How does it happen that the local filmmaker who created the "Women in the Rejected Chair" shorts showcase has never been rejected by the Walker Art Center film program whose name she so pointedly hijacked? Chalk it up to the peculiar combination of marketing smarts and DIY aesthetics that defines Lisa Ganser. A year ago, the self-described "30-year-old chubby blue-haired dyke" was organizing shorts screenings in coffee shops around town. Then a disgruntled sister filmmaker suggested a piss-take on the Women in the Director's Chair showcases (plum exposure for locals, if you can get it). Ganser realized at once this would be the "kicker" screening--the one that would elevate her game to bigger venues. As for the other filmmaker: "She was scared off by how excited I was getting."
Lingering over coffee at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, Ganser tells the story with a characteristic blend of self-deprecation and enthusiasm. Her instincts were right on: So many local film fans were charmed by the event's cheeky righteousness that some had to be turned away at BLB last Memorial Day. The night's success helped Ganser land a job at Intermedia Arts, where she curates a monthly shorts showcase called First Fridays. The second annual "Women in the Rejected Chair" will land there, again on Memorial Day, again collecting those rejects from the Walker's March screenings and the Independent Feature Project/North-sponsored "Minnesota Shorts Showcase." Among the featured films: Laureen Griffen's mesmerizing urban-nature paean "Nature Walk," Kim Brown's travelogue-as-techno-loop "Gay Games," Marti Lufkin's amusingly mysterious dance video "Java Funk Minnesota," and Mary Britton's brashly un-p.c. comedy "Jebidiah."
Contrary to rumor, Ganser claims she has never rejected a reject: She pledges to accept eligible films up to the day of the show regardless of blurred shots, awkward acting, deadly sincerity, or any other flaw damned by more "elitist" showcases. While this year's program is satisfyingly well-booked, filling the "Rejected Chair" has not always been the easiest of tasks. Ganser has gathered names from the queer arts community, IFP/North, and fellow students at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (where Ganser is an "incomplete" away from finishing both the film and video programs)--only to find filmmakers shy about lining up under her freak flag. "That word rejected...yeah, you might be turned off by that a tiny bit," laughs the curator. "There were actually quite a few people who were scared off [the first year]. They thought we'd be stepping on the toes of IFP/North or the Walker."
Far from wreaking vengeance, IFP/North helped sponsor the 1999 fest. As for the Walker, this year's dumping of the "Women in the Director's Chair" moniker (Now it's called "Women of Vision") was a function of the program's divorce from the so-named Chicago touring showcase--not a grumpy response to its ungrateful offspring. Indeed, Ganser has indisputable proof that the Walker doesn't carry a grudge: "There was some gossip that people weren't so happy about 'Rejected Chair.'" So this year I was like, 'I'm going to submit whatever I have...so I can be rejected!'" She smiles wryly. "Both of my pieces got picked up."
Walker screenings of Ganser's documentary on the punk homocore scene and her impish comedy short Stalking Mike Hawk (say it fast) didn't alter the director's commitment to airing rejected films. But her reasons for doing so have changed. Last year, she says, she was reacting to complaints that the Walker had favored works from Chicago above local pieces. That wasn't true of this year's "Women of Vision" festival. More significant, Ganser helped program "Minnesota Shorts Showcase" this spring (screened as part of the International Film Festival). She wasn't a juror, but she learned a lot from the selection process.
"It so depends on the panel," she reports. "Who they are, what mood they're in, if they just had lunch. Seriously. If the piece is over ten minutes, literally the panel will groan. The [MSS] panelists were totally picking these crazy experimental things. Then there was this really strong, 35mm piece with a narrative that's maybe a little slow for these panelists. It's getting screened all over the world, and it can't get a local screening. That's stupid. That's one of the philosophies behind why I started DIY screenings.
"But how long can you argue with someone over it? You're indoors all day long, you don't get paid, you're volunteering to be there. I'm seeing both sides of it now."
Ganser's double vision is likely to worsen. This Thursday through Saturday, she's bringing queer video collections from the Brazil, Mexico, and New York "MiX: Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film/Video Festivals" to Intermedia Arts. She continues to curate First Fridays--which on June 2 features recording and video artist Miranda July and a talk on alternative film distribution. She's also helping to program films for MNTV, on Twin Cities Public Television.
At the same time, the director is currently editing what she calls a "fuckyoumentary" about a fictional St. Paul female punk band. "Janesville" includes a cameo by a Backstreet Boys-type group who are really backstreet girls, original songs written and sung by Ganser and her stars, and the director's concept of a Gap commercial for the new millennium. "The girl band ends up selling out," Ganser reveals, mockingly courting more rejection. Janesville the group has already been invited to play Brazil.
"Women in the Rejected Chair" screens 8:00 p.m. Monday, May 29 at Intermedia Arts; (612) 871-4444.