Ive been interested in director Susan Seidelmans career ever since she burst onto the scene in 1985 with Desperately Seeking Susan. The black comedy, starring Madonna in the title role, was a smash hit, even though New Yorker critic Pauline Kael dismissed it as a flat example of New Wave postmodernism.
Seidelmans spotlight began to dim as she went on to deliver disappointing Susan-less films Making Mr. Right and She-Devil come to mind. So Im apprehensive about her latest effort, Gaudi Afternoon, screening at the third annual Lake Placid Film Forum next week. Seidelman will join in panel discussions such as Seriously Funny: Using Comedy as a Means of Social Commentary.
An Adirondack gathering graced by a hip indie aesthetic, the Forum has carved out a niche with thought-provoking seminars and master classes, as opposed to the celebrity-studded press conferences at other festivals. Guests include not just screenwriters, but novelists whose work has been adapted for the movies. In the past Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient) and John Irving (The Cider House Rules) have attended; this year Russell Banks (The Sweet Hereafter) and Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty) represent the literary world.
That is, unless you count John Sayles, the guest of honor at a Saturday night dinner. Although hes authored two novels, Sayles is better known for penning and directing projects like Lone Star. His new venture, Sunshine State, is a meditation on family, hometown roots and Floridas runaway real-estate development. Expect an anti-capitalist but strident-free take on Southern sprawl starring Angela Bassett, Edie Falco and Timothy Hutton.
This year, Lake Placid is a destination for 15 Burlington College students earning three credits each in a course called The Festival Experience. Theyll each keep a log, attend films and discussions, then do a research paper, says Barry Snyder, who heads the schools cinema studies department. Everyones been all abuzz about this.
The academics are likely to bump into other Vermonters in the little Olympic village. Jay Craven of Peacham will show The Year That Trembled and collaborate in a Forum roundtable on Film Financing in Todays World.
Door to Door is in the lineup, but the lead actor part-time Woodbury resident William H. Macy is not expected to be around. He co-wrote this drama about a salesman with cerebral palsy that also features Helen Mirren and Kyra Sedgwick.
When it comes to gab sessions, no one is likely to be tongue-tied at Risky Business: Actors on Acting, with participating thespians like Campbell Scott, Tony Shaloub and Sedgwick, who is married to Kevin Bacon. Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times and Jack Garner of Gannett News Service will be among the journalists on a panel my personal favorite that asks the question: Are Critics an Endangered Species?
Women in the industry will be the subject of a colloquium that includes Seidelman, Joan Micklin Silver (Crossing Delancey), Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) and Jill Hennessy, a former Law & Order prosecutor who now plays a medical examiner on NBCs Crossing Jordan.
Nairs Hysterical Blindness, with Uma Thurman, Gena Rowlands and Juliette Lewis, centers on two New Jersey girls searching for the meaning of life. Shaloub appears in his directorial debut, Made-Up, which examines the nations cultural obsession with youth and beauty. The Seidelman picture, a comic detective story set in Barcelona, has Judy Davis, Marcia Gay Harden and the prolific Juliette Lewis.
Foreign-language fare ranges from the Iranian Secret Ballot to the Chinese Orphan of Anyang to the Inuit Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner, the opening-night presentation about two brothers confronting troublesome neighbors and an evil spirit in their Canadian Eskimo community. In an indigenous mode without subtitles, Sherman Alexies The Business of Fancydancing follows a successful, gay Native American poet going back to his Spokane reservation for the funeral of a childhood friend.
Lake Placid also offers the German narrative film Mostly Martha, as well as the documentaries Sister Helen and Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House. There certainly are plenty of female names in this years titles, but, alas, none of them is a Susan.
The Lake Placid Film Forum is Wednesday through Sunday, June 5-9. Info, www.lakeplacidfilmforum.com or 1-518-576-2063.