Film Scouts Diaries

1996 USA Film Festival Diaries
All-American Film

by Leslie Rigoulot

April 9, 1996

Opening the USA Film Festival in Dallas will be Charles Matthau's "The Grass Harp". You couldn't ask for a nicer opening because "Grass Harp" is just plain sweet. Matthau will be attending but we aren't sure if any of the ensemble cast that includes Walter Matthau, Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Edward Furlong and Nell Carter will be along.

And Closing Night will be the Southwest Premiere of "Heaven's Prisoners". What can I say about a two hour and thirteen minute movie that features Alec Baldwin in a painful New Orleans accent? Well, you get to see Teri Hatcher naked. That woke up the guys who were starting to doze off through the endless nonsense that passed for plot. As a retired New Orleans policeman, Baldwin is pulled back into a world of violence after he and his wife, Kelly Lynch, rescue a little girl from a sinking airplane. But no one can rescue him from this sinking film. "Heaven's Prisoners" may have been James Lee Burke's best selling mystery novel, but under Phil Joanou's plodding direction, it is guaranteed not to be hot at the box office.

In between, the USA Festival will give honor to Sydney Pollack, with showings of "Out of Africa", "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?", and "The Way We Were". And Academy Award nominee Teri Garr will present Pollack with the Tribute following the screening of "Tootsie". I have to admit that although I'm a fan of movies I didn't know that they have received a total of 47 Oscar nominations. JEEZ, that is a lot of Oscar parties!

One of the Texas-based sure-fire hits at the USA Film Festival in Austin was also one of the big hits of Sundance. After all, a rose is still a rose, a romance is a romance even if it is a lesbian love story. Sisters Julia and Gretchen Dyer have that special shorthand that makes movie-making simpler, and it shows in the direction and screenwriting of "Late Bloomers". School secretary Carly Lumpkin thinks that geometry teacher Dinah Groshardt is having an affair with her algebra-teacher husband. The two women form a fast friendship once the truth is out and friendship gives way to a goofy, but real, romance. The temptation to make a political statement is side-stepped in favor of a warm and witty love story. For Gretchen Dyer it is rewarding to have film festival recognition after the numerous problems associated with making a "lesbian" film. Every request but one was turned down for brand-name product placement. No public high school in Texas wanted to be associated with the subject matter, so the nature of the story was disguised to gain access. But the results are well worth the effort.

For ticket information, call Ticketmaster at 214-647-5700 and for a complete schedule of screenings call the USA Film Festival at 214-821-NEWS.

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