NJ Film Festival

Mainstream Movies

Venues

Corrections or additions?

This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the

September 5, 2001 edition of U.S. Newspaper. All rights reserved.

At the Movies

D.A. Pennebaker breathed new life into the very

possibility

of documentary film with his 1966 classic "Don’t Look back."

Trailing the 22-year-old Bob Dylan on his seven-city tour across the

U.K. (as he protested "I’m not a folksinger"), Pennebaker

captured a revelatory portrait — both belligerent and uncannily

workmanlike, on a tour that awed audiences and the musician himself

as he took the stage at a sold-out performance at London’s vaunted

Royal Albert Hall.

Over the course of a dazzling career Pennebaker, joined by his wife

Chris Hegedus, has moved seamlessly across the music world, bringing

audiences closer to Janis Joplin, Randy Newman, John Hiatt, Roseanne

Cash, Los Lobos, Laurie Anderson, Soul Asylum, Suzanne Vega, Depeche

Mode — the list goes on. So is it any wonder than the filmmakers

have now turned their lens on the latest new old thing, what Ralph

Stanley calls that "old-time, mountain-style

what-they-call-bluegrass"

music.

"Down From the Mountain," a film by D.A. Pennebaker, Chris

Hegedus, and Nick Doob, produced by Ethan and Joel Coen, and featuring

the musicians from the soundtrack of their latest film "O Brother,

Where Art Thou," opens the fall season of the New Jersey Film

Festival, with screenings Friday September 7, through Sunday,

September

10. The husband-wife team hope to put in an appearance at one of the

three screenings. (Call 732-932-8482 for details.)

Part concert film, part tent-revival, "Down From the Mountain"

follows a cavalcade of traditional acoustic musicians as they gathered

in May, 2000, for a one-night-only festive benefit concert in

Nashville’s

famed Ryman Auditorium. The brainchild of the music-intoxicated Coen

Brothers, with production energy supplied by T-Bone Burnett and Bob

Neuwirth, the film brings forward the faces that match those "O

Brother" voices. And some of them are prettier than the actors

who portray them. We meet these musical families in rehearsal, in

the Green Room, and in a series of complete concert stage numbers.

Ralph Stanley, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Union Station,

Gillian

Welch, David Rawlings, Chris Thomas King, the Cox Family, the Whites,

and the Peasall Sisters girls’ trio are all featured. The film also

serves as a tribute to musician, songwriter, and riverboat pilot,

John Hartford, master of ceremonies for the Ryman concert, who died

of cancer shortly after the completion of the film. Hartford’s

now-classic

"Gentle on My Mind" has been recorded by more than 100

artists,

from Elvis and Sinatra to Lou Rawls and Tammy Wynette. But at this

show he gives a lilting, cheerful rendition of the hobo anthem,

"Big

Rock Candy Mountain."

Among the songs that are original to "Down From the Mountain"

and to its already-popular soundtrack CD are two new songs by Welch

and Rawlings, "My Dear Someone" and "I Want to Sing That

Rock and Roll," as well as the seductive sounds of Chris Thomas

King’s "John Law Burned Down the Liquor Store."

Pennebaker, now in his 70s, met and began collaborating with Chris

Hegedus in 1977. Together they have devoted much of their creative

energies to short and feature-length films about music. The pair

created

a Randy Newman music videos before there were music videos and before

there was MTV. Since those pioneering days, their numerous shared

credits include John Hiatt, Soul Asylum, Suzanne Vega, Victoria

Williams,

and Marti Jones.

In a phone interview from their New York studio, Hegedus

says that her company was brought onto the scene when "O

Brother"

was in its final print review stage. It came about when she and

Pennebaker

ran into Bob Neuwirth, 1960s road manager and friend to Bob Dylan

in "Don’t Look Back," who has remained their friend, too.

"We saw him at the Austin Film Festival and he had heard from

T Bone, who we also know, that the Coens were batting around the idea

of putting on the concert and would we be interested in being

involved,"

she says. "The concert was in May, so we had about a month’s

preparation."

The filming took place over a brief two-and-a-half days when the

musicians

all came together for rehearsals followed by the nighttime

performance.

Eight camera-people are credited for filming "Down from the

Mountain,"

and this, too, took on a festive character.

"We always love to film these musical events, and they’re kind

of an excuse for us to get our friends who are filmmakers to join

us filming what we all love to film the best. These are all filmmakers

in their own right, so the experience was pretty much two different

types of artists meeting each other."

Nick Doob, who has worked with Pennebaker since the early ’70s,

operated

a camera and was the primary editor. All eight shot during the

rehearsals;

Pennebaker, Hegedus, Doob, and Joan Churchill shot the concert.

Meanwhile

the backstage activity was shot by John Paul Pennebaker, Jehane

Noujaim,

and Jim Desmond. Sound recording was by Alan Barker.

"The musical families seem to be very close. And I was so happy

to be introduced to them all. Suzanne Cox’s voice is one of my

favorite

voices ever!"

"We quite often shoot musicians because we love them so much,"

says Hegedus, in a tone of undisguised awe. "What is so

fascinating

about them to me is that they have some quite innate gift that you

cannot pretend. I mean I could probably study to become a doctor or

lawyer, but I could never become a musician. I could never have that

skill. These people are amazing. It’s also amazing to watch the

transformation

that happens when they get on the stage.

"For instance John Hartford carried the event," she continues,

"but when we first met him backstage we could see he was very

sick. We didn’t see how he was going to carry it off. But he looks

almost more beautiful than any of them. When these artists are they’re

doing what they love, it becomes magical."

Family ties are a supreme aspect of the traditional music world,

signaled

here by Coxes, Whites, and Peasalls. But D.A. Pennebaker (known

familiarly

as Penny) is also very much part of a family business. As the father

of eight, all his children have worked with him at one time or

another.

Two are still in the film profession. Frazer Pennebaker has produced

most of Hegedus and Pennebaker’s films, including their most recent

projects, "Startup.Com," "Down from the Mountain,"

and the forthcoming "Only the Strong Survive." John Paul

Pennebaker,

31, is a filmmaker with his own company. Son Kit, 19, is beginning

his sophomore year at NYU Film School. Youngest daughter Jane, at

14, has already appeared on screen as an actress. But right now she

seems singularly uninterested in film.

"I took her with me when we went to show `Startup.com’ at the

2001 Sundance Film Festival. She spent all her time snowboarding and

only attended one screening — mine," says her mother.

"Startup.com,"

chronicling the birth, boom, and bust of a startup company, is doing

well for Hegedus. "The subject is timely, and after the market

had crashed everyone became even more interested. We didn’t believe

it when we were filming. It was like the Gold Rush. And we’re lucky

to have recorded it because it has ended up as a historic record of

a market bubble." The film opens in five theaters in London this

month.

Pennebaker, whose "cinema verite" introduced an altogether

new style of fly-on-wall documentary, takes a slightly more

conventional

tack in "Down From the Mountain." Although there is no

voice-over

narration or interview as such, musicians here do address themselves

and their thoughts to the camera.

"We never think of ourselves as flies!" protests Hegedus.

"Basically we’re asking people to open up their lives to us and

let us witness times of their lives that are very meaningful to them.

But we’re also rooting for the people we’re filming — so we’re

not involved in any kind of adversarial relationship."

She does admit, however, that the term has tended to stick with

Pennebaker

Hegedus productions.

"One of the reasons we get the fly-on-the-wall quality is because

we film in a very small way," she says. "There are essentially

just the two of us. And when you’re camera and director, you can do

what you want. So in Nashville, we could just jump in the car with

Ralph Stanley and go down to the radio station with him. A director

and a producer and a camera crew couldn’t do that."

"Also, shooting on video is recent for our company. It was a lot

more difficult when we were shooting film. Because a lot of the films

we make end up being about people or circumstances that are of

historical

importance, we like to archive them and know that they will last.

So we used film. Now finally the process of transferring from video

to film [for theatrical distribution and archival purposes] has got

technically to the point that it looks pretty good."

Where does the documentary film get made, in the camera or in the

editing, we ask.

"You anticipate a story, but because it’s real life, you never

know what’s going to happen," says Hegedus. "In `Down from

the Mountain’ you know pretty much what the story is going to be like.

But in `The War Room’ [their 1992 Oscar nominated documentary] we

didn’t know we were going to make the story we ended up making. We

thought we were going to make a film about the people who wanted to

be elected president, but we made the story about the people —

George Stephanopoulos and James Carville — who engineered the

election."

Thus documentary film making still keeps veterans on their toes.

"I

always think of it as detective work," says Hegedus. "Finding

the story in real life, then finding it again, and seeing what you

got."

— Nicole Plett

Down from the Mountain, New Jersey Film Festival

Scott Hall, Room 123, College Avenue campus, New Brunswick,

732-932-8482.

Friday through Sunday, September 7 to 9. Directors D.A. Pennebaker

and Chris Hegedus will be present to answer questions at one of the

screenings; call for details.

Top Of Page
NJ Film Festival

Screenings are Fridays through Sunday in Scott Hall, Room 123,

College Avenue campus, near the corner of College Avenue and Hamilton

Street. Thursday screenings are in Loree Hall, Room 024, Douglass

College campus, near the corner of Nichol Avenue and George Street;

with selected free events at Borders Books, Route 18 South, East

Brunswick.

Admission $5; all programs begin at 7 p.m. Call 732-932-8482 or on

the Web at: www.njfilmfest.com.

Sexy Beast, Ben Kingsley plays an aggressive gangster

on the streets of London and the coast of Spain; Jonathan Glazer

directs,

September 14 to 16. Blood of a Poet, this 1930 art film by poet

and writer Jean Cocteau presents the filmmaker as modern poet,

Thursday,

September 20. Amores Perros, set in Mexico City, the stories

of a teenager, a businessman, and an assassin, September 21 to 23.

Beauty and the Beast, Jean Cocteau’s 1946 interpretation

of the classic fairytale, Thursday, September 27.

Top Of Page
Mainstream Movies

Confirm titles with theaters.

America’s Sweethearts. Julia Roberts, John Cusack,

Catherine

Zeta-Jones, and Billy Crystal. AMC, Loews, Regal.

American Outlaws. Based on the true story of Jesse James

and his brother Frank. AMC, Loews, Regal.

American Pie 2. First reunion for high school friends.

AMC, Destinta, Loews, MarketFair, Regal.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Disney’s newest underwater

animated film with voices of Michael J. Fox, James Garner, and Mark

Hamill. AMC, Destinta, Regal.

Bread and Tulips. Silvio Soldini directs film about a

bored housewife who loses her family while on vacation.

Montgomery.

Bubble Boy. The boy born without immunities builds a

bubble

suit to help him travel to search for his girlfriend. AMC,

Destinta,

Loews, MarketFair, Regal .

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Nicolas Cage as the head of

the Italian army occupying a Greek island during World War I. AMC,

Destinta, Loews, MarketFair, Regal .

Cats and Dogs. Alec Baldwin and Susan Sarandon with Mr.

Tinkles, an evil feline, in a film of animation, and puppetry.

AMC.

The Closet. French comedy starring Gerard Depardeiu,

Daniel

Auteuil, and Thierry Lhermitte in a story about an accountant at a

contraceptive manufacturing company. Montgomery.

Curse of the Jade Scorpion. Crime film written, directed,

and starring Woody Allen, with Helen Hunt, Charlize Theron, and Dan

Aykroyd. AMC, Garden, Loews, Montgomery, Regal.

Deep End. Tilda Swinton stars in a drama about a mother

who finds the body of her son’s gay lover on the beach near their

home. AMC, Montgomery, Regal.

Ghost of Mars. Science fiction film about humans living

on Mars in the year 2025. AMC, Destinta, Garden, Loews, Regal.

Ghost World. Terry Zwigoff directs film about teenage

angst and boredom in suburbia. Garden, Montgomery.

Greenfingers. Based on true story about convicts in

England

learning prize-winning gardening techniques in a rehab program.

Montgomery.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. New Jersey duo travel

to Hollywood to profit on movie featuring their comic book

counterparts.

Written and directed by hometown boy, Kevin Smith. AMC, Destinta,

Loews, MarketFair, Regal .

Jeepers Creepers. Gory thriller about teenage encounter

with the unknown written and directed by Victor Salva. AMC,

Destinta,

Loews, MarketFair, Regal .

Jurassic Park III. Sam Neill returns as Dr. Alan Grant.

AMC, Destinta, Loews, Regal.

Legally Blonde. Reese Witherspoon plays a blonde beauty

determined to end to blonde jokes by attending Harvard. AMC,

Regal .

Made. Jon Favreau’s directorial debut featuring himself

and Vince Vaughn as two mobster wannabees traveling from Los Angeles

to New York. AMC.

O. Retelling of Shakespeare’s "Othello," filmed

in 1999 (prior to Columbine), set in a Southern boarding school with

modern language and acts of violence. AMC, Destinta, Loews,

MarketFair,

Regal .

Osmosis Jones. The Farrelly brothers present Chris Rock

as a white blood cell sent to save Bill Murray from a deadly virus.

AMC, Destinta, Regal.

The Others. Nicole Kidman stars in subtle horror story

about the mother of two children who must live in total darkness.

AMC, Destinta, Loews, MarketFair, Regal.

Pearl Harbor. World War II love triangle stars Ben

Affleck,

Josh Hartnett, and Kate Beckinsale. AMC, Destinta, Regal.

Planet of the Apes. Tim Burton tries to improve on Pierre

Boulle’s classic with design, makeup and visual effects. AMC,

Destinta, Loews, Regal .

Princess Diaries. Garry Marshall directs Anne Hathaway,

Julie Andrews, Hector Elizondo, Heather Matarazzo, and Caroline

Goodall

in film about a teen princess. AMC, Destinta, Loews,

MarketFair,

Regal .

Rat Race. John Cleese, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr.,

and Jon Lovitz in a race to win $2 million. AMC, Destinta, Loews,

MarketFair, Regal .

Rush Hour 2. Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker return. AMC,

Destinta, Loews, MarketFair .

Score. Contemporary crime thriller stars Robert De Niro,

Ed Norton, Marlon Brando, and Angela Bassett. AMC, Loews.

Shrek. Mike Myers as the ogre, and Eddie Murphy as the

non-stop talking donkey, and John Lithgow as the villain. AMC,

Regal .

Spy Kids. Spies Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino are

parents to babies who must save the world. AMC, Destinta, Loews,

Regal .

Summer Catch. Vacationing Jessie Biel falls in love with

local guy Freddie Prinze Jr. AMC, Destinta, Loews,

MarketFair,

Regal .

Top Of Page
Venues

AMC Hamilton, Sloan Avenue, I-295 Exit 65-A,

609-890-8307.

24-screen, stadium-seating multiplex. $7 adults; $5 matinees; $5

twilight.

Destinta, 2465 South Broad Street, Hamilton,

609-888-4500.

12-screen. $6.75; $5 matinees.

Garden Theater, 160 Nassau Street, 609-683-7595. Two

screens. $8; $5 seniors & children; and $5 for all shows before 6

p.m.

Loews, Route 1 South, New Brunswick, 732-846-9200.

Stadium-seating.

$8.50; $5.25 matinees.

MarketFair-UA, Route 1 South, 609-520-8700. $7.50

adults; $4.75 matinees.

Montgomery Center Theater, Routes 206 and 518,

609-924-7444. $7 adults; $4.25 matinees.

Regal Cinemas, 319 Route 130 North, East Windsor,

609-371-8473.

Stadium-seating, 15 screens. $7.50; $5.25 matinees.


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