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DAILY DISPATCH FROM BERLIN: Altman’s Latest, “Prairie”; Strand Gets “Sky”; Manson’s Movie; and Parti

DAILY DISPATCH FROM BERLIN: Altman's Latest, "Prairie"; Strand Gets "Sky"; Manson's Movie; and Parti

It is hard not to watch Robert Altman‘s 37th feature, “A Prairie Home Companion” — a film about the end of Garrison Keillor‘s long-running American radio program — without thinking about the film as 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” here at the Berlinale are hoping Altman will stop directing, but his age — he will turn 81 years old next week — 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.

Get the latest news, buzz and iPOP photos from the Berlinale in indieWIRE’s special Berlin International Film Festival section.

“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” — which had its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival yesterday and will be released by Picturehouse in the U.S. in early June — a seemingly fictitious live radio variety show stars Keillor and features a number of performers appearing as themselves on what will be the final episode of the long-running program.

“I feel really proud of the movie and I think its properly subversive and its very human,” explained Meryl 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.”

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 Streep, Lily Tomlin, Lindsay Lohan, Kevin Kline, Virginia Madsen, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, and others.

“The more help I can get the better,” joked Altman, “So the more actors that I can get into the arena, it just makes my work much easier, because if something doesn’t work, well, I just go to someone else.” Reacting to a comment by a journalist who said that Altman always seems to depict disparate worlds so effortlessly — from the military at war (“M*A*S*H) and the Hollywood film industry (“The Player”), to the fashion world (“Pret-a-Porter”), to a dance group (“The Company”) — the director said, with a self-deprecating tone, “That just proves that I don’t have a helluva lot to do with these films — I show up and I ask the cast to come — I say show me your stuff and I’ll film it, that’s really what happens.”

Despite his acclaimed career, Altman has never received an Oscar for his work, but in just over two weeks the director will be honored with an honorary Academy Award. “I am very happy with the fact that I am being recognized this year,” Altman said in Berlin, “I am very proud of that, I can’t think of a better award. To me its better (to be honored) for all of my work, than just for a couple of things.”

“My work is part of my life,” Altman concluded, “Its just part of my life and its what I do and I don’t grade these things, I did about 40 other films that I think are equally good.”

Strand Gets “Broken Sky”

Ahead of the film’s Berlinale debut, Strand Releasing has acquired Julian Hernandez‘ “Broken Sky” (El Cielo Divido) for North American distribution. The company released the filmmaker’s previous feature, “A Thousand Clouds of Peace…,” which won The Teddy Award three years ago at the Berlin International Film Festival.

The film is the story of two Mexican men — passionate lovers — whose relationship is challenged when each encounters a new man. Miguel Ortega of Imcine and Jon Gerrans, co-president of Strand Releasing, negotiated the deal. A Fall ’06 theatrical deal is planned, according to Strand.

Manson Makes Move Towards Directing

Goth rocker Marilyn Manson and model Lily Cole showed up at the Movenpick Hotel near Potsdamer Platz yesterday to plug their upcoming project, “Phantasmagoria: The Visions of Lewis Carroll,” which Manson will direct (and also star in). Filming is slated for July and August of this year. The film, also written by Manson, is a portrait of the tormented “Alice in Wonderland” author who lead an isolated life in Victorian England.

Marilyn Manson and Lily Cole, announcing a new film project in Berlin. Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE

“When digging deeper, I found the story of Lewis Carroll more interesting then the story of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ itself,” explained Manson, at an invitation only press conference following a five-minute teaser of the film. “[Originally], I thought the project might be another interpretation of ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ but it became more a story of Lewis Carroll himself – someone I really relate to.”

Paris-based film sales company Wild Bunch first approached Manson with the project four years ago, and the company believes having Manson spearhead the creative end of the film is a perfect fit. “Carroll wasn’t trying to be gothic, but his story is very gothic. I’m setting out to try and re-define horror film, bringing it back into the tradition of Polanski,” said Manson.

If any of the three-dozen or so journalists were skeptical of the project, they were at least somewhat won-over at the end of the press conference. Manson, who also paints, distributed signed copies of a painting he had created, causing a minor stampede. The print is a colorful and disturbing rendition of “Alice in Wonderland.”

The Parties: Super Sunday in Berlin

Sunday night in Berlin was like a Sunday night at Sundance. It was the biggest night of celebrating in Berlin this year; parties galore ruled the evening with the crowded schedule of events even landing a lead story in a weekend trade paper.

indieWIRE’s night started out at the Ritz Carlton at an intimate soiree for Hamptons International Film Festival executive director Denise Kassell. The event wasn’t actually an official party, but nevertheless, enough festival-goers showed up that it could qualify as a soiree. Next, more sekt (German sparkling wine) was in the offering at a party hosted by AFI Fest, also in Potsdamer Platz. From there, a group headed up to a party to celebrate the new Asian Film Market. The event, atop a high-rise with a panoramic view, was quite lavish with a full spread of Asian and German food, and of course, a full bar. Business cards were flowing as hosts from the Pusan International Film Festival greeted newcomers and touted the new market, set to coincide with the acclaimed Asian festival.

Next up was a party to toast the Robert Wilson doc, “Absolute Wilson” (hosted by Dom Perignon champagne) at Berlin’s China Club. After the Dom party, it was off to the anticipated annual Trust Film party, a Berlinale fixture that typically draws a hard-partying crowd. Dancing, drinks and a warm greeting for each new arrival from Trust head Peter Aalbaeck Jensen marked the event on the 12th floor of another high-rise, in East Berlin off Alexander Platz. The spot had a terrific view of Alexander Platz and Berlin’s telecom tower, built during the DDR period. The only drawback was the fog of smoke trapped inside the room courtesy of Europe’s ubiquitous and avid smokers. At 2 a.m., a large crowd was still waiting outside to get into the popular fest bash. From there, a large group of Americans made a move to Kreuzberg for a large Queer cinema bash from MIX and the local gay weekly, Siegessaule. The drinks weren’t free and the crowd began to die around 2:30am, so many headed back east for popular Sunday late-night club, Cafe Moscow, which was still packed when the night wound down around 5 a.m.

Other parties that took place Sunday night included the European Film Market party at the Ritz, and a Fortissimo Films‘ event. Lionsgate also hosted a cocktail event for “Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man” following the film’s screening.

ABOUT THE WRITER: Eugene Hernandez is the Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief of indieWIRE and Brian Brooks is the Associate Editor of indieWIRe.

Get the latest news, buzz and iPOP photos from the Berlinale in indieWIRE’s special Berlin International Film Festival section.

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