B.C. Scene: Mt. Waddington forms backdrop for Annaud’s true tale of Tibet

Vancouver: When renowned French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud (The Lover, The Bear) was unceremoniously 'kicked out' of India this month - even though he was well into preproduction on his film adaptation of the novel Seven Years In Tibet - Vancouver became...

Vancouver: When renowned French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud (The Lover, The Bear) was unceremoniously ‘kicked out’ of India this month – even though he was well into preproduction on his film adaptation of the novel Seven Years In Tibet – Vancouver became the beneficiary of his misfortune.

Word has it avoiding a potential conflict with the Chinese was behind the Indian government’s ousting of foreign film crews, which also forced a Disney feature about Buddha to relocate to Italy.

Seven Years In Tibet, authored by H. Harrer, is the true story of two Austrians who escaped a pow camp in India during wwii, traversed the Himalayas and wound up in a remote Tibetan community where they befriended an eight-year-old boy who was intrigued by the two westerners. That boy was the Dalai Lama, and that evidently was the beginning of his lifelong friendship and fascination with western culture.

Substantial portions of the film will be shot on Mt. Waddington in b.c. where the geography is similar to the Himalayas and shooting can take place at low elevations which appear to be much higher.

Annaud has shot several films in Vancouver in the past, among them the imax feature Wings Of Courage, currently in release, and raves about the professionalism of local crews. He will be using many of his favorites, including set decorator Jim Erickson, first ad Richard Coleman, wilderness locations specialist Robin Mounsey and production manager Bob Gray (if he can be cajoled out of his early retirement) on the mega-budget epic, which will also shoot in Argentina and Prague.

Production in Vancouver is set to begin in mid-August and run through October. Brad Pitt will star.

No-no’s

The Vancouver indigenous production industry appears to be mired in a perpetual snakes-and-ladders game.

Just a few years ago, the indigenous industry started to leap ahead once again, producing such features as Double Happiness, Tokyo Cowboy, The Burning Season and Margaret’s Museum, along with dramatic tv series like Mom P.I., The Odyssey, Northwood and Madison, which reaped critical and commercial success.

But judging by what’s financed and ready to roll this year, local production is about to start slithering down the board once again.

Earlier this month, two major players in Vancouver’s indigenous community received rejections from Telefilm Canada for production funding for their feature films.

Director Mina Shum and producer Stephen Hegyes were ‘surprised’ to say the least when they received a ‘flat no’ for their teen/ twentysomething-oriented script, All Night Bender. For the duo, this was intended to be a follow-up film to their highly successful, award-winning Double Happiness.

Described by Hegyes as a cross between Before Sunrise and Woody Allen’s Manhattan, Bender takes place over a 12-hour period and is the tale of a young couple who break up one evening, then proceed to spend all-nighters with their respective camps of friends.

Hegyes says the reason Telefilm gave for its rejection was that the script was ‘underdeveloped.’

‘It’s not your standard three-act Canadian film; maybe they didn’t understand it. But excuse me, how many 20-year-olds who could relate to this script do you see working at Telefilm?’ quips Hegyes.

While Telefilm representatives decline to comment on the specifics of any project, John Taylor, director of operations for the Western office, has this to offer:

‘We certainly want to support Mina and Stephen, but we are being very selective in our production funding decisions. We look very carefully at script quality, the track record of the production team, recoupment, our overall risk, and what potential the film will have to be successful in a theatrical release, because as we all know, it’s a very tough business.’

Not one to be deterred by the funding setback, Hegyes says their casting agent in New York remains excited about the project. ‘We’ll see who she comes up with and we’ll go after u.s. distribution. We’ve still got several Canadian distributors with offers,’ he says.

In the meantime, Hegyes and Shum are preparing for the theatrical launch of Double Happiness in Australia and New Zealand. hbo has u.s. television rights.

Producer Nick Orchard’s film Dead Serious, adapted from a Doug Greenall stage play by veteran scripter Ian Weir and to be directed by Gemini winner Brad Turner, was also nixed by Telefilm.

Even though it had received development funding from the agency, ‘in their final analysis, it was deemed more tv movie material than a feature,’ says Orchard.

‘But we’re still hopeful about getting u.s. distribution on the project,’ he says. ‘We’re carrying on with casting; I think that will largely determine whether it ends up going the theatrical or television route.’

On a brighter note, Orchard and his coproducer, Corby Coffin, got the go-ahead from Discovery Channel for a new 13-part half-hour series on astronomy.

Orchard, Coffin and his two hosts/writers/astronomers, Ken Hewitt-White and Eric Dunn, won’t be spending much time in town this summer. They’ll be escaping the smog and city lights to head out on the Cosmic Highway, visiting observatories on remote mountain tops from Hawaii and Australia to the Canary Islands and Chile, coming back down to earth in Penticton, b.c.

The show aims to make intelligible the basic night sky that you and I see from our backyards and balconies.

Production on Cosmic Highway begins this summer. Orchard says they already have three distributors bidding on the series.

Cannes do

Hard Core Logo, the feature filmed in Vancouver and Cache Creek last fall that got director Bruce McDonald (Highway 61, Dance Me Outside) in a wee bit of trouble following a rambunctious wrap party and fracas with locals, has now completed post-production and awaits news on its acceptance to the Cannes Film Festival.

The film about a punk rock group who reunite for one last hurrah was produced by local Christine Haebler and Brian Dennis of Toronto. Vancouver-based Everest Entertainment is distributing.

Director/writer Mark Sawers (Stroke, Hate Mail) is also awaiting word from the Cannes selection committee on his latest low, low-budget feature, So Hard Done By (formerly titled Skyscraper), which shot here last summer in 35mm for a mere $500,000 of privately raised capital.

Starring Taylor Nichols of Barcelona fame and local up-and-comer Laura Harris and shot by dop Greg Middleton, it’s a black comedy about a frustrated novelist who hunkers down in a remote cabin to overcome his writer’s block where he encounters a woman who teaches him what it’s like to become a ‘real writer.’

Producer Tara Cowell-Plain is now hunting down the remaining cash to finish off the final sound mix and answer print. Canadian distribution rights have yet to be finalized.

Pump jockeys

Meanwhile, Vancouver’s service industry continues to pump out the volume. Latest additions to the roster include Mother May I Sleep In Danger, an mow for cbs executive produced by Preston Fisher, which comes to town next month.

Fisher was last in town with White Fang II. Described as a ‘low-rent version of Fear,’ it’s a suspense thriller about a psychotic boyfriend that makes The Wrong Guy look oh so right.

Producer Susie Beugen, a Danielle Steel veteran, along with Bonnie Raskin of l.a.-based Catalyst International Productions, have arrived in town with Forget Me Not, another of your basic murder-mystery/amnesia/evil-sister stories for nbc. Directed by Jack Bender and starring Tiffani-Amber Thiessen of Beverly Hills 90210 fame, local producer/pm David Shepherd will be rolling most of his acfc crew now working with him on The Genius directly onto Forget Me Not to begin preproduction in time for a May 6 shoot.