Distributor bankrupt


November 07, 2003|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

The greatest genre in recent years has been the documentary, and the best documentaries have often come from New York-based Cowboy Pictures. In 2002 alone, the distributor gave Baltimore audiences - at least those who frequent the Charles - the chance to see The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition, the most extreme of extreme adventures and a towering study in leadership; Promises, the moving chronicle of Palestinian and Israeli youngsters trying to bridge frightening social-cultural gaps; and I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, an archetypal American story about integrity challenged and triumphant, centered on the rock band Wilco's creation of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Cowboy has also released exquisite new prints of indelible movie classics, including Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast and the masterworks of Akira Kurosawa on display at the Charles' Kurosawa-Toshiro Mifune retrospective.

But Cowboy has closed shop and declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

So the Charles has scrambled to make substitutions. Tomorrow at noon and Thursday at 9 p.m., instead of Kurosawa's 1957 adaptation of Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths, the theater will show the director's 1975 Siberia-set nature epic, Dersu Uzala, winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. And two weeks from now, Kurosawa's mix of Hamlet and corporate intrigue, The Bad Sleep Well, will make way for his brilliant rethinking of King Lear - the director's final masterwork, Ran.

Earlier this year, Cowboy strove to weather its worst economic rough patch by forging a partnership with another "niche" distributor, Lot 47. According to Daily Variety, the linkage never took, and Lot 47's Greg Williams confessed to the trade paper that he was "surprised" when he learned Cowboy had cleaned out its offices and filed for bankruptcy. Cowboy's John Vanco issued a statement that read, in part: "We've had a great run and I'm extremely proud of the wonderful films we've brought to audiences across North America."

The distributor's closure leaves theater operators wondering when and where the company's library will become available again. In the meantime, the Charles has made wily substitutions - and the Kurosawa-Mifune series will go on.

Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala screens at noon tomorrow and 9 p.m. on Thursday at the Charles. Call 410-727-FILM or go to www.thecharles.com.

Fairbanks at Columbia

The Slayton House Theater in Columbia provides the rare opportunity to see Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in his acrobatic and satiric glory when it screens the 1920 silent comedy The Mollycoddle Sunday at 3 p.m. Fairbanks plays an expatriate dandy in Monte Carlo who rediscovers his All-American manhood when he finds himself in the middle of a plot to smuggle diamonds from Arizona to Amsterdam. When it came to combining humor and action, no one gave off a happier air of extroversion than Fairbanks. And the director, Victor Fleming, matches his openhearted vigor. With a fluid virtuosity, Fleming incorporates such unusual strokes as a splash of animation and a burlesque fantasy of Manhattan as a Wild West town while building to a breathtaking landslide and precipitous fight to the death.

Call 410-730-3987.

`Girlhood' benefit

On Nov. 19, at 7:30 p.m., the Charles will be the host of the Baltimore premiere of Liz Garbus' much-praised documentary Girlhood, which won the Audience Award at Austin's white-hot South By Southwest festival. It follows two adolescent girls attempting to buck their horrific past and grow up as they go through Baltimore's juvenile justice system.

Director Garbus and her cast, along with Children's Defense Fund founder and president Marian Wright Edelman, will attend the advance showing of the film, co-sponsored by the Maryland Film Festival, Wellspring and Moxie Firecracker. Tickets are $10 ($8 for students and seniors) and free for Friends of the Maryland Film Festival. (Movie opens commercially Nov. 26.) Tickets can be reserved by calling 410-752-8083 or at www.mdfilmfest.com.

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