Film Festival's Labor Not Lost on Branagh
Providence Journal, June 6 2000
The actor/director's new film,
Love's Labour's Lost , makes its East Coast premiere at the city's
international film festival.
It was a night fit for an Englishman.
And through the bars of a rain, here he came.
Kenneth Branagh stepped out from
beneath his driver's umbrella and under a white tent pitched
on Washington Square, nearly unnoticed. Across the street, a
hundred or more people stood in a wet, shivery line for the chance
to see the East Coast premiere of Love's Labour's Lost .
Branagh, calm and dry in an immaculate
blue suit, sized up the scene.
"You've imported a bit of
English weather, haven't you?" he said to the few people
near him, his British accent serving as introduction. "Coming
over the bridge, my driver said, 'There's Newport.' I said, 'Where?'
"But I hear it's lovely,"
he added. "People do rave about it."
Then he slipped across the street
to the Jane Pickens Theater, where he greeted a sold-out house,
introduced his new movie, and christened the third annual Newport
International Film Festival.
A sprinkle of Hollywood magic
returned to Newport last night, and found a city peering out
from beneath umbrellas and standing stalwart in yellow slickers.
The rain doused any chance of bright lights and top hats, but
the dreary weather did not dampen the spirit of a town excited
to again be part of a show-biz spectacle.
Retired Vice Admiral Thomas Weschler,
the Tall Ships orchestrator, and his wife, Trina, were among
the first to stand in the rain outside the venerable Jane Pickens,
one of the last single-screen movie houses in Rhode Island.
"I'm here because I love
musicals," Trina Weschler said. "And I think this is
going to be lovely -- Shakespeare."
Branagh's latest adaptation of
the Bard's work sets a 400-year-old comedy to Cole Porter and
George Gershwin music in 1930s Europe. The film received chilly
reviews from The Providence Journal and the Associated Press
yesterday morning. But to some of the people waiting in the lamplight,
a work of Branagh could only be art.
"I love his eye. I love
his ear. I love his soul," Maureen Barnes, a Newport screenwriter
and playwright, said of the Irish-born actor.
Barnes, who said she works part
of the year in New York City, marveled to see the spectacle unfolding
in her hometown last night.
"Usually you have to go
to New York to see something like this," she said. "I'm
just thrilled to see anything set in the 1930s. And then Nathan
Lane? How can you lose?"
Lane and the film's other stars
did not attend the premiere, but the city was stardusted with
other theatrical types on the festival's first day.
Two hours before showtime, Tim
Daly sat sipping a soft drink in the lobby of the Viking Hotel,
looking older than his Diner days but as if he just stepped off
the set of Wings.
Daly, who lives in Providence,
praised the festival and criticized what he says was skimpy coverage
by his hometown paper.
"Anytime you have an international
film festival, you're giving yourself an opportunity," he
said. "There's always that chance some work will pop out
and make a splash on a national or international level."
He said unlike large film festivals
such as Sundance, Newport's remains "unadulterated, a true
film festival," where thousands can view films they otherwise
would not see.
Stephen Lang, Daly's costar in
the upcoming fall series The Fugitive , was just returning from
judging one of the afternoon's screenings at the Opera House
Theater, Jane Pickens's smaller neighbor.
"Hard seats, but had a nice
feel to it," he said. "And you know what? It was a
good day for a movie."
Organizers hope to spread that
feeling across the week.
Through Sunday night, the festival
will screen 75 films at the two theaters on historic Washington
Square, the small, lamplit park where Stephen Spielberg filmed
Amistad . The third edition of Newport's ode to cinema drew three
world premieres, some 35 filmmakers, and dozens of people who
help make, create or inspire movies.
Organizers saved the best for
first. With his new movie scheduled to debut nationally Friday,
Branagh was in the midst of a promotional tour and willing to
fly from New York to Providence for a brief visit.
He both directs and stars in
Love's Labour's Lost , much as he directed and starred in Henry
V in 1989, Much Ado About Nothing in 1993 and Hamlet in 1996.
The 600-seat theater was filled
when festival co-founder Christine Schomer introduced "really,
the man responsible for the Shakespeare revival."
Branagh crossed the stage, sparking
an ovation. He complimented Newport, joked about the weather,
and described the difficult task of selling a Shakespeare musical
to Hollywood executives.
"We did have a wonderful
time making it, and I hope it gives you a wonderful time,"
he said. "I can't think of a nicer place for it to be played
than here tonight."
Later, a large crowd attended
the festival's opening night gala at Ochre Court, the Gilded
Age mansion owned by Salve Regina University. Branagh was already
on a plane back to New York.
His movie will show again at
2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets to that and most of the festival's films
are $8 and must be bought at the nearby festival box office,
behind the Colony House at 50 Spring St., or through Ticketron.
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