A busy May for Levinson

The Baltimore Sun

Native son Barry Levinson will introduce the opening-night shorts program of the Maryland Film Festival on May 1, and on May 26 (according to trade reports) screen his latest picture, What Just Happened?, a comedy-drama about a Hollywood producer played by Robert De Niro, as the Cannes Film Festival's closing night attraction.

Maryland festival director Jed Dietz said in an e-mail yesterday, "Barry launched the first MFF Opening Night 10 years ago, so it's especially great he will host our Opening Night short filmmakers next week -- opening our 10th festival, and closing Cannes in the space of a few weeks seems like a perfect expression of Barry's appetite for all parts of the movie art form."

And TV art form, too: Between Maryland and Cannes, Levinson will be in Budapest shooting the pilot of a new television version of The Saint, moodier and darker than the Roger Moore TV series, starring James Purefoy -- Mark Antony of HBO's Rome -- as roguish adventurer Simon Templar.

Entertainment pundits have viewed the Cannes date as a rare chance to reposition an independent film that didn't generate desired industry excitement when it screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

But Levinson dispelled that notion over the phone from Connecticut on Monday, saying that the production company, 2929 Productions (co-founded by Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner), always viewed Cannes as a venue to build up awareness for its film in foreign territories.

"Because 2929 didn't get a deal they liked at Sundance," says Levinson, "doesn't mean the movie was going to be on the shelf and not be seen; 2929 has its own [domestic distribution company] Magnolia Pictures."

In What Just Happened?, De Niro plays a quality producer in crisis mode, handling temperamental co-workers (including Bruce Willis as himself) and demanding higher-ups (including Catherine Keener as a studio boss) while struggling to make sense of his personal life. (Robin Wright Penn plays his most recent ex-wife; Sean Penn plays the star of a movie-within-the-movie.) The idea that the movie is too "inside" amuses Levinson.

"What I've heard," he says, "is that some studio people view it as a personal attack: You can make fun of writers, directors, actors, but not them." Levinson says the film has played well in a mall in Paramus, N.J., at the AFI Dallas International Film Festival and even to audiences at Sundance.

He's confident that they'll get it at Cannes, too. The plot depends on readying a film for Cannes -- and climaxes with its debut at the festival. Audiences there may experience the film in existential 3-D.


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