How can a genuine independent cinema assert itself in an industry constantly absorbing and controlling independent outlets?
How can a regional cinema flourish in a monolithic distribution system? How do you preserve a unique voice in a film culture that encourages conformity?
Seattle-based producer and director Rick Stevenson has created more than simply a film with Expiration Date, a sweet black comedy with a romantic heart and a laid-back screwball sensibility. Produced, set and shot in Seattle and financed entirely by investors, the production is his stab at fundamentally rethinking the production and exhibition models of independent cinema. Cast and crew worked for minimum wage and profit participation points and the film is being distributed digitally in a direct relationship with the Landmark Theater chain with no distributor middleman - a rarity even among independent theaters that thrive on alternatives to Hollywood cinema. If it works, he and his investors want to launch a slate of ten more Seattle-based (or at least Seattle-spawned) productions on the same model.
Call him the ambassador for a Seattle film industry. He might sound unrealistically optimistic about his dream, but Stevenson is no naïf. He's been in the business for over 20 years, as an indie producer before the term was in vogue (his credits include Michael Hoffman's Restless Natives and Some Girls), as a studio producer (Crooked Hearts), and as a director with four features and numerous hours of television to his credit. Expiration Date is his fifth feature, and his first production made at home. If he has his way, it won't be his last. "So often we've seen people who have done something great and then move to LA and their source spring dries up. That's why I'm committed to living here and why it was a thrill to finally make a Seattle film, after all this time."
After appearing in eleven film festivals (including a rapturous home-town reception at the Seattle International Film Festival), Expiration Date made its world theatrical debut on July 21 at Seattle's Egyptian Theater. The roll out across the country began in August, using grass roots publicity and advance screenings to spread the word. I was charmed by the odd mix of gallows humor, whimsy and romantic comedy built around a curse that involves a 25th birthday and a fatal collision with a milk truck. Robert A. Guthrie (making his film debut) is unexpectedly winning as the resigned young man working through "Things to do before I die" list with a look of perpetual worry like a cloud over his head. When he crosses paths with a screwball dream girl (Sascha Knopf), a high maintenance goofball and a whirlwind of energy and impulse, he suddenly has reason to live. It's a little awkward and clunky, but the tonal balance is dead on, the offbeat humor is perfectly deadpan and the portrait of Seattle is more than simply charming, it's irresistibly romantic. All this plus a narcoleptic dog named Roadkill.
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