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Payday 

Rivers and Tides lucrative run has helped save the endangered Roxie Cinema

Wednesday, Aug 21 2002
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Rivers and Tides is a sublime study of the artist Andy Goldsworthy, but it has served an equally worthy purpose as a life preserver for the endangered Roxie Cinema. A record-breaking seven-week run (easily the longest in the theater's history) replenished the Roxie's coffers, which had been nearly empty after management got behind in the rent and nearly shut the cinema's doors in April after 26 years. Meanwhile, the acquisition of the film for distribution by the company's Roxie Releasing arm holds the promise of bountiful tidings. Amazingly, the total Bay Area gross for Rivers -- which departs the Roxie on Aug. 27 but remains on screen at the Rafael, Shattuck, and Towne (in San Jose) -- nears $300,000. (By comparison, The Cockettes grossed about $180,000 nationally in double the time.) How close was the Mission District landmark to disaster when the Rivers cash started flowing? "It wasn't the 11th hour," says the Roxie's Elliot Lavine. "It was a fucking minute to midnight."

With its rent now current, the Roxie is investing the windfall prudently. A new calendar hits the streets in early September, featuring a host of revivals (including new prints of Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev and Solaris, as well as the Christmas Day return of Rivers) and rarities carrying into January. Just as crucial, the long-delayed build-out of a screening room in the former Roxie offices is moving ahead. "We are realistically looking at opening the Little Roxie in late September, early October," states Lavine. "There is work going on every single day. But there's still more money needed."

Where will it come from? The first opening of Rivers outside San Francisco -- at the Film Forum in New York -- won't happen until Jan. 2, and Roxie Releasing opted to refrain from booking key markets like Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles until after N.Y. So even if Rivers ends up topping previous million-dollar hits for Releasing, like Vincent and Red Rock West, the money won't arrive until early '03. The Roxie crew, therefore, is betting on Biggie and Tupac, a Nick Broomfield documentary (he made Kurt & Courtney) opening on 16th Street and around the country in late September. "When our distribution arm is doing well, there's more flexibility if we have a couple of weeks at the theater that aren't that great," Lavine notes. These days, that flexibility is a necessity rather than a luxury.

Voyager "This was my master plan -- I never thought it would come true -- that I'd go back to San Francisco with a movie," S.F. State alumna Sandra Nettelbeck confides with pride and amazement. After graduating in 1992, Nettelbeck returned to her native Germany to hone her chops in television. She directed two TV movies, wrote a batch of screenplays, and for the last year has been touring the world with her debut feature, Mostly Martha.

Though S.F. State has a rep as a bastion of experimental filmmaking, Nettelbeck raves about the brass-tacks education she received. "It was wonderful, because the production emphasis was focused on the very practical side of filmmaking," she recalls during a publicity stop at a Union Square hotel. "The diversity of the group was incredible; there were very narrative people and very strange people," she says with a laugh. "Parallel to the production emphasis, I did the screenwriting emphasis, which was classic narrative training. I learned everything that I know about screenwriting there. I'm a totally old-fashioned and classic narrative person, and I would never know how to do anything else."

Back in '92, Nettelbeck took a brief vacation from her new job to return for the S.F. International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, where her short, A Certain Grace, won an audience award. She remembers thinking at the time, "Oh my God, I made the biggest mistake of my life that I left" after graduating. "I was miserable going back to Germany. But it was no mistake, because I knew I would get my shot at directing there." Would she like to shoot a feature in San Francisco? "I'd love to. But I would have to be [living] here again. Since I left, the city has changed a lot, and I don't like to be a tourist in the place where I shoot films." Mostly Martha opens Friday, Aug. 23, at the Clay and the Albany theaters.

A.I. Writer/director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca), a New Zealander who knows well the ways of Hollywood after six years in L.A., was stunned when Coppola nephew Jason Schwartzman showed up to read for a small part in Simone, which opens Aug. 23. "Do not do this," he advised Schwartzman. "Why are you here in my office? There is no role here for you at all, Jason, [you'd be] like a sidekick. You've done Rushmore. Stop it. Go. Leave me alone." Niccol, who used the futuristic Marin Community Center as a Gattaca location and occasionally flies up to see the latest CG breakthrough at ILM, recalls Schwartzman's reply. "'No, no,' he said, "I want to do a scene with Al Pacino. I don't care.' I couldn't get rid of Jason. I still can't."

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Michael Fox

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