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The year in North Carolina film 

The battering ram at your door

click to enlarge All the real men: A tender moment from Anywhere U.S.A. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL

In November, the Sundance Film Festival announced the lineup for its 2008 event, which begins Jan. 17. Of the scant 16 films chosen for the dramatic feature program—out of 1,068 submissions—two have strong in-state connections.

Anywhere U.S.A. is the shoestring labor-of-love debut from director Chusy Haney-Jardine and his filmmaking partner and wife, Jennifer McDonald. The film was shot on location in Asheville, edited in Haney-Jardine's garage, and features an almost entirely nonprofessional cast. The sole exception is his daughter Perla, whose film credits include bit parts in Spider-Man 3, Dark Water, and, most significantly for film buffs, Uma Thurman's long-lost daughter B.B. in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill: Vol. 2.

"The film is self-financed using our life savings and our house as collateral and by creating an L.L.C. funded by ourselves, our neighbors, friends and family," Haney-Jardine says in an e-mail. "All of Asheville helped us ... restaurants, local businesses, passersby, etc. It was the kindness of strangers that made this a magical experience and in a sense, they got us into Sundance and are going there with us."

Born and raised in Venezuela, Haney-Jardine moved to the United States to attend film school in the early 1990s. He graduated with a Master's of Fine Arts from the American Film Institute, directing as his 1993 student thesis a short film entitled Monkey Park, starring Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer (their on-screen chemistry came to the attention of Tarantino, who paired them the following year for the memorable opening scene of Pulp Fiction). However, after graduation Haney-Jardine quit filmmaking altogether, moved to Brazil, and worked a series of jobs in advertising, teaching and commercial directing.

After marrying McDonald, Haney-Jardine discovered Asheville 10 years ago while visiting his wife's parents in Johnson City, Tenn. They moved there and Haney-Jardine's creative impulse' drive returned, laying the groundwork for Anywhere U.S.A.

Asked for a description of the film, Haney-Jardine coyly cites the synopsis posted on the Sundance Web site, which he says is "apt as all heck." The site declares that his "wildly original snapshot of du jour America is such an audacious, personal expression of vision that you occasionally feel as if it's being projected directly from his brain. Haney-Jardine delights in theatricality, burlesque images and wonderfully mismatched devices. And for all its humor, the film observes life with tenderness and humanity. Here's a film that takes real risks and reaps the rewards tenfold... Anywhere, USA wears its independence like a battering ram that gently knocks at your door."

Asheville has a more elliptical but very real connection to a second film in the dramatic competition. The film is Pretty Bird, the directing debut of Asheville native Paul Schneider, who studied at N.C. School of the Arts with filmmaker David Gordon Green and starred in Green's 2003 cult hit All the Real Girls. Last year, Schneider had supporting roles in two high-profile movies, Lars and the Real Girl and The Assassination of Jesse James.

Pretty Bird, which Schneider also wrote, is a comedy about a man who convinces his friends to help him market a rocket-powered belt. The ever-helpful Sundance press site describes the film as "minimalist and metaphorical, cerebral yet witty and engaging." The cast includes Paul Giamatti and UNC-Chapel Hill graduate Billy Crudup.

As noted in an Indy cover story last spring, the state saw a resurgence in filming activity. A biopic of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden kept many in the Wilmington film industry employed for much of the year, while the Ben Stiller vehicle The Marc Pease Experience and the Richard Gere-Diane Lane pairing Nights in Rodanthe were two of the higher profile major studio shoots down East. Meanwhile George Clooney's Leatherheads filmed in a number of Western Piedmont locations and is slated for a February release.

Raleigh filmmaker Neal Hutcheson's latest project, The Prince of Dark Corners, will premiere on PBS on Jan. 3 (see this week's film article). Other N.C.-based filmmakers launching new projects in 2007 included acclaimed director Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart), who shot Solo, his most recent film, in his hometown of Winston-Salem. And, after a four-year absence, David Gordon Green is scheduled to release two films during 2008: Snow Angels, his 2007 Sundance entry, and Pineapple Express, a comedy written by the Superbad team of Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Judd Apatow.

Last year saw the release of two films that were filmed in and around Charlotte, including the critically acclaimed Great World of Sound, directed by Craig Zobel, another NCSA graduate, and The Ultimate Gift, which starred James Garner, Abigail Breslin and Brian Dennehy.

With so much filming happening in Asheville, Charlotte and Wilmington, one has to wonder when feature filmmaking will return to the Triangle. In its stead, however, was another bumper crop of documentaries. At last year's 10th anniversary of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, Indy critic Godfrey Cheshire's deeply personal Moving Midway received its premiere. New work, including Michael O'Connell's Mountain Top Removal, Rex Miller's Yo Tek: A Uganda Tennis Story and Linda Booker's Love Lived on Death Row, also began appearing, at Full Frame, at Wilmington's Cucalorus, and elsewhere.

There were notable developments in the careers of the state's more attention-getting homegrown performers. Kinston native Jaime Pressly, onetime Playboy pin-up and B-movie actress, is now an Emmy winner for her ongoing role in My Name is Earl. Another late-blooming actress, Asheville native Bellamy Young, also saw improving television fortunes, including an extended appearance on Grey's Anatomy and its spin-off Private Practice, and later, a starring role in ABC's new hit show, Dirty Sexy Money. She also co-produced and starred in Simple Things, an indie film from the fertile ground of Western North Carolina that was screened privately in the Triangle.

Meanwhile, the more precocious Evan Rachel Wood, at age 20, has reached the point of steady, quality parts. This year, we saw the Raleigh native in a lead role in Julie Taymor's Across the Universe, a co-starring role with Michael Douglas in King of California and, perhaps most notoriously, a blood-soaked frolic with boyfriend Marilyn Manson in the music video for "Heart-Shaped Glasses."

Last, but certainly not least, is Andy Griffith's return to feature films in Adrienne Shelly's Waitress, offering a head-turning supporting performance that combines pathos with Griffith's trademark comic timing. Even as the next generation of North Carolina's film community begins to take the reigns, the old guard shows it isn't quite ready to hang up its spurs just yet.


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