New at Frameline: K.C. Price

Michael Fox December 8, 2008

For a large chunk of Frameline’s 32 years of existence, Michael Lumpkin captained the preeminent San Francisco queer media arts organization. When he departed to forge new trails at the conclusion of this year’s S.F. International LGBT Film Festival, the board picked K.C. Price to take over as executive director. Price was the managing director of the Ninth Street Independent Film Center, the building that houses Frameline and several other local film organizations, and his resume includes stints as the development director at Frameline and the STOP AIDS Project. Price’s fundraising experience should be an asset amid a spiraling recession that’s expected to roil nonprofit arts groups in the coming year. We met the new guy in the Frameline offices last week to find out what was on his plate.

SF360: I understand you have a master’s degree in English literature. So what was your original plan to change the world?

K.C. Price: I was a writing major. I took a lot of creative writing and a lot of film courses when I was an undergraduate back in North Carolina. In graduate school [at George Washington University] I studied English literature, and I’ve always had a strong side-by-side interest in film. My initial plan to change the world at the time was to become a writer.

SF360: A novelist?

Price: Yes. Then the realities of the world were set upon me, and I eventually came into the nonprofit sector about 15 years ago.

SF360: Where the realities of the world were really visited upon you.

Price: (Laughs.) That’s right, and they’re visiting us again right now.

SF360: We’ll come back to that. I wonder, with your background as a development director, if you see yourself as an activist, or as a manager, or administrator.

Price: My first nonprofit job, about 15 or 16 years ago, was at the ACLU, and I worked specifically on the Lesbian and Gay Rights project. By the very nature of that work, there’s activism involved. Over the last 9 to 10 years, I’ve been able to come into media arts and do something I really enjoy as a passion in terms of my artistic pursuits and interests as well as the activism involved. Working with LGBT organizations, but especially now LGBT arts organizations, is a perfect marriage of both of these interests of mine, and I feel very, very fortunate.

SF360: Let’s talk about Frameline, and succeeding Michael Lumpkin.

Price: The history of the position, the way it had worked traditionally, Frameline had an executive director, and Michael was the longest-term executive director. He had become involved very, very early in the history of the organization. I think when they were doing the fourth festival, he was on staff. He left and worked on a film [ The Celluloid Closet ] and then came back to become executive director. About two years ago, the organization was going through some transition so they looked at trying a dual structure, at having a managing director and an artistic director. The organization assessed that after a while, and thought an organization of this size, between $1.5 and $2 million budget, would be better suited having an executive director. That’s the history of it, how it came to be the way it is now.

SF360: Have you introduced any radical changes or programs in your brief tenure?

Price: I’ve been in the position for four months, so to say that we are completely reinventing the organization since Michael has departed is far-fetched and simply not true. Our main programs that we’ve been doing for decades now are the festival, the distribution program and our completion fund. From an audience perspective, the SFILGBTFF has just been really, really well done, amazingly curated, amazingly operated film festival for a number of years and of course we’re going to want to continue that tradition. From the filmmakers’ perspective, I’ve always thought it’s fascinating that we’ve settled on exhibition, distribution and especially money, because what more does a filmmaker need? The area where we’re still developing and working are some of the ancillary programs we do. We have two youth programs, one called the Generations Film Workshop that [provides] media literacy training to young LGBT people. We expanded it in the past couple years so it’s also workshops with youth and elders. We’ve been doing regular monthly screenings at the San Francisco LGBT Center, and we’re continuing that in 2009. Our third ancillary program is a new one called Youth in Motion. We’re essentially taking a group of films we distribute and packaging them in four different DVDs. We have a curriculum, a teaching guide, that goes along with each DVD and we’re doing a lot of outreach with gay-straight alliance networks clubs. Some of them will actually be going out to classrooms, such as high school classes throughout the state.

SF360: Just in California or nationwide?

Price: Right now it’s regional. We’ve been doing it throughout the state and we want to look in 2009 in terms of the viability of taking it nationwide. We just started to launch it in October, and we’ve gotten nothing but all this amazing feedback from schools across the state. One of the DVDs is about LGBT families and marriage equality, so you can imagine, given the unfortunate state with Prop. 8, we want to continue this program and help in that area. In terms of activism, that’s exciting when we can make a difference.

SF360: You’re talking about adding programs. Are there things you’re trimming, or are you immune to the bad economy?

Price: I wouldn’t go that far. (Laughs.) That’s an excellent question and a way to put it exactly—adding—and I think the answer is probably not. I don’t know how prudent it’s going to be to be in a growth mode right now. One of the things Frameline undertook over the last three or four years was a capital campaign. and they raised $1.25 million to undertake a lot of these activities. It helped strengthen some of our distribution efforts that we’ve been doing over the years and we were also able to raise our completion fund grants rather substantially. I think given the recession we’re in, we’re really going to have to take a step back and start looking at what we want to do in the next year or two. It’s really going to be the smart thing to scale back to a certain extent. A lot of us in media arts groups here in the building have been talking about that: What does scaling back mean? Does it mean 5 percent, 10 percent, 20 percent or more? Coincidentally and rather fortunately so, we have a strategic planning retreat coming up where the board and the staff get to talk about these questions. Normally it involves a three-year plan about the things you’re going to do in the coming years. What we’re coming up against in pre-planning meetings and discussions is how do you do strategic planning when we probably need to slow down a little bit and pull back.

SF360: It’s early, but what will the recession mean for next year’s festival? Will you keep it the same size?

Price: Yes, it’s a little bit early, we’ll get a better sense from Sundance and the Berlin Film Festival, but as Jennifer Morris, our festival director, and myself have been working, we’re planning on having a film festival of the same size. In terms of the number of programs, we see that as remaining consistent. We think we’ve found a right stride in terms of its size right now and it works for the community we serve, in terms of having an ample number of programs of new LGBT films to see. We’re looking at using the strategic planning to step back and see how we’re running the film festival and what ways we might do it in a smarter, more efficient, say, leaner, meaner fashion.

SF360: Ways that would be invisible to the public.

Price: Exactly. So we can maximize what we’re doing in terms of what we spend on it. We are looking at ways we can be smarter in terms of expenses.

SF360: At this point you don’t see a decline in sponsors, say, that would force you to cut the number of filmmakers you bring in during the festival?

Price: I don’t know yet what we can offer guests coming in. We would like to keep the same level of guests coming to the film festival. We’ve already started, of course, soliciting sponsorships from corporations and nonprofits and small businesses that usually support us, and we are hearing, yes, that budgets are changing but we’re also hearing a lot of interest and excitement in the film festival, too. I just think we have to be careful and have our hand on the pulse in the coming months as we go along. But there is still a lot of interest in sponsorship.

SF360: Looking at the bigger picture for a second, is there still a need for an organization to focus on gay film, 32 years on?

Price: The short answer is yes, there absolutely still is a need, and in a number of areas. There’ve been enormous strides made in terms of acceptance of lesbians and gays, and we see a plethora of images in television culture [though] I’m not sure I would say that in studio films. There’s more but it’s not what we see at the film festival. That’s a really important distinction. I have heard people say that over the years, ‘Do we really need to have a LGBT film festival?’ It seems obvious to me, if we didn’t have this film festival who would have access in northern California to this many programs? While distribution opportunities have opened up through different cable channels and on the Internet and different ways we can access it, there’s still so much that’s shown at a film festival. That’s true for any of the film festivals in the Bay Area. Just imagine if this access was taken away because people took it for granted, ‘Oh, we can just watch this on cable channels instead.’ There’s an amazingly big need to access independent LGBT films.

SF360: A documentary about leather bikers is not necessarily going to end up on Logo.

Price: Absolutely. And some of the things that are going to be seen are coming to the film festival months or years earlier, as you’ll see with any type of film festival whether it is serving a specific community or not. Another thing that is equally important, while lesbian and gay rights have come a long way in many areas we see from Prop 8 it hasn’t come as far as we would like it. So how far has acceptance come? I put that question out. We still have a really long way to go with transgender rights and acceptance. A lot of the most interesting LGBT films are transgender and intersex films in the past five, 10 years.

SF360: Because they are edgier and more challenging?

Price: You could say that. Some are edgier, riskier, but sometimes they’re the most beautiful ones, because they have a resonance that is coming up out of the need for society to be more accepting of the transgender community. In this past film festival, our Centerpiece film was XXY. It’s a gorgeous film and it really lit the audience on fire. It was the one film everybody was talking about afterward, and it won the Audience Award for best feature.

SF360: Along those lines, how do you challenge your audience?

Price: One thing that’s interesting is what does the audience tire of at this point, 30 years later? If you keep showing the same coming-out story that has been happening for 30 years, I think there’s not as much acceptance. It’s not to say that coming-out films aren’t relevant still, of course they are, but you know what I’m getting at. There have been so many LGBT films that deal with the subject.

SF360: I hear you saying that it’s become a genre, and as with any genre some approaches are formulaic and some are fresh.

Price: There you go. I don’t know the answer to this, being new to the position, and I’ll probably have a better answer in another six months or a year, but there always seems to be—not every year but some years—a concern about U.S. features. How many narratives are out there that deal with LGBT content? We want to see more. Although we’re certainly excited and glad to have films like Brokeback Mountain and Milk come out, at the same time we would like to see and encourage and help be a part of there being more U.S. feature narratives.

SF360: As long as you brought it up, is it too early to project how
Milk, like Brokeback Mountain before it, will change the landscape for LGBT film?

Price: I have been thinking about this some myself. It’s hard to say, especially if you’re relating Milk to Brokeback Mountain, they’re such different films in so many different ways, it’s hard to compare them. In some ways, major studio films such as these are changing the way the broader public perceives the LGBT community and LGBT film. Brokeback Mountain did do a lot socially. That’s the power of film, in terms of what it’s done for the LGBT community. How those films have influenced and are changing Hollywood, I’m interested and curious to see how that will change in terms of more queer films coming from the major studios. That’s where it’s too early [to say]. It’s interesting to see how representations of gays and lesbians are going to be changed within larger films.

SF360: Is there a film or director that you want to start the buzz about, that we should keep an eye out for next year?

Price: I think we are very, very eager to see new works from the director of XXY, Lucia Puenzo, because that was her first feature-length film and we were all so exhilarated by it. We’re really anxious and looking forward to her next work. It’s in postproduction, I believe, but I don’t know for sure. I think that’s one thing with the [new] position, I need to be [politic]. If you come back in November or December of next year, I’m sure I’ll be in a very different place after my first film festival.

SF360: Last question: With your big new job, when do you manage to find any time to write fiction?

Price: I always dabble with it. It feels almost more like a journal exercise than an attempt to publish. I go back every couple years to take some type of class to kind of warm up my skills in that area. I took a couple right before I started here, and that was pretty wonderful.

SF360: So there are still a couple novels in your future.

Price: Well, of course, as with everyone, there’s at least one. (Laughs.)

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