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Keeper of the Flame 

It was a bad year for local independent movie theaters

Wednesday, Dec 26 2001
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To paraphrase Marlene Dietrich in Touch of Evil, what can you say about a year? While Bay Area filmmakers enjoyed uncommon success on a national level, 2001 was a gut-wrencher for local independent theater operators. Hampered during the year's first half by the economic slump, movie houses got pummeled after Sept. 11. Meanwhile, a falloff in classified and display advertising shrank editorial space in the daily papers, so coverage of non-Hollywood films -- which had been parsimonious even during the boom years -- became negligible.

There were bright spots, of course. The Roxie scored hits with Baise-Moi, "Five Films by Jay Rosenblatt," Boom: The Sound of Eviction, and the revival of Quadrophenia. At the Castro, Himalaya, Adventures of Felix, and The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition drew hordes. The Four Star mixed local premieres of Asian features and American indies to decent success, while the revitalized Balboa proved that a neighborhood theater showing second-run double bills can cultivate a loyal fan base.

Elsewhere on the theater scene, the Cinema 21 shuttered and the Alhambra reopened as a gym. What lies ahead? The Presidio, Metro, and Vogue theaters have been on the endangered list for years, and 2002 could be their last hurrah. But the Roxie will open a 50-seat screening room, and the Castro's renovations continue apace. Multiplex mania has not infected everyone ... yet.

Who's Minding the Mint? Bay Area writers and actors are primed to cash in next year. The First $20 Million, the adaptation of Po Bronson's novel that was filmed here last spring, opens April 5. City of Ghosts, written by Barry Gifford with newbie director Matt Dillon, is slated to reach theaters in late spring. Robin Williams returns after giving moviegoers a much-deserved vacation with a trio of grown-up performances: One Hour Photo (coming soon), Death to Smoochy (March 15), and the Insomnia remake (May 24). Sean Penn will be on brief display in the spring when The Weight of Water finally turns up in theaters. Penn, to be honored with an American Cinematheque retrospective (which won't include the staggeringly dreadful i am sam) Jan. 4-8 at L.A.'s Egyptian Theater, also narrates both the skateboarding doc Dogtown and Z-Boys (late April) and It's All About Love, due next summer from Dogme pioneer Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration).

New movies from local filmmakers will be in short supply, but next year Philip Kaufman hopes to shoot his Suspicion remake and Wayne Wang aims to be behind the camera on The Chambermaid (from a John Hughes screenplay). Pixar and Pacific Data Images' next films won't be ready until at least 2003 (Finding Nemo and Shrek 2, respectively). Did I forget anyone? Oh, yeah. George Lucas' dreary chunk of space debris, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, crash-lands May 22. You might be able to avoid it by hiding in Tora Bora, but I doubt it.

Distant Thunder Erica Jordan's In the Wake topped Film Threat's list of 10 best unseen movies of 2001. ... The New Yorker and Fox Searchlight host a reception with Tilda Swinton on Jan. 9 (following a screening of The Deep End) and a to-do with Ben Kingsley the next night (after Sexy Beast) at the Delancey Street Theater. Sorry, tickets are long gone. ... John Waters will be here Feb. 14 for the opening of his show of manipulated pop-culture photographs at the Rena Bransten Gallery, 77 Geary. Early Waters, in the form of Female Trouble, is on view at the Castro through Jan. 1.

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Michael Fox

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