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IN FOCUS
Five new films in postproduction.

BY MARY GLUCKSMAN

CHERRY CRUSH

In Nicholas DiBella’s Cherry Crush, Jonathan Tucker (The Deep End) is a 17-year-old photographer who, after he’s expelled from prep school, finds real trouble in public school when he hooks up with an adolescent femme fatale (Thirteen’s Nikki Reed) and becomes an accessory to murder. The film is the screenwriter’s second — DiBella directed the 1995 teen drama Restless Heart — and it reteams him with writing partner Paul Root. “I’m a big fan of film noir, and I thought it would be interesting to transpose those elements to the teenage world — like Body Heat in high school,” says DiBella. “It’s a less stylized film than Brick and I think more accessible, with a classic noir voiceover that’s very Sunset Boulevard.”

DiBella also wrote the street-kid cable staple Running Home and an update of A Summer Place for the WB. “I went to school for optical engineering and spent 10 years working for Eastman Kodak,” he says. “They had a camera club where you could borrow equipment on weekends, and that’s how I got hooked on film. Kodak put me to work making shorts to test film stocks. I made about 10 of those, and that was my film school.” The $3 million Crush is the first production from Rochester, N.Y.-based Post Central Entertainment, whose president, Gary Knaak, also produced the film and calls the locally shot project a “template for future productions.” “We’ve been a very successful commercial and corporate outfit for 14 years,” he says, “and in looking at scenarios for expansion we realized our affinity for film provided a natural direction.” Knaak recently hired producer Neal Weisman (My Kingdom) as a consultant for Post’s feature division.

The digital Crush shot from Aug. 8 to Sept. 9 with d.p. Timothy Wainwright. Also in the film are Julie Gonzalo (Must Love Dogs), Frank Whaley (JFK) and Michael O’Keefe (The Glass House).

CTHULHU

“We wanted to make an art film with a political message as an expression of our alarm over where the country is going,” says screenwriter Grant Cogswell. “There’s a danger in not acknowledging that there are people in power who will let us destroy ourselves for profit. Art is very hard to use for political purposes in narrative film, and the one place we’ve seen metaphor really work is in genre [films], like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, so we chose horror,” he says about Cthulhu, a loose adaptation of the classic H.P. Lovecraft sci-fi story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” that he wrote for Daniel Gildark to direct as his debut feature. The film, shot in Astoria, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, sends a gay college history professor back to his conservative hometown to deal with his mother’s estate. Upon arriving, he finds his father involved in an ominous New Age cult. “It’s a gothic, apocalyptic horror movie that’s also a very complex human drama,” Cogswell says. “It touches on the trend of gay adults returning to homes they thought they’d left for good when a parent or sibling needs assistance.”

Gildark directed local theater and made his first short films while completing the cinema program at Portland’s Northwest Film Center. Cogswell, a published poet and journalist, abandoned a blossoming career in local activism to write Cthulhu. The two, both 38, had been friends for 10 years when they decided to team on the privately financed six-figure film. “We decided on horror to attract a large audience, and my mind just went straight to Lovecraft,” says Cogswell. “We think he has some important things to say, and we are trying to honor his vision.”

The digital Cthulhu was shot in two chunks late last fall and this spring and reunites much of the crew from breakout Seattle indie Police Beat, including cinematographer Sean Kirby, production designer Etta Lilienthal and producer Alexis Ferris. Anne Rosellini (Down to the Bone) is co-producing. The film stars Jason Cottle (The Wedding Singer), Cara Buono (Third Watch), Scott Green (Last Days) and Tori Spelling. The filmmakers hope to keep the local momentum going with a new film collective whose first projects Cogswell says could come from his outlines for a Joseph Conrad adaptation or a grunge musical based on the letters of John Keats. They are also working on a new horror project, but Cogswell prefers to keep those details a secret for now.

PHOTO: FELICIA GRAHAM.

ELVIS AND ANABELLE

Nine years after first-time writer-director Will Geiger won the Los Angeles Film Festival’s Best Director award for his bittersweet surfing reunion drama Ocean Tribe, he’s back with the offbeat love story Elvis and Anabelle. The Texas-set film stars Max Minghella (Art School Confidential) as a mortician’s son who falls for a teen beauty queen brought to his dad’s funeral home after she collapses onstage and is pronounced dead. “He’s so taken with her that he kisses her gently and she revives,” Geiger says. “They fall in love but, like a lot of people who have near-death experiences, she feels compelled to explore what happened. She returns to the scene, but now there’s a media circus,” says Geiger. Blake Lively (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) co-stars.

Geiger studied theater at UC Irvine and acting at Britain’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts before making several award-winning short films. Tribe was sold to Mike Medavoy’s Phoenix Pictures but never garnered a theatrical release, and Geiger’s Phoenix deal included a second feature that stalled in development. So he moved to northern California to write. “I had one frustration after another, so I decided to come up with a project that could be made for under a million dollars,” he says. He originally developed Elvis with Greg and Gavin O’Connor’s Solaris Entertainment (Pride and Glory) and was set to shoot in Louisiana with Amber Tamblyn (Stephanie Daley) and Shia LaBeouf (Constantine) starring, but Hurricane Katrina derailed that version. Elvis ultimately moved forward with longtime champion Carolyn Pfeiffer of Burnt Orange Productions (The Quiet) producing, alongside Goldcrest Films International principal Nick Quested. The Super 35mm Elvis shot in and around Austin for five weeks in April and May with Conrad W. Hall (Panic Room) as the d.p. “It’s a wild mix, and it’s going to look very big, with visual elements that touch on some of the techniques you see in European films employing magic realism,” says Geiger. “Color and light are key, and the funeral home is a weathered Victorian house like something out of a Vincent Price movie.” Richard Linklater’s regular editor, Sandra Adair, is cutting the film; also in Elvis are Mary Steenburgen, Joe Mantegna and Keith Carradine. Already set as Geiger’s next project is the semiautobiographical dramedy Son of a G-Man with Infinity Media (Capote) producing.

 

FUGITIVE PIECES

“It’s a profound meditation on what makes life worth living,” says Jeremy Podeswa about his third feature, Fugitive Pieces. “And it’s about going through unimaginable things and surviving those traumas to find meaning in love.” Based on Anne Michaels’s acclaimed 1996 novel, the film begins in World War II Poland as a young Jewish boy whose family has just been slaughtered is spirited away to safety on a Greek island by an archaeologist who raises him as his son. At the end of the war the two move to Toronto, where the boy becomes a writer, and the third panel of this elegantly designed triptych sends the writer back to Greece as he attempts to recapture his childhood. “It’s an incredibly poetic novel spanning 50 years on several continents,” Podeswa says. “Condensing that into a 100-minute movie without sacrificing anything significant is a matter of finding a structure that works and making choices. The trick is creating a filmic equivalent to the experience of reading the book.”

Podeswa grew up in Toronto and made his first feature, Eclipse, in 1994 after getting an MFA in directing from the American Film Institute. His Sundance lab project, The Five Senses, premiered in Cannes’s Director’s Fortnight in 1999 and went on to win multiple awards including a Best Director Genie and a U.S. deal from Fine Line Features. Podeswa went on to become a prolific director of cable series like Six Feet Under, Carnivale, The L Word, Rome and Nip/Tuck. Fugitive Pieces “is a passion project, and I had the luxury of developing it over six years while working on my craft,” he says. The $9.5 million (U.S.) film is being produced by Robert Lantos (Being Julia) through his Serendipity Point Films. The 35mm Fugitive shot in Toronto and on Greek islands Hydra and Lesbos from April through June with Stephen Dillane (Welcome to Sarajevo) and Rosamund Pike (Pride & Prejudice) starring. Five Senses d.p. Greg Middleton was the cinematographer and Senses editor Wiebke von Carolsfeld is cutting the film. Also in the cast are Munich co-star Ayelet Zurer, Ed Stoppard (The Pianist), Rade Serbedzija (Snatch) and juvenile newcomer Robbie Kay.

THE NORTHERN KINGDOM

“It’s about going on after loss, and I think it says something about America today,” says Mama’s Family star Dorothy Lyman about her first feature, The Northern Kingdom. The film tells the story of three families in a rural town whose lives are changed by the return of a wounded Iraqi war veteran and the discovery that a local boy may be building a bomb. “The story takes place during the weekend of a meteor shower, so it’s as if the heavens are trying to get our attention,” says Lyman. Playwright Nancy Fales Garrett (Some Sweet Day) wrote the script, an adaptation of her play.

Lyman launched her acting career with Joseph Chaikin’s Open Theater and had multiple soap roles in the ’70s and ’80s, winning two Emmys for All My Children. She has appeared on stage and screen ever since with memorable independent roles including the character of Mildred in Ruby in Paradise. She produced and directed three seasons of The Nanny, which provided the residuals that she says, joking, financed Kingdom’s production. Lyman commissioned the screenplay from Garrett after acting in its premiere theatrical production in 2004. “I was married to [producer] Vincent Malle for 20 years and had the privilege of watching him and his brother Louis make films around the world,” she says. “I was 59 and thought, ‘If I don’t do it now, then when?’ ”

Kingdom shot over 17 days in February and March in a small Catskills town where Lyman and Garrett both have homes. Longtime studio assistant cameraman Mark Schwartzbard was the d.p. “We shot on the newest Panasonic HVX200 24P camera, which gives a lovely image, very much like the softness you get from film,” says Lyman. The film’s ensemble cast includes Ed Blunt (Inside Man), Richard Bekins (Flight 93), Kate Buddeke (Choking Man), Heidi Armbruster (Michael Clayton), Linda Powell (Law and Order) and Lyman. Melissa Sweeney and Julie Thompson are co-producing, and Grammy-nominated jazz pianist Bill Cunliffe is composing an original score.

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