Now Playing! Strand Releasing Turns 30, Celebrates with a Shorts Show at SFMOMA

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Still from Lynn Herschman Leeson's short film in the '30/30 Vision' program.  (Courtesy of Strand Releasing)

There’s a place in heaven—a Timothy Pflueger-designed lounge with Antarctic mineral water on tap and limitless hot hors d’oeuvres, if you must know—reserved for independent film distributors. Alas, the lifespans of the wing-and-a-prayer companies who bring U.S. indies and foreign films to arthouse cinemas and streaming platforms tend to be short. Few operations can navigate the elusiveness of box-office hits, the impatience of investors and the shifts in technologies and tastes for even a single decade.

Strand Releasing, the modestly conceived yet artistically adventurous distributor founded by Jon Gerrans (a Pacifica native), Marcus Hu (San Francisco) and Mike Thomas in 1989, is the happy, thriving exception. The trio found initial success with the culture-countering films of West Coast post-punkers Gregg Araki and Jon Moritsugu and queer Canadian provocateurs John Greyson and Bruce LaBruce. Their next big step was persuading European festival favorites like André Téchiné (Wild Reeds) and Fatih Akin (Head On) to sign with Strand.

A man connected to an IV hugs a woman on a bed.
Still from Apichatpong Weerasethakul's 'Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,' 2011. (Courtesy of Strand Releasing)

Strand’s identity as a distributor of gay-oriented art films gradually evolved, highlighted by its championing of the Asian filmmakers Tsai Ming-liang and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, into a company that introduced and nurtured young directors in the Hollywood-dominated U.S. market. Their secret? Hu, Gerrans and Thomas were humble, straightforward, honest and (perhaps most importantly) fans of the artists they worked with. And they never let their egos trick them into producing an expensive film that would have put the company at risk.

A year-long victory lap, in the form of very short films shot on iPhones by more than 30 directors commissioned by Strand and entitled 30/30 Vision: 3 Decades of Strand Releasing, screens for free at SFMOMA this Thursday, Dec. 5. (Presumably it will be made widely available on the Strand site or other online venue.) A globetrotting cornucopia, the program includes João Pedro Rodrigues’ oddly exhilarating visit to the Potemkin steps and local artist Lynn Hershman Leeson’s touching, Vertigo-steeped tribute to Strand.

Jon Moritsugu and Amy Davis inject a laugh-packed blast of energetic irreverence into a lineup that encompasses Elisabeth Subrin’s excerpts from a no-nonsense interview Maria Schneider gave in 1983 and Brady Corbet’s juxtaposition of the fountains at The People’s House in modern-day Bucharest with the execution of the Ceaușescus. The filmmakers come first at Strand Releasing, as they have since the very beginning.