Partying with Angels & Architects; "Elf" Mania; "Martin & Orloff" & More
by Eugene Hernandez and Wendy Mitchell
INDUSTRY MOVES: Jessica Manzi will join HBO this month in the network's PR department, primarily focusing on docs. She is leaving mPRm which is shutting its New York office.
"ANGELS" IN MANHATTAN: HBO Films celebrated its anticipated "Angels in America" with a gala premiere befitting a major Hollywood film. The six-hour TV movie, which will air in two parts in December, debuted Tuesday with a star-studded screening at the Ziegfield Theater in Manhattan, followed by a party at the immense Cipriani 42nd Street, situated within the stunning Bowery Savings Bank. Set 20 years ago during the Reagan administration, "Angels in America, Part I: Millenium Approaches" introduces key characters in the epic drama, including two openly gay men (played by Justin Kirk and Ben Shenkman) dealing with the impact of AIDS on their relationship, and two closeted men silenced, in part, by religion and politics -- one is a married Morman (Patrick Wilson) and the other is controversial lawyer Roy Cohn (Al Pacino). The three-hour Part 1, which captures the power and distinctiveness of the original stage play, was a hit with the large crowd. "Angels" stars Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, HBO Films' Colin Callendar and most of the cast were joined by director Mike Nichols, producer Cary Brokaw, and writer Tony Kushner, who also penned the play, and George C. Wolfe, director of the original stage version.
Actors Rosie Perez, Stanley Tucci, Lily Taylor, Alec Baldwin, Aidan Quinn, Ellen Barkin, Gena Rowlands, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anna-Deavere Smith and others toasted the film and all are invited to screen "Angels in America, Part II: Perestroika" at an advance showing in Manhattan next week.
DUELING RUNWAYS: TV viewers will be taken inside the fashion world with the announcement of two new programs aimed at exposing the drama of the style scene. Last week, Hearst Entertainment (owner of Lifetime and A&E) and upstart Tenth Street Productions announced "Project Runway," an inside look at the fashion world through the eyes of an emerging designer named Paula Thomas. Production began in L.A. last week on what the producers called a "behind the 'seams' look at the fashion world." Just days later however, Miramax and Bravo announced their own show, also dubbed "Project Runway," this one billed as a "behind the 'scrim'" look at the fashion world and modeled after the companies recent "Project Greenlight" series. Heidi Klum is on board to lead a panel of judges guiding young designers. The Hearst/Tenth Street series is instead following the up-and-coming designer Paula and was quickly renamed "The Paula Thomas Project" this week. "If we put it in fashion terms, Miramax and Tenth Street Productions showed up at the same party wearing the same dress," said Tenth Street's Joy Huang, in a conversation with indieWIRE yesterday. "As forward-thinkers, we know to always keep an extra and equally-stunning outfit in the car."
LAUGH IN: Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts, veterans of the Upright Citizens Brigade -- a critically acclaimed sketch comedy troupe, also wrote and star in the zany "Martin & Orloff," which opens this Friday at the Landmark Sunshine in New York. The film "guaranteed to play at least seven days," faces the same challenges as the indie-comedies before it. Working with small promotion budgets and distributors often makes it hard for the indie comedy to find its existent, but smallish niche audience. The A-list comedic talent in the film should help: David Cross, Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey, Janeane Garafalo, Andy Richter and others join Walsh and Roberts on screen in this story of "a marketing man and his shrink."
On Monday night at Stand Up New York uptown, in a mix of promotion and celebration, Walsh and Roberts assembled a group of downtown comedians (read "friends") to participate in a mock tribute to one of the film's producers, Gill Holland. Among others, Garofalo and Saturday Night Live's Horatio Sanz briefly graced the stage to give fake praise to Holland, dish out a bit of stand-up, and support their pals in the release of their film.
ARCHITECTUAL ACHIEVEMENT: A screening and dinner honoring Nathaniel Kahn's celebrated documentary "My Architect: A Son's Journey" was the hot cultural ticket Wednesday night in Manhattan. HBO and MoMA hosted a showing of the film at the Sutton on 57th Street, followed by a buffet dinner in the Pool Room at the Four Seasons Restaurant. Architects Robert Stern and Moshe Sasdie were among those in the audience for the film, which depicts the director's search for meaning in the mysterious life of his father, acclaimed architect Louis Kahn, who died bankrupt and alone in a Penn Station bathroom nearly 30 years ago. Nathaniel Kahn is one of two illegitimate children fathered by the architect, who secretly had three separate families. HBO's Sheila Nevins and MoMA's Mary Lea Bandy welcomed attendees at the crowded screening and later mingled with attendees at the casual supper. Nathaniel Kahn worked the room all night, pausing for photos, chatting with friends, and accepting compliments from guests. New Yorker Films will open the movie at Film Forum next Wednesday and at the Ritz in Philadelphia next Friday.
CHRISTMAS IN NOVEMBER: The new Jon Favreau film "Elf," starring Will Ferrell, had the indieWIRE gang laughing heartily when we saw a screening at the Hamptons International Film Festival. The film opens today, and to mark the occasion, New York Mayor Bloomberg has declared today "Elf Day." The film was largely shot in New York, and is also set here -- Ferrell plays a human raised among the elves in the North Pole who comes to New York to find his biological father (James Caan). In addition to the comic genius of Ferrell, the flick also features the surprisingly great singing talents of actress Zooey Deschanel. As part of the city's tie-ins to the film, "elves" in taxis will deliver toys to city childcare centers. The Mayor's office of Film and Television also worked with New Line to host local screenings of "Elf" for area public school children. Also, beware of singing elves in subway stations today. As for the Elf himself, Ferrell is in New York shooting the next Woody Allen film.
SINGING FOR "SINGER": The first New Orleans Media Experience presented its awards on Halloween, honoring film, music, advertising, and videogame creations that were voted upon by festival attendees at interactive voting stations. Ryan Williams' "Abby Singer" won both the best feature film and best independent film awards. The low-budget film is about a schizophrenic casting director who works in the indie film world. The film includes appearances by Patricia Arquette, Roger Ebert, Don Cheadle, John Waters, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Brad Pitt as themselves. In other awards, "Nursie" by Ja Trac and Tre Boucher won the best horror/suspense feature, and the best doc was "Sounds of Memphis" by Jeff Scheftel and Allan Hozman. Patrick Schumacker and Justin Halpern's "Genital Warts: The Musical" won best short. For other winners, visit www.neworleansmediaexperience.com, or for more on "Abby Singer," visit www.abbysinger.com.
UP THE "RIVER": Brace yourselves, Ed Burns is making another movie. He's just starring in this one, a murder mystery called "The River King," to be directed by Nick Willing ("Hypnotic"). The film is based on the Alice Hoffman novel; David Kane will adapt the screenplay. Burns plays a small-town cop who investigates a prep-school student's drowning. London's Myriad Pictures is working with Canada's imX communications to produce, through U.K.-based Grosvenor Park's First Choice Films. More casting announcements will be made soon, and the flick is supposed to start principal photography in Canada in spring 2004.
[Karl Beck contributed to this article.]