The 400 Blows

A movie about teenage name-calling -- using the raw words the kids

Documentary makers typically dream of the prestige and glory of a theatrical release, and happily "settle" for the wide reach of a TV broadcast. For several years, following her Academy Award for the GE exposé Deadly Deception, Debra Chasnoff has chosen to toil in the unglamorous but vital domain of educational films. Let's Get Real, her new movie addressing the adolescent penchant for name-calling and bullying, aims to alter denigrating middle-school behavior before prejudices and stereotypes become fixed for life.

"I looked at a lot of [educational] films that are out there," the S.F. director says, "and all of them are very euphemistic -- they refer to 'the bad words kids say.' We hope our film is more meaningful to students; we use the words kids use. 'Faggot' is the No. 1 slur out there, for whatever reason." "Nigger" is equally pervasive, Chasnoff reports, though teachers are stumped by the question of the day: Is it OK for the group that's been targeted to use the word itself? In the 35-minute Let's Get Real, students confront the issue head on, analyzing epithets they normally spout without thinking.

"If it was someone else making the film, it might go under the radar," Chasnoff says, acknowledging that fundamentalists such as the Rev. Donald Wildmon targeted her previous movies for including gays and lesbians. "Usually at this point in releasing our film we've been majorly attacked by the religious right, and interestingly it has not happened yet [with this one]. I won't be surprised when it does occur because ... where there have been anti-bullying initiatives that specifically address anti-gay harassment in the schools, those initiatives are often targeted by the right as evidence of the so-called 'gay agenda.'"

Mere weeks before Bill Clinton moved out of the White House, Chasnoff and longtime executive producer Helen S. Cohen screened their previous documentary, That's a Family, for hordes of honchos there. Asked if she anticipates an invitation from George W. Bush to show Let's Get Real, she laughs and replies, "There's a bully in the White House." Then, remembering the film's message, she adds, "No one is inherently a bully, so we always give everyone the benefit of the doubt." Let's Get Real has its world premiere on Tuesday at the Herbst Theatre. For tickets, visit www.womedia.org.

Dogfight"To tell you the truth, being a beautiful leading lady today does get you the more juicy, interesting roles," Lili Taylor told me while she was in town two weeks ago for her Mill Valley Film Festival tribute. "I mean, I wonder today if I Shot Andy Warhol [in which Taylor starred] would be given to a name, as opposed to the actress who was the best for it. Independent film is now being governed by the same rules of commerce that the Hollywood movies are." Taylor, who's currently on-screen in Casa de los Babys, added philosophically, "You know, ebbs and flows [have happened] since the cavemen started drawing, and we're just going to need to find a new little underground movement. And then that will become aboveground, and then we'll have to try again, and so on and so forth."

NewsfrontGroove director Greg Harrison and producer Danielle Renfrew, now ensconced in SoCal, are in postproduction on an indie feature starring Courteney Cox Arquette and James LeGros. Originally intending to shoot November in S.F., the duo wound up shooting in L.A. Also, Fox Searchlight recently put their ETC (based on a script by Doonesbury's Garry Trudeau) in turnaround (aka studio limbo) after three years of development. ... After just one week at the Bridge, Landmark demoted The Event to the smaller Opera Plaza and replaced it with the surf epic Step Into Liquid -- in its ninth week of release. Such a move is a pretty good sign that a flick has flopped, and we can confirm that ticket sales for The Event were tepid. ... There's still time to catch the Rafael Film Center's last two shows of "A Century of Curly," marking the centennial of the funnyman's arrival on Planet Knucklehead. The program of six prime Three Stooges shorts plays Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 1 p.m.

 
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