Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Circus Moves

By Ray Pride

FEBRUARY 7, 2000:  There are three days of movies to go. It already feels like the tent stakes are being pulled up, some of the carnies and clowns have already gone home. You get the hang of the circus and it moves on to the next town.

No one's in love. There are movies admired and discussed but no one's life seems changed. There's an unusual calm here. It may be that citizens of the festival world have realized the organized anarchy of this festival cannot be battled, only pushed through, and no longer feel anxiety. Strangely, it seems the lack of masterpieces and commercial home runs may be what has kept the mood gracious.

"This town is shakin' with those wonderful movies and those great movies who bring their art to Park City!" the local PBS affiliate enthuses while I write, hoping to block out the sound of hammering just up the hill. The population is exploding here, or at least the new-build construction. The Winter Olympics arrive next year. (Sundance's dates will be displaced in order not to conflict.) So more and more condos climb the hillsides. I just wish they'd stop hammering until I get back down the mountain to the movies and discussion.

indieWIRE held their annual party on Wednesday night, and it was one of the schmoozier parties I've been able to attend. I enjoyed a few minutes talking to cinematographer Jim Denault about his work ("Boys Don't Cry," and at the fest, "Songcatcher" and parts of "Hamlet."). Emilio Estevez wandered the room, taking handshakes from those who had taken in his made-for-Showtime "Rated X," a tepid biopic about San Francisco's porn-mongering Mitchell Brothers. (Co-star Charlie Sheen was staying out of the limelight and party circuit. Huh!)

At Fine Line's afternoon pour, Natasha Lyonne (Jamie Babbitt's campy "But I'm A Cheerleader") and Edward Furlong (Steve Buscemi's crisp prison tale "The Animal Factory") were in evidence, as were many of the journalist faces, familiar to me, if not to most readers. Emily Watson smiled gamely when video cameras came near, much as she had in Alan Rudolph's flabbergastingly lifeless "Trixie." Her husband, also an actor, stood nearby, silent, unsmiling. His "don't ask" expression would keep the stoutest paparazzi at bay. A witty little cupcake of comic Californication, "Love and Sex" tackles the unruly sexual history of relationship-hungry magazine writer Famke Janssen; when she meets painter Jon Favreau, charm ensues. The complications are thin, but writer-director Valerie Breiman is a confident first-time filmmaker. Expect it in a multiplex later this year. "Groove," a snapshot of San Francisco's rave scene, sold for a reported $3 million, and its "Thank God It's Friday"-style story might strike sparks commercially. Again, while blessed with keen observations, it's a modest, simple story. Raging ambition and stylistic verve are rare among the Amerindie titles here this year.

Another interesting musical entry is vet documentarian Barbara Kopple's work-in-progress "My Generation," which compares the history of the original love-and-peace Woodstock festival, to the product placement-financed 1994 show, and last year's pyrotechnic mini-riot.

I've been impressed by a few shorts, and hope to catch more today. Martha Colburn's free-associative, almost hallucinogenic cut-and-paste animations, "There's a Pervert in Our Pool!" and "Spiders In Love: An Arachnogasmic Musical" are lewd delights. With music by Jad Fair and a visual style that only begins at "sexually outrageous," Colburn's the real thing. Sexual content also marks the low-key, lovingly performed "Five Feet High and Rising," by Peter Sollett. Twelve-year-old Victor (Victor Rasuk), wandering the streets of New York's Lower East Side, discovers the complicated world of sexuality, and Sollett's direction is both assuredly paced and nicely observed. Naomi Uman's "Removed," is a sarcastic little hallucination: She literally removes the female figure from scenes out of a cheesy 1970s porn film. The deadpan declarations by the characters make for unintended irony and hilarity. Jonathan Bekemeier's "Titler" may be the most outrageous short at any of the Dances: Actor Gregory Roman portrays Adolf Hitler in a sweet little dress, singing a capella against what looks like the ruins of post-War Berlin. Roman sells it, and it's a riot.

The short that may make the best metaphor for a filmmaker's lot in Park City is Rolf Gibbs' "G," which looks utterly abstract until you realize it's the perspective of a camera that's been flung out of a plane at 30,000 feet and allowed to freefall to the ground. (Like many filmmakers, Gibbs makes his shorts available on his Website, but he'll send you a CD-ROM of the film of your choice for the cost of postage. www.rolfgibbs.com) The cautionary aspect for filmmakers? The burst of white when the camera lands, destroyed, like a career after a few wrong steps.

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