Media Arts Cochair Rob Epstein's Film Howl Makes Big Splash at Sundance San Francisco

Last night San Francisco made history by hosting "Sundance Film Festival U.S.A." at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas in Japantown. CCA Media Arts cochair Rob Epstein and codirector Jeffrey Friedman were on hand for the screening of their new feature film, Howl, which kicked off the Sundance Film Festival last week in Park City, Utah, and will screen once again tonight.

The Kabuki screening marks a unique change in festival programming this year—one that dispatches selected films to eight additional U.S. cities to join in the fun of the festival. Now for the first time festival enthusiasts can partake in the exclusive world-renowned cinematic event without having to travel all the way to Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden, and Sundance, Utah. And CCA staffers and students took advantage of the exciting inaugural event by supporting Rob’s and Jeffrey’s new work in person.

Howl is an amazing and innovative film based on the infamous and controversial three-part poem written by San Francisco-based Allen Ginsberg in the late 1950s. Actor James Franco delivers an Oscar-worthy portrayal of Ginsberg during his coming-of-age period when he read his enticing, eccentric, and unusual phrases at Beatnik bars in San Francisco and New York. The film also is interlaced with incredible animation that depicts the poetry, as well as documentary-style interviews with the poet and courtroom scenes that reenact how Ginsberg’s poem, “Howl,” led to the famous obscenity trial.

At the postscreening filmmaker and audience Q&A, many community members and unlikely suspects stood up and raised their voices, including Jake Ehrlich Jr., the grandson of the real defense attorney, Jake Ehrlich (played by Jon Hamm). Ehrlich Jr.’s insightful conversation with the filmmakers was one of the true highlights of the evening, as well as questions shouted out by James Franco's brother Tom, who sat in the third row, and caused the audience to giggle with excitement.

What’s more, two people in the audience claimed they had known Allen Ginsberg personally and provided accounts that felt very unexpected; even the filmmakers themselves seemed taken aback by the unforeseen praise for the film’s authenticity. Such interaction brought out the event’s theme, "Night of Ideas," an engagement in a collective film experience that inspires conversation.

What's up next for Rob and Jeffrey and Telling Pictures production company—a collaborative effort that has over the years collectively been awarded two Academy Awards, five Emmy Awards, three Peabodys, and both Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellowships? The Berlin Film Festival, but until then, they are back on a plane to Sundance Film Festival . . . only this time with 12 CCA Media Arts students in tow.

Tune in for more blog posts following the exciting festival events in Park City, Utah this weekend!

(Photo by Clay Walsh. Left to right: Eric Drooker, Jeffrey Friedman, Rob Epstein)