Ray Liotta opened the Vancouver International Film Festival's 20th anniversary Film and Television Trade Forum last Wednesday as the highly touted headline speaker. Fresh from his Emmy win for outstanding guest actor in a drama series in ER, but totally exhausted after working till 2:30 a.m. on the set of Dungeon Siege, the Canadian-produced feature film based on the video game of the same name, Liotta arrived at the new Vancouver Film Centre at 11:15 sharp and promptly told organizers that journalists were not welcome.
"He wanted to speak frankly to filmmakers about his experiences," explains Trade Forum producer Melanie Friesen, Martin Scorsese's former head of development. "He was exceptionally good humored for someone who had worked so late. Hat's off to him for even showing up."
Liotta is best known for his portrayal of Henry Hill in Scorsese's Goodfellas (Hill is a real-life snitch who lost his witness protection last month when he was thrown back in jail for a drug conviction). So what did the actor and budding producer have to say that was so secretive?
He apparently talked about how he fell into acting because a cute girl suggested he be in a play, how much he owed an early acting coach, his wild times with Goodfellas' Joe Pesci and his new film-production company, Tiara Blu.
He didn't say much about Revolver, the latest film from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels director Guy Ritchie, in which he co-stars as a gangster called Dorothy Macha. The film was blasted by British critics when it opened there two weeks ago, calling it a "cinematic catastrophe" that made "[Ritchie's]last disaster," 2002's Swept Away, "look like a classic."
So there was nothing shocking said, no damning revelations?
"No," says Friesen. "But maybe there might have been if he had been asked any shocking questions."
Souvenir of Canada, a documentary based on Douglas Coupland's book about Canadian artifacts and nostalgia, might be coming soon to a theatre near you. The National Film Board co-production had its Vancouver premiere in the author's hometown on Sunday night. The public's response was almost as enthusiastic as at the film's world premiere in Toronto, where audience members hooted and hollered and laughed at all the right moments.
"It was almost like a gospel concert," says the NFB's Gerry Flahive, who co-produced the film with Media Headquarters' Robert Cohen.
After the Toronto screening, the producers were approached by six or seven theatrical distributors who expressed interest. And although no firm deal has yet to be worked out, the film's popularity is certainly a boon for the NFB, which has never had an easy time getting its films out on the big screen.
Coupland, in the meantime, says he hopes the film (which screens again on Oct. 11) signals a watershed moment for students across the country.
"The National Film Board movies, themselves, are astonishingly boring," he told a local reporter. "But our relationship to them is not. We all remember the sound of the AV cart with the squeaking wheel coming down the hallway, and even though we knew that meant the next half-hour was doomed, there is something to that memory."
Is there a place for the fusion of science and art? A sales representative from Harvey Weinstein's new production, development and acquisition company thinks so.
Genome Canada, the national funding and information resource body for genomics and proteomics research, took a fair amount of flack for its financial support of The Score, a delightful, groundbreaking musical drama about a genetics-based cancer research lab that had its world premiere at VIFF on Saturday and will be broadcast on CBC Television's Opening Night in January.
"They were told they shouldn't be supporting the arts, they should be supporting science research," explains Michael Hayden, director and senior scientist of Vancouver's Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics. It was Hayden who originally commissioned Vancouver's Electric Company Theatre to create the play on which the film was based.
The Score, which explores tricky ethical issues and universal themes about identity, freedom and creation as it tells the story of a brilliant geneticist racing to isolate a cancer-causing gene and draws parallels with classical-music composition, was selected by Vancouver's Georgia Straight as one of its Top 10 festival picks. Now Hollywood is interested, too.
Leah Mallen, who produced the film with Screen Siren Pictures Inc.'s Trish Dolman, received a call last week from Mike Rose, a sales agent in the L.A. office of the new Weinstein Co. who said he had heard "great things" about the film, which screens again at VIFF next Wednesday afternoon.
Harvey and Bob Weinstein are, of course, the Hollywood mavericks whose Miramax studios produced the Oscar-winning films The Hours and Chicago, while reinvigorating the independent film industry by distributing and producing controversial or fringe, low-budget movies that had been overlooked by Hollywood ( The Crying Game, The English Patient and Pulp Fiction among them). They infamously clashed with Disney's chief executive officer Michael Eisner after he refused to release Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's documentary, which was critical of U.S. president George Bush. And after years of reported tension in their 12-year partnership with Disney, the Weinsteins stepped down as co-chief executives of Miramax on Sept. 30.
The Score's enthusiastic public and critical reception is sweet victory to Hayden, who gave The Electric Company unfettered access to his students and colleagues, interfering in the creative process only when something was factually inaccurate. Much of the drama in the film, including a competition to clone a gene and a sex scene between two scientists, is based on real events that happened in his lab.
"The arts are not a frill, they are essential to my own scientific development," says Hayden, whose lab boasts a piano, weekly salsa dancing lessons and quiet alcoves for art where researchers can go to contemplate their problems and catalyze new ideas.
"Everybody thinks scientists are cold and rational. The truth is that nothing could be more passionate than the search for scientific discoveries that break down barriers and change paradigms of thinking. Working with these artists was such an amazing experience that opened us up in ways we could never guess. We found that we had so much in common."