Longevity distinguishes American art-house institution Strand Releasing from countless other independent film distributors that have fallen by the wayside since its inception in 1989.
Behind an unobtrusive door in Culver City, co-founders Marcus Hu and Jon Gerrans guard a stronghold of risk-taking ventures that rose to prominence with the advent of the Sundance Film Festival and the dawning of the New Queer Cinema thanks to landmark LGBTQ titles such as Gregg Araki’s “The Living End,” David Moreton’s “Edge of Seventeen” and André Téchiné’s “Wild Reeds.”
For three decades, Strand has maintained its fearless spirit, withstanding the whims of the industry. Not only does it still believe in having theatrical runs of its titles but it also subsequently releases the vast majority of them on DVD.
Proud of this momentous anniversary, the company, famously named after San Francisco’s Strand Theater, recruited Canadian actor and filmmaker Connor Jessup to oversee the production of “30/30 Vision: Three Decades of Strand Releasing,” a collection of 30 commissioned short films shot on iPhones, courtesy of Apple, by storytellers at the vanguard of the medium — most of whom have inextricable ties to Strand.
Following stops at New York’s MoMa and the Bay Area’s SFMOMA, “30/30 Vision” comes home to Los Angeles on Friday, hosted by the UCLA Film & Television Archive for the celebration’s culmination.
Ranging from the observational to the irreverent, each visual confection, no longer than a couple of minutes, serves as a reflection of the artists’ stylistic identity in bite-size manifestations, while collectively functioning as a sampler of the varied genres and sensibilities that have characterized Hu and Gerrans’ business.
Thai master Apichatpong Weerasethakul delivers a water-centered mood piece, Rose Troche observes the painful screenwriting process, Bruce LaBruce honors the pleasures of oral sex, Tommy O’Haver delights with a musical tribute to queer directors, Christophe Honoré focuses on a man taking the perfect shot of his derrière, John Waters hilariously mocks Dogme 95, and Araki takes Godzilla to Park City.
Strand has fostered a brand that defies easy classification, yet it’s always associated with boldness. There’s no formula to acquiring out-of-the-box narratives, but for the cofounders it’s their love for the merits of a feature more than financial viability that informs their choices.
“We look for films that have something to say and that have a director’s vision,” Gerrans told The Times. “Is this a film that’s going to be forgotten next year, or is it going to be a film that five, 10, 15 years later people will still be interested in?”
Unafraid of movies that other distributors deem too difficult to handle, such as Lucrecia Martel’s “Zama,” Fatih Akin’s “The Golden Glove” or Ulrich Seidl’s “Paradise: Faith” (which prompted religious groups to flood Strand’s office with postcards demanding the cancellation of the release), Strand has found creative avenues to connect an American audience to these artists.
“We represent them like a gallery would represent a fine artist,” said Hu. When a director works with Strand, they are not a mere commodity but a partner. These collaborative relationships, he believes, is how the catalog has managed to include multiple works from the same creators.
But even with outstanding selections, the current landscape faced by those handling international and independent works is certainly daunting, with fewer venues to screen and digital platforms devouring smaller players. “The biggest challenge is trying to keep our films relevant in a very dwindling marketplace for these types of films,” said Gerrans.
Yet rather than surrender to despair, Strand is determined to adapt and grow with the tides of change. It’s the founders’ firm conviction that interest in unique productions does exist, it’s just a bit harder now to cut through the noise and reach those who treasure them.
Art lovers first and foremost, Hu and Gerrans find themselves reinvigorated with each new talent discovery and each new audacious story. That gratifying search for what’s next has fueled them throughout their long history and it’s a replenishing force alive in them today.
“The most encouraging part about this business in our 30 years is continually seeing all the new voices out there. That’s what keeps us going,” Hu said. “It’s about keeping an eye on the future.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday