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New York Times Arts and Leisure Weekend Begins On Friday

Tuesday, January 2----The New York Times Arts and Leisure Weekend, which begins this coming Friday, is fast becoming one of New York’s most anticipated cultural events of the new year. With a mix of discussions, panels, concert performances and other delights in the fields of theater, dance, film and music, the Weekend is bringing a post-Holidays lift to the Big Apple.

The Arts and Leisure Weekend will present several film programs….a combination of screenings of some of the year’s most celebrated films, with talent attached to discuss the origins of the projects, to sneak previews of films not yet in theaters. All films will be screened at the ImaginAsian Theater on East 59 Street in New York City. With 11 films spread over the January 5 to 7 weekend dates, it promises to be a very pleasing marathon of past favorites and films that will lead the pack in 2007.

The series’ sneak previews, entitled Coming Attractions, includes four films. On Friday, January 5th, the series opens with a special sneak preview of the sophisticated romantic comedy GRAY MATTERS, produced by the Yari Film Group, the company behind last year’s Oscar winner CRASH and this year’s indie hit THE ILLUSIONIST. This comedy about love, life and being true to oneself is set in a glittering New York City, with bantering dialogue reminiscent of a 1940s classic and the panache of a designer fashion show. The film stars Heather Graham, Thomas Cavanagh and Bridget Moynahan, with supporting roles played by Sissy Spacek, Molly Shannon, Alan Cumming and Gloria Gaynor. The film is scheduled to open, appropriately enough, on Valentine’s Day.

On Sunday, January 7th, three films will be showcased that are sure to be among the most interesting of the new film season. The touching romantic comedy CATCH AND RELEASE, which will appear in theaters later in January from Columbia Pictures, stars Jennifer Garner (ALIAS) and Timothy Olyphant (DEADWOOD) as two people thrown together by a not-so-simple twist of fate. They find love unexpectedly entering their lives at the most inopportune moment. Newcomer Susannah Grant wrote and directed this pleasing tale of love when one least expects it.

Fox Searchlight, which has been on a roll this year with such hits as LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, has a sneak preview of its newest film, THE NAMESAKE. In this cross-cultural drama, an Indian family moves from Calcutta to New York, beginning a lifelong balancing act to meld into a new world without forgetting the old. The film contrasts the stories of the parents, who long for the family and culture that enveloped them in India, and their son, who is torn between finding his own unique identity without losing his heritage.

In the contemporary urban drama FREEDOM WRITERS, Oscar winner Hilary Swanks plays a dedicated teacher, who inspires a group of rough Long Beach, California teenagers to find their own voice. Inspired by a true story that took place in Los Angeles following the racial riots of the 1990s, the film is an inspirational drama about how the dedication of teachers (surely our most undervalued professionals) can make in the lives of young people who might otherwise be lost to urban poverty, ignorance and racial divides. Paramount Pictures will release the film in mid January.

The screening program also includes the presentation of several current films, with talents attached for question and answer sessions after the screenings. Films include THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, starring two-time Academy Award winner Meryl Streep as high-powered fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly, who instructs her charge Anne Hathaway in the ways of the fashion world; current box office champ THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS, starring Will Smith in the best reviewed performance of his career as a bright, talented and marginally employed salesman who is struggling to make ends meet; AKEELAH AND THE BEE, an inspirational drama about a black teenager whose dream of winning a national spelling bee contest unites her neighborhood and provides an inspiration to the audience as well; BABEL, the multi-character zeitgeist drama, with producer Jon Kilik answering questions after the screening; BORAT, the Sacha Baron Cohen laughfest; the certifiable indie hit of the year LITTE MISS SUNSHINE, with producers Peter Saraf and Jeb Brody available for a post-screening q+a; and NOTES ON A SCANDAL, the high-wire drama teaming of Dame Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, with co-star Bill Nighy (currently on Broadway in David Hare’s THE VERTICAL HOUR) answering questions.

Other film-related events for the New York Times Arts and Leisure Weekend include interviews with Oscar-bound actor Forest Whitaker; a panel on the state of indie film with filmmakers Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris and Catherine Hardwicke; a survey of contemporary film criticism with leading film critics David Edelstein, Nathan Lee, Wesley Morris and Lisa Schwarzbaum; and a survey of the dominance of the documentary, with non-fiction filmmakers Robert Greenwald, Jehane Noujaim, Danny Schechter and Morgan Spurlock.

Sandy Mandelberger
Film New York Editor

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The Ultimate Guide to the New York Film, Video and New Media Scene.

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