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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Enterprising kid gets a break at Sundance

PARK CITY, Utah -- The kid made a deal!

Well, maybe. Faithful readers will recall the persistent Stuart Acher, a 22-year-old Boston film school graduate, who on the opening night of the Sundance Film Festival accosted me with a video, which he freed from the depths of his goosedown vest and pressed upon me with the assurance that he would soon be a great director.

I told him I was not at Sundance to view videos by directors of the future, however great. But a few days later, in the coffee shop of the Yarrow Inn, a voice in my ear advised, "All you have to do is turn around. My movie is on the TV set."


So it was. Acher had persuaded the manager to switch off ESPN and fill the 60-inch screen with his tape, titled "Bobby Loves Mangos." I watched it. What else could I do? I liked it. Maybe he'll make a successful pitch, I mused, and history will be made. After all, even Scorsese was once a kid trying to get his scripts read.

Four days passed. I was back in the Yarrow for a screening. Here came the kid, dialing down the volume on his headset.

"I made a contact!" he said.

"Someone's producing your film?" I asked.

"Not exactly," he said. "But I showed it to a Universal executive, and he says if I come to L.A., he'll introduce me to people. He thinks it could be developed into a viable project!"

"How did he happen to see the video?" I asked.

"I overheard him on his way into a press screening and found out who he was," Acher said. "Then, when I saw him in the coffee shop, I threw the video back onto the TV, and showed him a printout of your article."

His quarry was Ted Perkins, director of international distribution for Universal. I contacted Perkins, who informed me he did indeed believe Acher "could develop a viable feature concept if he broadened the scope of the drama and upped the stakes."

He has already made some suggestions along those lines, Perkins said, adding: "I promised that if he ever comes to L.A., I will recommend him to every agent and manager I know. No doubt his career will take off from there. I hope he gives me a first look on the resulting films!"

The Sundance festival is crawling with kids who have a video in their parka and a script in their jeans. They're all trying to get someone to pay attention. It takes a certain relentlessness.

Perkins added: "Stuart represents the quintessence of what makes the indie sector tick - a drive by creative young people to get noticed, get produced, get taken seriously at all costs. This whole business is built on perseverance. Stuart's got it in spades. His shoestring-budget film is a both a revelation and a warning to Hollywood: Creativity doesn't particularly need to cost a lot of money."


Will Acher make a deal? Will he make the movie? There's more.

"Wanna see another great short?" he asked me.

"You have another one?"

"No, but my friend Kirsten Holly Smith does." He produced a blond from behind a billboard that said, TURN OFF CELL PHONES BEFORE SCREENINGS.

"Hi," Kirsten said. "I star in this movie. It's called 'Isle of Lesbos,' and it's a musical."

"You directed it yourself?"

"No, it was directed by Jeff B. Harmon. He's, like, Bozo's son?"

"She's gonna be a great actress someday," Acher assured me.

"When you get your deal at Universal, will you cast her in 'Bobby Loves Mangos'?" I asked.

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

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