Just as movie buffs revere the 1970s as the last golden era of major-studio filmmaking, the 1990s are shaping up as the decade of the independents. Once the province of avant-garde mavericks like .......John Cassavetes, Jon Jost and Mark Rappaport, indies are now seen by major studios and aspiring filmmakers alike as the equivalent of AAA farm teamsa throwback to the glory days of AIP and Roger Corman’s New World, which served as early low-budget training grounds for Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme, among others.
The good news: Independently produced movies are reaching wider audiences than ever before, whether in theaters or on video. Just this year, an indie film, Pulp Fiction, smashed through the domestic $100 million ceiling. The bad news: The easiest way for an independent to secure financing and distribution right now is to make something that looks a lot like typical studio fareor like Pulp Fiction. There is legitimate concern that independent features grow less experimental and more commercially tailored with each passing year.
To audiences famished for substantial entertainment, though, this is not necessarily a bad thing. As studio product has declined, the presence of independently produced movies in the past five years has been invaluable. Remove films by Quentin Tarentino, Richard Linklater, Whit Stillman, Hal Hartley, Ross McElwee, Nick Gomez, Julie Dash and others from the decade thus far, and you have a sad period indeed for American movies. In 1995, the few movies worthy of consideration thus far for any kind of year-end best-of list are primarily indie productions: Terry Zwigoff’s , Wayne Wang’s , Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects, Maria Maggenti’s The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love.
Add another title to the list: The Four Corners of Nowhere, a remarkable first feature written and directed by 25-year-old Steve Chbosky. In this finely scripted, seriocomic ensemble piece, a young drifter hitchhiking his way across America accepts a ride from a performance artist bound for Ann Arbor, Mich. Once they arrive, the movie follows their immersion in a bohemian coffeehouse scene teeming with confused lovers, frustrated artists, angry feminists and morose slackers.
Somebody will inevitably brush this film off as another slice of postgraduate Gen X angst, but Chbosky’s approach is too generous and too particular for such dismissal. What’s exciting about The Four Corners of Nowhere is Chbosky’s warmly detailed depiction of the way one person’s arrival can send ripples through an insular community, and the way encountering people with different backgrounds can shake up your beliefs for the better. In this senseand in its astute characterizations and biting, fiercely funny dialogueit owes a debt to Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan. By the time it reaches a conclusion that manages to be both circular (for the plot) and hopefully open-ended (for the characters), The Four Corners of Nowhere has become something rare and delightful: a happy, satisfying movie about unhappy, unsatisfied people.
Unfortunately, a wide audience may never see The Four Corners of Nowhere, which did not receive a distribution deal after its showing last winter at the Sundance Film Festival. (That Kids got picked up and Chbosky’s film didn’t says a lot about the current climate of independent film distributionGod help the movie that isn’t selling sexual violence and despair.) An article in the April issue of detailed Chbosky’s crushing experience with dismissive distributors and preoccupied moviegoers at the festival.
But you’ll get a chance. Nashville is damned lucky to have the Sinking Creek Film/Video Festival, which has championed movies outside the mainstream for more than a quarter of a centuryback when it wasn’t cool. Since 1969, when founder Mary Jane Coleman began the festival, Sinking Creek has shown the work of some of America’s brightest filmmakers, including Robert Altman, Jim Jarmusch, Ross McElwee and Frederick Wiseman. When WDCN-Channel 8 declined to show Wiseman’s landmark documentary Titicut Follies a few years back, Sinking Creek screened the film uncut and uncensored. And next week, as Sinking Creek celebrates its 26th year, the festival will make The Four Corners of Nowhere available to Nashville audiences for one night only, Saturday, Nov. 11, at 7:30 p.m.
The Four Corners of Nowhere won’t be the only intriguing film at Sinking Creek sailing beneath the radar of commercial distribution. Included in Sinking Creek’s lineup this year are a number of respected directors, each showing movies you may otherwise never get an opportunity to see. These include works by several Nashville filmmakers, including Loree Gold and Jane Pittman (“The War at Home”), David Van Hooser (“Come Home”), Sharon Cohen (“Black and White: Building a Bridge”), Anne Rist (Television and the Presidency), and Martin Luther King Magnet School sophomore Amanda Gray-Swain (“Ham Day”). The festival climaxes with the arrival of screenwriter/director Joan Tewkesbury, who will host the 20th anniversary screening of Robert Altman’s undiminished 1975 gem Nashville at Sarratt 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11. A barbecue supper will follow, at which a promising young country singer will be assassinated.
Sinking Creek’s executive director, Meryl Truett, and her assistants, Stacy Goldate and Jim Kim, have struck a noble balance between entertainment and experimentationa backbreaking task, considering that this year’s selections were chosen from some 500 entries. Movies and videos will screen morning, noon and night at the Sarratt Cinema and other locations for the length of the festival, Nov. 6-12, and movie buffs can mingle with directors, producers and animators.
While press coverage is traditionally sloppyneither the Banner nor the Tennessean saw fit to send a single reporter to the event’s press kick-off, which left more promotional materials and bagels for the rest of usthe festival’s audiences expand every year. These are a few of the events and appearances worth checking out at Sinking Creek this year:
Premiere of Music Videos (6:30 p.m. Monday, Wildhorse Saloon) For the first time in 26 years, Sinking Creek is hosting a special evening of distinguished music videos, including clips for the Neville Brothers, Suzy Bogguss, Delbert McClinton, Radney Foster and others. Watch for especially inventive videos by local filmmakers Steve Taylor, whose sense-deranging videos for contemporary Christian acts like the Newsboys have made him a director to watch, and Michael McNamara, whose video for the Mavericks’ “There Goes My Heart” introduced Dada to CMT. The evening includes a cocktail reception for the directors, artists and band members; tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door.
The Independents Meet the Media (8 p.m. Tuesday, Darkhorse Theater) Veteran journalist Sandor Vanocur hosts an evening of videos concerning the impact of the electronic media on politics and culture. Vanocur will discuss his production Television and the Presidency, which will be followed by the regional premiere of Spin, a documentary assembled by Brian Springer from more than 600 hours of candid satellite feeds. (From what we hear, you’ll never see Larry King or Pat Robertson quite the same way again.) Dave Ryan’s Where the Girls Are, billed as “television from the opposite perspective,” rounds out the program.
A Seminar with Mike Kaplan (3 p.m. Friday, Sarratt) Kaplan, a longtime Robert Altman associate, documented the making of Altman’s Short Cuts in the film Luck, Trust and Ketchup. He’ll offer a free two-hour seminar and discussion in Sarratt’s Room 118.
Bill Plympton Presents “Nose Hair” and J. Lyle (7:30 p.m. Friday, Sarratt) Oscar nominee Bill Plympton, whose distinctively scratchy, macabre animation became an MTV staple, will show his bizarre short “Nose Hair”imagine the possibilitiesand his surreal feature-length satire J. Lyle, which combines animation and live action for the story of a slumlord brought to his senses by a magical dog and singing guts. Plympton will answer questions from the audience afterward.
George Hickenlooper Presents The Low Life (9:30 p.m. Friday, Sarratt) Best known for his masterful documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, which details the troubled production of , Hickenlooper hosts the regional premiere of his acclaimed new comedy-drama, which sets a saturnine young writer (Rory Cochrane, the cheerful stoner from ) adrift among career-stalled unfortunates in the underbelly of Hollywood. The movie features a strong cast, including Kyra Sedgwick, Sean Astin, J.T. Walsh and James LeGros.
Other events include a program of animation and art-related films, including the highly touted short “Picasso Would Have Made a Glorious Waiter” (Wednesday); festival juror Arthur Dong’s documentary Outrage 69 and an evening of “African-Americans on Film” (Thursday); a morning of experimental films (Friday); and “Coming Out of the Celluloid Closet” (Saturday), along with the typically wild weekend late shows and Sunday’s awards ceremony. Festival schedules are available at the Sarratt main desk; for information about ticket prices and show times, call 322-4234.
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