Porchlight, camera, action: Beth Lisick (left) and Arline Klatte (right) emcee an evening of spontaneous behind-the-scenes storytelling Monday, May 3.

SFIFF s Porchlight On For Guests

Michael Fox April 24, 2010

Ch‚ Sandoval of Chile, Kaspar Astrup Schroder of Denmark, Pedro Gonzal‚z-Rubio of Mexico, John Herschend and Claudia Gonson of the U.S.A. may not, on first glance, have too much in common–except that, clearly, they all have stories to tell. They’re featured performers for the least rehearsed and potentially most surprising of the San Francisco International Film Festival’s Live & Onstage events, Porchlight: True Stories from the Frontiers of International Filmmaking. This marks the third San Francisco International Film Festival event for Beth Lisick and Arline Klatte, the impresarios and hosts of the popular, long-running series, but the first comprised entirely of out-of-town talent unknown to the duo. Are they concerned? “Most of the stories that people tell [at Porchlight] are about mishaps or chaos,” Lisick points out. “It seems like the film world has plenty of [those] stories.”

Festival programmer Sean Uyehara chose the five with an ear for raconteurs, personalities and people who are comfortable in front of an audience. Gonson, as a member of the Magnetic Fields, is plainly used to playing in front of people, while artist and curator Herschend has performed in various formats and venues. The three filmmakers, though, shape up to be fascinating wild cards. And a good thing, too, because the Porchlight team is averse to well-honed acts.

“We’ve had brushes with ‘professional’ storytellers over the years and there are people who are really good at that kind of thing, but that’s not at all what we promote or like,” Klatte explains. “We’ve found with performers–actors and comedians–often they have their image so flawless and well-executed and they know exactly what they are going to say, so it loses this certain kind of spontaneity and life that great Porchlight stories have. That’s not to say we are anti-performer, but I guess we are kind of anti-trot out that old dog and pony show story or bit you’ve done a gazillion times onstage to audiences all over the world.”

As anyone who’s watched so much as an hour of reality TV knows, there’s a world of difference between being real and acting real. Or as Klatte puts it, “I think what really resonates with people is the authenticity of the shows we put on. You really feel like you’re having this intimate connection with a total stranger. And that’s pretty great.”

Regular accompanist Marc Capelle and the Casuals will supply the musical grace notes, no doubt working in some Latin beats and Danish rhythms. The international flavor of this Porchlight show is of special interest to Festival audiences, as is the youthfulness of the storytellers. Sandoval (You think You’re the Prettiest, But You Are the Sluttiest) and Gonzal‚z-Rubio (Alamar) are first-time narrative filmmakers, while Schroder (The Invention of Dr, Nakamats) has directed a slew of music videos in addition to his documentary work.

“That’s going to be an interesting part of it because we do focus on San Francisco stories and local people,” Lisick muses. “It’s going to be interesting to see how these artists tell their story and bring their own cultures into their story.”

The language of film may be universal, as somebody once said, and all film sets resemble each other to a large extent. Here’s hoping the filmmakers from abroad infuse their sagas with local color, transporting the audience to places both familiar and unique. Even if Klatte and Lisick won’t have their usual advance “coaching” opportunity.

“Some storytelling shows really vet the storytellers,” Klatte notes. ”We usually have a ‘rehearsal,’ but it’s really a bunch of people sitting around and giving each other feedback. Since we won’t be doing that before this show, we’re hoping to meet the storytellers at various events leading up to the show and just tell them to be themselves, have a beginning, middle and ending to their tale and mostly to have fun. If they do that, there’s no way the audience can’t enjoy it.”

Along those lines, the five storytellers would do well to heed Klatte’s voice of experience. “You can tell someone is fake or pretentious or posturing immediately when they’re on stage. So it’s not the perfect turn of phrase or the dramatic arc of the story that matters so much as whether you get a sense that the storyteller is really being themselves.”

Filmmakers are used to ad-libbing and reacting on the fly, so the five storytellers should have no difficulty adopting Lisick’s attitude. “I want to make sure it feels conversational and fun and the storytellers know they can be irreverent, and that speaking in front of an audience doesn’t have to be a formal, structured affair.” She adds, “I hope it has the wild, spontaneous feeling of our shows.”

Notes From the Underground
Filmmaker and Other Cinema Digital cofounder Noel Lawrence was appointed Director of Programming for the inaugural New Media Film Festival, June 11-13 in L.A. For the lowdown on how to submit your work, go to . . . Occasional S.F. resident John Waters will present the Kanbar Award for screenwriting to James Schamus at the April 29 SFFS Awards Night bash. Then he returns to Baltimore for his annual show at the Maryland Film Festival. This year’s pick: Paul Greengrass’ 2006 docudrama United 93. A fundraiser for Dirty Poole, Jim Tushinki’s doc-in-progress portrait of the ‘70s-era gay S.F. director Wakefield Poole, is set for May 7 at the San Francisco LGBT Center. Pick up the details at . . . Sean Penn’s next movie, Doug Liman’s Fair Game, about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame (played by Naomi Watts), is the only U.S. film in Cannes’ main competition.

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