Sam Green has been making award-winning short documentaries since the late 1990s. This program gathers together for the first time an evening-length program of Green’s short films, ranging from a portrait of the world’s largest shopping mall in Southern China, which is actually completely empty (Utopia, Part 3), to an elegy for Meredith Hunter, the young man who was killed by Hell’s Angels at the notorious 1969 Altamont concert (lot 63, grave c). Other films from the program include: The Fabulous Stains: Behind the Movie, the remarkable story of the cult film directed by Lou Adler in 1982. The Universal Language is a portrait of Esperanto, an artificial language that was created in the late 1800s with the hope of creating world peace, and the worldwide movement of people who still speak it. Running through Green’s films is a celebration of idealism and the search for meaning along with the often humorous realities of human folly.

Utopia Part 3: the World’s Largest Shopping Mall – 13:08, 2009

Pie Fight ’69 – 8:03, 2000

The Fabulous Stains: Behind the Movie – 11:00, 1999

lot 63, grave c – 9:47, 2006

N-Judah 5:30 – 3:18, 2004

Clear Glasses – 4:13, 2008

The Universal Language – 30:00, 2011

I’ve been to Las Vegas many times and have always experienced a familiar roller coaster of reactions to the city, from being fascinated and seeing it as a profound expression of grand historical forces and liberatory impulses to just seeing it as a totally fucking depressing place. I don’t think I’ve ever had such strong reactions to a city. This film is an expression of much of that and weaves together several elements: a visual portrait of Las Vegas; informal, verite-ish interviews with a wide range of interesting people we came across while shooting; archival images of the city from the 1950s and 60s; along with some first-person voice-over musings about the city and its history. My hope is that this film does justice to the endlessly fascinating, spectacularly libidinous, and deeply disturbing nature of Las Vegas and its history. —Sam Green

This piece was commissioned by David van der Leer and Terry Riley for the “And Then It Became a City” exhibit at the Shenzen Biennial of Design and Architecture.

Is nothing American sacred anymore? The largest mall in the world turns out not to be the famous Mall of America in Bloomington, MN—it’s the South China Mall outside of Guangzhou, China. Outdoing the techniques of American consumerism, South China Mall is Disneyland, Las Vegas, and Mall of America rolled into one. There are carnival rides, mini-parks, canals and lakes amid classic Western-style buildings housing space for hundreds of shops.

But along with the glitz and glory of middle-class shopping, the mall’s Chinese developers seem to have imported something else—a cautionary tale of capitalist hubris. Alex Hu, a local Guangzhou boy who made it big in international business, wanted South China Mall to be a hometown monument to his success—even though Guangzhou has no major airports or highways nearby. And four years after its construction, the mall sits virtually empty of both shops and shoppers. But the Chinese have imported yet another concept familiar to Americans—South China Mall is considered too big to fail. So, employees line up for flag-raising ceremonies and pep talks about “brand building” before going off to meticulously maintain the deserted concourses. If China is the future of the world economy, Utopia, Part 3: The World’s Largest Shopping Mall just may be a startling peek at what’s to come.

You can watch the film on PBS here.

This film is a poem of sorts about a pair of glasses that Mark Rudd, one of the former members of the Weather Underground and one of the main subjects of my film on the group, sent me out of the blue a few years ago. He had been wearing that specific pair of glasses when he turned himself in in 1977 and I recognized them from news footage and photos of the event. He sent me the glasses as a way to say thanks for making the film.

I loved the glasses. It was as if he had somehow read my mind, or my person, and figured out the gift that would thrill me almost more than anything else. I definitely find myself enthralled by certain objects.

I think that what I like so much about Mark Rudd’s glasses is the fact that these are the very same pair of glasses that I’d seen on the cover of the New York Times. This was the actual object. There was something magic about that. Just like the Claxton Mailbox. I couldn’t quite figure out how, or why this was the case.

Whatever it was, I felt like this fascination was somehow at the root of my documentary filmmaking—this obsession with realness and the real thing. I was drawn to Mark Rudd’s glasses in the same way that I was drawn to the Rainbow Man and his story, or Meredith Hunter’s unmarked grave, or the world’s largest shopping mall that is oddly enough a total failure, or a piece of footage that I used in The Weather Underground showing hippies burning dollar bills with looks of great ecstasy on their faces.

So with Clear Glasses I was trying to somehow get to the bottom of all of this—to create a serious meditation on the complex web of impulses that inspire my work. But when I showed the finished piece to my girlfriend for the first time, she laughed and said she thought it was a funny piece! I was completely surprised. I don’t make funny films! I got similar responses to Clear Glasses from other people, and over time, I chalked it up to one of the fascinating truths about filmmaking: that the meaning of a film is created for the most part by the audience and that a filmmaker can often be surprised by how his or her work is perceived. Oh well, so much for a serious meditation. But I was able to try out several new things with Clear Glasses, and so in many ways I see it as a warm-up exercise for the first-person essay film I made the next year, Utopia In Four Movements. —Sam Green

lot 63, grave c is a short documentary film about Meredith Hunter, the teenager who was killed by Hell’s Angels at the Rolling Stones’ notorious Altamont concert in 1969.

Altamont was supposed to have been the west coast version of Woodstock, the huge peaceful rock festival that had happened in New York a few months earlier. Instead, the concert turned into a Hieronymus Bosch-like orgy of bad trips, stupid rock fans, poor planning, and tons of violence. It culminated with the Hell’s Angels, who had been hired to do security, brutally murdering Meredith Hunter in front of the stage as the Rolling Stones played.

Altamont came to symbolize for many the end of the 1960s – the end of a hopeful era. Meredith Hunter is the central character in that narrative, and yet he has always been an enigmatic figure. Although the newspapers at the time recorded his name, there was never anything more – no photo, no quote from his devastated mother. He was a mystery then, and now has been all but forgotten.

lot 63, grave c has screened at the following film festivals: Sundance, Rotterdam, Ann Arbor, San Francisco, Black Maria, Nashville, Los Angeles, Seattle, PDX, Tekfestival (Rome), Silverlake, and the Dallas Video Festival.

A portrait of the streetcar that passed in front of Green’s apartment in San Francisco for many years.

On Wednesday night, October 22, 1969, a delivery truck arrived at the front of Masonic Auditorium, amidst the glamour and clamor of the opening night of the San Francisco International Film Festival. The driver, a husky pastry chef, apparently in a hurry, attempted to run a huge tray of creamy pies up the red-carpeted stairs. In the rush, the precarious arrangement of pies went flying, and, almost magically, the oddest assortment of characters descended—a nun, a football player, and a go-go dancer among them. What ensued was a most memorable yet virtually forgotten piece of San Francisco’s cinema history.

Led by late filmmaker Peter Adair (Holy Ghost People, Word is Out), the band of radicals called themselves Grand Central Station. Their hope was to create a huge splash—a media event that would attract investors to the group’s numerous, unfunded feature-film projects. Staging a silent-era pie fight at the black tie event was also a perfect way to protest the bloated, bourgeois affair the Festival had become.

Equipped with some half a dozen cameras, the group, numbering nearly thirty, emerged from the crowd of tuxes and gowns once the delivery truck (with “Grand Central Station Pies” printed on the side) arrived. As jesters, nuns, and mimes flung pies, towels, printed with the Grand Central Station manifesto, were supplied to any bystanders that got creamed. The pastry melee splattered across headlines for two days (“Hippies Invade Film Festival”); even Mayor Alioto heightened the coverage by wanting to charge the no-goodniks with a felony.

Despite the huge amount of publicity generated by the pie-fight, no movie offers came in for Grand Central Station. Several months later, the members of group all went their separate ways. And the rolls of film they shot of the event were lost for almost 30 years, until San Francisco filmmaker Bill Daniel discovered them recently in an unmarked box sitting in a corner at Artist’s Television Access, an underground film venue.

Pie Fight ’69 documents this wacky event, constructed from the original footage shot by Grand Central Station and from news coverage and personal accounts. Preserving the seat-of-the-pants flavor of the pie tossing, Pie Fight ’69 attempts to bookmark a nearly forgotten moment in 60’s counter-cultural radicalism, as well as set a page in the histories of San Francisco’s underground film community and the SF International Film Festival.

Sarah Jacobson (1971–2004) was a legendary San Francisco underground filmmaker, as well as a great pal and inspiration. Sarah was extremely passionate about things––when she was interesting in something, she made the world stand up and take notice. In the early 2000s, Sarah become obsessed with the 1981 cult film Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. I had never even heard of the movie, but when Sarah showed me a bootlegged VHS copy, it blew my mind. The Fabulous Stains is definitely one of the weirdest movies ever made, but weird in a fascinating way! The congruence of people and social forces that came together in the film, not to mention the ambition and failure and all that…

Anyway, Sarah pitched doing a piece about The Stains to John Pierson, who had a TV show about indie film on some cable channel at that time. John liked Sarah and loved the idea for the piece––I think he’d actually even shown The Stains way back in the early 1980s.

Sarah didn’t have a lot of experience with documentary, so she asked me to work with her on the project. It ended up being a real collaboration, and I learned a lot from Sarah. She was meticulous about music editing, and also had very strong opinions in the edit room. Needless to say, we fought! But we had a great time making the piece, and I still think of it, and my time working with Sarah, fondly.

And thanks entirely to Sarah’s tireless championing of The Stains, in 2008 Rhino recently re-released it.