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On Movies: Austin fete braces for the Philadelphians



By Steven Rea
Inquirer Columnist
Yo, it's a Phillywood moment.

In a couple of weeks, indie filmmakers from Philadelphia will be out in force - and out and about in Austin, Texas - at the 15th annual South by Southwest Film Festival. Running March 7 through 15 in front of the storied SXSW Music Festival, this year's screen program boasts hundreds of features and shorts, and more than a few prominent entries from the buzzing Philly scene.

Anyone who has ambled around South Street, down the streets of Queen Village and the back alleys of Bella Vista, knows the work of Isaiah Zagar: His mosaics - mirror shards, broken china, clay figurines, wine bottles, tiles and bicycle wheels - adorn the exteriors of scores of houses and businesses, and his studio, on the 1000 block of South, has become a tourist destination. Jeremiah Zagar, Isaiah's son, has made a deeply personal documentary, In a Dream, about his father, his father's art, and his father's marriage to Julia Zagar. In a Dream will have its world premiere at SXSW. Check out the trailer, and images from the film, at www.inadreammovie.com.

Fresh from its grand prize win at January's Slamdance Film Festival, The New Year Parade, a fiction feature from Southampton's Tom Quinn, also screens at SXSW. Set against the backdrop of Philly's annual Mummers madness, it's a documentarylike tale of a couple's divorce starring Andrew Conway, Irene Longshore, Greg Lyons, MaryAnn McDonald, Tobias Segal, Jennifer Welsh, and the South Philadelphia String Band.

And Mark Webber's Explicit Ills will also get its world premiere at SXSW, in the narrative feature competition. Per the SXSW program notes: "Young love, drugs and poverty collide in the city of Philadelphia creating a beautiful tale of hope and the power of coming together." Webber, the Philly-based actor making his directing debut, has Paul Dano, Rosario Dawson, Naomie Harris, Lou Taylor Pucci, Frankie Shaw, and Tariq Trotter from the Roots in his cast. Jim Jarmusch, who cast Webber opposite Bill Murray in Broken Flowers, is an executive producer.

Also locally connected, at SXSW:

Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry, a documentary about the late, legendary Honolulu tattoo artist Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins. Erich Weiss directed, and Philly-ite Steven Grasse, of Bikini Bandits infamy and the Gyro Worldwide advertising empire, produced.

"Fish, But No Cigar," an animated short that's been winning notice, and awards, on the festival circuit, hails from Tara White and Pennsylvania State University School of Communications assistant prof Lyn Elliot.

Tilda Swinton, Esq. Supporting-actress Oscar nominee Tilda Swinton says she knew next to nothing about the world of corporate law before being cast as the icy attorney and out-of-her-league villain in Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton.

"I had literally no experience in, and no familiarity with it," says the very British Swinton, interviewed last fall at the Toronto International Film Festival. "I think more than anybody on the entire production, I needed to be convinced that this world really existed. . . .

"I think, frankly, that generally speaking the United States is much more clued-up. Maybe it's to do with Court TV [now called True TV], I don't know. But the man on the street seems, to me, to know more, and understand the jargon, in a way that I still don't understand, even if I had to spout it in the film. I still don't know what discovery means!"

So Swinton went on a few surveillance missions around New York law firms after she won the part, and after having it "banged into my head by Tony Gilroy [that] these worlds exist. . . .

"I saw the suits," she reports, "and I checked the limited choice of jewelry and the choices of hairdo and I kind of got it down from there."

She did, indeed.

Short subjects. Josh Hartnett will play a nameless, vengeful drifter in the "spaghetti-western-samurai-gangster mashup" Bunraku, says Variety. The film, which is being directed by Guy Moshe, will use puppets, CGI, and influences ranging from Japanese puppet theater to German expressionism to video games. . . . Martin Scorsese is on a serious music jag. After directing the 2005 Bob Dylan doc No Direction Home and the coming-in-a-few-weeks Rolling Stones picture Shine a Light, the New York director has said he would turn his attention to the late, great reggae superstar Bob Marley. Son Ziggy Marley will produce the movie bio, which will have a lot of ground to cover: In his 36 years, Marley brought Jamaican music to a global audience, preached the gospel of ganja and Rastafarianism, wrote some undeniable pop/rock classics, and even survived an assassination attempt. Scorsese plans to have the pic ready for release on Feb. 6, 2010 - which would have been Marley's 65th birthday. Marley died from a fast-spreading melanoma. . . . No Country for Old Men's writing/directing sibs, Ethan and Joel Coen, have signed on for another literary adaptation: Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union. The book is a detective story, a murder mystery set in Alaska - but not any Alaska we know. It's an Alaska imagined by Chabon as a kind of northern parallel Israel, where Jewish refugees settled en masse after World War II. No word yet on casting, or even a start date.