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March 13, 1998 2:00 AM
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Highlights from the Santa Barbara Film Festival

Highlights from the Santa Barbara Film Festival

by Tom Cunha




The Santa Barbara International Film Festival was host to an informative
seminar called "Distribution Strategies," which was moderated by
Thomas F.R. Garvin (producer, "Inside Out") and included panelists Geoffrey
Gilmore of The Sundance Institute, Leonard Klady of "Variety" and producer
Jeff Doud (whose film "Loved" will be screening at the fest). The panel,
which focused on the essential practice of marketing your independent film
while seeking distribution, brought to light a number of pros and cons
attached to the current explosion of new indie distribution companies.


It was discussed that as a result of this recently growing phenomenon,
financiers for indie films are far more accessible than they were just
two years ago, therefore, the increased challenge facing independent
filmmakers now and in the days ahead is competition for distribution.
"The good news is that there were 900 independent films made last year,
and the bad news is that there were 900 independent films made last
year," said panelist Gilmore. "The bar that one has to hurdle in the
independent film marketplace is getting higher and higher." The panel
stressed the importance of conceptualizing marketing strategies early on,
even prior to shooting, and distinguished between "films that play well,
but don't market well." Many independent films, while possessing rich
characterizations and stories, face the unforeseen obstacle of being
unmarketable in the eyes of distributors. The panel stressed the
importance of knowing how to market your film and suggested such tactics
as acquiring publicity through smaller media outlets and publications
while still in production.


Another talked-about seminar held last weekend was "The Press as Image
Makers," which sold out to more bodies than there were seats, moderated
by Peter Bart of "Variety" and boasting a stellar lineup of panelists
including Bernard Weinraub of "The New York Times," Kenneth Turan of
"Los Angeles Times," Anne Thompson of "Premiere Magazine," PMK honcho
Pat Kingsley, Mark Gill of Miramax, Todd McCarthy of "Variety" and Tom
Jacobs of the "Santa Barbara News Press." The topics ranged from
celebrity scandals to studio influence over film critics. However there
wasn't quite the controversy and debate one had hoped to see.


Nonetheless, it was an informative and thought provoking discussion
which explored the integrity of entertainment journalism. Gill, head of
marketing for Miramax, discussed the struggles met in marketing and
publicizing smaller independent films and, particularly, foreign
language films. "If you look at foreign language films, the amount of
coverage for those movies has shot through the floor in the last ten
years. It's unbelievable how much harder it is to get any attention for
[these films]. We had "Kolya" last year which won the Best Foreign
Language film Oscar, it was a nightmare to get any attention for
that movie. The reviews were all very nice, it wasn't like they all hated
it out there, and it did very well, but it was really hard to get press
attention."


Press attention, however, was quite apparent outside the Arlington
Theater on Saturday night where throngs of people impatiently waited to
get into SBIFF's Modern Master Award ceremony honoring Jodie Foster.
Any frustration the attendees endured while clamoring to get in was
quickly dispelled once the ceremony began and actor James Woods came on
stage to introduce Foster. Woods, a friend of Foster's who co-starred
with her in "Contact," had the audience roaring as he joked about the
mysterious identity of the father of Foster's baby, "It's one of the
Lakers, but I'm not sure which one." On a more serious note, Woods later
called her "one of the truly greatest artists God has ever created." From
there the evening veered into a one-on-one with Foster and Hollywood
Reporter critic Duane Byrge. Interspersed throughout the interview was
a collage of the accomplished actress's film work ranging from earlier
works like "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," "Taxi Driver," and "Bugsy
Malone
," to later films "The Accused," "The Silence of the Lambs," and
"Contact." In acceptance of the award, Foster said, "To look at your work in
retrospect like this and to put it all in perspective, I hope that maybe
there's a pattern there that has the opportunity not only to touch
people, but to help make this culture a little bit better instead of a
little bit worse. That's something that I'm always conscious of."


Some of the more talked about films that screened at SBIFF this past
weekend were Jeff Celentano's noir-ish thriller "Gunshy," which had
its world premiere last Friday night and stars William Peterson, Diane
Lane and an excellent Michael Wincott, as well as "Confessions of a Sexist
Pig,"
a romantic comedy about a womanizer who meets the girl of his dreams.
"The Baby Dance," a Showtime movie directed by Jane Anderson and exec
produced by Jodie Foster, is a heart wrenching tale that centers around
adoption, featuring excellent performances by female leads Stockard
Channing and Laura Dern. "Gods and Monsters," which stars Brendan Fraser
and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, was a last minute
replacement to "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss," which was pulled by the
distributor just before the festival began. The festival had arranged
to screen the film prior to its being picked-up by Trimark.


Santa Barbara's Fest continues this weekend with the premiere of Robert
Towne's "Without Limits," a biopic about the life of Olympic track
runner Steve Prefontaine starring Billy Crudup and "The Newton Boys,"
directed by "Slacker" Richard Linklater. Also forthcoming are salutes
to director John Schlesinger and actress Julie Christie and seminars
that include "The Cutting Edge," "The Pitch," and "The Art of
Dialogue
."

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