Given the recognition accorded such recent films as Lolita, Bastard Out of Carolina, and The Last Seduction, there is no longer a stigma associated with premiering independent films on cable. Now the Sundance Channel has announced a plan to air six unreleased films a year.
Fittingly, the inaugural film, first showing on March 5 at 9 p.m., is called 1999. (Cable customers who get Sundance only via pay-per-view on Sundays can see the film on March 14.)
Writer-director Nick Davis, a documentarian making his feature debut with 1999, says his intent was always a theatrical release, but that he's pleased more viewers may see the film on TV than ever did on the festival circuit. "People who would ordinarily not be able to come to New York and go to the Quad or Film Forum will see it."
Set at a New Year's Eve party in Greenwich Village, 1999 may be the final slacker movie of the millennium. It's a dryly witty ensemble piece about bright, neurotic young adults whose self-absorption and frustrated expectations are thrown into sharp relief by what the most cynical character (Steven Wright) refers to as the rolling-over of the cosmic odometer. Davis's documentary background is apparent, not just in the apt depiction of a certain type of New Yorker, but also in the camcorder's-eye view of one guest (played by an unseen Davis) and in the main character, Rufus (Dan Futterman), a nonfiction filmmaker who uses his dissatisfaction with his job as an excuse to dump exasperated girlfriend Annabelle (Jennifer Garner).
Unlike Rufus, the 33-year-old Davis likes his job. He comes by it naturally; his father is documentarist Peter Davis (Hearts and Minds), his grandfather was Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, and his great-uncle was writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve). After resisting his legacy by trying his hand as an improvisational comedian and a novelist, Davis finally admitted to himself that making movies "was what I wanted to do with my life." There was no specific advice from his famous forebears, only the message, "This is a stupid business. Be careful."
Davis and his wife, novelist Jane Mendelsohn (I Was Amelia Earhart), are expecting their first child before the year's out, so don't expect them to party like the characters in 1999 on New Year's Eve. "I'll probably make plans at the last minute, like always."
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