The Other Venice Film Festival is celebrating its seventh year as a community-supported event dedicated to screening films, presenting musicians and showcasing art that embodies the spirit, energy and diversity of Venice Beach.
According to filmmaker/photographer Leland Auslender, who documented the lifestyle of Venice Beach in the 1960s, Venice was the heart of mushrooming beat and hippie cultures, and home to many free-spirited and flamboyant inhabitants.
Having earned an engineering degree from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and a master’s degree from Stanford Business School, Auslender, who had lived with his family in Beverly Hills, moved to Venice in 1960 after his divorce.
“It was then known as Venice, ‘slum by the sea,’” he remembers. “It was also hippiedom. Those were some of the happiest days of my life.”
The downstairs floor of a house on Park Avenue, which had a rent of $85 a month, became home. At night when Auslender returned to Venice from his job in the film department at Hughes Aircraft, he would go to the beach, film seagulls and waves, and whenever he saw eccentrics that “attracted” his lens, he would shoot them, too.
Parties with artists, musicians and writers were commonplace, he said, and drew the unique characters of Venice who partook in casual behaviors, with unconventional dress and language, consumption of drugs and, sometimes, self-imposed poverty.
Auslender’s prize-winning film, “Venice Beach in the Sixties — A Celebration of Creativity” shows slices of this life with the people he encountered. He met his second wife, Taki Camille, a sculptor, at a party given by “The Holy Barbarians” author Lawrence Lipton; Eric “Big Daddy” Nord, beat generation owner of the Gas House, a café popular with poets and beatniks which was later torn down for seismic safety reasons; and John Haig, owner of Venice West Café, a hangout for poets and artists, which became Sponto Gallery in the 1980s and was recently approved as a Los Angeles historic-cultural monument. Haig also founded the Peace and Freedom Party.
Sculptor Ron Boise did his work in what is now the Pacific Jewish Center on Ocean Front Walk and was known for his wild parties. Other scenes include a hippie Halloween costume party, an “uncostume” party with erotic dancers wearing only body paint and a “virgin experience” by Auslender with LSD, a life enhancing experience that he says influenced his films and photographs by unveiling the mystical universe.
Two years ago at the age of 83, and more than four decades later, Auslender realized that he had some great footage of Venice and decided to put the 16-mm unaltered material into a 15-minute film, which he learned to edit digitally using iMovie.
“It’s not the most sophisticated system, but it works,” he says. The Venice Beach film received a Gold Remi Award for Music at the WorldFest Houston International Film Festival in 2008.
“Venice Beach” is not the only film that brought Auslender recognition. “The Birth of Aphrodite,” recognized for its multiple superimposed liquid images filmed with randomly distorting silvered acetate mirrors, received critical acclaim when it was the full color cover story for the September 1971 American Cinematographer magazine.
The film won the Atlanta International Film Festival Silver Phoenix for best experimental short, a CINE Gold Eagle, and represented the United States at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival in France. Recently there was a retrospective of Auslender’s films at the Unurban Café in Santa Monica curated by Gerry Fialka. Information on all of Auslender’s films is at: www.canyoncinema.com/catalog/filmmaker/?1=15.
In addition to filmmaking, Auslender is also a photographer. He started using computers for photography when he was 75.
“That’s what keeps me going,” he says.
In 1998, he said he began visualizing the world in a heavenly light where interconnected images continued flowing into the universe forever. He said his work “Celestial Images” reflects transcendental or peak experiences of “our oneness with the mystical universe as we surrender ourselves to receive whatever it might offer.” The images suggest the divine nature of the universe, its mythology, fantasies and dreams, where everything is alive and everyone is touched and transformed by everything and everybody, forming an ever changing, indivisible harmonious whole, he said.
“They are my vision of the divine aspect of people and the world,” he says. “It’s like being in another dimension almost. I try to capture that inner vision on film.
Most photographers shoot outward — what’s happening away from them. I shoot inside.”
Examples may be seen at www.celestial-images.net/. The method used to portray this concept proved to be a dilemma, so Auslender said he figured out a way using a special optic system that transforms rectangular images into swirling prismatic visions floating inside a sphere.
“When you don’t have Hollywood money, you create your own special effects,” he says. The Hollywood Women’s Club recently featured an art show with 82 of his unique photographs.
The Other Venice Film Festival runs from Friday through Sunday, Oct. 15 through Oct. 17. “Venice Beach in the Sixties — A Celebration of Creativity” will be shown both on opening night along with the feature film, “Night Tide” starring Dennis Hopper, for the filmmakers and press only and, again, on closing day with the “Short Series and Experimental Films – Block 2” for the public at Beyond Baroque.
Some of Auslender’s “Celestial Images” will be on display. These include six mermaid images to tie in with Hopper’s opening night film, which is about a mermaid.