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by Jason Guerrasio
June 4, 2009 6:59 AM
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Kinky Sex, Psychedelia, Democratic Malfunction... 5 New Films to Look For

Most likely hitting the festival circuit, and then ultimately a theater near you - hopefully - are five new films, including the latest from "American Splendor" directing duo Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman, starring Paul Dano and Kevin Kline, in addition to a sexually charged film, described by its director Kyle Henry ("Room") as "the most graphic thing at an American film festival," in his latest, "Fourplay." In Jeff Reichert's directing debut, manipulation of Congressional districts and its manipulation of democracy are spotlighted in "Gerrymandering," and Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg and the tumultuous period leading up to the creation of his "Howl" poem is resurrected in the film of the same name. And psychodelia the filmmaker likens to classics as "The Wall" and "Tommy" flashbacks with "Psychotropica."

"The Extra Man"

Based on Jonathan Ames's popular novel of the same title, directors Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman ("American Splendor") are currently in post on this eccentric comedy, which they compare to 'Harold and Maude,' starring Paul Dano, Kevin Kline, Katie Holmes and John C. Reilly.

Dano plays Louis, a young professor at a Princeton prep school who loses his job after his penchant for wearing ladies lingerie is revealed. He decides to move to New York City in hopes of launching his writing career and finds himself sharing an apartment with Henry Harrison (Kline), an escort (a.k.a. extra man) for rich widows in the Upper East Side. Holmes plays the object of Louis's affection while Reilly is a neighbor of Louis and Henry who is being molded into a gentleman by Henry.

Pulcini and Berman came across Ames's book last year after the author's manger sent the two some of his work for consideration of adapting. "His manager was very, very motivated to get us some of his work and we fell in love with it," Pulcini says late last month from the edit room where he and Berman are completing their cut. "We read 'The Extra Man' and Shari and I were like we have to do this and then we got a call from our manager saying we read the wrong material, there's something else they wanted you for, and we said 'no,' this is the one we want to do."

They quickly optioned the book themselves (Pulcini and Berman share screenwriting credit with Ames) and found financing through Wild Bunch after Kline and Dano signed on. "From the moment we had the script done everyone was saying Kevin Kline was born to play Harrison and when we met him for lunch it was a no brainer," Berman says. The directors say what sold them on Dano was his performance in "There Will Be Blood," along with holding his own opposite Daniel Day-Lewis. "Being on screen with this tremendous actor he was still able to hold our attention so that proved that he would be a great pairing with Kevin."

Both directors admit to feeling more relaxed making this project as opposed to "American Splendor" or "The Nanny Diaries" with Pulcini going as far as saying "I feel like this was the first film I really knew what I was doing." But both agree those experiences were needed. "[Making 'The Extra Man'] rekindled being true to yourself and making a film that reflects your spirit and your vision," Berman says. "As hard as it was to go back to making a very small budget movie there was something really freeing creatively about it."

Produced by Anthony Bregman's Likely Story and Stephanie Davis's 3 Arts Entertainment, the film is shot on 35mm in 28 days around New York City by Terry Stacey and edited by Pulcini, who shares executive producer credit with Berman, Ames, Stefanie Azpiazu, Vincent Maraval and Agnes Mentre.


"Fourplay"

Four years after making the Sundance entry "Room," Kyle Henry leaves the editing bay to return to directing with an omnibus of stories that plans to push the limits of sex in film.

Describing the feature as "stories that either the writers or myself know to be based on truth," Henry wrapping principal photography on the first short earlier this year in San Francisco, which follows a transvestite prostitute who faces a challenging new client. The other shorts focus on a late twenties heterosexual couple looking for a place to do it on a hot summer night in Chicago; a young man has a surprise encounter in a Tampa restroom; and a New Haven woman has an affair with her pastor's dog.

A scene from Kyle Henry's "Fourplay." Image courtesy of the filmmaker.

"Sex is categorized in two ways on screen," Henry says, "the tease of seeing the stars as soft porno bait or all pervasive pornography. They're not about character's lives or what it means in the course of a drama. So these are little challenges that we've set up for ourselves and each short has its own stylistic approach and its own dealings with the encounters that occur, but the main thing for the characters involved is it's a meaningful event in their lives."

Written by Austin playwright Carlos Trevino and New York City actress Jessica Hedrick, the film came together last year when Henry was between editing jobs, which he says he still considers himself foremost. "I make my living as an editor, so my directing work is basically what I really want to say about the world." Inspired by the work of Ken Russell and Nicolas Roeg, Henry wanted to show sex scenes that "function in a very dramatic way." Something he says that's currently not found on the festival circuit or in your local multiplex. Shooting many of the interior scenes in Austin, Henry plans to travel to the other cities the stories are based in throughout the summer for exteriors. He says each short will have a different style, from a doc feel in the San Francisco short to the one in Tampa perhaps having no sound or dialogue.

Hoping to be ready to submit to festivals by the end of the year, Henry is curious to see how the marketplace will react. "This is going to be the most graphic thing at an American film festival," he says, "and it's not going to involve someone dismembered or killed. It's certainly going to be a challenge to audiences and that's what I want when I go see a film."

"Fourplay" is produced by Jason Wehling ("August Evening"), the DP is PJ Raval ("Room," "Trouble the Water") and the editor is Rita K. Sanders.


"Gerrymandering"

Gerrymandering is defined as a form of redistribution in which electoral districts or constituency boundaries are deliberately modified for electoral advantage. Though it's a practice that's been done in politics since the 1700s, very few outside Washington have any clue it goes on. Jeff Reichert's directing debut investigates this redistricting practice and how it affects our democratic system.

Reichert, former senior VP for Magnolia Pictures (and co-founder and editor of Reverse Shot, which publishes their reviews on indieWIRE), became interested in gerrymanding in 2003 when he heard on the news of Democrats leaving Texas in the middle of the night to stop a Republican gerrymander. "It had this theater," Reichert says. "People fleeing in the night, there was all this drama. But doing the research you start to realize all the different interests at stake in redistricting - the minority interest, class interest, rural versus urban - there's this weird crucible of how democracy works because in a sense you're manipulating the fabric of democracy, which is the voter."

Reichert says he'll outline the gerrymander practice through looking at the voting rights act, animation to show how redistricting has shifted for centuries and most recently focusing on the 2000 redistricting in Texas, Florida and California where the congressional margin was so close controlling the redistricting process was paramount for both parties. Reichert will also shed light on the people who are for redistrict reform. He followed California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for a month as he toured the state bringing up awareness, and in Florida Reichert highlights a similar stance being taken by former senator and governor Bob Graham. Filming since last October, Reichert's goal is to have the film out in the beginning of 2010 before the congressional elections and the next redistricting (all sates are allowed to redistrict every ten years). "We want to be part of the debate," he says. "I think creating public pressure on legislatures to not do the kinds of shenanigans that they've been doing behind closed doors for hundreds of years can be a powerful thing."

Currently shooting, the film is being shot on HD, 16mm and Super 8 by Gary Griffin ("Shut Up & Sing") and will be edited by Sam Pollard ("When The Levees Broke"). Producers are Reichert and The Green Film Company's Dan O'Meara and Chris Romano. Executive producer is Bill Mundell.

[For more information, please visit www.gerrymanderingmovie.com]

A scene from Damien Sage's "Psychotropica." Image courtesy of the filmmaker.

"Howl"

Oscar winning directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman ("Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt") are in the works on their first narrative feature which looks at poet Allen Ginsberg and the creation of his 1955 masterpiece, "Howl," which is known as one of the principal works of the Beat Generation, and the response to the work that followed which included an obscenity trail against the poem's publisher. James Franco stars as Ginsberg with Gus Van Sant executive producing.

Originally planned in 2002 to make a documentary on the poem, Epstein and Friedman gradually realized after interviewing those close to Ginsberg and gathering material from his estate that a narrative film would be a better way to go about telling the story. "We discovered that the obscenity trial has a wealth of great dramatic material that really informed a whole perception of the poem in terms of how it was received at the time," Epstein says. Friedman adds that highlighting the "Howl" poem also benefited in a narrative form. "We weren't giving enough exposure to it [as a doc] so we thought of the film in a new way." This lead to including animation, designed by illustrator and Ginsberg collaborator Eric Drooker, which will highlight parts of the poem throughout the film.

Developing the script at the 2009 Sundance Screenwriter's Lab, Epstein and Friedman have also been working with Franco on Ginsberg's portrayal since meeting him on the set of Van Sant's "Milk." "He convinced us that he had a connection to the material," Friedman says. "He was studying literature; he convinced us that he had a connection to the beat generation and poetry." The film also stars David Strathairn as prosecuting attorney Ralph McIntosh, Bob Balaban as Judge Clayton Horn, Jeff Daniels as prosecution witness Professor David Kirk and Mary-Louise Parker as radio personality and prosecution witness Gail Potter.

With the 14-day shoot around New York City having wrapped in April, Epstein and Friedman are currently cutting with editor Jake Pushinsky ("A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints") while waiting on the animation. Hoping to have the film ready for festivals by the end of the year, the directors say they are going for less of a bio pic feel. "It's a golden moment in Allen's life," says Epstein. "All the experiences that he lived through to that point led to this incredible burst of creativity and it was all embodied in that poem."

The film is financed by Werc Werk Works and shot by DP Edward Lachman ("I'm Not There") on 35mm and Super 16mm. Producers are Epstein, Friedman, Werc Werk's Elizabeth Redleaf and Christine K. Walker. Executive producing with Van Sant is Jawal Nga.


"Psychotropica"

North Carolina filmmaker Damien Sage is currently putting the final touches on a twisted, psychedelic tale that looks through the subconscious of a troubled patient.

In the making since 2003, Sage's ultra-low budget aesthetic ("we like to say, no money was harmed in the making of these films," he jokes) has been molded through years of making shorts with his friends. Shooting on a Panasonic DVX100 HD camera and using basic CGI effects to tell his stories, Sage's efforts began to bear fruit after making the short "D.O.D" as Hollywood filmmakers like Sean S. Cunningham ("Friday the 13th") and Mike Hodges ("Flash Gordon") sent him letters of encouragement. This led to "D.O.D." playing in festivals and a feature version put in the works in early 2008 until the backers pulled out. Through the frustration of losing the feature, in the summer of 2008 Sage rediscovered an old project he'd put aside titled "The Eclipse." "I just started looking through my old footage and decided it would be nice to give it another try," says Sage. "I wanted to make a feature, but go all out doing it, go back to the hyperstyle I did in my earlier shorts and show the whole movie through visual expression and audio overdrive, very experimental stuff." To accomplish that he rethought the film, changed the title to "Psychotropica" and went full throttle with his low-tech ideas.

Inspired by the works of Ken Russel, the film follows a man only known as The Patient (Sage) as he tells his life story to an interrogator. The film then goes in and out of his memories that includes a showdown with a demon alter ego. Scored with music by Aeryn Suin, the lead singer of the band RIP/TORN, Sage compares the film to "The Wall" or "Tommy" as music is as prominent as the visuals.

Working on the film between day jobs for the last seven months, Sage is wrapping up the CGI elements with the help of producer Artemicion Zirconia and Jesse Hale and hopes to have picture lock by July. Produced through Sage's Static Omega Films.

[For more information, please visit www.staticomegafpl.com/psychotropica]

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