrical run in June at the IFC Center in Manhattan and Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills.

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