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25 NEW FACES OF INDEPENDENT FILM 2006

16 NEE BROTHERS

By any criterion, the Nee brothers’ The Last Romantic should not work. It’s a first feature, and its protagonist is a poet. This character is played by one of its two co-directors. There are Truffaut influences. The movie also has a beautiful French love interest, and when she comes into the picture, the cinematography shifts to B&W. The poet (again, remember, the co-director) doesn’t sleep with her, but he does sleep with another woman; she is played by a supermodel (Shalom Harlow).

On paper, The Last Romantic, which was shot for less than $20,000 and premiered this year at SXSW, has many precious elements capable of capsizing any debut feature. But as it follows its naive subject, Calvin Wizzig, as he comically attempts to break into the New York literary world, it winds up charming us with a wry send-up of twentysomething yearning. Florida-born but NYC-based Adam Nee, an actor whose credits include TV shows like Sex and the City and indie features like the upcoming South of Heaven, wrote, directed and produced the film with his brother Aaron, and he exerts a fascinating on-screen charisma as Wizzig. And doing triple duty as cinematographer, Aaron Nee deftly puts out some of the loveliest cinematography seen so far in DV filmmaking. “We set out to make a digital movie but without treating the medium as a license to be sloppy,” Aaron says. “We shot with Panasonic’s AG-DVX100A and spent a great deal of time working the images over in postproduction so that the movie would have an unusually rich, colorful palate.”

Of their brotherly collaboration, Aaron quips, “Adam and I actually have a long history of teamwork. I helped him be born, and then he helped me get beaten up by older kids. We both helped each other manage to not get a girlfriend, then he helped me lose my job, so when it came to filmmaking, it only made sense that we should help each other botch one another up.”

While Aaron mentions The Graduate and, yes, Truffaut, as an influence, he says the biggest inspiration for The Last Romantic was John Fante’s novel Ask the Dust: “Adam and I both really liked the idea of writing a character who consistently sabotaged himself and walked that difficult line of being simultaneously unbearable and sympathetic.” — S.M.

Contact: Craig Kestel at William Morris: (310) 859-4580; Colton Gramm at Brillstein-Grey Entertainment: (310) 275-6135

17 PASTOR BROTHERS

In spite of the success of the recent films Memento and Irreversible, the story-told-in-reverse genre has only begun to be explored, and appreciated. Alex Pastor’s The Natural Route, for example, has been a smash on the international festival circuit. (It won Jury Prize for Best International Short at Sundance.) Flashing back through a man’s life as he lies dying following a household accident, the short adds an ingenious, philosophically compelling and finally heartbreaking twist to the genre: as the man’s memories cascade backward, his consciousness interprets them as moving forward. He wonders why his children seem to be getting smaller and smaller and grieves when, as his wife lies in the delivery room, they are taken away from him. He marvels as his wife gets younger and more and more beautiful and then pains when she vanishes from his life. As Pastor says, “It’s about the idea of time and how you cannot keep things forever.”

Born in Barcelona, Pastor made The Natural Route as his thesis film at the School of Cinema of Catalonia. While he was making it, his brother David was studying screenwriting at Columbia University in New York and got hired to write a script for a Spanish production company. He asked Alex to co-write it with him, and the collaboration went so well that they decided to continue working together on a new script. “We read this article in The New Yorker 15 months ago about bird flu,” Pastor says. “Nobody was really talking about bird flu yet, and it sounded really scary and a good idea for a movie.” The brothers, who currently share an apartment in Brooklyn, had their character-based postapocalyptic horror script ready as The Natural Route was completed, and it was immediately picked up and put into production by John Lesher’s new Vantage division at Paramount. Anthony Bregman of This Is That and Ray Angelic are producing, and the brothers are co-directing the untitled film. Set in New Mexico, the film follow “four characters driving to a beach where they think they will be saved following a global pandemic,” says Pastor. “It’s not a movie full of monsters or zombies. It’s about how in extreme situations you can break your moral rules and lose your humanity.” — S.M.

Contact: Stuart Manashil at UTA: (310) 273-6700

18 MICHAEL TULLY

Filmmaker, musician, blogger and housepainter Michael Tully has been keeping himself busy the past year. It was only about 13 months ago that he and writer-star Damian Lahey finished tearing a festering little hole into the drug-addiction film subgenre with Cocaine Angel, a dime-bag-budgeted, grime-covered crawl through a Florida cokehead’s sunshineless state. With its claustrophobic apartments, torn carpets, drawn shades and teetering, visibly scarred supporting characters, the film looks like it wasn’t so much filmed in the Jacksonville drug culture as actually discovered there, stained into the floors, reeking like a week-old bender and oozing something nasty, so real was its grasp of place and aura.

A Maryland native and NYC resident, Tully went down to Jacksonville in April of 2005 to shoot for seven weeks with his old friend Lahey, a Jacksonsville native, using his Five Points neighborhood as location and his own experiences as script. As the hypereloquent, twitched-out lead, whose mouth still fires on all cylinders even while his mind dissolves into shards and his body into shit, Lahey gives a performance as relentless, and original, as anything onscreen in 2005, but it’s Tully’s assured, realist directing aesthetic that truly anchors the film. Like the 1970s’ American new-wave auteurs that he cites as influences, Tully knows that its’ ambience, not action, that makes great cinema.

It’s a choice that obviously paid off; Tully’s been busy trotting Cocaine Angel through a festival whirlwind that has included Rotterdam, South by Southwest, Sarasota, Boston, Maryland, Barcelona and even Jacksonville. In between screenings, he’s recorded as a musician under the name EncoprEsis, worked as a housepainter and helms one of the Internet’s most interesting, well-written film/music blogs, Boredom At Its Boredest (blogs.indiewire.com/tully/). He’s also creating several new films: Daydream, “a love letter to New York City,” Ping-Pong Summer, “a comedy set in 1985 that pays homage to old-school hip-hop, table tennis and Sasquatch,” and, next up, an experimental portrait of “a thirtysomething loser named...Michael Tully,” tentatively titled Low Points. “With this project I’m going [Vincent] Gallo, in that I’m also going to compose the music, edit and pretty much do everything,” he writes. “I seriously doubt it’ll elevate my status, but for me work is the most important thing. I have no one to answer to but myself.” — Jason Sanders

Contact: mynameismichaeltully@yahoo.com

19 PAUL SOTER

As a member of the five-man comedy troupe Broken Lizard, Paul Soter was able to hone his particular brand of low-brow humor to a treacherous razor’s edge. Then the promise of ’96’s festival hit Puddle Cruiser came to fruition with the follow-ups Super Troopers and Club Dread. While neither caused much stir at the box office, the Lizards have since gone on to amass a sizable following, targeting what seems to be a male, college-age audience. But don’t let the demographic fool you; the Lizards still manage to get you to laugh in spite of yourself, the crassness masking a keen intelligence and talent for satire.

Turning heads as writer-actor in the three films, it seemed inevitable that Soter would move on to directing. This summer, Soter takes the director’s chair himself, helming what will be his first feature film, Watching the Detectives. Already a marked change of pace from his Broken Lizard outings, Watching is being touted as a romantic comedy that utilizes touches of classic film noir to tell its story of star-crossed lovers. Cillian Murphy plays a repressed film geek who finds his own vamp in the form of sultry Lucy Liu, and subsequently watches his fragile world turn upside down. Definitely not a direct sell to the Club Dread crowd, the more adult-themed concept promises that Soter will not be pigeonholed. “I really lucked out getting Lucy and Cillian to do this film,” says Soter with his usual good humor. “I’m incredibly excited. And I’m finally getting out from under the oppressive yoke of the Broken Lizard regime. Those jerks have been keeping me down for years.”

But fans of Lizard need not weep just yet — the comedy quintet’s latest feature, Beerfest, a story of a secret beer-drinking society somewhere in Europe, is currently in postproduction. — André Salas

Contact: Keya Khayatian at UTA: (310) 273-6700

20 LARS KNUDSEN & JAY VAN HOY

Now in its ninth year, the 25 New Faces list has never once included stand-alone producer(s). It’s never been a hard-and-fast rule, and there certainly could have been many worthy additions. But this year, the team of Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy compelled us to break with tradition.

Knudsen, 27, who grew up in Denmark, and Van Hoy, 31, a native Texan, met in 2000, when they were both working in the trenches for überproducer Scott Rudin, learning the craft on such prestige studio pictures as The Hours, The Royal Tenenbaums and Iris. In 2004 the duo made good on their promise to break out on their own. They quit Rudin’s company and began taking freelance production and postproduction work on New York–based indies, and in their off hours began to develop a slate of material. “If Lars was working I was taking unemployment, and if I was working Lars was taking unemployment, so one of us was always moving on our films,” says Van Hoy.

The duo hit the ground running in 2005 with three low-budget, intellectually provocative films: Cam Archer’s Wild Tigers I Have Known (as executive producers), Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy and Steve Collins’s Gretchen. All three pictures hit the fest circuit in 2006 (Tigers and Joy premiered in the Sundance Frontier section and Gretchen screened at SXSW). Knudsen and Van Hoy currently have nine projects in development, with three slated for production later this year: Cruz Angeles’s Don’t Let Me Drown, Spencer Parsons’s I’ll Come Running and Steve Douglas’s Sprung. They also continue to scout the indie world for Rudin.

“We knew that in order to kind of succeed at being producers we had to put in the time,” says Knudson. “We’ve spent two years working with really talented filmmakers and putting good films together and getting some critical acclaim. Now we want to be able to step up our budgets and find new talent while also continuing existing relationships with the directors we’ve already worked with. We’re just taking small steps and growing and trying to make more and more films every year.” — M.R.

Contact: lars@population2.com, jay@population2.com

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