Tuesday, June 15, 2010

FRAMELINE34 2010—The Evening Class Interview With Executive Director K.C. Price

I waited almost a little too long to interview Michael Lumpkin, Frameline's former Executive Director, before his unexpected retirement. I told myself not to hazard the same mistake twice and to make a more concerted effort to get to know and interact with his successor K.C. Price and, further, to become more involved with Frameline's championing presence in the Bay Area. I dropped the ball last year on meeting up with Price but rallied this year. My thanks to K.C. for so graciously considering my 35mm complaints even as he invited me into Frameline's office at the Ninth Street Film Center for a conversation. He carries on Frameline's ongoing tradition of being responsive to its constituency. A tall, affable and well-spoken gentleman, I sensed our conversation would be the first of many in years to come.

* * *

Michael Guillén: K.C., I was Googling you last night to see who the heck you were and I kept getting all these hits on this Black evangelist fleecing his flocks....

K.C. Price: Frederick K.C. Price!

Guillén: That's right. But I found very little on you and so would like to start out this morning by securing a little background information for a brief profile. You've clearly been around for a while?

Price: Yes, I've been working for Frameline directly or indirectly for 11 years now.

Guillén: Were you originally on their board?

Price: No. Michael Lumpkin hired me in 1999. I came on then and worked for four years as their Development Director. Frameline, CAAM, and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival co-own the Ninth Street Film Center and—when Frameline moved into the building—we enhanced that partnership. All of a sudden the Center became its own non-profit so I moved from the Frameline position and became the Managing Director of Ninth Street. I did that for five years. I was still basically working closely with Michael and Frameline through those years. When Michael left, I applied for the Executive Director position and that's how I came back into the office directly.

Guillén: What are your duties as Frameline's Executive Director?

Price: The Executive Director in a non-profit typically oversees all the departments. Normally, you'll have a program department, an administration and finance department, and a development / fund raising department. I manage all three of those larger areas and am ultimately responsible for the organization. I'm the one who reports directly to the Board of Directors.

Guillén: So you've been in this position two festival years now? How are you settling in? Have you been enjoying yourself?

Price: Absolutely! I feel lucky to have this job. No doubt about it. Of course, anybody working in the non-profit sector with the economy right now has been facing financial challenges—especially at the end of 2008 when all this started—but, we have weathered all that very well and things are going great. No, I couldn't love this job any more. Being in this role last year during my first festival—especially following in Michael's footsteps—felt pretty terrifying sometimes; but, at this point, going into my second year, it feels so much more comfortable to me.

Guillén: Are you from San Francisco?

Price: No, I've lived here for 15 years. I'm from North Carolina.

Guillén: Is that where you were educated?

Price: I went to undergraduate school in North Carolina and then went to graduate school in Washington, D.C. for a number of years. Then I lived abroad for about 2½ years.

Guillén: With regard to this year's edition of Frameline, I'd like to focus on the two sidebars I'm most anticipating—the focus on South American queer cinema and the mini-retrospective of the queer shorts of Andy Warhol—and the festival's overriding attention to history. As you went to organize the festival, did these themes present themselves in the submissions received or did you sift through the submissions in search of works to fit chosen themes?

Price: That's an excellent question. I would probably say it's a little bit more of the former but there is a little bit of the latter to help bring it all together. For one thing, in terms of the films that we're looking at that are being screened at the larger film festivals—Toronto, Sundance, Berlin—we'll be able to see the brightest gems in LGBT cinema that are out there. On top of that we have about 500-600 submissions during Frameline's submission process; a lot of shorts but a large number of narrative features and documentaries too. So you will start to see some themes that are gelling out there in the zeitgeist in terms of what filmmakers are making.

I noticed last year that in a lot of the films that were coming in—and, of course, we were going for the high-end artistic quality films—there seemed to be a lot darker themes and more violence in the films last year. I remember some audience members mentioning that to me and all I could respond was, "That's what the filmmakers are making right now." I don't know if that was a consequence of the administration....

Guillén: Let's blame them for bumming us out.

Price: [Laughs.] Or maybe it was the war in Iraq?—I don't know—but, it was interesting to see that. Whereas this year—in terms of finding a theme—the whole South American program was definitely what was happening, which was really interesting. Back in December-January, people were asking, "What are you seeing?" and it was all these films from South America. When we drew close to the programming decisions in March, it was an easy thing to do. It wasn't just that there were a large number of films from South America, it was that there were at least 10 really great films from South America.

Guillén: Latin American cinema is primarily what I cover so it's always great when there's a respectable LGBT sampling and this year is just fantastic. As I was researching Frameline's selection, it was heartening to see these films popping up in other queer film festivals in the U.S. and Canada, most recently Toronto's Inside Out, which just wrapped a few weeks ago. How much does Frameline coordinate with other queer festivals to bring these films to North American audiences? Does it help to acquire the films since they're already on the festival circuit? Does their availability influence your programming decisions? Do you interact with these other LGBT festivals?

Price: We do interact with them—not necessarily to make the programming decisions—but, we have a lot of close relationships with several of the other queer film festivals. We get to know each other at the larger film festivals. They're wonderful people working at the other festivals. We have a great working relationship, for example, with Outfest in Los Angeles. One thing we do get out of knowing the other programmers is that sometimes we can check in with each other for tips or if we're looking for information on a particular film; but, it's not a close network in terms of making mutual programming decisions.

You do have to remember that there is a limited body of work that's being made each year that is high quality LGBT cinema. A natural consequence of that is that you're going to see some of the same films programmed at other festivals as well.

Guillén: In terms of the spectacular dimension of the festival and inviting talent to accompany their works, there's not any coordinated efforts between LGBT festivals to finance travel costs for—let's say—bringing in directors from Argentina, Brazil or Peru to attend their screenings? I imagine the complication there would be the calendaring?

Price: You've described what the issue would be. It is mostly about the calendar. As I mentioned to you, one of the things I learned from working for the consortium at the Ninth Street Film Center is that it's not always easy to collaborate. Collaboration is beautiful and it's wonderful when it works; but, it's also a tremendous amount of work.

Guillén: It looks good on paper?

Price: [Laughs.] Yes, it looks good on paper. It sounds really great when you're describing it but then there's the whole level of actually doing the work, which can sometimes be very challenging. When you can make it work, though, it's really exceptional in the non-profit world. As you say, if you can combine resources to finance travel, that's great; however—though there are some queer festivals close by to our's—sometimes they're just not close enough to make the travel work. For example, as I said, we have a great relationship with Outfest in Los Angeles and would love to partner more on travel with them because they're situated not too far after our own festival, maybe a week or so after Frameline; but, it's always almost impossible to split costs because, no, talent can't hang around for two and a half weeks inbetween festivals.

Guillén: Does Frameline receive much consular assistance for some of the films you're bringing in from other countries?

Price: Yes. We have a number of partners that help us in different years. For example, in the two years I've been here, last year we had generous support from the Swiss consulate and some from Sweden, I believe. This year, the Israeli and Norwegian consulates are supporting us.

Guillén: Being that you have such a strong South American sidebar, are you receiving any consular support from the South American countries?

Price: No, we're not. Usually we can make the consular support happen when we already have a working relationship. Sometimes it just doesn't work because—by the time we confirm that a guest is coming in and the amount of work it takes to get the consulate's support—it doesn't work for the timeline. It always sounds really good, but—when you get to it and try to make it all happen—the timing doesn't work unless there's already an established relationship. One of our longest supporters was the Canadian consulate; but, we haven't been receiving support from them in the last couple of years. I don't know if that's due to a change in government or if there have been budget cuts.

Guillén: So let me be clear, when you're saying "support" do you mean financial support? Or administrative support?

Price: Most of the time, it's usually financial support to bring in filmmakers. That's what we use it for.

Guillén: And—since, as you know, I have a vested interest in waning 35mm culture—do the consulates help out at all with print trafficking costs?

Price: Sometimes we'll ask if they can help with print trafficking costs; but, mainly we ask for support to bring in a director.

Guillén: Can you speak to Frameline's collaborations with Bay Area community organizations? Are there any new organizations that you're particularly proud to be working with this year?

Price: We have two different types of sponsorship support. We have corporate sponsorship where companies, businesses and sometimes non-profits donate either corporate financial gifts or in-kind gifts. The other part of it is the co-presentations where we work with different community organizations—this year I think we have more than 60 different community groups, mainly all non-profit organizations—and they help us get out the word about Frameline and the festival and we get to talk about them at the screenings as well as provide tickets to their constituents so they can attend the festival. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is one of our relatively new co-presenters that we're excited about this year. They're co-presenting two wonderful films related to Don't Ask Don't Tell: A Marine Story (2010) and Out of Annapolis (2010).

Guillén: Taking the South American sidebar as an example, do you reach out to the Latino community?

Price: Sure, absolutely.

Guillén: Do these Latino community organizations meld with the queer community?

Price: Oh sure. We work with particular partners [
Amor Sin Fronteras, El/La Program Para Trans-Latinas, Queer Latina/o Artists Collective, Somos Familia] that serve the Latino community in terms of getting the word out about this special program that we have in the festival so that the constituents they serve are aware that these films coming from South America are available. Then we give free tickets to them as well.

Guillén: I note this year that Lucho Ramirez, who I believe is affiliated with Cine+Mas, wrote up your program essay on the South American sidebar.

Price: Our Community Engagement and Communications Coordinator Harris Kornstein is amazing and has done a great job with the co-presenters this year. I'd say more than half of our programs have a co-presenter associated with them and, typically, in the introduction before the film starts we acknowledge the co-presenter; but, unfortunately, we can't get into much detail in the introduction because it will just bog things down. We're wondering if there are other ways that we can talk about co-presentation so that our community understands how many non-profit groups we work with? One of the wonderful things about the festival is its relationship with the larger community, as represented by the co-presentations.

Guillén: I might suggest profiles of your co-presenters on Frameline's recently-launched blog? That strikes me as the perfect place to get the word out. As you mentioned earlier, the other arm of sponsorship is corporate. This year Yahoo! joins Frameline as one of its premiere corporate sponsors. Talk to me about the value of that association and how it benefits the LGBT community.

Price: Frameline's been fortunate to have a long, successful set of relationships with corporate sponsors for decades now. Some of our sponsors have been with us on and off since the '80s and early '90s. What's fascinating is how these major companies have developed these rich relationships with us, supporting us so generously, which shows how far the community has come in terms of how eager these corporations are to be a part of a film festival that serves the LGBT community. That's exciting. Yahoo! has been a sponsor for four, maybe five, years and this year they went up to one of our two highest levels of sponsorship.

Guillén: As a non-profit with a festival arm, how much support do you receive from the City?

Grants for the Arts is one of our largest funders. I believe about 5% of our budget comes from Grants for the Arts. They're a significant funder to Frameline and have been for a really long time. We couldn't do without Grants for the Arts!

Guillén: Then the remaining bulk of financing comes from memberships and ticket sales?

Price: We have about a $1.6-1.7 million dollar budget to run the organization year-round and the way it breaks down is that for contributed income we have individual donations and membership, which is close to about a third of our support. Our donors and members have been so much of what's made Frameline strong through the years. It's just like the audience itself, which has always been there for us. The foundation also gets government grants, along with the corporate sponsorship that we've talked about, and then we have a set of earned income and the primary one, as you said, is ticket and pass sales. We also have earned income from our
distribution department through film rentals and DVD sales.

Guillén: Speaking of the distribution arm, I'd like to follow-up on a question I asked Michael Lumpkin when we spoke a few years back. I expressed to him how much I admired the "Send It Home" program that Frameline initiated back in the late '80s, I believe, and he told me that the program had been discontinued due to administrative complications. He mentioned, however, that it had morphed into Frameline's "Youth In Motion" program, a carryover of the "Send It Home" initiative. Can you speak to where Frameline stands with its "Youth In Motion" program?

Price: Educational facilities have always been the main, fundamental customer base for Frameline Distribution, which has been around for more than 20 years now. We have about 250 titles. The "Send It Home" program from a number of years ago was a specialized program where people could order films that they could send back to the libraries and colleges of their choice, provided they were accepted. [Laughs.] Once in a while, they weren't. So—though someone might have wanted to send a title home to Nebraska—we had to check to see if they even wanted it.

The "Youth In Motion" program that Michael talked to you about has been in effect for almost two years now. The concept for the program was based on "Send It Home", but basically what we did was we made four DVDs that each covered a separate theme, such as gender identity, LGBT marriage, there's one on the Latino LGBT community, and the fourth one is on visionary leaders (for example, we have a film we've distributed on Harry Hays). So, we took different titles and grouped them into these four DVDs and created action guides and curriculum for each of the DVDs and then we started working with gay-straight alliances throughout the state of California to get them into the GSA network clubs and sometimes into the more liberal schools especially and they're using the DVDs as teaching tools in these GSA clubs so that they have discussion topics and films that they can watch. It's a great way to help end homophobic violence within schools. The program has been incredibly successful. We've confined it to the state of California because we've standardized the DVDs to conform to California curriculum.

Guillén: Another question I asked Michael but I pose it to you because I think it's important to revisit this question every so often: with increased mainstream acceptance of queer cinema—not only through the inroads we've made into outlying communities through festival, theatrical and television programming, but in the accessibility and increased visibility of our queer stories on many of the new exhibition platforms—how long will it be necessary to have LGBT identity-based film festivals? Are they still relevant? Do they continue to serve a necessary purpose for our community? Do they still help in organizing identity and community?

Price: Yes, yes, and yes. [Laughs.] It's really wonderful that we do have all these new platforms and options to see things on television that we didn't used to see; definitely a plethora of queer images in media that weren't available, say, 10-15 years ago. On the other hand, though, Frameline's festival as well as the other LGBT festivals throughout the country still fulfill a really important need of bringing out a large collection of independent, really wonderful LGBT films that you're not going to have access to. If on your cable networks or your IPhone—should that be the medium you prefer to watch films—these films were available, I wonder if it would be a different question? Yet, it isn't. LGBT film festivals really are the only opportunity people will have to see a lot of these works.

Another thing around this is that—although we do have a specific community we serve and our films are about LGBT content—there's still this whole dimension that is no different than any other major film festival in the Bay Area. There's this other piece of it. Yup, we're offering you most of our films for the first time and giving you a chance to see them because they haven't been on television or shown up at the theaters yet. Plus, of course, the wonderful opportunity to see these works with your community in the Castro Theater. Because of those things, I don't see how queer film festivals are going to be diminished. I'm reminded of the argument made 100 years ago when the phonograph was invented that there wouldn't be any reason to meet for a symphony or an opera anymore because you could just listen to a record. As we know, that argument hasn't panned out. Queer film festivals will be around for a long time. There is a need there around it that you can't replace in a living room. Also, our numbers have not been going down. We've been increasing the last few years in terms of audience size.

Guillén: The attendant question would be whether it's become more difficult to coordinate programming with other festivals in the Bay Area who are now prone to incorporating LGBT cinema into their line-ups? Do you find yourself more in competition for some of the major titles?

Price: That's a really good question and the answer is no. Again, it's based upon collaboration. For example, within our building, we have incredibly rich relationships with the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, and outside of the building with the San Francisco International Film Festival. There are crossover titles; but, we always talk about it. San Francisco International will sometimes show queer titles but we're in communication with them about what we are and are not showing. Based on those great relationships, competition for titles is not a serious factor of concern.

Guillén: A case in point would be François Ozon's Le Refuge, which I caught at Toronto, and which Frameline has included in its line-up, but which was also shown previously in the Bay Area at a preview screening at the recent San Francisco International. I'm curious, did they situate the film in their festival in that way because they knew you were going to be showing it at your festival?

Price: Those decisions are usually made by the distributor. The distributor then lets us know what they're doing and we usually just sign off on it. "Okay. Sounds great. Love it." Both festivals benefit.

Guillén: Returning to Frameline Distribution, are any of your titles available through Netflix Instant Play?

Price: I'm glad you asked. They're available through
Amazon and TLA. You can actually buy some of our DVD titles through Amazon or our website directly. We've also just started making a selection of our titles available for downloading through TLA and Amazon. The benefit of associating with Amazon and TLA is that Frameline secures access to their broader market. For us to set up download streaming is cost-prohibitive so it's better to work through those partners and their technology and allow them to do it.

Guillén: With regard to the historicity that has become the underscored theme of this year's Frameline festival, was this a theme you already had in mind? Or was this again the case of recognizing what was out there on the circuit?

Price: More of what was out there. We didn't purposely do that. We did more consciously program the Warhol sidebar just because of a number of things that had happened over the past few years. We thought it would be a nice add-on after the underground cinema we programmed last year. Plus, we were motivated by the wonderful Centerpiece documentary Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar.

Guillén: Is Canyon Cinema providing the Warhol prints this year?

Price: No, we worked with Canyon Cinema last year for our special program on underground cinema; but, this year we're working with MOMA for the Warhol films since they had the 16mm prints. They just came in the other day. I was excited when the big box arrived. Ron Gregg, the Yale film studies professor who's curated the sidebar, is absolutely marvelous and I'm personally looking forward to his lecture as well.

Around your question regarding the historical theme, that one came up after we had started programming and we started looking at what was the theme and we thought, "Wow. There are a lot of historical dramas here or films about our history in terms of narrative features."

Guillén: Do you have a take on that? Why historicity has become a thematic focus out there in the LGBT zeitgeist?

Price: I don't have a take on it. I haven't given it much thought as to why that has happened. I am interested, though, and I don't know if we could ever answer this question because it's just so mysterious what causes themes to happen. Is it just coincidence? Personally, in terms of my own taste in GLBT film, I love historical queer films. I find them fascinating. I come from a point of view of history that we didn't just start happening a few years ago. I don't feel that we've had a rich enough sense of history—whether through novels, films or art—and, for me, there's something lacking so there can never be enough of it.

So, for example, I was really excited how much you loved The Consul of Sodom. I did too. One of the things that just fascinated me about the film so much was that I would never think that a person such as the poet portrayed in that film would have led such a life in post-World War II Franco Spain. It surprised me; but, then—watching the film—I thought, "Well, of course." I would have thought it would have been a more oppressive time where a gay man couldn't live quite as openly; but, then again, when you come from such a wealthy family, you can get away with a lot more.

Guillén: That's a valid point. I felt the same thing watching Frameline's opening night selection The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, where the individuation of a young lesbian was furthered by her social station and class privilege. Those are certainly factors worth consideration in assessing how individuals like Anne Lister and Jaime Gil de Biedma got away with as much as they did in the times they lived. But what captures my imagination even more is how the sheer driving force of their individuality pierced through oppression and repression. In each of them was their fierce desire to live an authentic life.

Price: Exactly. And just imagining the challenges that they must have been up against, especially someone like Anne Lister in Regency England. I wasn't familiar with Anne Lister when I previewed the film for the festival, although I've since found out that she is well known in women's studies courses—she's often been called Britain's first modern lesbian—but, otherwise, I didn't know anything about her. I think it's absolutely wonderful that films like this can bring a person such as Anne Lister back to a wider audience, especially since she has such a strong historic significance for the LGBT community.

Guillén: So to wrap up here, what are you hoping Frameline's audiences will take away from this year's festival?

Price: I hope that everybody gets to as many films as possible because I'm completely blown away by the breadth of excellent films in this year's festival. I keep shaking my head in disbelief at just how many beautiful films there are day after day after day. It's an especially strong year so I hope that people get to as many films as possible and don't miss out.

Guillén: I'm likewise invested in several of the projects chosen this year. Scott Boswell's The Stranger In Us is dear to my heart and I'm so pleased it sold out its original Roxie engagement, such that you've added a second screening at the Castro.

Price: Yes, we're doing a repeat screening at our first TBA slot.

Guillén: I saw my own youth in The Stranger In Us and it confirmed for me that all I have to do is look in the mirror to experience the selfsame historicity that has thematically veined Frameline34. Having arrived in San Francisco in 1975, not only has my entire adult life been lived here; but, I've been witness to the gay liberation of the '70s, including watching Frameline grow as a festival since its early beginnings. All these years later, my interest remains in how the festival shifts along with current trends. I'm glad to see the festival continuing to grow, that you have settled in so well into your stewardship, and I look forward to participating in this upcoming event.

Price: Thank you, Michael. I appreciate it.

Cross-published on


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Michael, for that very informative interview.

I was particularly interested to read how Frameline is using Amazon.com and TLA to distribute their films as downloads on the Internet. Of course, this effectively makes those two entities as much the distributor as Frameline itself, and indeed any independent filmmaker can get their film on Amazon.com by way of a third party (Create Space). And perhaps not surprisingly, the experience that Carole and I have had with Queer Icon on Amazon.com -- many times more viewings online versus DVD sales -- would seem to indicate that cheaper, more instantly accessible viewings are where independent distribution is bound to head. The Finnish documentarian who distributed his film as a standalone smart-phone app may just be the tip of a very messy iceberg. (In the future, we will all be a smart-phone app for 15 minutes.)

It’s hard not to wonder what this will actually mean for filmmakers and festivals alike. I have Spanish friends here in the city who watched a downloaded bootleg of El Cónsul de Sodoma months ago -- and they certainly will not be paying to attend Frameline’s screening of the movie. Of course movie piracy is a way of life outside of the U.S. (or at least in Spain), and to judge by anecdotal evidence from friends, a way of life well on its way to encroaching upon income streams here. It is a peculiar kind of crossroads for film culture: exponentially expanding opportunities and audiences -- with ever more questionable financial returns to filmmakers who want to keep on making films but who must necessarily be constrained by the lack of funds.

Thriving festivals like Frameline’s, which rely on free “product” from producers eager for the audience and cachet that come with a thriving festival, do little to change that economic reality. For now, it certainly doesn’t seem to mean fewer films submitted to festivals -- Frameline, I’m sure, had more entries than ever this year -- but if neither theatrical engagements nor DVD sales are providing heretofore expected incomes, surely changes will be coming not just in how we all view movies, but in what we view. When even a John Waters can’t raise the funds for a low-budget movie . . . well, reason can’t help but reach for images of icebergs struck in uncharted latitudes.

Thank you again for the interview!

Mike Black

Michael Guillen said...

Thank you, Mike, for such a thoughtful response.

Journalists have been wrestling with platform concerns much longer than I've been writing about film. I'm not sure what any of it portends for the future of film exhibition, other than that I imagine it will be like music: you can listen to it live at a concert, on a CD, on a cassette, on television, on concert DVDs, on the radio, etc., etc. You catch my drift. In general, I am less inclined to pit one form of access over another though I remain attached to specific forms.

As for piracy, I recall Malaysian filmmaker Amir Muhammed stating that film piracy in Malaysia is, in effect, their film school. It's all in how you spin it, I guess.

I can understand why your Spanish friends might not want to catch The Consul of Sodom at Frameline due to having already seen a bootlegged copy; however, you'd be hard pressed to invest in a more worthy ticket as it will be shown in 35mm and the director will be there for a Q&A. I always opt for the spectacular when available.

All that's not to say that I don't understand the economic plight of independent filmmakers. Where there's a will, I guess, there's a way.

Anonymous said...

All excellent points, Michael. The comment about movie piracy in Malaysia being a kind of film school reminded me of the successful film editor -- can't remember which one -- who claimed he'd learned how to edit film by watching on a Moviola all of the movies that George Tomasini had cut for Hitchcock. New formats have provided us all with a Moviola, as it were, and we are certainly richer for having opportunities Old Hollywood never envisioned.