Making Movies

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PENN alumni will need a large quantity of popcorn to go with all of the new movies created by their classmates. Here’s an undoubtedly incomplete list of current films with Quaker connections:

20 Dates
   It’s hard to feel sorry for 20 Dates director and writer Myles Berkowitz C’81 W’82 as he describes his 12-year struggle to break into the movie business: “I was broke, unemployed and overeducated,” he writes in a recent e-mail to a Penn-alumni group.

“The Wharton newsletter never mentioned me. I was a black mark on the school. I was the only guy to graduate and not make money.” But finally, he came up with an intriguing idea: to create a movie about how he goes on 20 dates in search of a girlfriend. “I know, I know. I was such a great catch. You must be wondering how an unemployed and broke actor/writer could possibly be single. Especially if he went to Penn. Well I was. And I made a comedy about it using real footage from my dates. This isn’t a documentary though. We broke too many rules for that. But we did take 120 hours of real footage into an editing room for a year [and] came up with a fun, screwball romantic comedy. The only rule we followed in the editing room was to go for the jokes. And we did. We also documented single life, dating and guerrilla filmmaking.” Fox Searchlight Pictures is releasing the film, which won the audience award at the 1998 Slamdance Film Festival.

Shores of Twilight
   Efthimios (Timmy) Hatzis C’87 completed his first feature film, Shores of Twilight, which screened at Greece’s Thessaloniki Film Festival in November and won a rave review in Variety — the trade magazine of the movie industry. “The film we made is a unique film,” says Hatzis, who was born in Greece, spent most of his life in the United States and now lives near Athens. “Many people might not get it; a lot of people are deeply moved by it.” Hatzis and co-screenwriter Dimitris Nollas adapted the 19th-century story by Alexandros Papadiamantis in which a young man in a small Greek village is too shy to approach the woman he loves. He flees by boat and a strange wind shipwrecks him. On the island, he encounters three men who spin tales of love lost or delayed. These stories have a profound effect on the man as he returns to his village. Reviewing Shores of Twilight, Variety columnist Philip Kemp writes, “Hatzis’ film has a sense of mythical simplicity. Nothing too dramatic happens — no violence, no tragedy, at most a mood of wry, elegiac regret — and the tone remains relaxed and timeless. There is, though, a quiet humor in the telling.” Hatzis, an ex-physics major who honed his skills through classes in visual communication at the Annenberg School and at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, says the intellectual rigor of Penn helped him understand how people really see, how they “communicate through imagery. Imagery can do one of two things — be therapeutic to a person’s heart or cause chaos. That’s why I’m making movies. To be a garbage collector,” he says without irony. “To be the person who’s going to cleanse your senses … to cleanse your eyes, touch, taste, smell, the whole thing. All of that will help you see a person’s face a lot better. We’re living in times when we don’t stop to look at a person’s face for long. We don’t stop and look deep enough.”

   The O’Connor brothers (Gavin C’91 and Greg C’86) were rewarded with an enthusiastic response to the Sundance Film Festival showing of their drama, which follows a working-class Southern woman and her daughter across the country as the mother tries to flee one failed relationship only to end up in another. Tumbleweeds was shot independently last summer for $850,000 and recently sold to Fine Line Features (a division of Time-Warner). Gavin, formerly an all-Ivy linebacker on Penn’s football team, who wrote and directed the feature, was voted best filmmaker by all of the other filmmakers in the festival; Greg produced the film. New York Post columnist Rod Dreher predicted that the Tony-winning stage actress Janet McTeer — who starred in Tumbleweeds along with Gavin — “could be short-listed for Academy Award consideration by year’s end.”

The Empty Mirror
   Barry Hershey’s fictional study follows Adolf Hitler to his bunker, where he works on his autobiography near the end of World War II. The movie, co-written and directed by Hershey C’64, and starring Norman Rodway, Joel Grey and Camilla Soeberg, was shown at the Cannes International Film Festival, and was due in theaters this spring.

– Doug Morse C’87 contributed to this report.

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