`Heck With Hollywood!' Is Sad, Funny
XXX 1/2 "The Heck With Hollywood!," documentary produced and directed by Doug Block. Neptune, Monday and Tuesday. No rating; suitable for general audiences. --------------------------------------------------------------- This sad, funny, lightly satirical documentary was shown during the first weekend of last spring's Seattle International Film Festival, where it proved a marvelously appropriate send-off to a month long event celebrating the independent film scene.
The movie is an irresistible 57-minute salute to the persistence, ingenuity and talent of American independent filmmakers, who feel that they're being shut out of even the smallest theatrical markets here and in Europe.
The producer-director, Doug Block, who was able to complete the film only because of financing from a Boston PBS station, looks at the careers of three first-time indy directors, including Spokane's Gerry Cook, a 32-year-old TV-commercial director who worries that he's taking his job too seriously.
Cook decides to make a semi-autobiographical comedy about a would-be filmmaker, "Only a Buck," and sells his home and business to complete it. Distribution is iffy, so the publicity-savvy Cook takes the picture on a tour in a decorated Winnebago he dubs the Brickmobile. He ends up selling several hundred cassettes of it "factory direct" on the street, but the van breaks down in New Jersey.
Jennifer Fox, who quit film school at 21, spends the next seven
years preparing, filming and distributing "Beirut: The Last Home Movie," a documentary about an aristocratic family that tries to stay above the chaos of war-torn Beirut.
The movie wins festival prizes and it gets a lot of attention in the press, but it's a washout at the box office. Concerned about what the experience has done to her psyche, she admits that filmmakers "don't have much of a life."
The bleakest story belongs to Ted Lichtenfeld, a 36-year-old Los Angeles cameraman who was inspired to write and direct "Personal Foul," a downbeat drama about a love triangle that features a couple of recognizable actors: David Morse (the star of Sean Penn's "The Indian Runner") and Adam Arkin (television's "A Day in the Life").
It ends up playing in Lichtenfeld's hometown, Rockford, Ill., where it was filmed and financed by local investors. Audiences get a kick out of seeing Rockford locations and the movie plays for four weeks at the mall, but it never sees the light of another projector bulb.
All three filmmakers end up at a chaotic, commercially oriented New York market for independent productions. The professional advice they're given ranges from "It'll be a good festival film" to "You put a gun in a scene and it's going to sell faster."
The only one to achieve conventional distribution (through Circle Releasing Corp.), Fox quickly learns that even if she'd made a hit movie, it wouldn't get much play outside the art-house circuit. Such massive chains as Cineplex Odeon are buying and booking so many theaters that it's almost impossible for a non-Hollywood film to break through.
Block took 3 1/2 years to put together "The Heck With Hollywood!," and he seems to have crammed all the good stuff into its brief running time. There's not a wasted moment and, for all the sob-story potential, very little self-pity. Whatever the commercial outcome, these are people who completed their work and got to see their dreams realized on the big screen. And that's something.
It's Block's first film as well, and he's obviously learned from the experience. His advice to young filmmakers: "Get your credit card applications in order, consult a good shrink and pray that all planets are in proper alignment."
Also on the Neptune program is this year's Academy Award winner for best live-action short subject, Adam Davidson's "The Lunch Date." It, too, didn't go anywhere commercially, though Davidson does have an Oscar to show for his troubles.
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