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April 11, 2001 2:00 AM
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DAILY NEWS: Lions Gate to Release Miramax' "O"; Icebox Relaunches; Chicago Underground Fund

DAILY NEWS: Lions Gate to Release Miramax' "O"; Icebox Relaunches; Chicago Underground Fund



by Eugene Hernandez, Brian Brooks, and Maud Kersnowski/indieWIRE


>> Lions Gate Saves Miramax, Again; Mini-Major to Release Tim Blake Nelson's "O"


(indieWIRE/04.11.01) -- Not known for shying away from controversy, Lions
Gate Films
has stepped in to save Miramax once again and release a new film
that some consider controversial. The distribution of Tim Blake Nelson's
"O," a modern teenage adaptation of Shakespeare's "Othello," had reportedly been put on hold in light of recent violence on high school campuses in
the United States.


Miramax' Dimension Films division set previous release dates for the movie,
which was completed nearly two years ago, but ultimately pulled the film
from its slate and remained quiet about its plans. Last fall, as
politicians debated the impact of movie marketing and violence, Dimension
chief Bob Weinstein told the New York Observer, in a prepared statement, that the movie "deals with sensitive issues that are important to our country,"
adding that the studio postponed last Fall's release of the film "due to the
sensitive events occuring at that time."


Despite press communication yesterday branding the film as "controversial,"
Lion Gate Co-President Tom Ortenberg disputed such characterizations.
"I don't think it's a contoversial film, it is modern day pop
entertainment," Ortenberg told indieWIRE late yesterday. "Any perceived
controversy will end up being much ado about nothing."


Lions Gate will release the movie in August on 1,500 screens according to
Ortenberg. Yet less than two weeks ago, according to an Exhibitor Relations
schedule, "O" was set to be released on April 27th by Miramax. Last Friday,
the film was moved to the "undated 2001" column. A Variety article last month
speculated that the film would likely miss its April date due to the recent
high school shootings in California.


"It was very much a standard acqusition for us," Ortenberg added, "The film
became available for acquisition, we took a look at it, we loved it and we
bought it."


As for the reasons behind the Miramax' decision to drop the movie, the
studio was quiet yesterday. Dimension's Sr. VP of PR Elizabeth Clark made
the joint announcement with Lions Gate's Tom Ortenberg yesterday (Tuesday)
but Clark would not comment on the news beyond a prepared statement contained
in a press release sent to indieWIRE by Lions Gate's media reps.


"'O' is a compelling, artistically crafted film and we feel the film will
fare best in Lions Gate's hands where it will not be drawn into controversy
and debate due to its distributor," Clark said in the statement yesterday.


"O," which stars Julia Stiles ("Hamlet"), Mekhi Phifer ("Shaft"), Martin Sheen ("The West Wing"), and Josh Hartnett ("The Faculty"), is described in an announcement as "a tale of seduction, jealousy, betrayal and the dangerous price of pride, all of which unfolds on the eve of the state
basketball championship." Tim Blake Nelson recently starred in the Coen
Brother
's "O Brother, Where Art Thou" and has directed "Eye of God" and "The Grey Zone."


Last fall, for the New York Observer article, the Miramax position was
different. "The company has released difficult films before," Clark told the
Observer, "We're not going to shy away from it." Continuing in
the Observer she added, "This is going to be a tricky one because it is
based in high school, but if any company can do it, it's Miramax because
it's the forte of the company."


Lions Gate recently acquired "The Golden Bowl," a Merchant Ivory film that was to have been released by Miramax later this month. As indieWIRE reported in
September, the film was nabbed by Lions Gate after the filmmakers refused to
make Miramax-suggested cuts to movie. Back in 1999, Lions Gate stepped in to
release "Dogma," after the controversial Kevin Smith film was dropped by
Miramax. [Eugene Hernandez]


>> Icebox is Back; Reincarnated Site Signs Pact with Mondo Media


(indieWIRE/04.11.01) -- The co-founders of Icebox, along with of two of the
company's former executives, announced yesterday that they are resurrecting
the venture that added its name to the list of dot-com closures earlier this
year.


The new Icebox incarnation will continue in the former life's footsteps by
producing content controlled by writers and distributing products in the
company's library like "Mr. Wong" and "Starship Regulars." "Zombie College" and "Poker Night" are also included in a one-year deal that Icebox has
signed with Mondo Media. This Icebox will leave launching and maintaining
web sites to somebody else. They also plan to contract out the physical
production according to Tal Vigderson, Managing Director of the new
Iceboxand the former Icebox head of business and creative affairs.


"Without the infrastructure of a web site, we will function with an
extremely low overhead which will enable us to survive in a
developing market," Vigderson told indieWIRE yesterday.


Icebox was purchased for at least $500,000 by co-founders John
Collier
, former co-executive producer of "King of the Hill,"
Howard Gordon, former executive producer of "The X-Files," and Rob
LaZebnik
, former co-executive producer of "The Simpsons," Scott Rupp, former Icebox head of business development, Vigderson and an unnamed
corporate investor.


"When the company shut down there were a number of creditors. So they
were trying to sell off the assets but we got together to buy the
shows instead," Vigderson told indieWIRE. The new owners feel secure
that they have enough of a bankroll to keep the company chugging
along through the end of the year.


European and South American broadcast distributors have expressed
interest in licensing and development deals for new shows coming
out of Icebox as well the established library. New creations will
have to start with a buyer.


"We don't have the operating capital to spec shows," Vigderson
commented. Icebox is planning a future that will revolve around
product tie-in's that are woven into the plot so that technologies
like TiVo cannot screen them out -- a show like "Friends" would be
set in a Starbucks rather than a fictional Central Perk. "It's
the ultimate product placement," Vigderson explained.
[Maud Kersnowski]


>> Chicago Underground Select Latest Projects for Film Fund


(indieWIRE/04.11.01) -- Six projects have been selected by the 3rd annual
Chicago Underground Film Fund to receive money towards the completion of
their work. Consistent with the ideals of the organizers, The Chicago
Underground Film Festival
, the projects were selected from over 200
submissions that go beyond the traditional 'boundaries' of independent
cinema. Established in 1998, the fund supports new and established artists
-- each filmmaker will receive between $500 and $2000 for work that is
consistent with the programming goals of the Festival.


The winners include James Fotopolous' "Consumed I-5," described by the
Festival as "a quintet of experimental films exploring themes of sex,
nature, shifting appearances [as well as] shadow and color." Also selected
were Deco Dawson's "Defile In Veil: The Futility of Purity," an experimental short shot in the style of early 1900s cinema and Jeff Krulik's "Hitler's Hat," a true story about a Jewish-American G.I. who found Adolf Hitler's top
hat and destroyed it. Jon Ausbrooks won funding for his look at avant-garde
filmmaker Kenneth Anger entitled, "Inside the Eye of Anger," as well as Jon Moritsugu for his anti-digital tech film, "Scumrock." Finally, Helen
Stickler
was selected for her documentary, "Stoked: The Rise and Fall of
Gator
" which follows the rise and fall of professional skateboarder, Mark
Anthony "Gator" Rogowski
.


"It's been great to see The Chicago Underground Film Festival's commitment
to not only up and coming and current underground filmmakers, but also to
those pioneers who first opened up the territory for the artists who have
taken up the challenge to follow," commented recipient Jon Ausbrooks in a
prepared statement. The Chicago Underground Film Festival will take place
August 16th through the 22nd in the Windy City. [Brian Brooks]

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