Reel World

The Electric Horseman
A phalanx of TV cameramen and newspaper photographers paced the comfy Clift Hotel conference room awaiting the arrival of a Certified Movie Star.

Said celebrity had been enlisted to generate publicity for an otherwise routine cable TV announcement, and the Fourth Estate had devoured the bait. As a modest thank you/reward/bribe, the local journos in attendance were handed shopping bags containing Sundance Channel baseball caps and gray polo shirts with TCI logos over the heart.

Finally, Robert Redford arrived.
"For personal reasons, I'm happy about coming to the Bay Area," Redford said enigmatically as the photogs hopped around shooting dozens of pictures from marginally different angles. TCI West President John Kopchik, joining Redford on the dais, announced the addition of the 3-year-old Sundance Channel to TCI's Bay Area menu as the cable operator gradually upgrades to digital. Marin County, Berkeley, and Alameda are already on board; S.F. and San Jose will receive digital cable and the Sundance Channel in 2000.

Redford, of course, founded the Sundance Film Festival (and its screenwriter and producer labs), and trumpeted cable as a route to expanding his commitment to new filmmakers. However, he mused, "Cable's weird. You can't go straight to the consumer [as individual films are promoted]. You have to sell your way into the cable universe, and work your way through the mechanisms." At the same time, he was tight-lipped about plans for a Sundance Cinema in San Francisco (Portland and Philadelphia will get them first), saying only, "I'm excited to be here. I'm hopeful to be here."

In response to a rude question (OK, I asked it) about TCI's poor reputation in this market, Redford answered, "Until the technology shakes out, the consumer -- and the artist -- is going to get bounced around a little bit." TCI's Kopchik jumped in, adding, "This is a different company than it was two years ago. I think you are going to find that we are the best cable operator you've ever seen." Kopchik also noted that TCI has added several hundred agents to answer the phones more quickly, so no doubt you'll find TCI very helpful when you call to inquire about the price of its Digital Value Package.

Redford proposed that TCI join in sponsoring scholarships (something the Sundance Channel has already inaugurated in partnership with cable operators in Minneapolis, Chicago, and Boston) to send Bay Area student filmmakers to the festival and producers' conference. Kopchik let that pass, along with Redford's notion of "sponsoring regional projects supporting younger filmmakers." (I'll gladly break the news here -- and wear my TCI shirt in the Lower Haight -- if and when TCI initiates either plan.)

The Last Detail
Austrian director Michael Glawogger, accepting a San Francisco International Film Festival Golden Gate Award last week for his provocative documentary Megacities, told Reel World that he'll film cult writer William T. Vollman's Butterfly Stories this winter in the Tenderloin and Cambodia. Though Glawogger applied feature techniques (luscious compositions, numerous retakes) to Megacities, he'll utilize doc stylings (hand-held camera, gritty textures) for Vollman's seedy portrait of two Americans drawn to prostitutes. "I'm not interested in journalistic illusion," said Glawogger, who studied at the S.F. Art Institute in 1980 and '81. "I research things, and then I do what I want, trying to be true to what I see."

By Michael Fox

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