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Cinequest Brands Mavericks

Cinequest Brands Mavericks

Throughout Cinequest 16, Executive Director and Co-founder Halfdan Hussey retold the tale of the maverick. The term originated in the mid-1800s, when any unbranded cow roaming the open range near San Antonio, Texas, was thought to belong to rancher Samuel A. Maverick. Hussey didn’t mention that the cattle had been neglected—hence never branded—and any strays were referred to as “one of Maverick’s” in a pejorative tone.

Over the last 12 days, Cinequest rounded up more than 600 indie filmmakers, spirited actors and Silicon Valley technology innovators in downtown San Jose. They were feted and fed instead of ignored. And they were quick to echo the sentiment William H. Macy expressed at the Saturday press conference: “I like being a Maverick, having that attached to my name.”

A 2003 recipient of a Maverick Spirit Award, Macy was one of the high-profile guests who charmed festival-goers on Saturday, March 11. Describing himself as “the luckiest palooka,” Macy and director Stuart Gordon discussed EDMOND, the controversial dark comedy that David Mamet adapted from his 1982 play.

“A role like this challenges an actor on every level,” Macy said about playing the explosive Edmond Burke. “First of all, the racial hatred is disquieting. The fear, the homosexual panic, the lines are as difficult as I’ve ever done.”

When the audience asked about Mamet’s message, Macy replied that all the scenes felt true to him but “What it all adds up to, I don’t know.” He suggested that anybody is capable of anything under the right circumstances. The sold-out house applauded Macy’s technical chops. The actor made Mamet’s metered speech seem conversational and infused some humanity into a character that many viewers consider repulsive.

In full Maverick mode, Macy also took a swipe at Method actors, stating, “The notion that you become a character is nonsense. The second you start believing you become the character, that’s not acting—that’s mental illness.”

During the press conference preceding his Maverick Spirit Award, Avi Arad, the Chairman and CEO of Marvel Studios, revealed glimmers of the savvy and passion that enabled him to transform comic books into box-office super heroes. Arad noted his winning formula for everything from the SPIDER-MAN and X-MEN franchises to THE HULK and THE FANTASTIC FOUR: “If you have a small character-based movie and add a rollercoaster, then you have a blockbuster.”

Clearly Arad is a keeper of the comic-book flame, expressing his love for the artwork, as well as for “the unique smell and feel” of the printed page. Digital technologies now allow these fantasies to unspool in realistic ways, but Arad insists that first and foremost the script must deal with character and emotions, and directors must work well with actors rather than get caught up in the magic of technology.

On Sunday, Edward James Olmos showed that he could stand and deliver a moving film about the emergence of the Chicano civil rights movement in the late 1960s. He directed and acted in WALKOUT, which is based on the real events surrounding the East L.A. student activists who protested for equal educational opportunities. Ten years ago, Olmos and partner Robert M. Young (ALAMBRISTA! and THE BALLAD OF GREGORIO CORTEZ) found footage that had been suppressed of the police brutally beating the Chicano protesters. This HBO film premiere both dramatizes and includes the startling documentary images.

“Here we are in 2006 and we still have the same problems. Chicano kids need to know what others did to make sacrifices for them,” stated Olmos with son Bodie (both currently in BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and WALKOUT) at his side. “The key to all of this is to educate our minds.”

The audience gave Olmos multiple standing ovations—for WALKOUT (which he also intends to four-wall in theatrical release), his Maverick Spirit Award and his commitment to social justice.

AMERICAN ME might have been the title of Olmos’ directorial debut, but it could also describe the many short films celebrating cultural diversity and often featuring English subtitles. Programmed by Bill Maxey, bilingual American voices popped up in numerous programs and included Coleman Miller’s sidesplitting USO JUSTO / FAIR USE and most of the superb selections in the student competition.

Participants in the Filmmaking and Technology Forums identified some motion picture industry seismic shifts. Jens Michael Hussey, Director of Public Relations, moderated an excellent Day of the Producer panel. Joe Dante (GREMLINS and LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION) observed that this year’s Academy Award nominees were seen by less than 20% of the domestic population, signaling a move away from honoring Hollywood blockbusters. Everyone commented about the democratization of the art form, a concept Francis Coppola articulated in 1991 when referring to a little girl in Ohio and “the great hope is that now these little video recorders are around and people who normally wouldn’t make movies are going to be making them.” But now panelists dare to suggest that creative fundraising, digital technology and new delivery systems may result in more than a revitalized art form and global exposure. Filmmakers may be able to make money while bypassing traditional distribution channels.

Cinequest Co-founder Kathleen Powell and Mike Rabehl, Director of Programming, announced the award winners (see separate listing) before the festival closed with Deepa Mehta’s haunting WATER, a poetic yet highly political statement about India’s widow houses.

Powell pointed out that Cinequest doesn’t really end after a dozen days. Cinequest the Institute brands Mavericks year round.

Susan Tavernetti
Tavernetti is a San Francisco Bay Area journalist

Stuart Gordon and William H. Macy. (Photo credit: Craig vonWaaden)
Maverick Spirit Award recipient Avi Arad. (Photo credit: Craig vonWaaden)
Maverick Spirit Award recipient Edward James Olmos.

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