Arts Beat

For $500, Tim Tate Got 99 Short Films About Tim Tate

Tim Tate paid $500 at an auction to become the character used by all the filmmaking teams competing in the 48 Hour Film Project.
Tim Tate paid $500 at an auction to become the character used by all the filmmaking teams competing in the 48 Hour Film Project. (By Michael Robinson Chavez -- The Washington Post)
By Rachel Beckman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 1, 2006

It takes a certain type of person to want 99 films made about him. Tim Tate is that person. And last Thursday night he settled into a seat at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring to watch -- and squirm and groan and sigh, but mostly laugh -- at a dozen of the best films featuring "Tim Tate, gay glass sculptor extraordinaire."

Well, the films don't actually feature the real Tate, a 6-foot-2, 45-year-old who wore a sweater vest and a neat oblong of facial hair to the packed screening. They just have to include a character based upon the six-word aforementioned description. The works were all created for the 48 Hour Film Project, an annual event in which amateur and professional filmmakers scramble to make four- to seven-minute movies in a weekend. Organizers give the teams a prop, a genre, a line of dialogue -- and a character -- to incorporate into their pieces.

Tate, co-founder of the Washington Glass School, bought the right to choose the character name and occupation for this year's Washington films at an arts benefit auction. He paid $500. It was the first time organizers had put the honor up for sale. Tate toyed with the original tag, "Tim Tate, glass sculptor," but added "gay" and "extraordinaire" to "make it more fun," he said.

Most teams didn't discover that Tate was a real person until the screening last week, said Mark Ruppert, who started the contest in the District five years ago. (It's since spread to 35 U.S. cities; local winners are screened at a film festival, and the national winner receives a high-definition camera worth about $6,000.)

When the event organizers announced the required character at the May 5 kickoff, a groan reverberated through the room.

"It was a more out-there character than we'll usually do," he said. "To have the four-word description of 'gay glass sculptor extraordinaire,' that's what they were reacting to." At least one team groaned for a different reason. Actor Chris Magnuson's team knew that Tate was a real person and a D.C. glass artist. Magnuson, 31, said he felt "disappointed" by the choice.

"This kinda seemed a bit like product placement," he said. "It was a little jarring, 'cause we were like, 'Wait a minute. This isn't what the festival is about.' "

Magnuson won Tate's special award for the portrayal truest to actual character. His film, "Fire Sale," was a spoof on the Home Shopping Network. Magnuson played Tate as a tortured artist forced to sell his wares on television to avoid bankruptcy. The real Tate said that he picked Magnuson's portrayal because it poked the least fun at him. ("Owensville," by the team Shaolin Monkeys, won the Best of DC award.)

In his award presentation speech, Tate laid out his criteria for the winner: "One, I had to live," he said (he died in about 40 of the films, he said, mostly from being bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher, the required prop). "Two, I had to not kill anyone else. And three, contrary to popular belief, my favorite mode of dress is not pulling the bottom of my T-shirt up through my collar." Tate saw his character wearing that look so many times that he started to suspect that the teams had planned it.

Tate said his involvement wasn't motivated by self-promotion, but his 99 moments in the spotlight have already reaped results: While consulting with a group from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on a glass project, an architect recognized Tate's name. It turns out that his son participated in one of the films. The two are now in talks for a new architecture glass project.

"They're like these little seeds I've planted out there," Tate said. "Who knows how they'll come back to me."

Visions of the Amazon

The late scientist Richard Evans Schultes was an expert in hallucinogenic plants, but an exhibition of his photographs at Georgetown's Govinda Gallery probably won't draw a hippie-dippy crowd. Like Schultes, "The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes" is more interested in documenting culture and biology than in any kind of high.

"A lot of the photos he did for his scientific research," said Chris Murray, Govinda's founder and director. "But you can clearly see that often he took a photograph for the beauty of it. . . . It's great classic photography."

In 1941, Schultes, whose work influenced writers Aldous Huxley and William Burroughs, headed into the rain forest with his Rolleiflex twin-lens camera to capture local tribes and rivers, and collected over 30,000 botanical specimens (and yes, sampled some of the hallucinogenic ones).

Murray edited down hundreds of photos to assemble a 160-page glossy book of Schultes's work, published in 2004. The show consists of about 20 prints from the book.

Schultes's personal favorite, according to the book, happens to be the only photo in the exhibition of a psychoactive plant: It shows a boy holding the leaves and blossom of a toxic culebra borrachera (a "drunken snake") that can cause "a frightening state of psychotic delirium, marked by burning thirst, nightmarish visions, a sensation of flight and ultimately stupor and death."

The Best of the Washington, D.C., 48 Hour Film Project, June 22 at 7 p.m. Free. At the Warehouse Theater. For information, call 202-783-3933 or visit .

The Lost Amazon, Friday through July 1 at Govinda Gallery 1227 34th St. NW. Free. Call 202-625-0440 for hours and information.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company