Warren Dewey says he bought the Golden State Theatre in 2004 because he loves movies.
He’s the kind of film buff who spends months trying to obtain an original print of Play Misty For Me to show on an old-school projector rather than the easy-to-obtain digital copy.
Dewey has been on a mission for the past three years to construct the first major film festival in Monterey. But with more than 1,400 film festivals held worldwide each year, Dewey knew he had to create something substantial or it would flail like a dying seagull, as he recalls the Monterey Film Festival did in 1988.
After years of trying to bring one of the greatest talents in the business to Monterey, Dewey finally got the word he’d been waiting for from filmmaker Peter Bogdanovic, the man behind The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon.
“I got a call and was told [Bogdanovich] could speak on March 20,” Dewey says. “Instead of this being an isolated speaking engagement, I thought, ‘Why not turn it into something more?’”
With a strong foundation to build upon, Dewey delved into the planning full force. He called on his longtime pal Steve Leiber – a theater owner in Rhinebeck, N.Y., who introduced him to “many great films” over the years – to collaborate with him on programming what would become the first annual Golden State Film Festival.
Besides Bogdanovich, star speakers include director Alexander Payne (Sideways), actress Maria Bello (see story, pg. 19), animator Bill Plympton and a screening of Clint Eastwood’s classic, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
A last-minute addition sure to wow hard-core fans of all ages is a rare 35 millimeter screening of Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, introduced by the director, Irvin Kershner, on Sunday, March 29, at 1 and 8:30pm. It will be seen at the Golden State Theatre, where all the other films and festival events are taking place.
Leiber, a small man with a head full of graying Beethoven hair, has had a long list of filmmaker guests speak at his theater and helped distribute the well-received documentary The Weather Underground.
“I’m pleased with the great mix of films we put together; it was a daunting task that started small and just kept getting bigger,” Leiber says of the duo’s efforts, which have resulted in the March 20-29 film festival.
“It’s amazing that we were able to get such an eclectic mix of people and filmmakers to come,’’ Leiber adds, pointing to a large dry-erase board in the Golden State Theatre office displaying a calendar of events he and Dewey have been putting together.
“I’m excited about premieres like Enlighten Up! (showing Sunday, March 29 at 7pm); it’s a documentary about the yoga craze,” Leiber says. “Another one I’m looking forward to is Earth Days (March 28, 2pm) about the people who started the environmental movement.”
“MOST MOVIES ARE MADE WITH THE BELIEF THAT NO ONE IN THE AUDIENCE CAN BE EXPECTED TO ENTERTAIN MORE THAN ONE IDEA AT A TIME, AT THE VERY MOST.”
The result of Leiber and Dewey’s alliance is a diverse collage of guests, premieres, animated features and restored prints of classics.
The opening night will feature a reception at 6pm followed by a discussion with Bogdanovich and a screening of his 1971’s The Last Picture Show (showing March 20 at 9pm).
The movie – arguably one of the best films of the ’70s – is about a small Texas town draped in sexual repression, isolation and impending dejection. Based on Larry McMurtry’s novel and reflecting the influence of John Ford, it’s like a beautifully shot black and white photograph of an old town no longer around. If you listen closely enough you can hear the ghosts of the people who once lived there.
The Last Picture Show launched the careers of Cybill Shepherd, with whom Bogdanovich had a longtime romance, and Jeff Bridges; as a result of its success, Bogdanovich became one of the most sought-after filmmakers in the world.
He’s made 14 movies over four decades, acted in more than 15 films and appeared on more than seven television series, including The Sopranos (he played Tony Soprano’s therapist’s therapist, dealing with her unresolved feelings about the gangster). He has also been a movie reviewer for Esquire magazine and has written more than 12 books on film.
His films have been nominated for numerous Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Screenplay for The Last Picture Show. Tatum O’Neal won Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Paper Moon.
On the Monday after the 81st annual Academy Awards, 38 years after The Last Picture Show won two of its eight Oscar nominations, the filmmaker reflects on the recent award ceremony from his room at the Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood.
Though he didn’t attend the awards, he hit several of the parties that followed Hollywood’s biggest night and sounds like he is still semi-asleep.
“I was surprised that Sean Penn won,” Bogdanovich says. “I really thought Mickey Rourke would get it.”
Bogdanovich – who recently wrote the forward to Pierre-Henri Verlhac’s Clint Eastwood: A Life in Pictures – also thinks Eastwood got snubbed this year for his work in Gran Torino. “His performance was outstanding,” he says.
Bogdanovich’s own life in pictures began in 1968 with Targets (showing March 24 at 5pm), a masterful depiction of alienation in both the young and the old – starring Boris Karloff (in his last film) as, essentially, himself: an aging actor typecast as a horror actor. The film stars Bogdanovich as well, playing a character also resembling his real-life persona: a young, eager filmmaker.
“It was a difficult, fast shoot,” he recalls. “We had to shoot the film in only 23 days.”
After Targets and The Last Picture Show, Bogdanovich made five films in five years, including What’s Up Doc? in 1972 and Paper Moon in 1973.
Paper Moon (showing March 25 at 5pm) is a Depression-era film about a con man (Ryan O’Neal) and a little girl (Tatum O’Neal) who team up in a Bible-selling scam in the Midwest. Ten-year-old Tatum became the youngest Oscar winner in Academy history for her performance.
“I have my own way of making a film,” Bogdanovich says of the crisp black-and-white landscapes of Paper Moon and The Last Picture Show. “There’s usually a lot of dialogue, and I like using wide-angle lenses and red and green filters while shooting in black and white. I also like long takes and a subjective point of view. Every film I make has its own requirements.”
Heavily influenced by filmmakers John Ford and Howard Hawks, Bogdanovich favors shooting his films in order, which is known as “cutting in the camera,” rather than out of sequence.
“Filmmaking today is a lot different than it used to be; there’s a lot of fast cuts,” Bogdanovich says. “I always shoot the story in order.”
Bogdanovich’s 2007 rock documentary about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Runnin’ Down a Dream (showing March 26 at 9pm) was uncharted territory for the filmmaker.
“Tom’s people came and told me Tom likes my movies and likes the fact that I’ve never done this kind of film,” Bogdanovich says. “He thought it would give the film a fresh look.”
Bogdanovich has three films on the horizon: One Moon in Luck, the tentative title of a modern-day Western starring Willie Nelson; Broken Code, the true story of a female DNA scientist in the ’50s; and I’ll Remember April, a drama about a woman with Alzheimer’s disease.
Asked which film he hopes to be remembered by, Bogdanovich responds, “When you make a picture, you just hope people will like it and that it will last over time.”
Payne’s appearance is another example of the sweeping, cross-generational programming of the festival.
Payne will appear at the Golden State March 22 at 2pm to discuss his films and upcoming projects. Screenings of Citizen Ruth and Election will follow.
The idea for Citizen Ruth came to Payne after reading a couple of newspaper articles about abortion.
“I wanted to present both sides of the abortion argument as having similar characteristics,” Payne says from his Los Angeles office. “Each side cared more about their own cause than the individual standing right in front of them.”
“[Citizen Ruth] illuminates the ways in which mainstream films train us to expect formula endings. Most movies are made with the belief that no one in the audience can be expected to entertain more than one idea at a time, at the very most.”
With the controversial abortion premise, studios were initially hesitant to finance the film, although it got a little easier when Laura Dern was cast in the lead role.
He caught flak for About Schmidt, despite star power from Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates, from executives who deemed the script “too depressing.” Then, the studio was also reluctant to finance Sideways, which turned out to be Payne’s most successful film, because no big names were attached to it.
Payne’s second feature film was Election: a feisty, dark comedy about an overachieving student (Reese Witherspoon) and her ethically bankrupt teacher (Matthew Broderick). Witherspoon’s performance in Election may be the best of her career.
“Election was really fun to make,” Payne says. “In fact, Barack Obama told me it’s his favorite political film.”
Currently, Payne is finishing a script that he calls a “sci-fi comedy’’ that he hopes will star Paul Giamatti, whom he worked with in Sideways.
In all his films, Payne and longtime screenwriting collaborator Jim Taylor create a juxtaposition that satirizes ordinary American people and at the same time shows empathy for them.
Two generations of auteurs: quite a coup for Monterey.
“I hope [the festival] will be something that we will be able to expand on in the future,” Dewey says. “It could really be the beginning of something important in this town.”
Information: www.goldenstatetheatre.com/filmfestival/index.html, 372-4555. For more details about the Golden State Film Festival, see next week’s issue.