Festival circuit is pleasant route

Cinema: Not every film makes millions after a screening, and for many filmmakers, that's OK.

The Maryland Film Festival

April 26, 2000|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Unknown filmmaker brings first-time film to a festival, signs a million-dollar contract with a studio and is launched on a life of fame and fortune. By now this Sundance mythology is so entrenched in popular consciousness that it's easy to forget that it's not the only scenario.

Indeed, there's an entire population of films enjoying a healthy life on the festival circuit that will probably happily stay there. Their directors entertain no illusions about being picked up by a distributor. They just want their movies to be seen and enjoyed by as many people as possible and perhaps appreciated by a film industry executive who might take their calls in the future.

That's the trajectory Greg Watkins wants for "A Sign From God," a low-budget feature that will be shown at the Maryland Film Festival on Sunday at 3 p.m. Watkins and collaborator Caveh Zahedi (who stars in the film) had made a movie before: "A Little Stiff" had its premiere at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival and went on to play major festivals. But shortly after that, Watkins left Los Angeles and entered a Ph.D. program at Stanford University in religious studies.

A few years ago, Watkins got the itch to make movies again. "Truth be told, I saw `Clerks' and `The Brothers McMullen,' and I kind of got upset," he says. "I thought, `God, I gotta make another movie.' " "A Little Stiff" had been based on things that had happened to Zahedi in his real life, so Watkins took the same route with "A Sign From God," in which Zahedi plays a scattered, struggling filmmaker grappling with commitment and existential angst.

The film had its premiere at Sundance and played Austin's South by Southwest Film Festival in March; after Maryland, it will play festivals in Atlanta, Munich and the Czech Republic. Watkins says his goals for the film have already been realized. "We definitely raised people's awareness of us again and got the interest of a few people who actually have power," he says.

"None of those types wanted this movie, but we're back on people's radar, and they're willing to listen if we want to pitch. ... We're developing a script we're hoping to shoot at the end of the summer on digital video. Then I'll pull an old script out of the drawer and work on it some more and send it to these new contacts."

Watkins and musician Jonathan Richman, who composed the score for "A Sign From God," will be at the screening Sunday at the Charles.

Festival schedule

Festival schedule Festival-circuit films to be shown during the three days of the Maryland Film Festival:

"Acting Class," directed by Elizabeth Holder and Jill Hennessy

"Another Planet," directed by Christene Browne

"Bad Money," directed by John Hazlett

"Compensation," directed by Zeinabu Irene Davis

"Double Parked," directed by Stephen Kinsella

"The Initiate," directed by Chad Etchison

"Kill by Inches," directed by Arthur Flam and Diane Doniol-Valcroze

"Makebelieve," directed by Mike Flanagan

"The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me,"directed by Tim Kirkman

"Omaha (the movie)," directed by Dan Mirvish

"Panic," directed by Henry Bromell

"A Sign from God," directed by Greg Watkins

"Spring Forward," directed by Tom Gilroy

"We Married Margo," directed by J.D. Shapiro

"The Wilgus Stories," directed by Andrew Garrison

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