Heroin feature is on the market


September 21, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Ten years ago, Baltimore filmmaker Steve Yeager screened his unfinished film, On the Block, at an independent film showcase in New York. He came away with enough money to finish the drama set on the city's infamous adult entertainment zone. It eventually was released by Vidmark films and enjoyed a limited theatrical run.

Four years ago, he did the same thing with his unfinished documentary on the proudly incorrigible John Waters, Divine Trash. Yeager found backers for that film, too. It went on to win the documentary prize at the Sundance Film Festival and be featured on cable's Independent Film Channel.

Again this year, Yeager has had a film accepted into the Independent Feature Project's highly competitive Independent Feature Film Market. And while there are a few differences this time around - for one thing, The Connection isn't a work-in-progress - he hopes 2001 continues his lucky streak at the annual film showcase.

"This is the first time I'll be going there with a finished feature," Yeager said earlier this week from Washington, where he was busy working on the soundtrack with composer Don Barto. "We're hoping we can sell the thing. It would be nice."

The Connection, based on a play written in 1959 by Jack Gelber, is the story of a student film crew working inside a heroin shooting gallery. It first went before the cameras in 1961, under the direction of underground filmmaker Shirley Clarke, whose finished work was banned for two years because of the then-controversial subject matter.

This new version, starring local actors Mark Bernier, Debbie Bennett, Larry Woody, Joe Simono and Linda Chambers, had its premiere at May's third annual Maryland Film Festival. Since then, Yeager has made several changes to the film, which was shot on digital video.

"We've changed the soundtrack completely," he said. "And I did a little re-editing as well, based on the comment cards I got back from the audience at the festival."

The Connection was one of only 30 feature-length films accepted for the Independent Feature Film Market, one of two indie showcases held annually; the other is the American Film Market in Santa Monica, Calif. Yeager's film is scheduled to be shown early next month to distributors and film festival representatives. Sorry, screenings aren't open to the public.

Another `Funny' look

Funny Girl, the musical that made Barbra Streisand a star, is sticking around the Senator for a second week.

Theater owner Tom Kiefaber said the 1968 film (being shown in a newly restored print) has done average business the past week, but he thinks it can do better. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington may have kept some audience members away, as did Rosh Hashanah, which also fell during the week.

If you've never seen Funny Girl, haven't seen it since the days of the LBJ administration or have watched it only on television, don't miss this chance. The look and sound of this restored print are magnificent - seeing it on the Senator's giant screen is to be reminded why this theater is a civic gem worth cherishing.

And in her first film role, Streisand is magnificent, radiating charisma, talent and charm in ways she'd never replicate. She's in nearly every frame of the picture, and she makes the most of it.

Within a few years, she'd become La Streisand, a diva perhaps a little too enamored of her own cult of personality. But here she's just Babs, a young Jewish gal from Brooklyn with a knockout voice and a self-deprecating persona that had yet to become cliched.

`Memento' in the past

In the all-good-things-must-come-to-an-end department, Memento finally has left the Charles. Last night's 9:15 p.m. screening marked the end of a 20-plus-week run that extended even beyond the film's release on video and DVD. Here's betting it's a good while before any other film plays there for nearly half a year.

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