Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Palm Beach Film Festival Diaries
Day 2: Films and Filmmakers

by Liza Bear

PALM BEACH, Friday April 12

With only a handful of interviewers and interviewees present at the Sandcastles gathering, everyone plays musical chairs. Although, of course, no one's yet had a chance to see the films, so the discussion is a little unreal.

Avery Crounse, the writer-director of "Sister Island," made the well-received "Eyes of Fire" in 1984 and is also a still photographer featured in a PBS documentary. In "Sister Island", his third feature, he uses a natural disaster as the starting point for his story.

"The story," says the very laid-back Crounse, "is about a mysterious young girl (played by Crounse's 16-year-old daughter Erin Buchanan) "who's found in the wake of Hurricane Camille on a remote island off the shores of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, unable to speak and traumatized. The woman doctor who finds her attempts to find out who she is." Crounse said he was attracted to the theme of social isolation, adding laconically that it was probably something he had experienced himself.

Discussing how he created hurricane sequences on a $1 million budget, Crounse, says "The trick is instead of bringing water to the set, you bring the set to the water. We had 10,000 gallons of water in aluminum cauldrons and whipped it up with industrial fans."

"Sister Island" is being screened later in the week, but this evening Dan Zukovic's first feature. "The Last Big Thing" plays in Boca. The Vancouver-born, LA-based 35-year-old actor wrote, directed and also stars as Simon Geist. Tall and stiff, with dark eyes and hair, Zukovice plays Geist with a burning, obsessed look and a wacky intensity that befits the leader of a cult group.

Like many young Canadian filmmakers, Zukovic, who's a fan of Atom Egoyan, pays close attention to mise-en-scene and art direction and goes for a stylized, slightly futuristic LA look that's reminiscent of the photos of Ed Ruscha. Much of the story is set in a abstract desert suburb 30 minutes from LA. One of the film's most ludicrously witty sequences is a music video shot from a hole in the Mojave desert.

Amongst other pop culture phenomena, Geist heckles stand-up comics. His rap is self-consciously academic and for the most part, funny, though there's quite a bit of undigested self-parody, and sometimes his targets aren't specific enough. As a cultural terrorist who poses as a magazine publisher, Geist goes around LA doing mock interviews with wannabe celebrities but gets caught when a Belgian techno rock band he interviews realize there's no tape in the recorder and get their revenge. Performances by other cast members, in particular Geist's girl-friend Darla (Susan Heimbinder) are refreshingly warm and appealing.

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