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IN FOCUS
Mary Glucksman profiles six new feature films in production.

COSMOPOLITAN

Roshan Seth in Cosmopolitan.

Nisha Ganatra (Chutney Popcorn) is headed back to screens with Cosmopolitan, a comedy about a first-generation Indian-American’s fumbling attempts to date a neighbor after his wife leaves him.

"Gopal has been married his whole life and has no idea how to start a relationship," says Ganatra. "The film is about loneliness and the boundaries he’ll cross to avoid it – boundaries he would never ordinarily cross."

The film stars Carol Kane and Monsoon Wedding’s Roshan Seth as the mismatched couple, and Ganatra says she hopes the film touches a nerve. "Fiction has moved to a place film hasn’t," she says. "There’s a whole wave of second generation Indian films about growing up Indian-American but nobody’s told the story of what it was like here for our parents."

Cosmopolitan is based on a short story by novelist Akhil Sharma. "It’s a little jewel," says producer Jen Small. "The rights to short stories are more accessible financially for small companies, and you can add where a novel demands cutting."

Small and partners Jason Orans and Brian Devine found Cosmopolitan in the 1998 Best American Short Stories collection and signed Sabrina Dhawan (Monsoon Wedding) to adapt it for newcomer Gigantic Pictures. Gigantic worked the adrift-in-America angle to get partial financing from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Diversity Initiative and the National Asian-American Television Association.

Most of the 24P HD Cosmopolitan was shot this past January in New Jersey, but the film’s one Bollywood dance number was lensed in New York’s Jackson Heights, where colorful Indian-American signage helped make a readymade outdoor set. "It kept getting pushed on the schedule because of weather, and we finally did it on the coldest day of the year with the poor actors in saris," laughs Ganatra.

Contact: Jen Small (producer) at [email protected].

 

DOWN TO THE BONE

Five years after Debra Granik’s Snake Feed won best short at Sundance she’s shooting Down to the Bone, a neorealist feature inspired by her short film’s weary drug addicts and their rocky road to sobriety. "This is about why, after a series of hideous experiences, one woman questions whether her life can go on in its chemically dependent state," says Granik. "Her path is treacherous, but there’s a lot of poignant comedy in her efforts to stay sober."

The winning script at last year’s Nantucket Film Festival, Down to the Bone stars Vera Farmiga (15 Minutes) as an upstate mom who, while in rehab, falls in love with a reformed addict (Hard Core Logo’s Hugh Dillon) whose own relapse tests her resolve. "It’s a more accurate account of recovery than we’ve seen before," says producer Anne Rosellini, who programmed Snake Feed for Seattle’s One Reel Film Festival and has been working with Granik since leaving AtomFilms’s top acquisitions post.

Granik logged a decade shooting industrials before entering NYU’s grad film program, where she made Snake Feed, a rare student invitee to the 1997 edition of New Directors/New Films. The micro-budget Bone was shot in Woodstock, New York, and surrounding Ulster County in February with producer Susan Leber (The Technical Writer) adding the necessary expertise to cover 20 locations in 24 days. Cinematographer Michael McDon-ough (Bowling for Columbine) used a Mini DV system with an adapter for 35mm lenses. Also in the film are Clint Jordan (Virgil Bliss) and Caridad "La Bruja" De La Luz (Bamboozled).

Contact: Anne Rosellini (producer) at [email protected], Susan Leber (producer) at [email protected].

 

GONE STRAIGHT...TO HELL

Elaine Holliman's Gone Straight...to Hell
"Bisexuality is the elephant in the room no one wants to mention," says documentary filmmaker Elaine Holliman, whose new feature, Gone Straight... to Hell, attempts to abolish the notion that avowed bisexuals just can’t commit to gay identities. The film chronicles dozens of gay and lesbian activists whose admission of bisexuality undermines their careers. That was an experience Holliman had firsthand when Chicks in White Satin, her USC MFA thesis short about a lesbian couple’s Jewish wedding, was nominated for a 1994 Academy Award.

"I was suddenly in the spotlight as a first-time lesbian director," she says, "and then it became public that I was involved with a man. The gay press labeled me straight while I was struggling to navigate questions and assumptions about who I was. Many relationships with colleagues, friends and family foundered. I had an easier time being out as a lesbian for 10 years."

Holliman says that bisexual activist Lani Ka’ahumanu is the glue that holds her film together: "She is a far-out and fabulous character, kind of a white rabbit through the labyrinth of sexual identities and a grande dame narrator of the bisexual movement in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Through her leads we have shot over 50 interviews."

Holliman and co-producer Tom Kearney started Straight… to Hell on grant funding and picked up the pace a year ago after getting a small-business loan, getting selected for the IFP Producers Lab and buying a Sony PD-150, edit deck and Final Cut Pro. Her other work includes an adaptation of the novel Rubyfruit Jungle and a dramatic version of Chicks plus a second doc feature nearing completion, Homeschooling: American Utopias. She is looking for editors and finishing-funds for both.

Contact: Elaine Holliman (director) at [email protected].

 

I LOVE YOUR WORK

"It’s about the difference between getting what you want and wanting what you get," says actor Adam Goldberg (A Beautiful Mind) of his first feature as writer-director since his brooding 1998 debut, Scotch and Milk. A dark drama, I Love Your Work stars Giovanni Ribisi as a movie star whose paranoid meltdown and failing marriage to a starlet played by Franka Potente cause him to obsessively stalk a young fan. Says Goldberg, who shot in downtown Los Angeles in January and February, "the film takes place in a dreamlike space in an unspecified place, and the idea was to combine the surreal and the very realistic."

To get the cast and crew on his artistic wavelength, Goldberg began the production by handing them 350-page binders filled with everything from clinical case studies on narcissism to reproductions of Mark Rothko paintings. "David Lynch was a huge influence in terms of imagery," Goldberg says, "but Cassavetes was an influence in terms of performance."

Scotch and Milk d.p. Mark Putnam shot the 35mm I Love Your Work with anamorphic lenses. "We took our time with lighting and we were incredibly specific about color. It’s remarkable what you can do on a low budget if you spend the time on details," says Goldberg. For the soundtrack, Goldberg hopes that Elvis Costello, who has a cameo, may cough up a new tune or two. I Love Your Work is the first feature from Cyan Pictures, its financier, which partnered on the low-seven-figure project with Muse Productions (Spun). Also in the cast are Christina Ricci, Marisa Coughlan, Jared Harris, Vince Vaughn, Jason Lee and Nicky Katt.

Contact: Joshua Newman (producer) at [email protected].

 

NEO NED

"It’s been three years we’ve been trying to get this project together," says Neo Ned director Van Fischer, who discovered Tim Baughn’s script at Slamdance 2000, where it won the screenplay prize and Fischer’s own debut feature, Blink of an Eye, was a dramatic selection. "I read it once and had to option it."

What starts as a tough tale of Ned, a teen skinhead in a psych ward for murder, evolves into a tender love story between the boy and a black teen patient, Rachel, who believes she’s Hitler. Whether Ned really killed anybody, or Rachel truly believes her Hitler schtick, is open to interpretation, but what Ned does for her to prove his love is the stuff of heroes.

"Ned has a confrontational swagger but it’s all posturing," remarks Fischer, 44, a onetime actor who spent 20 years running a construction company in Seattle before returning to Hollywood to make Blink. Fischer says Baughn, an Albuquerque elementary school teacher and first-time screenwriter, based the characters on kids he encountered while volunteering at local institutions. "It hits on so many different levels that it’s a hard movie to categorize," says Fischer. "We are going to tell it as a love story, but it will make Monster’s Ball look like the Disney Channel."

Ned’s due to shoot in L.A. in early April with Tatyana Ali (The Brothers) in one of the lead roles and former New Line casting head Valerie McCaffrey producing with Mark Borman (The Woman in the Moon). "We went through several producers who loved Ned but didn’t see how to get the money," says Fischer. "At various points we had Eddie Furlong and Nick Stahl onboard. Mark came up with enough cash to get the ball rolling. Ultimately we’ll end up shooting it on 35mm or high def. David Mullen, our d.p., shot the Polish brothers’ Jackpot on high def, and I defy you to watch that and think it wasn’t shot on film."

Contact: Van Fischer (director) at [email protected].

 

RED DIAPER BABY

Josh Kornbluth in Red Diaper Baby
Growing up in ’60s New York with communist parents, Josh Kornbluth says he figured he was being groomed to lead a revolution. ("Just so you understand the pressure," he adds.) More interested in character than cause, he chose instead to mine his childhood for a series of inspired theatrical monologues like Haiku Tunnel, which became an indie movie he adapted, starred in and co-directed with his brother Jacob in 2001. Now on the way is Red Diaper Baby, a coming-of-age saga originally optioned by Universal for Kornbluth to adapt as a fiction feature 10 years ago. The indie version is being realized through a collaboration between Haiku Tunnel producer Brian Benson and director Doug Pray (Scratch).

"Brian and I recorded a performance super-cheap with black backgrounds and my bald head bouncing light into your eyes and sent it off to the Sundance Channel," says Kornbluth. "They said they would run it, but we wanted to do more than document a performance. I’m a big fan of the way Jonathan Demme plugged into the artists he filmed in Swimming to Cambodia, Stop Making Sense and Storefront Hitchcock, so those became our models." Kornbluth hooked up with Pray last summer at the Sundance Theater Lab just as the channel came onboard with production money. "Doug got that there was an underlying sadness I wanted reflected in the way it was shot," he adds.

Red Diaper Baby was filmed with two Super 16mm cameras over two nights at San Francisco’s Magic Theater in September. Digitally projected backdrops created from colorized slides of New York designed by art director Tracey Gallacher (Trainspotting) were timed to Kornbluth’s performance, and close-ups of those images give Pray options in cutting. A score by Haiku composer Marco D’Ambrosio will highlight emotional levels as Kornbluth discusses sex, death, his parents’ divorce and Russian kids more interested in his jeans than his politics. "It’s tough to show one man on stage for an hour and a half, but we think it’s going to be an ebullient, raucous and ultimately touching moviegoing experience," says Benson, who’s hoping for theatrical play before the film’s Sundance Channel airing next year.

Contact: Brian Benson (producer) at [email protected].

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