Underground cinema legend George Kuchar
has been professor of film studies at the San Francisco Art Institute since 1971. For a few years in the '90s, filmmaker Jennifer Kroot
was both his student and an actress in his movies before eventually becoming a close friend. Ten years later, Kroot has made It Came From Kuchar
, an homage to and summation of the vast work made by George and his twin brother Mike (from Sins of the Fleshapoids to Hold Me When I'm Naked)
over the past 50 years. Kroot's doc plays at 9 pm Friday May 29 in Portland's Queer Documentary Film Festival at the Clinton Street.
She recently spoke with WW
via phone about her personal journey through filmmaking alongside the brothers Kuchar.
WW: How did George's influence as your film teacher affect the making of your film, given that he's the subject?
Jennifer Kroot: I was influenced by him just to share with people what an inspirational and unique person he is. I didn't make the film in his style because that would be competing with the film clips within it. We discussed some important topics [in It Came From Kuchar
]—sometimes serious, sometimes sad, sometimes really funny—we tried to keep it a little lighter, which I think George often does with his movies.
The program notes for QDoc mention that both George and Mike are gay. To what degree do you consider this a gay film?
I like to make films for everybody. Damn straight. This is definitely a movie for everybody. I love that the gay festivals like this film and I like it that the mainstream ones do too, but [it] brings us more towards sexual equality if we can enjoy the same movies without saying, “This one's straight, this one's gay.”
It never seemed that “gayness” was a huge theme in George's work.
No, I wouldn't say that…well, he definitely explores his questions about sexuality in his films. The Kuchars don't really discuss a lot of personal things about [themselves], they don't come to me and say “I wanna tell you about my conflicts with sexuality and why it's been hard for me,” but they do like to put it in their films. I think the reason that a lot of gay festivals are really enjoying this is that we talk about how the Kuchars really do openly explore their sexuality in the films. But there's so much camp in their work too that it just appeals to that sensibility. I think it's kind of a natural fit for some gay festivals.
Throughout the movie George does a lot of filming of you filming him. Was that something you knew was going to happen going into the project?
Well, I knew it was going to happen, yeah, and I didn't not
want it to happen. It was never a problem, if anything it was inspiring. That's what he does and it would be weird if he didn't do that, I would have been like “oh, what's wrong?”
You mentioned trying to get across how unique George is as a person. What were the reactions to George at the premiere at SXSW? I mean, he films his poop.
It was great because [in the film] we have John Waters talking us through how, I think he said the first time he saw a shot of a turd in a toilet was in an early Kuchar film, and he said, “well, that's a rare shot, even today.” So it's really fun when you see the excitement in John Waters as he talks about it. In the early days of George's work he never used real turds. He sculpted them out of dog food. Now, time's have changed [she laughs] I won't say what he does now. As far as the reaction at SXSW, people just busted out laughing.
The preview of the film online is much centered on George Kuchar, as opposed to Mike. How did you approach balancing the two brothers in your film?
Yeah, I tried to balance them just from the proportions of how I know them. George, he's really charismatic, he's really social, he teaches, he puts himself in front of the camera, goes out there and does tons of shows and he's always out there walking around or riding his bike around San Francisco. And then Mike, on the other hand, he is prolific but maybe not compared to George. He's more shy, he's just a different type of person, he thinks a lot, he's very internal. You kind of have to go to him to meet Mike. You could just go to school and meet George, but Mike really has to trust you.
I caught a screening of George's latest video work at the Clinton last summer. What are you expecting this city's reaction to be given that George has shown here before and given his reputation?
I've heard that Portland is incredibly cool. I've heard it's great for small movies. I know the two guys—Russ Gage and David Weissman—who run the festival are big George Kuchar fans—and of Mike too. There's a lot of energy around the Kuchars work at the festivals and a lot of people there are really interested in arts and small films. So, I hope they come.
It Came From Kuchar screens at part of the Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival at Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St., 238-5588. 9 pm Friday, May 29. $6-$8.