FILMMAKER MAGAZINE “25 NEW FACES OF INDEPENDENT FILM”
05 Jessica Sharzer
“I started out as an achiever and ended up the class clown,” says Jessica Sharzer, explaining the “weird, winding road” that lead her from the Ph.D. program in Slavic languages and literature at U.C. Berkeley to screenwriting and film directing.
Sharzer was all set for a career in academia until she took a summer film course at New York Film Academy. Realizing then that she was “not meant for academia,” Sharzer left Berkeley and enrolled in NYU Film School. Her career change paid off when, in 2002, she won the school’s prestigious Wasserman Award for her graduate thesis film, The Wormhole. The story of a young boy’s yearning to find a wormhole in the space-time continuum so he can travel through time and prevent the drowning death of his older brother, the film finds emotion and truth within a child’s world while sidestepping obvious sentimentality.
The win at NYU registered Sharzer on the industry radar. She signed with Jason Spitz at Endeavor, moved to L.A. and took meetings. “I was considered for a couple of $10-million to $15-million films,” she says, “but I thought the scripts sucked. I would pitch a take on them that required a rewrite, and these companies didn’t want to hear that. Then I thought, I don’t want my career to end over one movie. I have an opportunity to do something good if I am patient.”
So Sharzer, who credits her work as a documentary editor with sharpening her directing skills, began developing and pitching original material, and just one year after the NYU win she has three projects set up. The first, Pretty Lies, is an original “New England Gothic tale of revenge and loss of innocence” that Sharzer will direct with Dorothy Berwin (The Safety of Objects) producing. And then there’s Speak, a drama based on a book by Laurie Halse Anderson that Sharzer will direct for Showtime.
And finally, Sharzer’s Russian literature background will be put to good use with a project she has set up with producer Kevin Misher (The Scorpion King): an adaptation of Turgenev’s 1860 novel First Love. “Russian literature is this amazing and unexplored wellspring of material for movies,” Sharzer says. “Because old Russian novels were serialized, they are inherently cinematic. They were written with cliffhangers, and there’s so much passion and violence!” – Scott Macaulay
First Run Film Fest digs ‘Wormhole’
‘Sophie’ also takes first place nod, and $10K
By LILY OEI
NYU’s 60th First Run Film Fest wrapped up Monday night with an awards ceremony at the newly renovated Symphony Space. Festival showcases student work at the Tisch School of the Arts’ Kanbar Institute of Film and TV.
Nine helmers picked up the six top prizes, totaling more than $50,000. Each award is presented at both the graduate and undergraduate level.
Among the winners were Jessica Sharzer’s “The Wormhole” and Liat Dahan’s “Climbing Miss Sophie,” first place finishers for the King Family Foundation award, each worth $10,000.
At the graduate level, the Wasserman awards went to John Krokidas for directing (“Slo Mo”) and to Zeke Farrow and Krokidas for writing. The pair shares the graduate writing prize with Sharzer. Dahan picked up the undergraduate directing prize and Jared Micah Herman received the undergrad writing award for “Empty.”
A jury of local industryites selected pics from a pool of 20 finalists. Previous award recipients include Spike Lee, Nancy Savoca and Ang Lee. Winning films will screen in June at the DGA Theater in Los Angeles.
Read the full article here.
Acad singles out student awards
Trophies, medals, cash given to winners
By JILL FEIWELL
HOLLYWOOD — Eleven film students from eight U.S. universities were feted Sunday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ 29th annual Student Academy Awards competish.
Kudos ceremony, held at the Acad’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater, celebrated student filmmaking in four mediums: narrative, animation, documentary and alternative.
While all 11 finalists knew they were awardbound, the level of that award — gold, silver or bronze — was not revealed until the ceremony. Besides trophies, gold medalists receive $5,000, silvers are awarded $3,000, and bronze $2,000.
This year’s winners:
Gold/narrative: “The Wormhole,” Jessica Sharzer, NYU
Silver/narrative: “Barrier Device,” Grace Lee, UCLA
Bronze/narrative: “Sophie,” Helen Haeyoung Lee, U. of Texas at Austin
Read the full article here.
Sundance goes up close and personal
13 of 16 pics in dramatic competish are debuts
By TODD MCCARTHY
“This is the first year when I feel we have films from a real post-9/11 world,” fest director Geoffrey Gilmore noted of the lineup of the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. “Just as we did after the 1950s, we’ve lost a degree of insularity and comfort that we had in the 1990s. The films are not broad or about the big picture, but about the disruption of everyday life, with a search for knowledge and meaning about what’s going on in a specific world, often in an alternate reality.”
As difficult as it is to generalize about a festival culled from 688 submissions to the dramatic competition alone, Gilmore also noted that, after a lull in recent years, the number of entries from black filmmakers and on black-themed subject matter is way up. “We can’t explain it. It’s just there,” he said, pointing to 11 such pictures in the fest that will take place Jan. 15-25 in Park City, Utah.
Otherwise, it will be business pretty much as usual, with 16 films apiece in the dramatic competition (all but three of them first films) and the documentary competition, along with 13 titles in the American Spectrum category, four of them documentaries. (Premieres and entries in the World, Special Screenings, Midnight and other sections will be revealed today.)
As previously announced, the opening-night event will be switched for the first time from Salt Lake City to the Eccles Theater in Park City, with the party to follow at Deer Valley’s Snow Park Lodge. Gilmore explained that the move, the result of talks that have been going on for a couple of years, can partly be explained by the fact that “Park City has grown up a lot. The Olympics marked a big change.”
Gilmore also emphasized that civic leaders have been very much involved in discussions on how to curb what many, including Gilmore himself, last year felt was the unwanted proliferation of non-fest-related partying, promotions, activities and people, factors that at some points made it difficult to even get around in the small mountain community and contributed to a new level of glitzy annoyance.
In the wake of widespread negative reaction to this new surge of Hollywoodization, Gilmore said, “I can’t ban limousines and tell people they can’t come or tell sponsors they can’t rent a space on Main Street.”
What fest administrators can do, however, is to point out that “limousines can barely turn onto Main Street and, without being heavy-handed about it, we can get PR people involved and advise them strongly on how to organize events properly.
“Festivals are such platforms these days for other people’s interests. You go to any major festival in the world — Cannes, Toronto, Sundance — and they’re platforms for so much publicity. Anything is allowable. Park City is a small town, but the Olympics taught the city a lesson: that you have to plan these things and that long-range benefits often outweigh short-term profits.”
Assessing this year’s crop of films, Gilmore noted the ongoing difficulty of defining what exactly constitutes an independent film. “The films are so eclectic, and independence can mean so many different things. The range of films that came out last year was so vast. You’ve got older filmmakers and younger filmmakers, and I think there’s a maturation of our audience that can embrace work that is different, from ‘American Splendor’ and ‘Capturing the Friedmans’ to ‘The Cooler’ and ‘Pieces of April.’ And look at how successful “Lost in Translation’ has been.”
Sundance director of programming John Cooper argued, “The trends may not be apparent on paper. But there are no longer films about loners. It’s dealing with family, the group. There are also films about inner demons and moral quandaries, not so much in black-and-white terms but in shades of gray.”
Gilmore amplified that, stressing, “It’s not as if people are making a harangue or a judgment, but they’re exploring moral and societal issues that deal with the fundamental problems of how people lead their lives. There’s a sense of reflection going on by people not entirely sure of what they know, because they’re not certain of how the world around them functions at this point.”
The number of submissions to the dramatic competition — 688 — was actually down from the 750 assessed for the same category a year ago. All other categories, however, saw increases in submissions: For the docu competition, 541 were sent in, vs. 513 last year; 798 foreign titles were submitted, up from 372 a year ago, while 402 foreign docus applied for slots in the World Documentary category, introduced last year, when 193 films were submitted.
Read the full article here.
Sept 2, 2005
Monday, Sept. 5
Showtime and Lifetime television team up for an unusual simulcast presentation of the well-made and extremely touching drama “Speak,” the story of a high school girl who is traumatized after being the victim of a date rape. Much of the credit goes to Kristen Stewart, who plays the girl in an understated performance that will touch everyone who sees it.
Stewart spends much of the telecast actually speechless, unable, of course, to talk about what happened to her. Raped by a boy in the same high school (the rape scene is shown in flashback) while at a party, Stewart’s character, Melinda, cannot bring herself to tell anyone about the rape, not even her parents. Her mother, Joyce (a wonderful Elizabeth Perkins), naturally thinks her daughter is just acting out ordinary teenage angst, heightened by Melinda’s awkwardness at being a high school freshman. Neither does Melinda tell her friends, who are still angry at her for calling 911 after the incident, because it pretty much ruined the party they all attended.
Scriptors Annie Young Frisbie and Jessica Sharzer (who also directs with great subtlety) take material from the novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and do well by it. “Speak” is really an internal journey of a young woman who reacts with great sensitivity to the world around her, all the while keeping inside a secret that is ripping her apart psychologically and emotionally. Stewart really takes the part and runs with it. She is on-camera nearly every minute of the telefilm and holds it together with great style and panache. She gets great help from Christopher Libertino’s sensitive score and Peter C. Frank’s wonderful editing, which merges the character’s interior and exterior worlds beautifully — a great feat, given that the two are practically symbiotic throughout the movie.
Springfield film nabs Chenoweth
April 26, 2005
Kristin Chenoweth is attached to star as Dusty Springfield for a Universal Pictures biopic of the soul singer. Jessica Sharzer will write and direct the movie, which is being produced by studio-based Marc Platt along with Chenoweth and Untitled Entertainment’s Danielle Thomas (HR 4/21).
Born in Britain as Mary O’Brien in 1939, Springfield became the finest white soul singer of her era, with such hits as “I Only Want to Be With You” and “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself.” In 1969, Springfield released what is widely considered her masterpiece, “Dusty in Memphis,” an album that yielded the classic “Son of a Preacher Man” but was a commercial failure.
The movie will focus primarily on Springfield’s life in the ’60s.