Bay Area filmmaker Marjorie Sturm is the brains behind the film/video festival that has been added to the Big Sur Experimental Music Festival for the first time this year. Named after the early feminist cult figure (and lover of Henry Miller) who rose to fame for her intimately personal diaries, the festival showcases a quirky selection of first-person diary films, what Sturm describes as a “sub-genre of the documentary.”
“The films are all in a diary format, and that’s what Anaïs Nin is known for,” Sturm says.
Sturm says she herself was an “obsessive journal writer from a young age.” Coming across one of Nin’s diaries ten years ago, after a stint in a Jerusalem yeshiva, she put on some Leonard Cohen music and “for a week straight cooped myself up in an apartment, reading her work like a self-enforced rehabilitation program to shake out the dogma of orthodoxy.”
Through reading Nin, Sturm says, she learned the Welsh word furrawn—which she defines as “the intimacy achieved through conversation that leads us to a greater understanding of ourselves, others and the world.” Nin’s focus on the female perspective, reflected in the genre of video diaries, is well juxtaposed, Sturm believes, against the predominantly male world of experimental music making up the second half of this weekend’s festival.
“These video diaries are in the spirit of furrawn, honest confessionals that brings us closer to the eyes of the heart,” she says.
Each evening begins at 8:30pm with a short clip from Anaïs Nin Observed, a recent documentary about the writer and her work. Friday night’s showing continues with Amy Happ’s 14-minute Resilience, the story of her Eskimo mother’s battle with racism, sexism and alcoholism following a move to the Midwest.
Next up is Israeli-born Gabriela Bohm’s hour-long Passages, the chronicle of Bohm’s journey to four countries in search of her lost relatives, “to uncover their long-harbored mysteries, myths and secrets.” Told in English, Spanish, Hebrew and Hungarian, the film helped Bohm “understand the connections between my parents’ lives and mine, and the meaning behind the choices I have made,” and reflects the filmmaker’s longtime interest in forging links between film and the healing arts.
Friday night closes with John Church’s Why, Arizona, described by the filmmaker as “an experimental X-rated road movie on the highways of the queer erotic frontier.” The son of a Baptist minister, now an MFA student at UCLA’s film school, Church has been making indie films from a gay perspective in the Bay Area for the past decade. “This film is X-rated, definitely in-your-face, which is why it’s last on the program,” says Sturm. “It’s so hard for men to show physical affection to each other. I feel that the more men can sit and watch other men showing affection, the closer we’ll get to world peace.”
Saturday evening’s screening opens with Sturm’s own 30-minute Honey and Eggs: The End of Fantasy, a video diary documenting a love affair that began in Mexico and picked up three years later (music is by Sturm and her partner, festival co-organizer Ernesto Diaz-Infante).
Second in line is Monica Gazzo’s 16-minute Tending Echo Park, a look at the Los Angeles community of Echo Park at the dawn of the 20th century. Gazzo combines 100-year-old images with voice-over narration (including readings from Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein) and draws on the ideas of contemporary feminist theorists like Helene Cixous and Luce Irigaray in an effort to construct what Gazzo calls “a stylistic essay on cinematic ecriture feminine [that] reinvents a film grammar based on gender and race.”
Finally, Saturday evening concludes with In the Bathtub of the World, an 80-minute film by Caveh Zahedi, in which the filmmaker—perhaps the best-known of those showcased in this festival—took up his camera on Jan. 1, 1999 and shot one minute of film every day for a year. Zahedi’s striking 1991 film A Little Stiff, based on his unrequited love for an art student, received critical acclaim at Sundance. Zahedi explains his goal in Bathtub as “revealing the existence of God in all things,” which he attempts to do by “exploiting the most democratic genre that exists, the home movie.” Notwithstanding the fact that his hand-held camera makes the film quite difficult to watch, one has to admire the filmmaker’s lofty ambition.
The Anaïs Nin Video and Film Diary Festival takes place Fri-Sat from 8:30-10:30pm at the Henry Miller Library, Highway 1, Big Sur. (see above for ticket info.)