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Grotto Film Project; Latino Film Festival

Wednesday, Nov 1 2000
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High Hopes Studio execs loathe and fear nothing more than screenwriters who want to direct. (Haven't they heard of Sturges and Wilder? Then again, look what happened to Nora Ephron.) But I applaud when word wranglers grab the reins, which is what's happening at the Grotto. "It's a group endeavor," says filmmaker Adam Bellachey about the digital feature in the works at the S.F. writers' haven (and hangout for artsy cohorts). "It's informal at this stage, and the emphasis is on collaboration. The way the conversation is going, it could play out any number of ways."

The Grotto Film Project, as it's called, was conceived in a car returning from Burning Man. "Originally, we talked about shooting and cutting an improvised film in three days in a house in Napa," Bellachey recalls. "As a team of writers emerged, we decided we wanted to have more structure." Novelists Noah Hawley and Po Bronson and journalist Ethan Watters are penning the script, which explores the end of a relationship between a rising rocker (to be played by filmmaker David Munro) and a professional trend scout (spoken wordsmith/gossip columnist Beth Lisick).

The story structure still needs to be finalized, with workshops to follow, according to Bellachey. The script will be tested and honed in rehearsal, à la John Cassavetes, with cameras likely to roll in the spring at an as-yet-unknown location. Bellachey and Scott Balcerek, an ILM editor and filmmaker, will co-direct. "We're a long way from being done, certainly," says Bellachey, who's currently wrapping a documentary about four straight, male, Tampa-based strippers. Distribution plans and a release date are also a ways away.

I Am Cuba If you're thinking about attending a winter film fest, forget about Snowdance or Brrrrrlin and join Latino Film Festival director Sylvia Perel in Havana. "In every neighborhood there's a huge theater -- a thousand seats -- and every single show of every film is booked," Perel exclaims in amazement. "You have to imagine that the entire city of Havana is involved in the festival in some way." Perel attributes the fervor to Cubans' curiosity about the outside world and, yes, to inexpensive tickets. "They live in an isolated situation in terms of information. What they can see or hear is very limited. During the festival, they can see the world through films."

Needless to say, film production in Cuba is prohibitively expensive. "They have a wonderful history of qualified filmmakers," Perel notes, "but Cuban cinema is very dependent on foreign investors. In the last two years it's gone more commercial. To judge by the few films they produce, they want to reach more markets."

Americans hungry for images of Havana will find a trio of Cuban films in the Latino Film Festival (Nov. 2-5 at the Rafael, Nov. 5, 8, and 9 at the Fine Arts, and Nov. 11-12 at the Roxie; see www.latinofilmfestival.org). Paradise Under the Stars, a comedy of errors set in the famed Tropicana Club, opens the festival, followed by two vibrant documentaries that salute Cuba's community of artists. If You Only Understood Me profiles eight Afro-Cuban women performers, while Confluences covers the waterfront by surveying 15 Havana artists. "We are opening channels," Perel declares. "The political situation is changing not because of politicians, but because of art, culture, and exchange."

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Michael Fox

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