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by Eugene Hernandez
June 8, 2006 12:37 PM
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NEW THIS WEEK: Altman's Latest, A Basketball Doc, and More

Robert Altman, right, with Meryl Streep at the press conference for "A Prairie Home Companion" in Berlin. Photo by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE

Of the new films opening in theaters this weekend, the highest profile is without a doubt the new movie from American auteur Robert Altman, "A Prairie Home Companion." Altman's 37th feature -- a film about the end of Garrison Keillor's long-running American radio program -- also feels like perhaps one of the last from the maverick filmmaker. In the movie, the main character struggles to avoid dealing with a major change in his own career. Not that any of those who cheered "Prairie" at the Berlinale earlier this year are hoping Altman will stop directing, but his age -- he turned 81 years old shortly after the film's world premiere in Germany -- was an issue for the backers of this latest feature. Paul Thomas Anderson was hired as a back-up director and had to be on set whenever Altman was, just in case.

"Because I am so old and ancient," Altman explained yesterday at an evening press conference, "In order to get insurance we had to have a stand by director -- they thought they'd have a better picture if I croaked and P.T.A., Paul Thomas Anderson, took over" But, praising his understudy, Altman said of Anderson, "He couldn't have been more helpful and less intrusive - a great deal of the film is due to him."

In "A Prairie Home Companion," a seemingly fictitious live radio variety show stars Garrison Keillor and features a number of performers appearing as themselves on what will be the final episode of the long-running program. Set mostly on stage and inside the actual "Prairie Home Companion" theater (The Fitzgerald) in St. Paul, MN during the live radio show, the film features a number of musical numbers and behind-the-scenes intrigue involving the large ensemble cast that includes Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Lindsay Lohan, Kevin Kline, Virginia Madsen, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, and others.

"I feel really proud of the movie and I think its properly subversive and its very human," explained Streep, a longtime fan of Garrison Keillor's radio show, at the press conference in Berlin. "I think its properly subversive and very human. It relies on humor and music to communicate what's being lost...For me it was really great to locate something true about America, something that cuts across all levels of sophistication and humanity, about who we are as Americans, and that's why I loved being in it."

The List:

[indieWIRE has done its best to gather complete information about new films opening theatrically this week. Please contact us regarding any corrections, clarifications or omissions.]

Robert Altman's "A Prairie Home Companion": Robert Altman's "A Prairie Home Companion" is about the last broadcast of Garrison Keillor's popular radio variety show in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Picturehouse release)

Ward Serrill's "The Heart of the Game": "The Heart of the Game" is a documentary by Ward Serrill about a Seattle tax professor who becomes a high-school basketball coach and helps turn the all-girls' team into stars. (Miramax Films release)

Oskar Roehler's "Agnes and His Brothers": "Agnes and His Brothers" is a comedy by German filmmaker Oskar Roehler about three quirky brothers, one a transsexual, who are each on a search for happiness in their lives. (First Run release)

Nicolas Philibert's "Animals and More Animals": In Nicolas Philibert's documentary "Animals and More Animals" the French director chronicles the process of restoring animal specimens for the Natural History Museum in Paris. (Films Distribution)

Ra'up McGee's "Autumn": Ra'up McGee's French film noir "Autumn" is about a hit man who develops a conscience about killing and becomes troubled by his mission. (Truly Indie release)

Faith Akin's "Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul": Faith Akin's documentary "Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul" explores the musical scene in Istanbul, and exposes viewers to the unfamiliar themes of traditional Turkish music alongside the blends of rock and hip-hop. (Strand Releasing)

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