Reel World

Where Eagles Dare
"There is a relationship in my mind between extreme sports and sex in the '90s," Jeffrey Friedman claims, and it's easy to see his point: They share an adrenalized mix of risk, excitement, and mortality. Friedman and Rob Epstein, the much-honored duo behind The Celluloid Closet and Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt, are deep in production on an HBO-commissioned extreme sports documentary that takes them in all sorts of new directions. Although Friedman's initial response to HBO's call was "What are extreme sports?," he now reports, "I'm finding it liberating to be working on a project that doesn't have a political angle." Slated to air next year, the film will also have a very different look than the pair's previous work; keeping up with street luge and skateboarders entails a lot of verite, on-the-fly shooting.

At the same time, Britain's Channel 4 commissioned The Pink Triangle, a myth-buster about the experience of gay Germans during and after World War II. Produced with Michael Ehrenzweig and Janet Cole, the doc will cover not only gays who survived the camps or fought in the resistance, but those who joined the Nazi party and the German army. "We hope to reveal a range of experiences and choices and responses," Epstein explains. "People have an investment -- and we did -- in believing that gay people are good and gay people are victims. This film is about getting beyond victimhood." Friedman notes that gay history currently allows for a more complex and critical analysis than was possible when gay-themed films focused on self-respect and self-esteem. "It was important to have role models in the '70s, but now it's time to move beyond that and look at what our real history is."

And that's not all. Fox Searchlight has optioned a feature screenplay (from an original story by Epstein, Friedman, and Craig Chester) for a dark love story set in suburban Dallas and Manhattan. "It's a film that won't be easy on the gay experience," Epstein says. "It asks tough questions of ourselves, although it's a romantic comedy. We wouldn't have been ready to make this film 10 years ago, nor would an audience have been receptive to it." Says Friedman, "I feel like we're moving into a new stage as filmmakers. I'm hoping that the gay community is moving into a new stage as an audience as well."

Beat the Devil
Local producer Henry Rosenthal was at the Berlin Film Festival recently nailing down a world sales deal, including U.S. theatrical distribution, for Conceiving Ada. Lynn Hershman's high-tech feminist parable, starring a sublime Tilda Swinton, won't hit local theaters until fall. Fox Lorber (keep an eye open for its upcoming revivals of Costa-Gavras' Z and Wertmuller's Swept Away ...) snapped up Ada despite a lukewarm review in Variety. It's probably just a coincidence, but the critic's ex-wife is married to Ada's cinematographer (the remarkable Hiro Narita). You do believe in coincidences, don't you?

By Michael Fox

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