On the Scene at the 1997 New York Film Festival: "Love and Death on Long Island"
by Anthony Kaufman
For first-time feature filmmaker Richard Kwietniowski, the trip to New
York is almost a superfluous one. His film "Love and Death on Long Island", was already grabbed by Cinepix Film Properties after its debut
screening at Cannes. More of a chance to stir up press and publicity
than a search for support, Kwietniowski's movie exemplifies the film
festival success story, like many of the films at the NYFF -- already
picked up by distributors and hoping for an extensive run in the States.
But things weren't so simple for the British director. It took two years
to get the project off the ground. Kwietniowski first had to convince
author Gilbert Adair that his novel could be turned into a film. Once
the author agreed, he had all the inspiration he needed. "The film was
made ultimately because I loved the book so much, loved the premise of
it, so I didn't give up," he said, explaining, "Whereas if it was a
story that I myself invented, I think I would have buried it years ago."
Once the project began to role, he soon realized, "If you're a first
time feature filmmaker, as I know now, any other experience in
television or short film counts for absolutely nothing."
Advised by indie producer James Schamus that money couldn't be raised in
the United States, the director headed, of all places, to Nova Scotia.
With help from the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation, British
Screen, and Telefilm Canada, Kwietniowski was able to make an
intelligent and humorous reworking of the "Death in Venice" story,
adapted from the novel by Adair, set in Long Island, shot in Nova Scotia
and starring an excellent John Hurt as a British writer and a
surprisingly apt Jason Priestley of "Beverly Hills 90210" as the teen
idol he fixates on.
How did he get his two actors? "The simple answer was I just asked," he
replied. "I quickly realized the only asset of the project was the
script." After sending it out to Hurt, he arranged a lunch. "John [Hurt]
came bouncing in, quoting lines from the script and had an immediate and
precise appreciation of exactly what the script was doing and exactly
the same thing happened with Jason. I then believed that possibly after
all this time, this project could actually be blessed."
With two name actors behind the project and pre-sales to UK TV, Canadian
TV and Italy, Kwietniowski had all he needed to undertake the project.
Once the film was made, he said, "There was a rather peculiar selling
strategy, which was basically not to let anybody see it until it
screened at Cannes." Although he admits, "I thought it was rather
daring, because why should people come see a movie they know nothing
about," the strategy paid off and "Love and Death on Long Island", with
its precise storyline and clever directorial choices, is likely to make
Kwietniowski an important new talent on the independent scene.