Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Yes On Sundance

The Bay Area Reporter asked me to write a Guest Opinion piece about why I'm NOT boycotting the Sundance Film Festival. If you can stand to read one more defense of Sundance read on RIGHT HERE. And then go watch my film again — 575 Castro St. is now available in HD on the FilmInFocus website!

Monday, December 08, 2008

575 Castro St. to World Premiere at Sundance 2009

The press release just went out from the Sundance Film Festival today announcing all the short films for the 2009 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. My new short film, 575 Castro St. will have it's festival World Premiere there (in front of the exciting new documentary, Shouting Fire: Stories From The Edge of Free Speech). Playdate info is below in case you're attending.

And here's the other great thing:

575 Castro St. is now available for viewing on the Focus Features MILK website (which is what it was originally commissioned for). But it's so hard to find you should go watch it here.

And then come read more about the film on the 575 Castro St. official blog.

575 Castro St. (2008) | HD | color | 7 minutes | USA
575 Castro St. reveals the play of light and shadow upon the walls of the Castro Camera Store set for Gus Van Sant’s film Milk. These mundane shots are almost bereft of movement and sound. So quiet, so still. All the better to showcase the range of emotions evoked by Harvey Milk’s words on the soundtrack. The audio track is an edited down version of the 13-minute audio-cassette that Harvey Milk recorded in his camera shop on the evening of Friday, November 18, 1977 (a few weeks after his election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors which made him one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States). Labeled simply: “In-Case” the tape was to be played, “in the event of my death by assassination.” The sensibility of 575 Castro St. hearkens back to the dozens of Super 8 gay short films of the ‘70s that passed through Harvey Milk’s hands to be processed and developed.

Sundance Film Festival Public Screenings:

Showing in front of the Documentary Competition film, Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech:

Mon. Jan 19 9:00 PM Temple Theatre, Park City
Tue. Jan 20 2:30 PM Holiday Village Cinema III, Park City
Thu. Jan 22 6:45 PM Broadway Centre Cinemas V, SLC
Fri. Jan 23 8:30 AM Holiday Village Cinema III, Park City
Sat. Jan 24 12:00 PM Temple Theatre, Park City

Find details about tickets and everything else on the Sundance website right now!

Friday, December 05, 2008

75th Anniversary of lifting of ban on Ulysses

"Molly darling he called me what was his name Jack Joe Harry Mulvey was it yes..."

Saturday, December 6th 2008 marks the 75th Anniversary of the lifting of ban on James Joyce's Ulysses!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

First Review of 575 Castro St.

Daryl Chin was nice enough to watch my new short film and write up some thoughtful reflections on his fabulous Documents on Art & Cinema blog last week. He gives me a brief tangent in the midst of his lengthy and entertaining critique of Janet Gaynor Day on Turner Classic Movies. How perfect!
"Anyway, over the weekend, i watched a short film made by Jenni Olson, "575 Castro Street" (which was the address of the store owned by Harvey Milk in San Francisco). It was quite a lovely short... consisting of shots of the (reconstructed) store interior (used as the set for the Gus Van Sant movie "Milk") accompanied by a taped message by Harvey Milk, which was made "in case of" his death. (Milk felt that he would be assassinated, because his stature as an openly gay man elected to public office was going to be under attack.)

Jenni's film brought to mind the attempts (since the 1960s) to find a way to meld "radical" content to formalism. On its own, it's a very evocative short: the "empty" interiors take on a ghostly quality as Milk's words (which foretell his assassination) pervade the space. Milk's own space is devoid of his presence, which is reinforced by his own words which explain the possibility of his absence.

I was reminded of how many people (Straub-Huillet, Marguerite Duras, Yvonne Rainer, Peter Wollen and Laura Mulvey, William E. Jones) have attempted to create disjunctive relationships between sound and image. "575 Castro Street" is a evocative addition to this aesthetic legacy."
— Daryl Chin, Documents on Art & Cinema

Thursday, November 27, 2008

My short film: 575 Castro St.

575 Castro St. from FilmInFocus on Vimeo.

a film by Jenni Olson
(2008) USA 7 mins. HD

575 Castro St. reveals the play of light and shadow upon the walls of the Castro Camera Store set for Gus Van Sant’s film Milk. These mundane shots are almost bereft of movement and sound. So quiet, so still. All the better to showcase the range of emotions evoked by Harvey Milk’s words on the soundtrack. The audio track is an edited down version of the 13-minute audio cassette that Harvey Milk recorded in his camera shop on the evening of Friday, November 18, 1977 (a few weeks after his election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors which made him one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States). Labeled simply: “In-Case” the tape was to be played, “in the event of my death by assassination.”

The sensibility of 575 Castro St. hearkens back to the style of the dozens of Super 8 gay short films of the ‘70s that passed through Harvey Milk’s hands to be processed and developed at the Castro Camera Store.

575 Castro St. is now available for viewing on the Focus Features Milk Website or just by clicking on the player above — but it's better if you go to the Focus site and get the player coming up larger (please go watch and be generous with your comments, I would love to see your comments).

And look for 575 Castro St. coming soon to a film festival near you (hopefully). I'll be posting screening info and such on my 575 Castro St. blogsite very soon.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Transgender Day of Remembrance: November 20th

Thursday, November 20, 2008 marks the 10th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance was set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998 kicked off the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Rita Hester’s murder — like most anti-transgender murder cases — has yet to be solved.

Although not every person represented during the Day of Remembrance self-identified as transgender — that is, as a transsexual, crossdresser, or otherwise gender-variant — each was a victim of violence based on bias against transgender people.

Click here to find a Trans Day of Remembrance event near you.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Golden Gate Bridge suicide barrier Victory!

Today (October 10, 2008) the Golden Gate Bridge Board of Directors voted 14-1 to approve the installation of a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Read this San Francisco Chronicle item for further details and stay tuned for updates (or visit the Bridge Rail Foundation and sign up for their newsletter).

I'm very proud that my film, The Joy of Life, played a small part in educating the board and the general public and in keeping the spotlight on this issue and the need for a solution. There is still a long road ahead (especially in terms of the funding aspect). But it is a sweet victory to have the Board of Directors finally take leadership on this issue after 71 years.

There have been so many people working on this issue for so many years. In the course of researching my film I was fortunate to come to into contact with many of these community leaders and conscientious activists. I just want to list a few of their names here to recognize and celebrate this achievement: Eve Meyer (Executive Director, San Francisco Suicide Prevention), Kevin Hines (Golden Gate Bridge suicide survivor), Paul Muller (Bridge Rail Foundation organizer), Ken Holmes (Marin County Coroner); Tom Ammiano (San Francisco Supervisor and Bridge District Director), Bevan Dufty (San Francisco Supervisor and Bridge District Director), Janice Tagart (Executive Director, Psychiatric Foundation of Northern California), Mary Zablotny (mother of Golden Gate Bridge teen suicide Jonathan Zablotny and member of the Golden Gate Bridge Suicide Barrier Task Force), Dr. Mel Blaustein (organizer of the Golden Gate Bridge Suicide Barrier Task Force), Eric Steel (director, The Bridge), Jerome Motto, Richard Seiden, Roger Grimes, SO MANY of the friends and family of Golden Gate Bridge suicides who have come forward over these many years with continual efforts to have a barrier erected, plus all of the journalists who have been drawing attention to the issue — especially over these past 5 years since Tad Friend's thoughtfully crafted New Yorker article so convincingly posited the story as a public safety issue and initiated the substantive journalism that followed (in contrast to the 65 previous years of primarily sensational, provocative and hopelessly apolitical press coverage).

And here are links to a few of the most significant media pieces of the past five years, starting with Tad Friend's New Yorker article (which was also the inspiration for Eric Steel's documentary, The Bridge).

Jumpers (Tad Friend's New Yorker piece from October 13, 2003)

The Urge to End It All (Scott Anderson's revelatory July 6, 2008 NY Times Magazine piece).

Lethal Beauty (the SF Chronicle's 7-Part series).

Suicide Watch (Andrew Blum's NY Times timeline of the cinematic critical mass drawing attention to the Bridge suicide issue in early 2005).

Power Over Life and Death (My SF Chronicle Op-Ed from January 14, 1995).

Of course, the other great debt of gratitude is owed to the Golden Gate Bridge Board of Directors and Staff.

And if you still feel like reading more check out:

The History of Suicide and The Golden Gate Bridge (script excerpt from The Joy of Life)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

#1 in My SnagFilms Queue

I have been wanting to see this film and just discovered it is available on, this really exciting new website where you can watch really good documentaries online for free. The site has all kinds of great features including the ability to donate money to support causes associated with each film. Check it out.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Watch the ITTY BITTY trailer, buy the DVD!

Yes, it is my favorite lesbian movie of the year (this year AND last year)! Jamie Babbit's ITTY BITTY TITTY COMMITTEE is finally out on DVD and you can buy your copy now from, or from fine retailers everywhere. Or click here to add it to your Netflix queue!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Don LaFontaine (1940-2008)

The King of the Trailers passed away on Monday in Los Angeles.

Best known as the guy who did the omniscient summarized plot narration for thousands of movie trailers (as well as being the voice of Oscar broadcasts), Don LaFontaine was an amazing talent.

As a longtime trailer fanatic and scholar of this unique genre of filmmaking I sent Don LaFontaine a fan letter several years ago. He sent back an enthusiastic and gracious reply and even offered to do the trailer voiceover for my next film project!

Don's voice lives forever in the many, many trailers we know and love. Here's a nice quote to remember him by:

"When you die, the voice you hear in heaven is not Don's. It's God, trying to sound like Don." — Ashton Smith

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Rant in Memory of Harold Wobber

d. August 7, 1937

It’s been 71 years since Harold Wobber (a World War I veteran who had been declared non compos mentis and was under treatment at the VA Hospital in Palo Alto) made front-page news as the first known Golden Gate Bridge suicide.

More than 1300 names have been added to the roster of known jumpers in the ensuing years (while hundreds of others remain uncounted).

Doing the math it’s easy to harden your heart and decide this figure is not that bad over the course of so much time. But here’s the thing: All those deaths? Were preventable.

And the 71 year-old problem of serial suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most egregious, and systematically neglected, basic public safety issues of the 20th (and now 21st) Century.

Interestingly, the reason that individual Golden Gate Bridge suicides are no longer front page news is because of a news reporting policy that determined that covering such suicides did more harm than good, by encouraging potential copycats. At the beginning of 2008 (as he does every January), Marin County Coroner Ken Holmes officially announced the Golden Gate Bridge suicide count for 2007 — there were 35 Bridge suicides in that calendar year. If the stories of these jumpers were being reported in the San Francisco Chronicle you would be seeing the gruesome details a few times each month (heartbreaking stories of vulnerable individuals: husbands, wives, parents, children —the rate of teen suicides at the Bridge is particularly alarming).

If random drownings were happening in your backyard swimming pool at the rate of three people each month? The city would make you put up a fence. In fact, the city would not let you have that swimming pool until you erected a fence in the first place (it’s a basic public safety ordinance in every municipality across the country).

The idea that a barrier will ruin the view? Oh, please! The idea that people will just kill themselves in some other way? There are numerous studies that disprove this theory. The idea that the $50 million it would cost to build a barrier should be spent on other forms of mental health services? Let’s find that money too, but there are many potential sources for THIS money. The idea that the rail should remain as it is just because that is the way it has always been? Every other public structure with the same problem has halted suicides by erecting a barrier. The idea that it is not the responsibility of our public agencies to protect the public safety? Um, sorry but it is.

As early as February 1939 (after the Bridge’s 11th jumper), the California Highway Patrol challenged the Golden Gate Bridge District Board of Directors to find a solution to the problem. In a San Francisco Call article at the time, a CHP officer presciently declared:
“Hardly two years old, the span gives promise of becoming a Mecca for despondent persons seeking self-destruction.”

Seventy-one years and 1300 (or so) self-destructions later it is not too late for the Bridge District to demonstrate their leadership— and listen to the mountains of evidence, logic and conscience that point toward the inevitable erection of a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge.

As Bridge District Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss once so eloquently put it (when faced with his own even more daunting challenge of bridging the Golden Gate):
“Our world of today . . . revolves completely around things which at one time couldn't be done because they were supposedly beyond the limits of human endeavor. Don't be afraid to dream!”

Please remember Harold Wobber today by letting the Bridge District know you care about public safety. They are officially seeking public comments now until August 25th on the five possible barrier designs under consideration. Best place to actually see the barrier designs is right HERE.

And then go make your comments HERE.


If you want to get more involved in the long, steady battle for a solution to end suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge please visit the Bridge Rail Foundation website where you can learn more, make a tax-deductible donation, or sign up for the newsletter.

You can also learn quite a bit more by reading the text of my research on the history of suicide and the Golden Gate Bridge, which is right HERE (this is excerpted from the script of my film, The Joy of Life).

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Our Facebook Wedding

It’s been almost 24 hours now. The warm wishes have been pouring on to our Walls from around the world:

“Congratulations!” "Mazel Tov!” "Good for you!”

At first we were bewildered — what had we done to warrant such enthusiastic encouragement? But now we’re embracing this, our latest formal commitment ritual, as we try to decide the date of our impending next one — to take place some time between now and November 4th here in California.

Our Facebook Wedding took place last night in the calm comfort of our living room. There we were: Together on the couch, PowerBooks on our laps, pattering away at our respective piles of email.

There I was: Guileless as I so often am with regard to the mechanics of Facebook — which is either too 2.0 for my 1.0 brain or perhaps there genuinely are some serious UI issues?

“You have a request for a Relationship,” the little heart said.

The significance of this term and the singular nature of the request suddenly cast a pale shadow on my 500+ “friends” huddled nearby.

With a sense of uncertainty and wonder I immediately click the approve button. Julie looks over my shoulder and: Voila!

You have no more relationship requests
You are now in a relationship with Julie Dorf.

As it happens, this amusing moment came about simply because Julie followed the Facebook prompt when she was updating her profile which asked her to select which of her many Facebook friends she was “in a relationship” with.

All of which to say: Thanks for all the good wishes but really, this one is just a virtual thing. We’ll let you know when we tie the knot again. And again. And again.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Jacob Brackman on Days of Heaven VO

Executive producer (and second unit director) Jacob Brackman talks about the development of the structure of Terence Malick's Days of Heaven, including the evolution of the voiceover. Which arose as a strategy during production as they were realizing that the dialogue scenes were just not working. A fascinating insight into the film's wonderfully innovative storytelling approach.

Okay, so here's the other thing, about a year later (in May, 1979) Brackman would go on to complete the screenplay for my favorite movie of all time (also the story of a tough teenage girl in a hard scrabble environment) Times Square. (Go ahead and click that title to read my epic research on the film's production history). Which bears a definite resemblance to the voiceover of Days of Heaven -- particularly in the character's heavy accent (Days of Heaven's Linda claims to be from Chicago but her at times almost unintelligible accent sounds astoundingly similar to Robin Johnson's Brooklynese in Times Square).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What Do I Do at Frameline32?

transtastic_15.jpg, originally uploaded by frameline32photos.

I stand around outside the theater just waiting to see who I will run into (pictured here at the Victoria this past Sunday night before the Transtastic program).

Sometimes I even go inside and watch the movies.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My Frameline32 preview on

Click HERE for full details and do not miss DRIFTING FLOWERS (pictured above and featuring one of the best butch characters in the history of cinema). See you at the movies!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Healthy Internet Addictions:

This is a shot of the Southington News office in Southington, Connecticut in 1942 (by Fenno Johnson). Click through for more stunning vintage photos on

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Matzo Maidels in Baltimore This Weekend!

One of my short films is playing in Baltimore this weekend. A rare opportunity to see MATZO MAIDELS, super fun archival lesbian porn with a Yiddish twist -- starring the voice of Brooklyn Bloomberg!

Full details below and click the link to buy tickets, etc.

Charm City Kitty Club: The Sweet Smell of Excess
Fri-Sat May 2-3 7pm Kitty Cocktails, 8pm Show.
$12, $10 mbrs.
Blackmail and lipstick larceny, femme fatales and the butches that love them—Baltimore’s favorite queer variety show takes a walk on the film noir side. Filmmaker Jenni Olson gets flirtatious with films like Matzo Maidels: Brooklyn Bloomberg, featuring archival porn with a Yiddishism-sprinkled voiceover. Brooklyn-based performance artist Erin Markey, “The Larry Flynt of avant cabaret,” performs seductive excerpts. Baltimore native Dionne Wilkins has been compared to Lauryn Hill, Res and Me’shell N’degĂ©ocello; and Nicole Reynolds’ sweet voice masks her songs about heartbreak and recovery.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Wisdom of Angela Chase

"People always say how you should be yourself, like yourself is this definite thing. Like a toaster, or something. Like you can know what it is, even. But every so often, I'll have, like, a moment, when just being myself in my life, right where I am, is, like, enough."

Take 15 minutes right now to relive Angela Chase's teen philosophical highlights on the transcendent experience that is... MY SO CALLED LIFE. This brilliant montage was created by the amazing FourFour. The complete transcription is a joy to read as well, because, as we all know, it is absolutely one of the best written shows of all time. Thank you Winnie Holzman!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Absolut "What If Mexico Won The Mexican-American War?" Controversy

The current worldwide "In An Absolut World" ad campaign came under fire last week from angry North Americans protesting the design for the Mexican version of the campaign which utilizes a historic map from pre Mexican-American War days (back when California, Texas and the entire American Southwest actually belonged to Mexico). I wish I had time to go into all the truly thrilling details of the crazy-ass history of the Mexican-American War (including then Senator Abraham Lincoln's Barbara Lee-esque hold-out position against President Polk where he stood up against the US declaration of war against Mexico as unjust).

Anyway, it seems that more than 5,000 people have enough time on their hands to post angry messages on the message boards about how they will now boycott Absolut for being anti-American. Prompting Absolut VP of Corporate Communications Paula Eriksson to post an initial explanatory post, followed by an official apology.

Here's my favorite part from the explanation post: "This particular ad, which ran in Mexico, was based upon historical perspectives and was created with a Mexican sensibility. In no way was this meant to offend or disparage, nor does it advocate an altering of borders, nor does it lend support to any anti-American sentiment, nor does it reflect immigration issues. Instead, it hearkens to a time which the population of Mexico may feel was more ideal... Obviously, this ad was run in Mexico, and not the US -- that ad might have been very different."

The outrage of all the US xeno-phobes points up the need for some basic education about the historical facts of the Mexican-American War (forthcoming in my next deceptively entitled movie, Get Me Guinevere Turner!)

March 15, 2011 Update: The title of my movie has been changed to the slightly less deceptive (and admittedly less imaginative), The Royal Road.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Supreme Morning for Marriage Equality

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and State Assembly Member Mark Leno welcomed about 200 LGBT community leaders at the San Francisco Main Library this morning to watch the historic final oral arguments as California same-sex couples asked the State Supreme Court to strike down the state law that bans lesbians and gay men from marriage.

The hearing in front of the State Supreme Court (unfolding just a few blocks away at the Court House) was broadcast live on the California Cable channel across the state. The crowd at the library was on the edge of their seats for a solid ninety minutes as out lesbian attorney Therese Stewart (San Francisco’s Chief Deputy City Attorney) and out trans-man Shannon Minter (NCLR’s lead attorney) offered their passionate, well-spoken pleas.

They were followed by an abysmal performance by the opposition as Deputy Attorney General Christopher Krueger gave a weakly articulated and often stuttering defense that was frequently interrupted by the impatient justices, with Justice Joyce Kennard in particular harpooning his emphasis on “tradition” as a basis for continuing discrimination.

The crowd at the library alternately cheered the home team and hissed the opposition with the fervor of a Super Bowl crowd at a sports bar.

Clocking in at three hours and 45 minutes, the riveting and historic hearing appeared to bode well for a positive decision with even the conservative justices appearing to reflect some level of sympathy (if only due to the poorly presented cases of Krueger et al).

There were moments of humor peppered throughout the morning, with Chief Justice Ronald George quipping at one point, "It all boils down to the M word, doesn't it?"

But the most entertaining figure of the day was clearly Justice Joyce Kennard. With her verbose but astute remarks and sharp rhetorical banter she emerged as the new heroic ally along the lines of SF City Assessor Mabel Teng who championed the Winter of Love marriages at City Hall in 2004.

As the plaintiffs finished arguments and the opponents began, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom dashed in for a quick pep talk to the crowd. Fending off a standing ovation, Newsom was brief and impassioned. "The truth inevitably is: We will win.” he proclaimed. “The only question is: When."

Stewart and Minter were equally eloquent in their closing arguments with Minter paraphrasing Shakespeare, saying:

“We’re here to praise marriage, not to bury it.”

A ruling is due within 90 days.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Hot San Francisco Hotel Tip: Hotel Tomo

In my continual, admittedly anti-Buddhist, effort to accomplish at least two things simultaneously in any given moment of my life I just recently published my review of Japantown's Hotel Tomo.

That's right, I managed to get a free one-night in-town family vacation for me and Julie and the kids (pictured here watching a vintage Godzilla movie in the lobby) AND I continue to be able to claim my status as an actively working travel journalist.

"The recently renovated Japanese Pop Art-themed Hotel Tomo (1800 Sutter St; 415.921.4000; in San Francisco's Japantown is our latest hot tip in the city. Whether you're looking for a fun place to stay for the whole family or just a reasonably priced nice, clean gay-friendly place for you and your partner -- the Tomo is an excellent choice." Read more.

Julie and I did a slightly different kind of multi-tasking a few months prior when we stayed at and reviewed the Hotel Kabuki. Read all about it and consider it as an option for a more grown-up kind of getaway. Read the full review right here.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

My Friday Harvey Milk/Castro Ramblings

For some random reason I registered the URL ages ago. And then I felt compelled to create a blog there and start posting items. It is the weird logic of the Internet that controls our lives!

Yesterday's post is actually worth reading. So here I am Cruisin' the Castro & Remembering Milk (and challah).

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Queer Sundance Movie Poster Show : The Video!

The folks at GLAAD were nice enough to do a little video shoot highlighting all the posters in my Queer Sundance Movie Poster Show (1985-2007) that was on view at the Queer Lounge during Sundance. Check it out right here!