The snow must go on 


I love Orlando in the wintertime. In fact, it's my favorite 72 hours of the year.

You readers who are new to Florida won't fully comprehend that joke. You haven't yet realized that your new life will entail 362 days on the surface of the sun, followed by three days at Ice Station Zebra. (Ever wake up in the morning feeling a sudden hankering for barbecue? Here, that's considered a season.)

While you and I do our best to pretend that mitten weather is here to stay, the most exciting happenings in Central Florida film are set to take place under the genuinely wintry skies of Park City, Utah. First came the news that the Valencia Community College production "Killing Time" had been accepted into competition at this month's Sundance Film Festival (Jan. 11 through 20); now another local effort, "Nothing So Strange," has been welcomed into the concurrent Slamdance festival, one of the renegade events founded as an alternative to the entrenched Sundance's alleged stodginess.

It's also the only festival to which the movie was submitted. If you're thinking that 1,000 is a pretty good batting average for a film you've never heard of, you're half right. "Nothing So Strange," the first feature undertaken by Winter Park's GMD Studios, was spotlighted in this column exactly one year ago, when it was still known by its original title, "MacArthur Park." As you may recall, it's a reality-bending drama that has a group of conspiracy theorists seeking the truth behind the assassination of Microsoft nerd-in-chief Bill Gates. (Accusations of tastelessness were flung at the project as soon as it was announced, but I still say getting rid of Gates is an idea whose time has come -- no matter what that brown-nosing appeals court thinks.)

According to director Brian Flemming, the title change was deemed necessary because another film named "MacArthur Park" had already played Sundance last year. Outlaw spirit means nothing without practicality, as Flemming well knows: Before taking charge of "MacArthur Park/Nothing So Strange" (and co-writing the recent off-Broadway hit, "Bat Boy: The Musical," another of his left-of-center pursuits) Flemming co-founded Slumdance, the 1997 gathering that was yet another alternative to Sundance. The experience taught Flemming how difficult it is to get viewers out to relatively obscure locations like the Silver Mine, the venue that's hosting Slamdance this year. He and his co-conspirators at GMD hope that intensified promotion and amenities (free bus service on the half-hour!) will turn the tide. Watch for updates at www.nothingsostrange.com.

It's good to know that Orlando has both Sundance and Slamdance covered. Now, what are we going to do for cinematic entertainment while our best and brightest are on the Utah slopes? Maybe we should try to acquire the police tapes that led to the Rachel's bust, then screen them in public under the name Lapdance. It could give the phrase "sitting on the jury" a whole new meaning.

Gory days

Flemming and the "Nothing So Strange" crew will have more company in Park City. The lovable hackmeisters of Troma Films have scheduled their third annual Tromadance Film Festival for the same time frame. Hope it works out better for them than the officially sanctioned Sunday-night Troma screenings that began last month at our city's Bodhisattva Social Club: I hear the series has been canceled due to poor attendance. Oh, well ... back to the old rental counter.

Playing around

Some theatrical favorites will be making their way back to Orlando's stages in 2002, but they may look a bit different from the back row. Spirit Daddy Productions, which performed Jan Anderson's "The Baby Dance" last August at iMPACTE Productions, will stage Robert Harling's "Steel Magnolias" March 14 through April 6 at the same location. To further Spirit Daddy's agenda of nontraditional casting, roles in their "Magnolias" will be open to actresses of "different ages or ethnicities," says company co-founder Dennis Enos. (As long as the part of Shelby is played by a legitimate actress and not Julia Roberts, you can chalk it up as revisionism aplenty.)

Closer on the horizon, the University of Central Florida's Theatre UCF will present Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman Jan. 17 through 27 at the school's Stage 1 Theatre, as interpreted by an all African-American cast led by UCF acting professor Anthony B. Major as Willie Loman. The school has already found success in putting a positively black spin on the classics: Last year, a video of three African-American UCF students performing a scene from The Great Gatsby took first place in the Great American Student Screen Test competition sponsored by the A&E network.

Thin line between love and "Kate"

Take those print and TV ads for the romantic comedy "Kate & Leopold" with a grain of salt. The gushing reviews they quote were published before Miramax Films sent the picture back into the editing room for a last-minute overhaul. Scenes were excised and at least one plot point was entirely dispensed with, yet the studio has shown no compunction about exploiting the plaudits earned by its original cut, which was never seen by the public and likely never will be.

Someone needs to remind Miramax that a film -- especially a good one -- is a delicate combination of multifarious elements, and that changing even one can affect the basic character of the entire affair. If a critic hasn't seen the version that's going to be released, he or she hasn't seen the film. Why should readers pay attention to any review, if they aren't sure how closely it will correspond to the movie they end up seeing?

As a New Year's resolution, major and minor studios alike should pledge that they will not show a film to critics until it is finished. If that's too much to ask, they should just mail out copies of the shooting script and ask us to imagine what the finished product is going to look like. The concepts aren't all that different.


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