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Off-Off-Hollywood Conference Showcases Independent Texas Filmmakers BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN N THE HEYDAY of Hollywood hegemony, when a very few studios controlled almost all production, distribution, and exhibition, an independent was a film made by someone else and seen by almost no one. Because of fragmentation and conglomeration in the movie business, studios have ceased to be paramount. Studio drones now have hives of their own, and no company dermatologist can tell them what to do. A big, expensive, and popular movie like Dances With Wolves could be called independent because it was driven by its director, Kevin Costner: and the participation of Orion is almost incidental. You might expect anyone from Spike Lee to Roger Corman to Jonas Mekas at a conference on independent film. Is an independent filmmaker a visual storyteller of modest means but great ambitions, or a painter who regards celluloid as a medium of kinetic doodling? “The best classification is ‘off-Hollywood,'” says writer-director Ken Harrison, who created Ninth Life, one of five features premiering in Austin at the Independent Images Conference April 47. “Ours is off-off-Hollywood.” Off-off-Hollywood sounds like a designer bug repellent, but it is probably an apt description of the quirky, low-budget work screened and discussed during this year’s convocation. The annual event, sponsored by Houston’s Southwest Alternative Media Jonathan Demme, Horton Foote, John Sayles, Bud Shrake, and others were invited to Austin to demonstrate that movies need not cost as much as a B-1 bomber or look as if they are the fifth sequel to a tenth remake. In 1988, Independent Images Conference II was held in Houston and featured Robert Altman with Fool for Love and Sam Grogg with Da. In 1989, it moved to Dallas and featured screenings of Drugstore Cowboy and For All Mankind. After a one-year intermission, it returns to Austin, as Independent Images Conference IV. In, addition to public screenings, the conference includes panel discussions, seminars, and workshops on how to make a movie on a shoestring while going barefoot and how to get it seen once it is made. Among the participants are independent producers, directors, and writers. You can tell that cinema is independent when it allows its writers to sit at the same table, provided they brush their teeth. Observerfilm writer Steven Kellman teaches comparative literature at the University of Texas at San Antonio. 28 APRIL 5, 1991 To Eagle Pennell, who wrote and directed Heart Full of Soul, “an independent is someone who puts it all on the line.” Though they all maintain traditional allegiance to cinema as narrative, each of this year’s four featured filmmakers walks a very different line. ON JOST IS the most accomplished of the bunch, respected enough to have earned a retrospective of his 20 shorts and 13 features at New York’s Museum of Modern Art last January. Part of All the Vermeers in New York is set in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where a successful investment broker named stresses of Wall Street by contemplating the serene beauty of five Vermeer paintings. He an aspiring French actress he gazes at gazing at a Vermeer woman she resembles. They have a date, Anna hustles Mark for $3,000, and Anna returns to France with her roomdies of a brain hemorrhage, declaring his love to Anna’s answering machine from a telephone booth near the Verrheer room of the Met. The story is slight, though you could easily imagine Rob Reiner transforming it into How Mark Met Anna. But what Jost does with the plot is inconceivable apart from the specific visual textures he creates. His camera lingers in excruciatingly long takes on scenes the casual viewer would just as soon depart. He deliberately, whimsically sabotages dramatic structure by diverting our gaze to apparently incidental details. Perhaps the most memorable sequence ignores Mark, Anna, and the other characters entirely in order to track through the pillars and over the marble of a foyer in the Met, caressing the smooth surfaces. All the Vermeers in New York, which opens the Independent Images Conference, has the funky feel of documentary hallucination. Sure Fire, another new Jost work shown at the Austin event, was made in 10 days at a cost of $10,000. Its title might refer as surely to its writer/director/cinematographer/editor as to the salesman/hunter we follow on the screen. Its shooting ratio is, said to have been almost 1:1, which is the mark of either a cinematic master or a maniac. The film begins with a very long take on two men, Wes \(Tom lunch counter discussing business and hunting. It takes Jost’s camera several minutes to move up from the men’s boots to their backs. Wes is a real-estate hustler, akin to Willy ROBERT ZIEBELL Independent Image: From This State I’m In oewfir..t, 42, n,