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25 NEW FACES OF INDEPENDENT FILM

PHOTO: STATHIS ORPHANOS
Todd Hughes — director

Director and festival darling Todd Hughes has gained something of a reputation for his outrageous, darkly humourous and decidedly queer visions. Those savvy enough to know sing the praises of his visionary shorts, which tread the thin line between camp and black comedy. No overnight sensation, Hughes has been creating his special brand of madness for a decade, building up a formidable body of short films.

A graduate of Columbia Film School he was then rejected from A.F.I., U.S.C. and Cal Arts Film School in less than a week. Taking this as a sign, he went to Hollywood, where he made 13 bizarre shorts, including Hit Women of the Swedish Mafia and The Nude Adventures of Pippi Longstocking. A buzz began to build, and soon came the notorious Butthole Bonanza. A documentary about an artist who gives himself paint enemas and does abstract expressionist painting with his sphincter, it raised more than a few eyebrows and was rejected from almost every major festival.

Moving on to no less controversial subject matters, Hughes’s last short, Ding Dong, is about two lesbian door-to-door cosmetics saleswomen who butcher their clients after giving them a final makeover. Giving a lip-gloss fresh sheen to the tired killer-lesbian theme, it received attention at festivals, eliciting praise for its hilarious treatment of what could easily have been routine fare.

His first feature, The New Women, is a natural continuation of his work. Smart and acidly funny, its a feminist sci-fi fable, a cautionary tale of women left alone in a world without men. Originally envisioned as a project for Ann Magnuson, who loved Ding Dong, Hughes eventually cast cult icon Mary Woronov in the lead. Shot in digital-video and converted to a vintage looking black and white, The New Women was shot in 16 days, over 25 locations, and with 100 women in the film. Perhaps one of the best looking DV films yet, Women is fresh and exciting, boding well for future Hughes projects, which include a Jayne Mansfield biopic. – Arnold Salas

[contact: www.killerpix.net]

 

Porter Gale & Laleh Soomekh — directors

At only 13 minutes long, Porter Gale and Laleh Soomekh’s documentary, XXXY, is essential filmmaking. A look at people born with ambiguous genitalia who had the grave misfortune of having their sex surgically decided for them as infants, the film concisely and powerfully conveys horror, injustice and tremendous personal fortitude. And it does all this through its straightforward cinematic visit with 25-year-old Kristi and clinical psychologist Howard Devore, two individuals who endured the experience themselves.

The film’s stripped down quality — talking heads, the occasional shot of a childhood home, or Kristi on a bike — means there’s nothing to interfere with the pair’s stories; the impact is profound. Plenty of others thought so too; after a successful international festival run, the film was awarded a student Academy Award gold medal.

Both Gale and Soomekh had been pursuing other careers before filmmaking became an option. Gale had been in New York, working in advertising, while Soomekh was freelancing as a photographer and teaching emotionally disturbed children. Both women wanted to move in a direction that would afford opportunities for combining their creative and socially progressive impulses. They enrolled in Stanford’s two-year film program, where XXXY was the result of an assignment to collaborate with a classmate.

Having just graduated, Soomekh plans to divide her time between San Francisco and L.A. to work as a cinematographer; Gale is hoping to start her own Northern California production company. And while each also have their own documentary projects in development, the pair are actively seeking the funding that would allow them to make XXXY into a longer, broadcast-length piece. – Hazel-Dawn Dumpert

 

PHOTO: ANDRE BLAISE
Zoë Poledouris — artist

How many composers can you think of who became members of Broadcast Music, Inc. when they were nine years old, shortly after writing a music cue for an Arnold Schwartzenegger film? We can only think of one: Zoë Poledouris, daughter of Basil Poledouris, who included a piece that his daughter performed for him on the recorder (dad’s title: "The Orgy") in his score for Conan the Barbarian.

"Music’s been staring me in the face my whole life, along with all the guitars my father bought for me over the years," says Poledouris the younger, who traded in her childhood ice skating ambitions for a B.A. from Bennington College in art and costume design – and a career in a succession of punk rock bands.

A participant in this year’s Sundance Composers Lab, Poledouris is now in the middle of a tremendous career surge. She co-wrote the score for John Waters’s Cecil B. DeMented. "Right after John asked me to do it, I went home and recorded everything in, like, 20 minutes," she recalls. "Punk rock now!" She also wrote all the songs for director Kurt Voss’s forthcoming Down and Out with the Dolls, in which she landed the leading role. "I’m a songwriter at heart," she explains, "but right now I want to be an actress too."

Not that music has stopped staring Poledouris in the face: she composed two songs and did some "ProTools deconstruction stuff" for several scenes in Larry Clark’s Bully. "I mixed those down in Australia, where I was working on the music for White House Productions’ ultimate skateboard DVD," she says. "I did a skatepunk cover of ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ for them." She also wrote a song that ended up in Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers, "but I hate that song," she sneers.

"She’s her father’s daughter," says Larry Clark – no stranger to skatepunk himself – who decided to include Poledouris’s song "Unloved" on the forthcoming Bully soundtrack. "That’s what I’m most excited about," grins the composer. "Being on the same soundtrack with Tricky and Fatboy Slim." Poledouris now! – Chuck Stephens

[contact : Steven Adams Entertainment (323) 665-6800]

 

PHOTO: DERIN THORPE
Scott Coffey — writer/ director/ actor

Actors Scott Coffey and Naomi Watts shared a big break when David Lynch cast the two as leads in his ABC television series, Mulholland Drive. But after France’s Studiocanal bought out the network and produced a theatrical version of the never-aired pilot, Coffey learned that his good luck was short-lived. His part had been cut to a single line of dialogue. Remembers Coffey, "Mulholland Drive was the last [role] I really enjoyed. When it didn’t pan out, I kind of lost interest in acting."

Coffey wound up turning his disaffection, though, into a witty and compelling series of no-budget DV shorts, collectively entitled Ellie Parker. Starring Watts as a character not too far removed from herself – an Australian actress struggling to make it in L.A. – the series imaginatively riffs on what Coffey sees as a uniquely L.A. phenomenon: "Modern identity is so fractured in L.A. that no one can really be themselves here," he comments. "Ellie is one thing in therapy, one thing in auditions, another thing with her boyfriend. The only time she is truly herself is when she’s alone, in her car."

Driving across town from audition to audition, in fact, is where we meet Ellie in the first episode. Changing lanes, clothes and makeup, she transforms herself from a distraught Southern belle to a Bronx-born mob chick, all the while maintaining hilariously self-obsessed cell-phone chatter. It’s a funny piece of filmmaking, full of acting in-jokes, but what is remarkable is the way her character deepens and develops in the subsequent three episodes. Coffey, who shot the pieces himself, shifts visual styles and introduces odd surrealistic flourishes as Ellie splits with her boyfriend, attends a psychodramatic acting workshop and, stoned, comes on to Keanu Reeves at a Dogstar concert.

If Watts, in one episode, complains to an actress friend that there’s not sufficient emotional grist in her childhood to base her Method acting on, Coffey can’t offer the same complaint. He ran away from home at 16 after becoming obsessed with Bernado Bertolucci’s Luna. "Rome looked so incredibly beautiful," Coffey remembers. "I wound up living on the streets there and then meeting Bertolucci. He was kind of impressed by this weird teenage kid who showed up in Rome obsessed by his movie." Coffey’s first acting gig was in Sergio Leone’s Once upon a Time in America. "I was in Bugsy’s gang beating up the young Robert De Niro and James Woods," he says.

He went on to appear in "a bunch of weird post—Mad Max movies" in Italy and then in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful and Shag, among others, in the U.S. He became friends with Watts when they both acted in Tank Girl. "We’ve each been in movies we’re proud of and then lots of horror films with numbers in their titles," he adds.

Mulholland Drive – as a star turn for Watts and a directorial-career catalyst for Coffey – has resolved for both of them any kind of career uncertainty. Variety dubbed Watts "an actress of unexpected intimacy and depth" for her work in the movie, and Ellie Parker has convinced the few who have seen it of Coffey’s writing and directing chops. Producer Kerry Boyle Rock, who Coffey met on Shag, has signed on to produce his first feature, Clay’s Way, "a punk-rock love story set in Hawaii." After that, Coffey hopes to film a second project, Jupiter, "a Nashville-type epic about religious cults and kids who become born-again Christians." – Scott Macaulay

[contact: [email protected]]

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