Sundance Grants; AIVF Change; Gen Art Winners; Acquisitions News & More
by Wendy Mitchell
INDUSTRY MOVES: Phil Hall and David Nagler have closed indie PR company Open City Communications after 10 years in business. Hall is publishing a book in November about contemporary underground cinema and he will continue writing for FilmThreat and the New York Resident. Nagler will run his indie record label Big Sleep Records and tour this summer with his band Nova Social.
Beni Matias has been named interim director of the Association of Independent Video & Filmmakers, while a search and transition committee fills the role permanently. Elizabeth Peters is leaving the AIVF today after five and a half years as director. Matias, a documentary filmmaker, is a former AIVF board member, and has served on the boards of Intermedia Arts Minnesota and Women Make Movies. She is a founding member of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers and has worked with the Center for Arts Criticism, the Independent Television Service, and WNYC-TV.
SUNDANCE GETS $5 MILLION: With the largest grant ever received by the organization -- $5 million -- the Sundance Institute has established the Annenberg Film Fellows Program to support Institute feature film program participants. The five-year initiative, announced last night in New York at Sundance's 3rd annual gala benefit, will combine stipends with residencies and creative support for filmmakers to help with the creation of specific film projects -- typically first features. Sundance said yesterday in the announcement that the program will "identify and foster a new generation of leading film artists who generally have limited access to direct support for the development of new work." The first fellows will be announced this Spring, selected from those already chosen for the annual Sundance Institute Feature Film Program.
NO "WELFARE" CHECKS: "Welfare: The Opera," based on Frederick Wiseman's 1975 documentary, has been cancelled before the curtain even rose. The production had been slated to run May 27 - June 12 at Chelsea's Dance Theater Workshop in New York, with an event also planned for May 4 at Lincoln Center. The producers informed Wiseman and his collaborator, composer Lenny Pickett, on Sunday that necessary funds could not be raised to mount the production. In a press statement, Wiseman and Pickett said they hoped to find new funders. "This has been a long, hard road but we are not through," Wiseman said. "This story deserves to be told and it will be."
GEN ART WINNERS: The ninth Gen Art Film Festival wrapped earlier this week with a closing-night gala, where Brian Dannelly's "Saved!" and Brian Herzlinger, Jonn Gunn, and Brett Winn "My Date with Drew" won the grand jury feature award and the audience awards. The short film awards went to Jessica Weigmann for "Gardening Tips for Housewives" (jury) and Rob Meltzer's "I Am Stamos" (audience prize). This year's jurors were actor/director Fisher Stevens, Film Movement CEO Larry Meistrich, IFC TV host Allison Bailes, Ian Bricke of Sundance Channel, Holly Becker of IFC Productions, NY Post writer Megan Lehman, and filmmakers James Cox ("Wonderland"), Austin Chick ("XX/XY"), and Jesse Peretz ("The Chateau"). Acura awarded $10,000 to Dannelly and $5000 to Weigmann.
SLOAN/TRIBECA PROGRAM: Screenwriters David Baxter ("The Broken Code") and Gretchen Somerfeld ("Face Value") have won the Tribeca/Sloan Script Development Program, organizers announced recently. The program showcases works with scientific or technological themes. Baxter and Somerfeld will receive financial support as well as access to an advisory team to help them with the development of their projects. Nobel-prize-winning scientist Harold Varmus, Dr. Alison McInnes of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and David R. Hughes, an international expert in spread spectrum radio, will serve as Science Advisors for the initiative. While "The Broken Code" is about a controversy surrounding the work of scientist Rosalind Franklin in the field of DNA structure, "Face Value" is the story of actress Hedy Lamarr's work in the development of technology to guide torpedoes. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation will also host a panel discussion, dubbed, "Hollywood and the Double Helix."
DOUBLE "BILL": Cannes jury president Quentin Tarantino will offer a screening of both editions of his "Kill Bill" saga on the final day of the French film festival. While the two films will screen as one program, it is unclear how they will be combined. Film-reviews.net writer Mark O'Connell, who spoke with QT this week following a London press conference, said that QT has edited a new version of both volumes. Buzz was unable to confirm that a re-cut version will be what is shown in Cannes. For New Yorkers not going to France, the Tribeca Film Festival plans to show both volumes of "Bill" at its festival on May 6th, with a brief pause in the action in between the two films.
"WHORE" DEAL: Screen Media Films has acquired the North American rights to "Whore," a film from Dolores Pictures that will have its U.S. premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Maria "Luna" Lidon's film stars Daryl Hannah, Denise Richards, and Joaquim de Almeida in a fact/fiction hybrid about the sex business. Screen Media plans a theatrical release in September, with DVD to follow through Universal Studios Home Video.
CHICAGO DOC WINNERS: The second Chicago International Documentary Festival closed April 10 with awards going to Andreas Horvath's "This Ain't No Heartland" (grand prize), Erich Langjahr's "Shepherds, Journey into the Third Millennium" (cinematography award), James Miller's "Death in Gaza" and Vinayan Kodoth's "Journeys" (innovation awards), Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" (audience award) and Alison Maclean and Tobias Perse's "Persons of Interest" (humanitarian award). Special prizes were given to Tom Roberts' "Inside the Mind of a Suicide Bomber" (film critics' award), David Ofek's "No. 17" (international press award), and Clive Gordon's "Moscow Central" (Chicago doc classic award).
KAUFMAN IN NANTUCKET: The Nantucket Film Festival, which runs June 16-20 with an emphasis on screenwriting, announced that Charlie Kaufman will receive the festival's NBC Screenwriter Tribute. Past tributees include Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Paul Schrader, Ring Lardner Jr. and James Schamus.
"NICOTINE" FIX IN JUNE: Arenas Entertainment announced that it will bring the Mexican film "Nicotina," which has stirred buzz at a variety of festivals, to U.S. theaters starting June 25. Hugo Rodriguez's film, written by Martín Salinas, won six Ariel Awards (Mexico's Oscar) as well as the best film honors from Mexico's film critics. Diego Luna stars as a computer geek who gets caught up with Russian mobsters and spies on his sexy neighbor with a webcam. Rodriguez previously served as an assistant director for Alfonso Cuarón and Carlos Carrera and directed the short "With the Eye in the Back of Your Head" and the feature "In the Middle of Nowhere."
BIRTHDAY WISHES: Happy 80th birthday to Eric Pleskow, who has served as the president of the Vienna International Film Festival, or Viennale, since 1998. Pleskow is a Vienna native now living in Connecticut. He previously served as a film officer for the U.S. government, an advisor to the war department, president and CEO of United Artists, and president, CEO, and founder of Orion Pictures.
SLAM ON STAGE: The Slamdance Screenplay Competition has wrapped its "Slamdance on Stage" reading series that featured nine scripts from the 2003 screenplay compeition. The final reading in the series was Miranda Kwok's Slamdance grand-prize winning "Song of Silence," produced by Howard Casner and Ken Metz, with a cast including Noah Wyle ("ER") and Linda Cardellini ("Freaks & Geeks," "Scooby Doo"). The 2004 competition is open for entries until June 20.
MOTHERSBAUGH HONORS: BMI will honor musician and composer Mark Mothersbaugh with its 2004 Richard Kirk Award for outstanding career achievement at the BMI Film & TV Awards in Beverly Hills on May 12. Mothersbaugh, a founding member of Devo, has scored films includingn "Rushmore," "thirteen," "Happy Gilmore," and Wes Anderson's forthcoming "The Life Aquatic."
[Eugene Hernandez contributed to this report.]