A deeply personal, remarkably intelligent and profoundly moving experience, Jenni Olson's “The Royal Road” – screening twice this week during the San Francisco International Film Festival – is not easily labeled.
Olson says she no longer describes her work as experimental film: “Lately I've become fond of calling it a 'stream of consciousness’ film, because there are so many elements that tend to flow from one thing to another.”
“The Royal Road” begins with El Camino Real, the highway that connects the lovelorn butch lesbian San Francisco narrator and the elusive object of her affection in Los Angeles.
It also connects the plot threads of Alfred Hitchcock's “Vertigo,” which Olson cleverly untangles over the course of her 65-minute film.
“Living in San Francisco is basically like living on the set of this film,” she says. “I remember that the first few times I saw it, I had this curious experience of not being able to remember what the plot was, and so each time it was as though I was seeing it for the first time. I found myself getting deeper and deeper layers of personal meaning from it each time.”
She also discusses Father Junipero Serra, exploring a more politicized angle rather than the romanticized one often presented in works about California history.
“In the course of writing and researching, he emerged as this kind of lead actor in the tale,” she says. “I almost feel like I should have added him to the credits.”
An expert on LGBT cinema history, Olson's technique is to show beautiful, meditative shots of serene San Francisco landscapes, buildings and alleys, empty of humans – though sometimes the wind blows and things move, or a pigeon flies by, or a car passes.
“I think that we are all really deeply craving the experience of slowing down and being present in the landscape around us. It's a very powerful thing not easily achieved,” she says.
Olson took a long road making “The Royal Road.” Her last full-length movie, “The Joy of Life,” about suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge, was released 10 years ago.
While obtaining funding for her work is as challenging as ever, she continues to write, has plenty of ideas, and retains her sense of humor: “Let me just take this opportunity to say I am actively in search of an old-school patron. I will shoot experimental urban landscape films for food,” she says.
IF YOU GO
The Royal Road
Presented by S.F. International Film Festival
Where: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1551 Post St., S.F.
When: 6:15 p.m. April 29, 8:45 p.m. April 30