In the four decades he's spent producing experimental film festivals, Mel Vapour has screened everything from Kenneth Anger's Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome to Michael Snow's Wavelength, along with cult flicks by Lenny Lipton, Stan Brakhage, and Andy Warhol. He premiered Godard's Sympathy for the Devil for New Line Cinema shortly after the company launched in 1967.
As founder and director of the Berkeley Video and Film Festival (now in its sixteenth year), Vapour helps cultivate some of the hottest young producers you've ever seen, allowing them to share the big screen with finished adults. "There's not the glitterati of Mill Valley," he explained, "but the grand festival award winners are really high-end." Furthermore, the student filmmakers all use sound trucks, Mitchell cameras, light crews, and adult-trained actors these aren't homespun productions by any means.
This year's fest features the Mark Hammond's "high-buck production" Johnny Was, which stars British actor Vinnie Jones and the Who's Roger Daltrey, and also marks the acting debut of heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis. The documentary lineup includes Henry Ferrini and Ken Riaf's Polis Is This: Charles Olson and the Persistence of Place, in which John Malkovich leads viewers through the strange, incredible universe of poets Amiri Baraka, Diane Di Prima, Peter Anastas, Charles Boer, and their ilk. In the documentary "mash-up" Diary of Niclas Gheiler, director George Aguilar pieces together the story of his grandfather, who served in Hitler's army during WWII. In The Big Game local director LA Wood best known for his environmental Web site BerkeleyCitizen.org covers the Oak Grove protest at Cal. Ever the diligent muckraker, Wood has been at the Grove since day one, interviewing all the principles, watching the demonstrators, watching the police, and hanging out in the trees. Vapour wants to make sure Wood gets his props. "From a local perspective I think it doesn't take on a saccharine approach that these are tree-huggers and tree-sitters," the festival director assures. "I think there are multiple dimensions that the piece deals with." (He'd prefer that the viewer extrapolate what those dimensions are.) There's even a short film about man boobies.
The Berkeley Film and Video Festival runs October 5, 6, and 7 at Landmark's California Theatre. A one-day pass costs $11; $25 gets you a three-day pass. Call 510-842-3699 or visit BerkeleyVideoFilmFest.org for program information.