Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, February 25, 1999

Ian McKellan, right, was nominated for Best Actor
for his portrayal of director James Whale in "Gods and
Monsters." Brendan Fraser plays his gardener.

Art films find
a home at the
art academy

Six lesser-known Oscar-
nominees will show at
the academy's theater

By Tim Ryan


Movie audiences hoping to see the more obscure Oscar-nominated pictures usually have to travel to the mainland, or wait and hope that the films come out on video.

Other than the occasional "art" film shown at Varsity Theater, there are no movie houses in Hawaii for films such as "Gods and Monsters," "Tango," "Central Station" and "Dancemaker." But thanks to the Honolulu Academy of Art's Film Program and its coordinator, Dan Brown, several nominated films -- foreign and domestic -- will be shown in the 292-seat Academy Theatre in March and April.

"Gods and Monsters" -- nominated for Oscars in the best actor (Ian McKellan), supporting actress (Lynn Redgrave) and best adapted screenplay categories -- is the first up, showing March 1-4.

The film, directed by Bill Condon, is about the later days of director James Whale ("Frankenstein"). Openly gay in a closeted era, he abandoned the studio system he felt was too narrow to exploit his talent and was ultimately squelched by the banalities of Hollywood. Brendan Fraser stars as the handsome gardener who serves as his muse and Redgrave as the housekeeper who knows too much.

Brown said the academy is "blessed" that local theater owners -- Consolidated, Wallace and Signature -- don't go after these films. "There are a lot of balls that they drop," he said. "They're an 800-pound gorilla and all we can can do is tap dance around them and pick up those balls."

The film program's mission is to get as many types of films that are not available here, including independent and foreign films, and documentaries.

"We aren't a commercial house looking for a big profit," Brown said. "The academy is service- and community-oriented, so we bring in films that many people want to see here."

But it's not just as simple as calling a distributor and getting a film shipped. Distributors see Hawaii as a very small, not-too-profitable market, so Brown said he has to book films after they have completed the mainland circuit.

"There are several tiers of markets for films, with Los Angeles and New York on the top," Brown said. "Secondary markets include Boston and Chicago; then there's the university markets and finally, Hawaii. They think of us as a beach."

Brown, in his three years as the academy's film coordinator, has worked to develop strong personal relationships with distributors, which in some cases helps speed the process, he said.

"Sometimes so few prints are available, like with 'Tango' and 'Central Station,' that we have to wait down the line because distributors can make more money booking the films on the mainland," he said.

It took Brown more than a year of negotiations and waiting to bring "Central Station" here. In some cases Brown has to wait for the Consolidated, Signature and Wallace movie companies to decide first.

Even when it appears the big boys have rejected a film, they sometimes change their minds at the last moment. That happened last summer with "Wild Man Blues," which Brown had booked. Two weeks before the screening, Consolidated decided to show it here.

"The distributor pulled it from the academy," Brown said.

Seeking legal redress -- despite having a contract -- could have caused future problems with this distributor. "We were left with egg on our face and a hole in our schedule," Brown said.

Demographics of Academy Theatre audiences are "all across the board" depending on the film, though there is a large university base, he said. Audiences are divided 50-50 between members and nonmembers, he said.

The most popular films are the "quirky" independent films; least successful are documentaries, he said.

"What's especially pleasing is the academy is getting new members because of the film program," Brown said. "We're one of the best bargains on the island."

Members receive a film schedule in a newsletter every two months. The general public can get copies at the academy's front desk.

Would a commercial "art" theater be successful in Honolulu? Brown thinks so.

"It would definitely make money, because there's a film community here that hasn't been touched. And it's what this community really needs."

Gods and Monsters

bullet Show times: 7:30 p.m. March 1-3; 1 p.m. March 4
bullet Place: Academy of Arts theater
bullet Tickets: $5 ($3 for members), available at door 30 minutes before show time.
bullet Call: 532-8701
bullet Also: For other movies, see below

Movie line-up

Five other Academy Award-nominated films slated to screen at the Academy Theatre. Admission is $5 general, $3 for members, except where noted:

bullet "Velvet Goldmine": A homage to glam rock, starring Ewan McGregor as a rock star named Curt Wild, remade in the image of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust. Nominated for best costume design. Runs 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. March 19. Admission $6 general, $4 members.

bullet "Affliction": Paul Schrader's film based on the novel by Russell Banks, starring best actor nominee Nick Nolte as a former policeman trying to solve a crime he hopes will redeem his empty life. Also, best supporting actor nominee James Coburn. Runs 7:30 p.m. March 25-26 and 4 p.m. March 28.

bullet "Dancemaker": Nominated as best documentary feature, this film is about choreographer Paul Taylor. Runs 7:30 p.m. April 8-9, and 4 p.m. April 11.

bullet "Central Station": Featuring best actress nominee Fernanda Montenegro. Also nominated as best foreign film. Runs 7:30 p.m. April 26-28 and 1 p.m. April 29

bullet "Tango": Nominated as best foreign language film. Runs 7:30 p.m. April 29, 30 and May 1, and 4 p.m. May 2.

Tickets may be purchased the day of screening at the Academy Box Office at the museum's main entrance on Beretania Street or at the Academy Theatre door on Kinau Street, 30-minutes before show time.

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