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Wednesday, September 8, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Evergreen" fairy tale: Local film gets wide release

Seattle Times staff reporter

Local filmmaker Enid Zentelis envisioned big things for her small film, "Evergreen" — but not quite this big.

"Evergreen" will open Friday in 115 theaters nationwide after being nabbed directly by AMC Theatres, a highly unusual move that could change the way some independent films are distributed.

AMC bypassed a distribution company and decided to release "Evergreen" itself, using a digital satellite system to beam the film to its theaters across the country. The digital system eliminates the high costs of printing the film that often limit independent film distribution.

AMC spokesman Rick King said this could be the start of a trend that would put independent releases in front of suburban audiences who can't readily access art-house theaters.

"We believe there is a growing appetite for independent and specialty films in our theaters," King said.

"Evergreen," shot in Everett, tells the story of a young woman growing up in poverty in the Pacific Northwest.

When AMC Film Group Chairman Dick Walsh saw the movie at the Sundance Film Festival in January, he thought it was just the sort of film that AMC audiences would want to see, King said. AMC had already been toying with the idea of using the digital system, developed about three years ago, to show independent releases; Walsh thought "Evergreen" would be a good first try.

For Zentelis, 33, a Bellingham native, AMC's decision was mind-blowing.

"I was aiming for the highest thing I could aim for," she said from New York, where she lives now. "But I also went out with open eyes, knowing it is incredibly competitive. Tom Cruise is not in my movie, nor am I someone who comes from a Hollywood family."

When someone at Sundance told her getting the film distributed would be twice as hard as getting it made, she felt the reality set in.

"My stomach started turning, like nothing could be twice as hard," she said. "Let me just hang up my coat and leave."

The New York University film-school graduate, who studied on scholarship there and at the Sundance Institute, shot "Evergreen" in 18 days whileliving with her mom in a tiny house outside Bellingham — a place with no fax, phone or computer. She struggled to find funding (and finally did from a Seattle investor), but scored an impressive roster of actors, including Cara Seymour ("Adaptation") and Mary Kay Place ("The Big Chill"), who were willing to work for low pay because they felt passionate about the story.

After Walsh saw the film, he told Zentelis he could relate to the story and said it was important that his two teenage daughters see it, Zentelis said. When he handed Zentelis his card and told her to call, she was amazed but not sure what to expect. But when AMC gave her the news that they wanted to release "Evergreen" across the country, "it was like a bucket of water splashed on us," she said.

"It is a little bit of a fairy-tale story," said the film's co-producer, Kenan Block. "More often in the independent film world you hear stories of hard work and heartbreak."

But the film's access to a huge potential audience is no guarantee of success, and Zentelis said that notion just hit her recently.

"This is a huge expectation, but I obviously would have never walked away from something like this," she said. "Fear and finding courage is a huge process of filmmaking, especially when you start from nothing ... I would be lying to say it isn't daunting, but I welcome it."

More indie news

Another local filmmaker, Betsy Chasse, is also preparing for a relatively wide release this Friday. Her film, "What the #$*! Do We Know!?," which she directed, wrote and produced along with Mark Vicente and William Arntz (all students of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment in Yelm, Thurston County), will open on 150 screens nationwide after slowly gaining momentum down the West Coast since May.

Word spread about the film — a docu-drama about a depressed photographer intercut with interviews with scientists talking about spirituality and quantum physics — despite skepticism, Chasse said.

"Everyone said, 'No one's going to go see a movie like this, no one wants to see a movie like this,' " she said. But she said the response has been overwhelming because, she believes, moviegoers are looking to independent films for something different.

"It's time for people who are bored with the regular fare they're getting to stand up and say, 'That is what I want,' " Chasse said. "We've got to show them there's a market for it."

Joanna Horowitz: 206-464-3312 or jhorowitz@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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