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Comedy Fest films are a hit

Stewart Oksenhorn

Last year, Kevin Haasarud’s job as program director of the Comedy Festival’s film component was a part-time job.

But ever since last year’s festival closed, Haasarud has been employed full-time by the festival putting together this year’s films, renamed the Film Discovery Program and now sponsored by Cinemax.

“The dream for this really is not to be seen as separate from the USCAF, but to be an integral part of the whole,” said Haasarud, as he juggled chores at the Isis Theater, headquarters for the film program.

“We want the people who come to the USCAF to see and enjoy the movies. And we don’t want to be a market; it’s more of a showcase and think tank.”

If Haasarud’s move from part-

time to full-time employee doesn’t fully measure the quick acceptance of the Film Discovery Program, this statistic should: More than 450 films were submitted in response to the call for entries.

From those submissions, Haasarud and his staff selected 20 features and 28 shorts to make up the program, which opened yesterday and runs through Saturday, with daily screenings at the Isis from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Among the feature films are two special presentations: “The Closer You Get,” an Irish film directed by Aileen Ritchie, which had its world premiere last night; and “Me Myself I,” by Australian director Pip Karmel, which shows tomorrow at 9 p.m.

Both of the special presentations are being distributed by major studios – “The Closer You Get” by Fox Searchlight; “Me Myself I” by Sony Classics. The rest of the filmmakers are using the Film Discovery Program to gather attention for their movies and, hopefully, make a distribution deal. As part of the film program, there are a series of Meet the Buyers sessions, which link filmmakers with film buyers. There are also seminars, a symposium, and a spot at the Hotel Jerome designated as the Filmmakers’ Lounge.

“Last year turned out great,” said Haasarud. “In addition to there being a great buzz about the film component, a number of films got acquisition out of the screening.

“The Jury Award winner for best feature, Mike Binder’s `The Sex Monster,’ got bought by HBO. `Peep Show,’ which won the award for best short, got bought by Columbia Tristar for a possible series development.”

`Welcome to Hollywood’

One of the feature films that should at least capture the attention of the comic actors gathered for the USCAF is “Welcome to Hollywood.” The film, directed by and starring the team of Adam Rifkin and Tony Markes, is one of three designated as documentaries in the Film Discovery Program.

But the world has never seen a documentary quite like this.

While some art breaks down the so-called fourth wall between the actor and audience, “Welcome to Hollywood” goes further. It obliterates what might be called the fifth wall that stands between the filmmaker and his subject. To boot, “Welcome to Hollywood” is a “mockumentary” – a documentary within a documentary and, at times, a poignant peek inside the machinations of the movie industry.

The film opens with Rifkin – playing himself as a successful young director – searching for a subject for his documentary. His documentary idea: to locate a hopeful young actor, and trace his career as he makes it in pictures or dies trying.

The actor he selects, Nick Decker (played by Markes), turns out to be a hopeless incompetent. His acting stinks. When he spends his life savings on publicity photos, his name is spelled wrong – Dick Necker. When he finally gets his big break – one line, “Hey, he’s drowning!” – in a “Baywatch” episode, Decker sprains his ankle on the first take.

Rifkin, however, won’t give up on Decker or on the documentary. He takes him to the Oscars and to the big fight in Vegas. When nothing pans out, Rifkin hires Angie Everhart – the recently married supermodel – to play the part of Decker’s girlfriend. When even having Everhart hanging on his arm fails to land Decker any parts, Rifkin finally gives up on Decker and the project.

And then things turn really goofy. Decker, realizing that Rifkin and the documentary have provided his only legitimate shot at stardom, won’t give up on the project. He convinces Everhart to go with him to the Cannes Film Festival, promising that Rifkin will be right behind them. When Decker tells Everhart that Rifkin has abandoned the project, she is livid. What goes unexplained is how Decker managed to get the film crew to follow him to France and continue the filming.

Adding punch to “Welcome to Hollywood” is how much actual Hollywood footage is contained in the film. And having Everhart on board was, said Markes, “a blessing.” Everhart, a newlywed at the time of filming, had to actually play Decker’s girlfriend in media-saturated places like Sundance and Cannes. The part stretched Everhart’s good nature to the limits.

“I was so stressed out and had such a headache,” said the model, who has acted in 17 films. “These people are going to think I’m out of my mind. It was one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever done. The scene where I’m yelling at Nick Decker in a Cannes hotel room – that was very true to heart.”

For Everhart, playing herself acting out the part of an actor’s girlfriend was the chance to turn the tables on the movie media. “I’ve been known to be placed with a lot of big-time actors. I did date Sylvester Stallone, but I never dated Kevin Costner. But people are always saying who I’ve been with. So I did it to make fun of that whole thing.”

For Markes, who created the idea for “Welcome to Hollywood,” and co-directed and co-wrote the movie, making the film was the time of his life. It offered the chance to work with Rifkin, a longtime friend, and to stretch his acting abilities.

“We started with scripted scenes,” he said. “But we found that didn’t feel real. So we read the lines and then crumpled them up and threw them away before anyone could remember the lines. So you’re forced to just listen.”

“Welcome to Hollywood” shows today at 1:15 p.m. and Saturday at 10:45 a.m.


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