In the history of The Doors or the life of Jim Morrison Sheldon Renan’s name may never have come up before, but he is one of the people whose life intersected Morrison’s for a brief moment when he and Jim Morrison were judges at Yale and the UC Santa Cruz Film Festival.
Sheldon Renan has a long and distinguished career in underground films and chronicling them. An article he wrote on Andy Warhol turned into an offer to write Warhol’s biography, a project that morphed into his book “An Introduction to the American Underground Film” (January 1967) a book that reportedly influenced Gus Van Sant to become a filmmaker. He’s had dinner with such luminaries of film such as Francois Truffaut and Fritz Lang (same dinner party) and introduced Andy Warhol to Salvador Dali (‘a very surreal experience’). He’s also directed underground films such as “The Killing of America,” founded the Pacific Film Archive at the University of California at Berkley, and produced and wrote “The Japanese Film” and “International Animation Festival” for PBS. Renan also worked in different capacities with popular filmmakers like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola.
On October 17-20, 1969 Sheldon Renan and Bob Nelson were judges along with Jim Morrison at the UC Santa Cruz Film Festival. I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Renan about his experience and impressions of Jim Morrison.
DE: What impression did you get of Jim Morrison?
Sheldon Renan: In judging a film festival you usually watch about 300 shorts in 3 days and when you watch films with somebody, in the darkened auditorium something happens. Morrison seemed to be emotionally like a teenager, but he was pretty sophisticated viewer and seemed artistically mature. He brought a copy of his film “Feast of Friends” and showed it to us.
DE: As a filmmaker yourself what do you remember or what were your impressions of “Feast of Friends”?
Sheldon Renan: It was a privilege that he showed it to us. It was an amazing film that was deeply subjective like moving through space with everything moving around you. When he came to the film festival he insisted on his friends being with him. He hung out with us after the viewings while I was driving home to my wife, people seemed important to him, hence the name of the film “Feast of Friends.” He didn’t seem to have a sense of self but he was engaging with life. No one I knew had that kind of life, it was like moving through space and things were bending around him.
DE: What else do you remember about the film festival?
Sheldon Renan: Morrison had a clear sense of what he liked. All three of us had a certain amount of money we were able to award to the filmmakers. A certain amount of money, and he gave all his to one film while we spread out our money among several films.
DE: What film?
Sheldon Renan: It was a film by James Broughton, it was a deeply subjective poetic film, and at the end there was a reverse montage of pictures of himself going back to childhood, kind of like selfies today. It was the opposite of “Feast of Friends” but I think Morrison was attracted to that sense of self.
DE: You’ve observed underground film since the ’60s. How have underground films changed over this time?
Sheldon Renan: The ’60s underground film was the beginning of the democratization of media. Someone once asked Jean Cocteau when films will become comparable to poetry and he said ‘film will become comparable to poetry when the cost of making a film is the same cost as making a poem.’ We’re close to that now. Things on Vine are very similar to what was being made in the ’60s. A friend with whom I worked and recently died, Kit Carson, was shooting a film in Africa using a Nokia phone.
Making a film today isn’t daring the gods like it was back in the ’60s. Then if you wanted to make films you either had to be a corporation or in the Hollywood industry, or like in Europe from the aristocracy that had money like Man Ray.
Sheldon Renan is currently working on a book called “In All Ways Entangled” (a working title) about the future of connectivity. He also acts as a consultant, writing, producing videos, and special venue media for entities such as Disney, Sony, Playstation, and Xerox.
I would like to thank Mr. Sheldon Renan for taking the time to talk to me regarding his experiences, impressions and thoughts on Jim Morrison and film. I would also like to thank Mr. Rod Pitman for connecting me with Mr. Renan. Mr. Renan’s book “An Introduction to the American Underground Film” is available online.