Friday, July 11, 2003

Eric Byler with a poster for his film "Charlotte Sometimes" at Restaurant Row. The movie opens today at Wallace Art House.

It’s Showtime

Local boy Eric Byler is making
a splash in the filmmaking world

Whenever Eric Byler is home in Honolulu, good things seem to happen for him. When his intriguing and complex art film "Charlotte Sometimes" premiered last fall at the Hawaii International Film Festival, visiting critic Roger Ebert was so taken by it that he invited Byler and his party to dinner the very same night of the screening. In fact, Ebert was such a champion of the film that he included it in his annual Overlooked Film Festival, held at the University of Illinois at Urbana this past April. He and other nationally recognized film critics have helped the film do well on the arthouse circuit.

It was also here that Byler heard that his $200,000 film was nominated in two categories at the most recent IFC Independent Spirit Awards in Los Angeles, the Oscar equivalent for independent films. "Charlotte Sometimes" came away without winning either the John Cassavetes Award (given to the best feature made for less than half a million dollars) or the Best Supporting Actress nod (Jacqueline Kim). But Byler said Wednesday that "the reviews in publications people read in Hollywood -- the L.A. Times, Hollywood Reporter and Variety -- have been very strong, and this, coupled with the nominations, is helping me get interviews at the studio level for the first time."

The nomadic Byler, 30, also recently made a successful pitch to Showtime to write and co-produce a dark love story that's part of a four-part omnibus series titled "Infidelity." He expects a fax of his contract (complete with a tidy six-figure sum) to arrive here and to be signed before he goes back to L.A. late next week.

THROUGH ALL THIS -- the struggles with financing, the low-budget filmmaking process, the resulting accolades and occasional ignorant slam, and the constant, wearying travel that has made up the grassroots marketing of "Charlotte Sometimes" since October -- Byler remains steadfast and true to his artistic vision.

"I've been really encouraged by the nominations and awards my film has gotten," he said, "and I'm also glad that other filmmakers have approached me to say they were inspired to tell their stories their own way."

Which, by the way, includes staying away from the narrow ethnic focus that Byler, a Chinese-Caucasian, himself stayed clear of in his own film.

"I feel that the storylines we've adhered to in the three decades of Asian American cinema -- all in the name of addressing issues of history and culture, racism and integration -- have served their purpose, and now represent a shackle, putting ethnicity above anything else we might have to say. It takes the power away from our filmmaking if our artistic choices are always in reaction to what others, and even some in our own community, think is properly Asian American. To truly transcend, we need to investigate themes that go deeper than the color of our skin."

Byler said that one reason his erotic love story has done as well as it has is because of its "universal appeal, found in the particular details of these characters' lives."

That vein of dark eroticism is something Byler plans to continue to mine for his Showtime project. His story involves a love triangle between an Asian American brother and sister, related only through adoption, and the brother's Caucasian fiancée.

"Both live with the sinking suspicion they were destined to be together as lovers, but in a cruel twist, fate has brought them together as brother and sister," he said.

Other scripts, often relating to Hawaii and Asian Americans, have since been sent Byler's way. But it's still his intention to, one day, finally start on the film project that started this whole journey -- "Kealoha: The Loved One," a coming-of-age story about a native Hawaiian girl.

"We're comfortable in our own skin here," he said, "free to explore humanity through ethnicity, rather than ethnicity in and of itself. I know for a fact that if I wasn't raised here, I couldn't have made 'Charlotte Sometimes' the way I did."

"Charlotte Sometimes"

Opening today at Wallace Art House at Restaurant Row (a review of the film is in today's Weekend section)

A Q&A session with Eric Byler, the film's writer and director, will follow tonight's 7:15 screening. There will also be a reception for him from 5 to 7 p.m. at the nearby Meritage restaurant.

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