You're a Big Boy Now
A tale of two filmmakers: S.F. State alumna Lisanne Skyler started out in documentaries during her mid-'90s tenure in San Francisco. Oldtimers (made with Todd Walker) was a poignant snapshot of the elderly denizens of Original McCarthy's on Mission, while No Loans Today, a rare portrait of South Central L.A. refracted through a neighborhood pawnshop/ check-casher, earned a slot in competition at Sundance and a national broadcast on PBS. Skyler then moved back east to write a script with her sister, a coming-of-age story adapted from three Joyce Carol Oates stories.
Getting to Know You, Skyler's feature directorial debut, screened in competition at Sundance '99 and made a few other stops on the festival circuit, including San Francisco. Although well-liked by audiences and critics, the film never landed a distributor. Perhaps that's because the cast lacked star power: Heather Matarazzo (Welcome to the Dollhouse) and Bebe Neuwirth aren't household names, and nobody's heard of Michael Weston yet. So what happens to a character-driven independent film of obvious integrity and moderate emotional payoff? Getting to Know You premieres on the Sundance Channel in April.
Sofia Coppola also began her career in Northern California in the '90s, dabbling in acting (The Godfather, Part III), costume design (The Spirit of '76), photography, clothing design, and, finally, filmmaking. Her lone short film, Lick the Star, played a festival or two and still airs on the Independent Film Channel. For her feature debut, Coppola adapted Jeffrey Eugenides' '70s-set novel, The Virgin Suicides. The film was well-received at its Toronto Film Festival premiere last fall, thanks in part to its quasi-camp period fashions and soundtrack. Fans of the book apparently like the movie, which is always a good sign with a literary adaptation.
The cast, however, is no more of a selling point than the troupe of Getting to Know You; the five sisters at the center of Coppola's overly precious yarn are played by Kirsten Dunst and a flock of unknowns, while James Woods and Kathleen Turner (as the clueless parents) aren't exactly big lures for the target teenage audience. Nonetheless, Paramount Classics (a division of the company that released The Godfather and its offspring, coincidentally) picked up The Virgin Suicides and plans a national rollout next month. The local premiere: the coveted opening night slot of the San Francisco International Film Festival.
The financial predicament of the United Artists chain has cast a shadow across the Metro and Coronet marquees. It's come to this: The recently renovated theaters are worth more dead than alive. UA's desperate for cash, but nobody wants to buy single-screen houses. The solution? Sell the theaters and the land for millions to Borders or a condo developer. The Vogue's prospects aren't too bright either. ... Steve Gilula, Fox Searchlight's newly appointed president of distribution, has a local connection: He was one of the founders of the Landmark chain of art-house theaters, which began here and in L.A. ... Saul Zaentz's next project, Stanley Donen's The Seven Deadly Sins (written by Anthony Minghella with the late Jim Henson), won't start production until spring 2001, a year later than originally (and optimistically) planned. ... Still pained by having said no to E.T. 18 years ago, M&M's compounded the error by paying for a product placement in Mission to Mars. The marketing dweebs at Reese's Pieces must be having a good laugh right about now.
Michael Fox is host of Independent View, which airs Fridays at 10:30 p.m. on KQED Channel 9.