"I call this his Fellini movie," says a chuckling Henry Selick, the Bay Area stop-motion animation wizard whose distinctive style elevated the children's tales The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach to cult fandom. Selick is busy designing and constructing some 25 creatures – and the succulent sets they'll inhabit – for the stop-motion sequences of The Life Aquatic, the ambitious movie that Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums) is currently shooting in Italy at Cinecittà Studios.
Anderson's story centers on a down-on-his-luck Jacques Cousteau type, Selick explains via cell phone while driving to his studio. "We're creating most of the undersea characters, many of whom are very close to real, and some are more fantastic. It's a small part of the film, but it's an important one." Unlike Tim Burton, who conceived and wrote Nightmare, "Wes doesn't really draw," says Selick. "He does very simple thumbnail sketches, very rudimentary. We have a fair amount of freedom to design and, of course, animate, because that's what I do. We're designing 'em, but he's picking the designs he likes." The artist got the gig when Anderson wisely concluded that Selick's style suited the picture far better than computer-generated animation. "There's a fablelike quality to the film that this reinforces," Selick says.
Since August, a crew of 25 including first-rank animators Tim Hittle and Justin Kohn, has been designing, fabricating, and constructing the characters in an S.F. location Selick refuses to divulge; the painstaking filming will run from December through April. A local Anderson sighting is likely in the cards. Selick confirms, "I'm sure he's going to want to come by one time to say hello and meet the people." And, no doubt, to vet their creations. "He's a guy who sticks to his vision. I saw the same thing with Tim Burton: They do not compromise on anything." Selick breaks into laughter. "Wes is very pleasant about it, but I think it pays off." Selick is also developing a stop-motion feature adaptation of Neil Gaiman's scary children's book Coraline.
In and OutKinda like Elvis, Joel Bachar has left the building. Bachar, who succeeded longtime programmer Elliot Lavine at the Roxie a year ago, departed the Mission District landmark last week. He cites the financial responsibilities of parenthood – he has a 5-month-old son – as the impetus for seeking a better-paying post. Bachar will continue to program his monthly "Independent Exposure" shows of experimental and narrative shorts at 111 Minna Gallery and champion the microcinema cause. ... Janis Plotkin, who headed the S.F. Jewish Film Festival for 21 years before passing the torch in 2002, has joined the San Francisco International Film Festival in an interim capacity. Plotkin is the liaison between Director of Programming Linda Blackaby and – once a film has been confirmed for the April bash – each flick's producer, director, and distributor. In the grand tradition of festival jobs, it's a six-month, full-time position.
In the Shadow of the StarsThe Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn't publicly acknowledge it, but the year's worth of films vying for the five Documentary Feature Oscar nominations has been whittled to 12 finalists. Three Bay Area standouts were chosen by juries of their peers: My Flesh and Blood (opening Friday at, among other places, the Clay, with director Jonathan Karsh, producer Jennifer Chaiken, and Fairfield supermom Susan Tom on hand; see above for a full review), The Weather Underground, and Lost Boys of Sudan, debuting Friday at the Roxie, with filmmakers Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk present.
"We very much cast this film like we were scripting characters for a drama," Mylan confides. As a portrait of immigrants, Lost Boys illuminates not only its subjects, but also their adopted society. "We were very clear that the film was going to be as much about modern American culture as it was going to be about these particular boys' story," Mylan says. Adds Shenk, "Megan and I are both interested in observational filmmaking, and [its] power is the potential connection you can have as a viewer to what's going on. You know, that movie thing, where you feel reawakened emotionally."
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