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Still from Bruce Baillie's 'Castro Street,' 1966. (Courtesy of The Film-Makers' Coop)

When Bruce Baillie died on April 10 at his Washington state home at the age of 88, the curtain also dropped on an influential yet seat-of-the-pants era in Bay Area avant-garde film.

A South Dakotan who studied in Minnesota, London and Yugoslavia, Baillie migrated here in the late ’50s and set about teaching himself cinematography and editing. In tandem with making films of uncommon beauty and grace, he founded Canyon Cinema (to screen and eventually distribute his and fellow artists’ films) and co-founded San Francisco Cinematheque.

“Immediately, I realized that making films and showing films must go hand in hand,” Baillie recalled in a 1989 conversation with experimental-film historian and critic Scott MacDonald, “so [in 1960] I got a job at Safeway, took out a loan and bought a projector. We got an army surplus screen and hung it up real nice in the backyard of this house we were renting. Then we’d find whatever films we could, including our own little things that were in progress—‘we,’ there wasn’t really any we, just me for a while—and show them.”

Baillie’s films evince his unique eye and sensibility yet generously allow ample room for the viewer’s experience. Revisit Castro Street (1966), shot largely in Richmond and redolent with train whistles and train tracks, evoking both night dreams and daydreams of an America to be explored just out there. “For Baillie,” MacDonald wrote, “the filmstrip is a space where the physical world around him and the spiritual world within him can intersect.”

Still from Karly Stark’s ‘the problem is that everything is fleeting,’ 2015. (Courtesy the artist)

SF Cinematheque, for its part, continues to champion the handmade films of avant-garde artists, and is one of several local institutions streaming new and recent work for free while theater spaces are shuttered. The short-film compilation certainty is becoming our nemesis, which screened in conjunction with the Orlando exhibition curated by Tilda Swinton at McEvoy Foundation for the Arts until shelter-in-place orders went into effect, has moved online through May 2. From the morphing nude portraits of Alice Anne Parker’s Riverbody (1970) to Karly Stark’s onscreen pondering of the problem is that everything is fleeting (2015), the program embraces flux and fluidity—which makes it even more on point than curator Steve Polta could have imagined.


SF Cinematheque has also teamed with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Video Data Bank on I Hate the Internet: Techno-Dystopian Malaise and Visions of Rebellion, a program of apocalypse-now-and-in-the-future shorts, online through May 16. Jesse McLean’s The Invisible World (2012), with its probing of our relationship to common household objects, may be especially poignant for viewers who catch themselves staring at a drawer of silverware or plastic wrap and contemplating the inner lives of inanimate objects.

SFMOMA has initiated a smattering of online screenings in its #MuseumFromHome program, with local sound-and-image artist Bill Fontana’s entrancing White Motions (2017) (headphones essential!) on view through April 21. Bookmark the page as a different film goes up every Wednesday.

In lieu of its sadly canceled festival, which would otherwise be unspooling right now, SFFILM offers a couple of online options under the rubric “SFFILM at Home.” A veritable flock of filmmakers whose new work was scheduled to play the festival have recorded video profiles, which you can browse at Meet the Filmmakers. If you’d rather hear moviemakers riff about films you’ve actually seen, SFFILM has also uploaded a trove of onstage interviews with actors and directors from previous festivals.

Saru Jayaraman at a rally against sexual harassment in Abby Ginzberg’s ‘Waging Change.’ (Courtesy of the filmmaker)

A special treat for those who’ve read this far: Via its ongoing online Virtual Film Festival, the New York distributor Women Make Movies is streaming East Bay documentary maker Abby Ginzberg’s essential new film, Waging Change, April 17–26. It’s part of this month’s Films, Interrupted series of new works whose festival premieres and theatrical launches were coronavirus casualties.

The film’s Bay Area premiere—and key revenue stream—was scheduled for March 27 at the Castro, then bumped to May and pushed again to July 12. Check out the trailer, watch the entire film for free thanks to Women Make Movies, then tip your server generously at the Waging Change website.

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