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Tuesday, February 1, 2000 / 11:18 PM
The Sundance Film Festival awards were distributed January 29, with Best Directing - Documentary going to Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman for "Paragraph 175," an examination of the persecution of German gay men under the Nazi regime with testimony from gay concentration camp survivors. The team of Epstein and Friedman is already much-honored for "The Times of Harvey Milk," "Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt," and "The Celluloid Closet." They won against what was generally agreed to be one of the best collections of documentaries Sundance has ever seen, with one juror noting that the panel's original shortlist had 13 entries, although consensus was ultimately achieved.
The "Advocate" also identified as lesbians Frances Reid and Deborah Hoffman, whose "Long Night's Journey into Day" took Best Documentary for its study of the workings of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
But the annual showcase in Park City, Utah has not only trophies but cash awards, for those lucky enough to sell their work to a distributor. A winner in that sense was "Chuck and Buck," sold to Artisan Pictures (the happy owners of "Blair Witch Project") for more than $1-million, maybe $1.5-million. Written by Mike White, a producer of TV's "Freaks and Geeks," and directed by Mighel Arteta ("Star Maps"), it deals with the reunion of a pair of childhood buddies who have taken very different paths in life, including one growing up gay and the other not. Artisan exec Bill Block told the "San Francisco Chronicle" he wasn't looking for a particular picture so much as one to satisfy a particular art house audience he described as, "youthful and sophisticated... They're spending two hours a night on the 'Net, not watching TV, and actively seeking a different cinema... the smart, youthful aggregation out there."
The dollar bills weren't flying this year as once they did, due in part to the disappointing box office of last year's jackpot winner the gay-themed farce "Happy, Texas," rumored to have been bought for anywhere from $5 - $10-million although Miramax claims it was only $2.5-million. Then again, along with the hardware and the hard cash, there's that other valuable intangible sought after at Sundance: "buzz." One of the biggest buzzmakers was definitely "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," a documentary on the rise and fall and rise again of televangelist Tammy Faye Baker. Not only does it feature openly gay co-host John J. Bullock of her most recent TV show "John J. and Tammy Faye," it's narrated by drag artist RuPaul. Tammy herself was present to weep at the standing ovation the film by Fenton House and Randy Barbato received when first screened at Sundance. The documentary reveals that she was not only a kind of camp icon, but always friendly with gays and sympathetic to the AIDS epidemic when other evangelists were generally not.
Also much buzzed was "American Psycho," based on the novel by gay Brett Easton Ellis about a serial killer in New York in the 1980's. It's a directorial debut for Mary Harron, who also wrote the screenplay, and stars Christian Bale as the Wall Street murderer. She calls it a satire, but it's a rather gruesome one involving chain saws and meat hooks. Its release is not far off.
A few other gayish titles among the 112 screened: Gary Walkow's "Beat" with Kiefer Sutherland as "Naked Lunch" author William Burroughs and Courtney Love as the wife he accidentally killed; "But I'm a Cheerleader," at which a teen suspected of being a lesbian is sent off to a rehab center run by -- once again -- RuPaul; "Could Be Worse!" billed as a mockumentary musical of Boston filmmaker Zack Stratis' coming out to his Greek-American family; Greg Borlanti's "The Broken Hearts Club" with TV's former "Lois and Clark" Superman Dean Cain among the Boystown boys of West Hollywood; and Patrick Ian Polk's "Punks," blurbed as "the first all black and gay music-driven film."
Other Screen Honors
Gay director Pedro Almodovar on January 29 added France's Lumiere Award for Best Foreign Language Picture to the Golden Globe and lots of other hardware he's picked up for his sexually diverse "Todo Sobre Mi Madre" ("All About My Mother"), now in release in the U.S. To the surprise of everyone, the French Film of the Year selection was "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc," elsewhere received rather lukewarmly. The Lumieres are distributed by the Lumieres Academy, a group of foreign correspondents in Paris, and are therefore compared to the U.S. Golden Globes, while the still-to-come "Cesar" awards are compared to the Oscars.
Almodovar couldn't be present in Paris to receive his Lumiere (he accepted via satellite hookup) because he was in Madrid collecting Spain's 14th annual Goya Awards by the armful. He won both Best Director and Best Film for "Todo Sobre Mi Madre," star Cecilia Roth won Best Actress, and the film picked up another four trophies to be the big winner of the night. Even though many consider Almodovar to be his homeland's entire film industry, he has only won the Best Film Goya once before, for "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" in 1989. He said, "I read in the newspaper that I've never mentioned my mother [in an award acceptance speech]. I did it deliberately -- I was waiting for this occasion." He dedicated his victory to his mother, who died soon after filming was completed on "Todo Sobre Mi Madre."
Nominations for the sixth annual Screen Actors Guild (SAG) "Actor" awards were released February 1; they'll be distributed at a gala in Los Angeles on March 12 to be broadcast live on Turner Network Television. SAG's nearly 97,000 members will vote for the winners from the nominees selected from two randomly-chosen panels -- one for film and one for television -- composed of a total of 4,200 SAG members. Of particular interest in the Theatrical Motion Pictures categories: Philip Seymour Hoffman is nominated for his gay role in "Flawless" for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role, and also shares in the Cast Performance nomination for "Magnolia"; "Boys Don't Cry," the dramatized life of murdered transgender Brandon Teena, brought an Outstanding Female Lead nomination for Hilary Swank and Female Supporting nomination for Chloe Sevigny; the controversially gay-related "American Beauty" won nods for Kevin Spacey for Outstanding Male Lead, Annette Bening for Outstanding Female Lead, Chris Cooper for Male Supporting, and Outstanding Performance by a Cast; the gayish "Being John Malkovich" won Female Supporting nods for both Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener as well as a Cast Performance nomination; and Michael Jeter shares in the Cast Performance nomination for "The Green Mile." Gay actor Bill Brochtrup shares in the TV Cast Performance nomination for "NYPD Blue" for his gay character John Irving.
Mob Destroys "Fire" Director's Set
Embittered, Mehta told the Associated Press that, "In this country, it seems one [is] ... now required to seek permission from some political wings besides the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and the [Film] Censor Board." In fact, after the attack the state of Uttar Pradesh withdrew its permission to shoot in Varanasi and asked the government to reconsider the script. "Fire" was also reviewed twice and okayed by the Censor Board, but sometimes violent protests against the theaters where it played -- to full houses -- ended its run. Mehta is seeking the assistance of the national government to continue work on "Water."