SF Filmmaker Sari Gilman Talks About Her Oscar-Nominated Documentary "King's Point"
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are."
We've never been one to sweep about the feet of corporate idols, but man could that guy Steve Jobs turn a phrase. One can't help but think that wayward Apple execs might have done well to hang it on their break room wall (iTunes 11? Really?), but they're certainly not the worst offenders. Apple can hardly compare to the orgy of "yes" being enjoyed by blockbuster film titles left and right. Emboldened instead of enlightened by a confluence of digital technology and lowered viewership, big productions are experiencing a bloating trend–when was the last time you saw a movie under two hours? In theory, the idea is that somwhere in those two-and-a-half hours is the movie you want to see; the one you used to see in one-and-a-half.
Short film, however, is an art form that lives and dies by its choices, right or wrong. There's no better clinic for aspiring filmmakers than to watch some great shorts, and it can be a welcome antidote to the anodyne offerings in the city's bigger rooms. This week, SF plays host to a screening of some of the best and biggest shorts around, the year's Oscar noms, in two separate programs at Embarcadero Center Cinema. In animation and live action programming, there's a good deal of tight, emotional storytelling taking place across the globe from Africa to Afganistan.
San Francisco residents will have to wait for next week for the nominated Documentary shorts at Opera Plaza, but the wait will be worthwhile–alongside the other offerings, local editor-turned-director Sari Gilman's film King's Point, a vibrant but grounded glimpse at the lives of elders in a Florida retirement resort, will screen for the first time since its SF premiere at the Jewish Film Festival. We caught up with Sari to chat about Oscars, aging, and what it means to make movies in San Francisco.
When did you find out you were nominated for an Oscar?
SG: On January 10th, when they announce [the nominees] at 5:30 in the morning. I had gotten up at four, and I couldn't go back to sleep. I was trying not to refresh the website too frequently, but I was also chatting with people on the East Coast who were doing it for me, so I found out right away!
King's Point deals with some pretty heavy topics like aging and death. Had you set out to make something with a lot of gravitas?
SG: Oh no, not at all! I had experience down in Florida because I had been visiting my grandmother there since I was nine years old and I had a feeling about the place that I wanted to express. I wanted to talk to people about their experience there. It's not an advocacy film, there's no specific action I want people to take, but I think for a lot of people, it's been a great point to start conversation, and I'm excited that it worked in that way.
How hard was it to get people to be candid with you about topics like death and loneliness?
SG: It wasn't hard at all, considering. In the film as you see it, the interactions are not so much interviews as they are conversations that I would have with people, where I was being very candid about what was going on with my grandmother as well. Even people that didn't know and who didn't know me knew that I was the granddaughter of a King's Point resident, and that made it easy for them to open up. The things they were talking to me about were mostly something they couldn't talk to their peers about–their longings, their problems–it was just underneath the surface, and they wanted to talk about it.
One of your first screenings was at the Florida Film Festiva–was that a tough sell, considering your subject hit so close to home?
SG: Actually it was our first public screening. I had never sat in an audience with people experiencing it before. People came up to me afterwards and were just thanking me, which was amazing, and suprising. Everyone ends up telling me a story when they talk to me about King's Point, about whatever elderly person is in his life, and what they're going through. Everyone has these hard descicions.
As an editor, I'm sure where you do your work can be a big factor in how it shapes up–I'm told you worked on the King's Point both in New York and San Francisco?
SG: I worked on it for seven years before I moved out here. I remember being very stuck at certain points. Creatively, San Francisco was very good for me–I was able to relax and find my grounding in a certain way. I feel like I can sink into myself a little bit here, and find the space to take it to the end. I think San Francisco is a good place for me!
How did you come to be a part of the film scene here?
SG: I lived in San Francisco in the 90s, moved back to New York after college, and only made my way back here less than a decade ago. While I was here as a student I worked with Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, Veronica Cole and a few others; these were the people who taught me everything I know. Jeffrey, who was also my mentor in a lot of ways, edits occasionally, and I was lucky enough to work with him. It was an unbelievably satisfying, fun experience.
In a way, I learned what I know from the documentary community here. It's definitely a smaller community than the one in New York City, but it's a wonderfully close-knit community where it feels a little bit like a family, which is nice. And the quality of the films that come out of the city, given the size, is remarkable.