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SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL

Putting the 'I' in independent filmmaking

A first-time director and an Oscar-winning actress present very different films.

January 25, 2006|Chris Lee | Special to The Times

PARK CITY, Utah — In the world of independent filmmaking that is the heart of the Sundance Film Festival, consider the story of "Dealbreaker" and "Siren," a sort of "INDIE" versus "indie" tale. One is a 12-minute short co-directed by Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow and a friend, Mary Wigmore, and backed by Glamour magazine and Nokia. The other is a self-financed movie from Michele Fiore-Kaime -- a first-time director, actress and "official Sundance reject."

The movies couldn't be much more different save for the fact that both are showing this week in Park City. "Dealbreaker," an official festival entry, began its Sundance run with a star-studded, classy hors d'oeuvres, open bar, velvet rope premiere on Saturday night. "Siren," a musical drama billed as "The Independent Indie," began screening five times a day last Wednesday in a vacant real estate office.

On a mission

How do you get anyone to watch a movie that didn't make the Sundance cut? The 35-year-old mother of two hit the streets -- handing out fliers on Park City's main drag. A full house means all 26 folding chairs in front of her 92-inch television are filled. At the end of each screening, "Siren's" star hands out her business card, emblazoned with the slogan "Dreams Are Real."

"I'm an official Sundance reject," she said. "But the distributors and producers are here. So I came out, walked up and down Main Street for two days, had the doors slammed in my face. I was just looking for space to show the movie. Everyone said to me, 'You can't come here 10 days before Sundance and set up shop. You can't do this.' "

In the role she wrote for herself, Fiore-Kaime, portrays Storm Fagan, a wife and mother who endures the slings and arrows of music industry skeptics to follow her dreams of rock stardom -- Fiore-Kaime's real childhood dream. A script rewrite was done by Robert Gosnell ("Firewalker"), and a cast that includes Erin Gray ("Buck Rogers in the 25th Century") and Gary Graham ("JAG," "Star Trek: Enterprise") was hired. To raise the film's $1-million budget, Fiore-Kaime and her husband, Nat Kaime, and her mother refinanced their homes and pooled their savings accounts.

"She's so driven I can't ever think about holding her back. I never want to do that," said Kaime, who operates a home healthcare business in Las Vegas with his wife. "When she came here and did this, it was just one of many incredible things that she has done that I couldn't even ponder."

To convincingly portray her stay-at-home mom to diva transformation, Brooklyn, N.Y.-born Fiore-Kaime gained 20 pounds, ballooning to 189 pounds, then lost 30 more in 10 weeks on a diet of roasted chicken and water.

"This is my first time acting," she said, "so it's not like method acting. It's just how I wrote it in the script."

Last week at a midday screening of her film, Fiore-Kaime stood on a chair, reached up and pressed a button on the DVD player. As "Siren" began to play, one of the 12 viewers asked, "Are you the star?"

Glamour shots

On Saturday, less than 500 yards from where "Siren's" 6 p.m. screening was letting out, a well-heeled crowd snaked down a narrow corridor in front of the Spur nightclub and onto Main Street, no doubt hoping to get into Paltrow's premiere party.

Visibly pregnant and dressed in black, she hobnobbed with Sting, his movie producer wife, Trudie Styler, and rocker/filmmaker Donovan Leitch.

Paltrow said she agreed to direct "Dealbreaker" after being prodded by her friend, movie producer Meryl Poster, who serves on the advisory board at Glamour.

"It's a total surprise to me that we're here," Paltrow said. "When I was approached to do this, I thought, 'I'm not so sure.' But I thought, 'If I can do this with my closest friend, Mary, who just graduated from Columbia [University film school], and she knows what she's doing and the technical things I don't know, I'll do it.'

"When I got on set, I was surprised by how much I did know from a technical standpoint, just by osmosis. Just by being on a set since I was 19 years old."

The plot line of "Dealbreaker," the fifth in Glamour'sReel Moments series benefiting the charity Filmaid International, came from a contest in which about 8,000 Glamour readers submitted one-paragraph narratives about their lives. Wigmore and Paltrow co-wrote the comedy, about the dating misadventure of a single New Yorker played by Arija Bareikis.

"The concept was to take our real readers' stories to Hollywood and convert them into films," said Bill Wackermann, Glamour's publisher and "Dealbreaker's" producer. "They're made for women. It's all about empowerment."

Paltrow and Wigmore, who have known one another since they were 4, shot "Dealbreaker" over three days last summer in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

"She's incredibly smart and fun to work with," said Wigmore, who previously co-directed the yoga documentary "Ashtanga, NY" and who, like Paltrow, is blond and blessed with movie star good looks. "We have a longtime friendship, so it was easy to communicate."

Paltrow, whose romantic drama "Sliding Doors" opened Sundance in 1998, said the festival has sentimental value for her.

"If you look at my, ahem, track record," Paltrow said in a gently mocking tone, "I'm an independent film person. I tend to gravitate toward independent film. It's great to be up here."

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