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What Are You Working On? Q & A With Michael House

Michael House's biopic of noted San Francisco photographer Fred Lyon bows soon at YBCA.

7x7 checks in with a member of the local film scene and takes their temperature. This week, we chat with film director Michael House.

How old are you, and where do you live in San Francisco?

I'm 48, I used to live on Russian Hill but now I live in Paris.

What do you do?

I write music for film and I make films about art.

How long have you lived in SF? 

I moved to SF in 1989.

What did you do before you worked in film?

I wrote music for TV and advertising.

So… what are you working on?

Some time ago I finished a film about the classic San Francisco photographer called Fred Lyon: Living Through the Lens that's about to play at YBCA, so I'm preparing for that. I wanted to make a film that reflected the San Francisco I carry around in my mind, and Fred Lyon's images correspond with the San Francisco I have in my heart. I was inspired by Fred's work, I contacted him and he was keen to make a film so we did, we had a ball. Like Atget's Paris or Abbott's New York, Lyon's San Francisco is a treasure that deserves to be known internationally.

Lately, I've been working on a film about 'Lolita' author Vladimir Nabokov--the film is about Nabokov's butterfly studies. It's the story of a man who led a double life, one as a literary genius, the other a passionate Lepidopterist--a butterfly expert. From his boyhood in Russian to his last days he collected butterflies and wrote scientific papers on butterflies. He became an expert on a group known as the the 'Blues' and published visionary theories about their migration--all of which have recently been proved correct via DNA mapping. This film is called Lolita's Butterfly it is sort of exploration on how science and literature came together for Nabokov, both influencing the other in his life. 

Nabokov's name is so heavily connected to 'Lolita', which is possibly the most misinterpreted novel of the 20th century, that I wanted to tell about another Nabokov, the naturalist, the scientist. I went to Russia to film and spent time in the places he grew up and first collected butterflies it was wonderful, a chance of a lifetime for me. My next location is South America which is where his 'Blues' are found. Sadly Dmitri Nabokov, his son died recently and won't get to see the film but he was very happy I was going to tell the story of his father's love of nature.

What do you like best about working in San Francisco and the Bay Area?

YBCA is one of the best places for art and film anywhere in the world in my opinion. On a more personal level, I really enjoy the Mexican food on Polk Street and the very cool post production facilities at the Presidio film centre. I personally prefer a European urban life styles i.e. cafes and being able to walk instead of driving everywhere and SF was like that when I lived there. I loved to go to Green Apple Books on Clement, always found new authors there to read. I also was a pushover for Japantown--I went there all the time to have tea and hang out.

I think the city itself can inspire any person at certain times - the fog, the architecture, the bay it is all like a wonderland. All of my friends here in Europe ask 'how could you leave San Francisco, it is so beautiful? I never know how to answer that question.

Is there anyone you want to say hello to in SF?

Hello to Café Bastille and Michael Kenny (the Jazz Bassist). I'd also like to say hello to Tony's Cable Car restaurant on Geary--I miss their veggie burgers very much!

Fred Lyon: Living Through the Lens plays September 29th at YBCA Screening Room as part of YBCA's all-local series "Local Boy Makes Good." Director Michael House and Fred Lyon will be present for a Q&A.