.Diamond in the Rough Film Festival

First-ever Diamond in the Rough Film Festival comes to Cupertino

BAD INFORMATION: In S.E.R.P., playing at Diamond in the Rough, Robert Campbell plays Webster, who finds himself in hot water with the government after the search engine he designed goes rogue.

The reincarnation of Joan of Arc once walked the streets of San Jose, and even had a regular radio show on KKUP. Premiering at the first Diamond in the Rough Film Festival at BlueLight Cinemas in Cupertino, The Ambassador of God is a documentary concerning the radio psychic and lecturer, Brother Anthony Penera. The co-director (with Francesca Stonum) is Diamond in the Rough festival founder, Mark Schwab.

The Ambassador of God is a very close-up profile of Brother Anthony, seen before he left this spiritual plane in 2013. Brother Anthony seems a blend of Stuart Smalley and Paul Lynde—sarcastically free from organized religion and insistent on the power of love. He preached to his pupils (of whom Schwab was one) against “hate and fear and all the crap that comes with it.” Penera was initiated into psychic mysteries by an Italian lady in Willow Glen named Norma Jean Baker, just like Marilyn Monroe. He soon claimed to be able to recall previous lives, including one as the Maid of Orleans. In Schwab, Brother Anthony saw not only a student but a chance for exposure. “When I first approached him about making a documentary, he was over the moon,” Schwab tells the camera. “For two to three years, I was his main public relations guy.”

The danger of this situation—of being a publicity man for a serious eccentric—is spelled out in a film from a few years back, Joe Gould’s Secret; it tells of how New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell (Stanley Tucci) accidentally killed his own career by shadowing a noted Greenwich Village character. Devoted as he was, Schwab learned of the “spiritual bully” side of Penera. Brother Anthony told unverifiable stories; he said he’d taught 40,000 students, including singer/psychic friend Dionne Warwick. Yet to keep a roof over his head, the psychic worked for almost 30 years at the Beech-Nut baby food factory on Senter Road. Heavy on the talking-heads shots as it is, this tale of a small-time divine has the color of a Flannery O’Connor story.

Schwab’s other offerings at the fest include the not-bad short The Davenport Vampire, shot by himself and several of his students. As a stoner is cornered in a stalled car by a vampire, there’s both impressive creature reveal and intimidating makeup.

The fest’s name, “Diamond in the Rough,” encourages trepidation—can we see them when they’re polished? Still, the offering that seemed most like a gem was the Jason Salazar directed/ Schwab-written and photographed short Before You Leap. In it, a couple of young marijuana seekers meet with a new dealer and discover a big bureaucratic hassle. Desperately seeking weed are Ty, a doofus in clashing plaids (Robert Sean Campbell), and his ornery female pal Floyd (Casey Semple). The two have such an unforced rapport that it makes you wish this were a calling card for a feature film.

Max by Rajesh Naroth gives a vision of the intensity with which solitary people love pets, and tells it all through acting. Bettina Devin finesses it with grace as a woman sharing a last day with her companion.

From Australia, Gone Lesbo Gone traces the history of a would-be scandalous film, Lesbo-A-Go-Go (2003), by Arnold Leavold of Brisbane, Queensland. Leavold was the then-owner of a video store called Trash Cinema. Apparently seeking obscurity and misunderstanding, Leavold decided to emulate one of the proto-porn “roughy” films of ’60s NYC weirdette Doris Wishman—complete with her wandering shots of people’s shoes, the skeevy, guttery cast, and the sudden hair-pulling violence. This red-letter day for the Brisbane underground cost $700 Australian, plus some amount of beer, and almost got one of its stars fired from her day job when word got out in the papers about a shocking scene shot in a graveyard.

If anything, Gone Lesbo Gone is more talking-headsy than Ambassador of God. And it’s no rival to Not Quite Hollywood, the documentary about Australia’s contribution to the realm of cine mauvaise. (The Mad Max movies didn’t come out of nowhere.) Like many of the offerings at this fest, Gone Lesbo Gone seems of most interest to the budding filmmaker seeking collaborators in the realm of outrageous, small-time, always personal cinema.

Diamond in the Rough Film Festival

Sep 25-27, $10-$65

BlueLight Cinemas


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