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October 10, 2001 2:00 AM
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DAILY NEWS: New This Week: Fall's Indie Rush Begins

DAILY NEWS: New This Week: Fall's Indie Rush Begins



by Anthony Kaufman


(indieWIRE/10.10.01) -- This week's independent field is cluttered with
new releases, from avant-garde and documentary, to auteurist and Indiewood.
You want challenging French art film, you got it. You want American indie
musical, you got that, too. Within the crowded slate of new films, less
than half are from studio-financed specialty outfits. The rest comes from
a hodgepodge of self-distributed pictures, new indie distribs, and arthouse
standbys like Artistic License -- many of whom pushed back dates after
Sept. 11 and finally hit theaters this week.


A company like Artistic faces major challenges with every release. With
limited P and A budgets, a small staff, and movies that aren't exactly
syrupy "Serendipity," it makes you wonder how they survive. Take their
release this week of "The American Astronaut," for instance, which already
had posters made with an earlier opening date. Add to that, it's "a musically
driven low-tech, sci-fi space western," according to its director-writer-star-musician Cory McAbee, shot in black and white, and more surreal than most anything you've seen on the big screen all year. Before its Sundance 2001 premiere, McAbee told indieWIRE, "I'm not afraid to be lumped together with the big boys...This movie is going to entertain the fuck out of people." While certain post-Sundance reviews may have
indicated otherwise, McAbee's vision remains singular, and true to the name
of its distributor, artistic. As the film enters the packed distribution
arena, the words of William Perkins, one of the producers, still remain
true after Park City. "We made the film on our own terms. Now we just have
to see if that pays off and whether or not we get muscled aside."


Doing the muscling will most likely be Miramax, as they try to capitalize on
the success of Chinese crossover hit, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," with
this week's "Iron Monkey," directed by "Dragon" fight choreographer Yuen
Wo-Ping
. With commercials that make the film look practically identical to
Ang Lee's martial arts epic, it also makes you wonder: where does originally
of vision now lie?


Certainly not in this week's other major Indiewood release, Christine
Lahti
's "My First Mister," from Paramount Classics. The opening night film at Sundance 2001, actress-turned-director Lahti's first work looks at the
relationship between a rebellious 17-year-old girl (Leelee Sobieski) and a
lonely 49-year-old man (Albert Brooks) with the lens of an after school
special. "By refusing to ever answer or cope with the question of sexual
attraction between the two, 'My First Mister,'" wrote Patrick Z. McGavin for
indieWIRE, "is the worst kind of tease." The complete review is available
at:

http://www.indiewire.com/movies/rev_01Sund_010120_Mister.html


For a more audacious and courageous depiction of teenage sexuality, there's
no better place than the work of controversial French director Catherine
Breillat
("A Young Girl," "Romance"). "Fat Girl," opening in New York today from Cowboy Pictures, premiered in Berlin 2001, where Eddie Cockrell wrote for indieWIRE, "Another defiantly individualist step...,'Fat Girl' both
provokes and haunts." The complete review is at:

<http://www.indiewire.com/movies/rev_01Berlin_010214_Girl.html>.


In light of current events, "Yana's Friends," a new film by Israel-based
Russian director Arik Kaplun, also sounds like it will provoke. Winner of
ten top Israeli film awards, and winner of the Grand Prix, and the Best
Actress award at Karlovy Vary, the film is set in Israel in 1991 during the
Gulf War and follows two newly immigrated Russian families, trying to love
and live amidst the looming threat of Iraqi missiles. The movie is being
distributed by Friends of Film Distribution, which turns out to be Robert
Stern
, a retired businessman from Seattle who fell in love with the movie
after seeing it at the Seattle Film Festival and chose to release it
himself. After New York, first-time distributor Stern has booked dates in
Los Angeles and Seattle.


Another self-distribution effort, Danny Hoch's long-awaited "Jails,
Hospitals and Hip Hop
," an adaptation of his one-man show, will also have
its U.S. theatrical premiere this weekend. Originally to be distributed by
Stratosphere Entertainment last year, executive producers Michael Skolnik
and William O'Neill of New York-based Kicked Down Productions will now handle the film's release. (At one point, indieWIRE heard that the film was
caught up in music rights issues.) Co-directed by Hoch and Mark Benjamin
("The Last Party" and cinematographer of Hoch's last effort "Whiteboys"),
the film features Hoch's trademark multiple personality performance, as he
portrays 10 different characters from a corrections officer to a rap fan. A
prizewinner at the New York International Latino Film Festival and
Urbanworld, "Jails" will go on a "guerilla-style" distribution tour,
starting at New York's Cinema Village Theater.


Jon Dichter's American independent debut film, "The Operator" will also see theater time this week. After garnering solid spots at domestic fests SXSW
and Santa Barbara, "The Operator" garnered enough positive word-of-mouth to
springboard the film to limited distribution (beginning at busy NYC indie
arthouse, The Angelika, no less). In her Variety review, Lael Loewnstein
wrote, "'The Operator' is a mostly slick, intelligent psychological
thriller-modern morality tale flawed by occasional lapses of subtlety and a
central performance that veers just to the wrong side of empathetic...
Still, pic indicates a promising future for writer-director."


Rounding out the crowded release calendar are two documentaries, one
uplifting, the other more complex and sobering. Sony Pictures Classics will
release Gillian Grisman's "Grateful Dawg," about the relationship between
Jerry Garcia of the "Grateful Dead" and fellow musician David "Dawg"
Grisman
, the filmmaker's father. A crowd-pleaser with never before seen
footage of the music and the times, the film prompted many music-related
programming at fests from Telluride to Newport.


On the other end of the spectrum is New Yorker Films' release of "Sobibor,
October 14, 1943, 4 P.M.
" the latest documentary from Claude Lanzmann,
creator of the 1985 landmark Holocaust chronicle, "Shoah." In Lanzmann's
straightforward interview style, he speaks with one of the survivors of the
famous uprising at Poland's Sobibor extermination camp. Originally shot in
1979 as part of "Shoah," Lanzmann decided the story needed a film of its
own. [Anthony Kaufman]


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