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No Shades of Gray 

Race, sex, and drink make an explosive brew in a feature debut

Wednesday, Sep 17 2003
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For most of the 17 years that Sacha Parisot worked as a contract technical writer for Silicon Valley companies, he took film classes and made shorts -- some 14, all told. He finally took the big plunge three years ago, giving up his money gig to write and direct features. Do you like happy endings, or rather, beginnings? Parisot's funny, edgy debut, Skin Deep, scored trophies for best film and best actor at the American Black Film Festival in Miami in June. It unspools at the Urbanworld (NYC), Chicago, and Oakland fests in the next couple of weeks.

The plot of Skin Deep, which was shot in San Jose, is fiendishly simple: A flourishing black computer engineer, Anthony, and his white wife entertain his old pal Michael and his wife at their cozy manse. The explosive brew of race, sex, and drink leads to betrayal and murder. "There are a lot of people who, regardless of their level of success, see the world in a black-and-white manner," Parisot says. To the suspicious Michael, "Anything that can be interpreted as race is race. If the waiter took too long to wait on him, it's because he's black. Of course these things happen, but not every time. If you spend your life jumping to conclusions, it just makes you an angry person."

It should be no surprise that differing racial perceptions are evident at Skin Deep screenings. "Where a white audience might chuckle, a black audience laughs out loud," Parisot reports. "And where the white audience laughs out loud, a black audience screams." Skin Deep has its West Coast premiere on Wednesday, Sept. 24, at 9 p.m. at the Grand Lake Theater as part of the Oakland International Film Festival. For tickets, visit www.oaklandfilmsociety.org.

What Dreams May Come By at least one measure, the Orphanage has had a pretty good year. The Presidio-based visual effects company worked on three movies that topped the box office for at least a week -- Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, Jeepers Creepers 2, and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. It's one thing to concoct something flashy for a commercial, co-founder Stu Maschwitz notes, "but when you're digitally re-creating well-known movie stars [such as Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu], there's no margin for error masking their personas."

Maschwitz hooked up with Orphanage co-founders Scott Stewart and Jonathan Rothbart in the '90s at Industrial Light + Magic in "a notorious group" that proposed to create effects "in more of an artist-centric way than a technical way." Maschwitz hastens to add, "George [Lucas] still has people at the ranch who embody that kind of approach. I would never want to give the impression that we ran out of ILM because we weren't having fun there." The Orphanage heads the list of local facilities on the Resfest studio tour this Friday. Aimed at people who either work in the industry or want to, the outing is limited to 20 people. (Go to resfest.com for more information.) Unfortunately, Maschwitz and his cohorts can't show work in progress, such as their visual effects for next year's Hellboy.

Room With a View Careful readers of the new Other Cinema schedule noted that the Nov. 22 benefit preview of James Hong's experimental feature The Spear of Destiny is slated for the Roxie Cinema's oft-rumored and much-delayed second theater. Just how long has the 49-seat Little Roxie, a few doors west of the 16th Street theater, been in the works? "We purchased the seats in the mid-'90s with revenues generated from distributing Red Rock West," Roxie Releasing honcho Rick Norris says with a wry chuckle. Touting its large screen and top-notch sound system, he proclaims, "This will be the most comfortable screening room in the city." There's a good chance that the Little Roxie will actually open in time to accommodate the Film Arts Festival, which takes over the big house for the weekend of Oct. 31. The bubbly's been chilling for so long, I hope it's still drinkable.

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Michael Fox

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