Haxans put their Bigfoot forward 

If you were near a television set in the 1970s, you're bound to remember "In Search Of." Every week, the syndicated program traversed the globe to probe enduring mysteries, applying semiscientific inquiry and ominous narration (from host Leonard Nimoy) to unexplained phenomena like the Loch Ness monster and those pesky crop circles.

The Haxan Films team has the same fond memories. During the press frenzy that accompanied the release of 'The Blair Witch Project' in summer 1999, its five members were quick to cite "In Search Of" as an influence. Now they're repaying the favor, bringing the show's concept into 2000 via a new, eight-episode update they're currently producing for a fall debut on Fox TV.

According to executive producer Gregg Hale, their take on "ISO" will be "a little edgier and a little faster" than its predecessor, and place greater emphasis on visual impact and personality. The first four episodes are "in full swing," Hale says, with field footage pouring in from such far-flung locales as Utah, Egypt, Scotland and Norway, and dramatic re-enactments being shot on the soundstages of Universal.

The production is firmly Orlando-based and continues the Haxan tradition of nurturing hometown talent. (In the past few weeks, it seems as if every third aspiring tech worker or production assistant I've run into has declared some degree of participation.) Research operations are headquartered at the Haxans' new downtown offices, where they recently moved after their brief residency on Disney property. Universal hosts the local shoots and houses the offices of ISO Productions LLC, the stand-alone entity Hale and company have established to sire the project. Don't be thrown off by the secondary business moniker, however: From a creative standpoint, the show is a Haxan product all the way.

Episodes No. 1 through 4 will hunt for the aforementioned Nessie, the man-beast Bigfoot, secret voodoo practices and tell-tale traces of ancient astronauts. With so much continent-hopping activity to supervise, it's no wonder Hale can't promise the show will make its hoped-for premiere date of Oct. 27. Whenever it does arrive, the program will air every Friday on Fox, with each episode rerun 10 days later on the USA Network.

For the final four installments, other core members of the Haxan quintet may take over for Hale as executive producers. But who will step into Nimoy's shoes as the new series' host?

"We were talking about Henry Rollins," Hale reveals, but the rock raconteur's connection to another Fox show put the brakes on the hookup. (It's probably just as well; Rollins might have insisted on delivering all of his lines as spoken-word poetry.) An offer has instead gone out to a potential emcee who Hale calls "perfect in a slightly different way."

We guess G.G. Allin is out of contention, what with his being dead and all.

Cursors and curses

Given Haxan's success on the Internet, it's nearly a fait accompli that an In Search Of website is already up and running. Initial visitors to www.insearchofonline.com were tapped to help select the subjects that will be covered in episodes No. 5 through 8. (Expect this interactive approach to be part and parcel of the TV show as well.)

Elsewhere on the site are profiles of the eight "ISO" employees who research the program's mystical arcania. A particular hoot is the page devoted to intrepid voodoo scholar Deb Berry (who leads a more mundane double life as collateral-materials developer for the Florida Film Festival). In her bio, Berry shares her hope that her episode will shed new light on the often-demonized voodoo religion. It's Britney Spears, she argues, who is actually "the embodiment of pure evil."

Berry says that e-mail from clued-in web surfers will be used as a resource by the show's scriptwriters. As her episode reaches completion, those helpful missives may provide details the "ISO" crew can exploit on its upcoming trip to Haiti.

"They don't really announce voodoo rituals in the tourist trade papers," she admits.

The Mount Dora triangle?

The "In Search Of" research team has it comparatively easy: Instead of tracking down signs of Santeria, they could be trying to locate a fall exhibit schedule at the Mount Dora Center for the Arts.

"There isn't one," acknowledges Tammy Rejimbal, who has filled the full-time position of interim director at the facility since its last director, Katherine MacDiarmond, left in October 1999. Three weeks ago, Rejimbal was notified that the center's seven-member board of trustees was pulling the plug on the entire autumn lineup of artist showcases, including a display of mixed-media pieces by David Broder that was to open this Friday, Sept. 8, and run through Oct. 20. Two more exhibits bit the dust in the decision, Rejimbal reports, forcing her to install a roundup of award-winning works from the last 25 editions of the annual Mount Dora Arts Festival.

"Basically, the board canceled the shows," she says. "They couldn't fund it."

Scott Alderman, the board's president, says that a financial shortfall did indeed cause the cancellation of the Broder exhibit, but that at least one of the two remaining shows was pulled because of the featured artist's relocation to Atlanta.

The center's free-admission policy makes the board its main source of sponsorship monies, Rejimbal says, though Alderman calls the operation a "joint effort" that also depends on directors and members to stay in the black. But the only fund-raising initiatives Rejimbal can recall -- other than the yearly arts festival and spring "Art of the Deal" auction -- are ones MacDiarmond herself planned when Rejimbal was working under her.

Returning to a policy that hasn't been followed in the last three years, the center's "middle space" has again been rented to an outside business -- this time, a retail shop that sells eco-friendly goods.

"I don't think this is going to be a long-term situation," Alderman says of the money crunch. He sees the center temporarily bypassing more high-profile shows for works by local artists or merely letting the "festival winners" exhibit run until the economic picture is clearer.

"The whole idea of all of this isn't to have less than we've had in the past," Alderman says, "[But] we want it financed before we do it."

Over and out

The second Central Florida Jewish Film Festival is set for Oct. 29 and 30 at Maitland's Enzian Theater, bringing with it a screening of "Train of Life," a 1998 Romanian comedy/drama about a village that fakes its own deportation train to avoid Nazi persecution during World War II. Reportedly, the role of the film's "town fool" was originally offered to Roberto Benigni, who begged off to work on his own project -- the arguably similar "Life Is Beautiful." You no-a sue, he-a make love to you all.

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