Wellspring Sold; Berlin Opening; Festival News From Thessaloniki and Beyond
by Wendy Mitchell
INDUSTRY MOVES: Publicist Nicolette Aizenberg has left Palm Pictures and will be joining IDP/Samuel Goldwyn Films on February 9.
Rebekah Cowing will resign from her post as executive director of IFP/Chicago effective April 1. She has held the post since 2000; Cowing will continue to serve as executive director of the Chicago/Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. A search committee has been formed to find her replacement at IFP.
In related news, IFP/Chicago announced it board members for the 2004-2006 term: president Bob Hudgins (Illinois Film Office), first VP Noel Olken (Waitergonebad Productions), second VP Christina Varotsis (Firefly Films), secretary Timothy S. Kelley (attorney), treasurer Kit Woods (Screen Actors Guild), board members Nicole Bernardi-Reis (Eightball Films), Cadichon (Midwest Talent), Michael Caplan (Columbia College), Claire Connelly (freelance producer), Ericka Frederick (Kodak), John Haderlein (Illinois Finance Authority), Karon Hamlet (Visions Blu), Manuela Hung (Filmworkers/Astro Lab), Leigh Jones (freelance producer), Scott Lindenberger (Fletcher Street Media), Dan Moore (Directors Guild of America), Kevin O'Connor (Fletcher Chicago), Melinda Roenisch (MDR Films), Jill Wigal (PR consultant), and Sharon Zurek (Black Cat Productions). Alternate board members are Tim Malenock (Chicago Collegiate Film Festival), Dirk Matthews (Columbia College), John Mossman (director), Heather Ronkoske (RAH Producer's Center), and Nicole Walberg (Million Ways Productions).
ALTERNATIVE BERLIN OPENING: Calling the opening an alternative to the larger gala premiere of "Cold Mountain" down the street, Berlinale Panorama head Weiland Speck kicked off the section's 2004 edition with the world premiere of Eytan Fox's "Walk on Water" on Thursday night in Berlin. In Fox's movie a carefree Berliner travels to Israel to visit his sister. His caretaker is a quiet Israeli tour guide determined to find out if one of the German's ancestors was a member of the Nazi party. Fox and his friends were in Berlin last year with the popular Panorama film "Yossi & Jagger," about a love affair between two men in the Israeli army. A big crowd jammed the CINEMAXX theater for the screening, forcing the addition of a second showing at the complex. After midnight, while many toasted the festival's opening at the official Berlinale Palast gala, others partied at the "Walk on Water" opening night dance party at PAX Studio in Mitte. Even as buzz made its way home at 2 a.m., the party was just heating up for seemed would be a late night celebration.
SONY GETS "SKULL": Variety is reporting today that Sony Pictures Classics has nabbed North American and other rights for John Boorman's "Country of My Skull," which will have its debut at the Berlinale tomorrow. Company co-president Michael Barker told Variety that the deal is one of the largest ever for SPC. The film stars Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche.
WELLSPRING ACQUIRED: American Vantage Media has acquired Wellspring Media, the distribution company headed by Al Cattabiani. Wellspring, known for its distribution of foreign films and documentaries, maintains a library of 1,000 titles. American Vantage's parent, AVCS, recently acquired Hypnotic Media. Wellspring's staff of 50 will remain in place, with president Cattabiani set to stay on board as well.
A BUY FOR BEN: DVD and theatrical release company Film Movement has announced another acquisition for 2004 -- it has acquired the U.S. distribution right to Tony McNamara's comedy "The Rage in Placid Lake," which stars rocker and former Claire Danes main squeeze Ben Lee in his feature film debut. Lee stars at the titular Placid Lake, described as an "odd fish in a sea of mediocrity" with brilliant ideas and a crayon-eating best friend (Rose Byrne). Lake tried to embrace normalcy with a corporate job to the chagrin of his hippie parents (Miranda Richardson and Garry McDonald). Lee also contributes to the soundtrack, of course. "Ben Lee is a natural on screen and his performance exemplifies the awkward transition we all experience in going from high-school to the real world," said Film Movement founder and CEO Larry Meistrich. "Tony McNamara has infused the story with a rare, subversive wit, making The Rage in Placid Lake more engaging than just a romantic comedy or a coming of age story." The film won prizes at the Melbourne International Film Festival and from the Australian Writers Guild, and it also screened in Edinburgh, Brisbane, and at the AFI FEST. Adley Gartenstein and Richard Lim of Film Movement negotiated the deal with Gary Phillips and Angie Walsh of Moviehouse Entertainment on behalf of the filmmakers.
GREEKS GEARING UP: The sixth Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, scheduled for March 15-21 in the welcoming Greek port city, has announced that it will host retrospectives this year for Swedish documentarian Stefan Jarl and Peruvian-born and Dutch-based filmmaker Heddi Honigman. In addition, the fest will also pay tribute to Theo Angelopoulos and Abbas Kiarostami. The fest will show more than 150 titles (short to feature-length) an dwill also host conferences, concerts, a pitching forum, and a market. Sections this year include Views of the World, Portraits-Human Journeys, Recording of Membory, Habitat, Night Time Moods, as well as a current issues-themed program About Terrorism: Aspects of Violence.
GABRIEL GALA: The Newport International Film Festival announced that it is kicking off its 2004 season on March 5 with a benefit concert by Peter Gabriel at a tony private estate outside Newport, Rhode Island. Gabriel's daughter Anna will premiere her first film, "Growing Up, on Tour" at the fundraiser. The film looks at her perspective on her dad's career. Proceeds from the evening ($500 a head including cocktails and dinner) will benefit the festival at Witness, a charity co-founded by Gabriel. For info and tickets, call 401-846-9100.
PORTLAND LINE-UP: The Portland International Film Festival has announced the line-up for its line-up for the 27th festival, to be held February 13-28. The opening night screenings will be "Valentin," "Bright Young Things," "The Dreamers," "The Twilight Samurai." Sections of this year's festival include an Italian film showcase, 20 of the submissions for foreign film Oscar, 14 debut films, 13 documentaries, and more. For more info, visit www.nwfilm.org.
SEAFARING MUSIC: Famed musician Will Oldham (Palace, Palace Brothers, Bonnie Prince Billy and other monikers) is releasing an instrumental EP as a companion to the documentary "Seafarers." Oldham's "Seafarers" has one song written for each seafarer in the film. The feature-length doc was shot in Rotterdam, the world's largest port, and follows a Swedish, a Polynesian, a Croatian, and a Nigerian sailor.
[Eugene Hernandez contributed to this report.]