Busy Mann at the Berlinale; Also, A Look Back at the New Hollywood, and More
by Eugene Hernandez
Canadian Documentary filmmaker Ron Mann ("Twist," "Grass") is in Berlin with "Go Further," his documentary about actor and activist Woody Harrelson's tour along the West Coast of the United States to promote organic living. Mann, whose film is playing in the large Panorama section, is busy not only promoting his current doc, but also looking for films for a new distribution label he has launched back home. Finally, the filmmaker is laying the foundation for a new film project, about mushrooms.
Despite heavy interest from a leading U.S. specialty company, Mann has decided to go with Richard Abramowitz for the U.S. release of "Go Further." Abramowitz is currently releasing Neil Young's "Greendale" and Craig Highberger's "Superstar in a Housedress." "Go Further" will debut in Mann's native Canada via Mongrel Media with an Earth Day launch. The director told indieWIRE that Criterion has nabbed the DVD rights to the movie.
Abramowitz told indieWIRE by email that he intends to open the film in the second half of the summer and at college markets through fall. "I expect to tie in to some appropriate 'green' corporations for both marketing and financial support," he said, "And we're looking forward to reaching out to the university audience prior to the Presidential election with the hope that this message of activism will resonate with young voters and, perhaps, influence the election."
Additionally, Ron Mann and Gary Topp recently launched Films We Like, a Canadian distribution company meant to serve as an alternative to the dominant Mongrel Media. The outfit will release the Oscar-nominated doc, "The Weather Underground" as well as the aforementioned "Greendale" and "Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time." And Mann is scouring the Berlinale for more titles.
"I think that people want to see films about how people really live," Mann told indieWIRE during a discussion at the Canadian booth at the European Film Market here in Berlin. "People are looking for authenticity -- (there is a) reason why docs are more popular with audiences, studio films don't reflect the way people live." With the distribution company, that Includes advisors such as filmmaker Peter Wintonick, Mann added that he and Topp are "bridging the gap between artist and audience."
Mann's new project, currently titled "The Mushroom Movie," will document mushroom culture (from legal to illegal), with some help from amateur mycologist (and filmmaker) Jim Jarmusch. The movie, Mann told indieWIRE here in Berlin, will explore the subculture of mushroom enthusiasts with eight different stories, some doc and some narrative segments. Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum introduced Mann to Jim Jarmusch during the Toronto International Film Festival last fall and Mann learned all about Jarmusch's fascination with mushrooms and an upcoming trip to Telluride to lecture at a mushroom festival.
Canadian broadcaster CHUM Television is on board to fund the film, which according to Mann will include a segment that features Jarmusch. Production will begin in August with Jarmusch on board as a consultant.
BERLIN GOES HOLLYWOOD: Looking Back at '60 and '70s
A comprehensive roster of films from the late '60s and '70s is screening in Berlin throughout this year's festival as part of "Retrospektive: New Hollywood 1967-1976." A group of five filmmakers from the era, Melvin Van Peebles ("Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song"), William Greaves ("Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One"), Peter Davis ("Hearts and Minds"), And Monte Hellman ("The Shooting," "Two Lane Blacktop"), gathered on Tuesday for what at times was a rambling discussion about the period.
"I was trying to break every rule in conventional filmmaking that existed," offered William Greaves, who explained that he maintained "a lot of crackpot ideas in "Symbiopsychotaxiplasm," his avant garde film from the era. The film never secured distribution, but Greaves explained that Steven Soderbergh eventually tracked him down and worked to restore a print of the movie that is screening here in Berlin. The director, who works regularly on documentaries these days, told the press conference audience that he will collaborate with Soderbergh on a "Take Two" version of the movie.
"I was very aware, when I went to Vietnam in 1972, that it was already The longest war that America had ever fought (and) that the everything had Been said," said Peter Davis, regarding "Hearts and Minds" his doc about the war. He added that through his movie he hoped to give viewers a taste of what is was like to be there. "I wanted to give the audience an experience not bunch of facts," Davis added, noting that the film screened at the Berlinale 30 years ago.
Explaining that his son Mario's "Baadasssss" details his own struggles to make "Sweet Sweet Back's Baadasssss Song," Melvin Van Peebles told the audience of press simply, 'Go see 'Baadasssss' and it will explain the Whole damn thing." He added, "I did not realize that I was doing the impossible, so I did it anyhow."
"If I had to kind of put my whole work together, its based on a philosophy that I am grateful to have discovered... it's very simple," he said, "That everyone who works on a production has to be in the service of that production, anyone who does something to call attention to himself is taking away from the production. Nobody can say, 'look at me', whether it's the actor, the director, or the cinematographer. If you notice it it's bad."
"It was an idea and I kept at it," Peter Fonda told the journalists. "I'd like to say that I was hip enough to know that this was the moment for 'Easy Rider' (but) I didn't make 'Easy Rider' to film that gap it just happened to be there. We didn't go out to fill a niche."
"Nothing is ever an accident," added Hellman, jumping in to complement Fonda, "'Easy Rider' made what followed possible, 'Easy Rider' gave me the opportunity to make 'Two Lane Blacktop', Peter made it possible."
ON THE TOWN: Barker's Birthday, Dancing Germans and More
Director Melvin Van Peebles was among the many filmmakers, executives and friends who crowded into the Victoria Bar on Monday night to celebrate the 50th birthday of Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker. The highlight of the night was the sometimes hilarious (and certainly lengthy) videotape of greetings gathered by Barker's colleagues back home. The tape included a who's who of international cinema, from Catherine Deneuve, Pedro Almodovar, Zhang Yimou, and Wallace Shawn to Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Caine, Candace Bergen, Glenn Close and colleagues Tom Bernard, Marcie Bloom, Dylan Leiner and many many others.
"Tom, Marcie and Dylan, thanks for doing this," a clearly moved Barker told the crowd, "I love all of you and I love them."
Sony Classics has two films in this year's Berlinale competition, Hans Petter Moland's "Beautiful Country" which it produced with Terrence Mallick and Ed Pressman and John Boorman's "Country of My Skull" which it acquired before the festival.
Around the corner at Einstein, the delegation from Spain celebrated, while back at Potsdamer Platz the European Film Market party was a popular hot spot.
Finally, in what is becoming an annual tradition, a large crowd of mostly Americans jammed into the infamous Kleine Nachtrevue for a late night show that featured performances by scantily clad (and sometimes entirely un-clad) waitresses. In between the numbers, many of the festival programmers, filmmakers, acquisitions execs, and producers on hand danced and sang. The celebrating was said to go on into the wee hours with one East Coast fest programmer reportedly donning a costume for his own on stage performance.