Reel World

Independent View promo; Store Wars

Rock 'n' Roll High School "Film school is now in session," declared Scott Balcerek, strolling away to watch the proceedings on his video monitor. Half a dozen grungy rockers fidgeted in their seats as instructor Danny Plotnick pointed to the illustration on the blackboard. "I'm sure you all know how to thread your camera," he intoned, looking (and talking) down at the class. One student, wearing a spiked wristband and an Iron Maiden T-shirt, mimed a nose-pick. After several moments, Balcerek called "cut" -- and cracked up.

The "class" -- staged at S.F.'s Film Arts Foundation, where Plotnick is the seminar coordinator -- is the centerpiece of a mock doc trailer that Balcerek and David Munro are producing to promote the second season of Independent View, KQED's weekly TV program on indie film. The 60-second plug should appear on local movie screens shortly after IV debuts on Sunday, Jan. 14, at 5:30 p.m. (Full disclosure: I'm one of the show's "correspondents.")

The no-budget trailer is the first project of Grottofilms, the cinematic offshoot of the S.F. writers' haven, the Grotto. (The nose-picker was Grotto denizen Noah Hawley, who confided that Paramount has the screen adaptation of his novel A Conspiracy of Tall Men out to directors.) Grottofilms' first feature, The Party [Reel World, Nov. 1], is in pre-production.

American DreamMicha Peled lives in Marin but typically spends a chunk of the year in Europe, where his documentaries (such as Inside God's Bunker, a chilling 1994 portrait of fundamentalist Jewish settlers on the West Bank) are funded by public TV and widely televised. He spent most of the last 18 months, however, in the Southern burg of Ashland, Va., filming the contentious debate over a prospective Wal-Mart. City officials hot on the scent of new jobs faced off against grass-roots activists worried that a superstore on the town's fringes would ruin the small merchants on Main Street -- and Ashland's small-town charm.

A few weeks ago, the Israeli-born Peled held the world premiere of Store Wars in Ashland as a benefit for the local schools. "The town movie theater had just reopened after 15 years, and the owner donated it for the evening," Peled reports. "Residents and businesses volunteered to sell tickets. The newspaper provided free advertising space and the print shop donated the printing of posters and tickets. Everyone was talking about what they were going to wear. The buildup was any filmmaker's wet dream."

Yet Peled was apprehensive. "It's always tricky for people to look at themselves in a film," he notes in an e-mail. "Plus, it was going to throw in their faces this difficult period they had just lived [through] and were trying to put behind them. Some people were coming who were still not speaking to each other." Store Wars proved such a hit that Peled sold out the cache of videotapes he'd brought, including a copy snapped up by the Wal-Mart attorney interviewed in the film. "He disappeared without saying a word to me, and I assumed he'd send it to HQ and they'd [unleash] one of their lawyers," Peled relates. "But when I got him on the phone, he was delighted with the balanced portrayal and agreed to write a letter of support." On that note, I wish you a year of happy lawyers and other miracles.

 
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