WHEN PETER RIEGERT failed to attract a major distributor for his film "King of the Corner," he decided to take it on the road himself. So far he has taken the film to theaters in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, San Diego, Los Angeles and St. Louis, among other cities. He pays for the advertising, not to mention his plane fare, hotels and food.
"I'm doing exactly what a $90 million movie would do," Riegert says. "It's just I have less money."
Which is why you'll find him at Landmark's E Street Cinema this weekend, attending all the "King of the Corner" screenings.
Riegert allows that "King of the Corner," based on co-writer Gerald Shapiro's short story collection, "Bad Jews and Other Stories," isn't for everyone. (See review on Page 40.) It's "about averageness and the drama that comes out of averageness . . . how we are the architects of our own trouble and how it happens gradually in ways that are almost anti-dramatic."
On the one hand, Riegert says, "I was unlucky not to get a good distributor, but on the other, this has been such an extraordinary experience, I'm almost glad I didn't."
The reason: "I got to learn from the American audience. Hearing what it is they're not getting. These are audiences, 35 to 40, an older demographic that controls seven to 10 trillion dollars. And the producers and distributors have convinced themselves this group doesn't go to the movies."
Riegert disagrees and points to "March of the Penguins," the flipper-friendly documentary whose runaway box office take ($70.5 million and counting) "tells me more about the audience than the wonders of penguins."
With this almost door-to-door travel across the country, does he tell his audiences he feels like Willy Loman?
"I've been using Jack Kerouac."
For more information about the film, visit www.kingofthecornerfilm.com.
"A History of Violence," the new movie by David Cronenberg (see review on Page 40) that opens Friday, has been attracting high praise at such festivals as Cannes and Toronto. A seemingly straightforward melodrama about Tom (played by Viggo Mortensen), the owner of a small-town diner who is called upon to protect his family with guns blazing, it's really about thematic "undercurrents," Cronenberg says.
The gangster (Ed Harris) who comes looking for Tom, for instance, is convinced Tom is living under an assumed identity, that he's really an old enemy by another name.
Cronenberg was attracted to the script, he says, because of its theme of living a double life. His 2002 film, "Spider," he points out, "could be put on a double bill" with "History" because it "also deals with the question of identity, a family and a past -- all those things pushing against each other."
The latest film, he continues, poses this question: "Would it be conceivable for someone to spend 20 years as another person and have the energy to continue as someone else? It has obviously been answered: I've read many newspaper accounts in which someone has lived one life with his family and another with a different wife and family. It's demonstrably possible. But in this movie, is it the case or is it not?"
What is it, exactly, about a shadow life that engages him?
"It's one way of examining what the nature of identity is," says Cronenberg. "There's definitely a strong, preformed, genetic component to an individual. But I think we have to reassemble ourselves every morning and remember who and what we are. And when it falls apart, when someone is starting to disintegrate, that's when we see how much energy and willpower it takes to maintain an identity."
Although the movie is violent, Cronenberg's intentions are not to titillate.
"I'm basically setting it up so the audience will be compliant in the violence. So it seems justifiable and even heroic. But I show the physical aftermath, too. So now, the audience has to say, 'If I can applaud this, can I applaud that?' "
The ultimate moral test of the audience, he says, amounts to how many "unrepentant clappers" are sitting there in the dark.
The pursuit of happiness, part of the hallowed language in the Declaration of Independence, is Baltimore filmmaker Lee Boot's theme in the lighthearted, thought-provoking "Euphoria." Moving from urban streets to beaches, from forests to industrial wastelands, and using whimsical sight gags (such as a woman pushing a shopping cart into the sea), he examines all the ways in which we pursue happiness. He also gives a mind-reeling catalogue of facts, ranging from the brain's pleasure centers to our obsession with junk food.
The movie (visit www.theeuphoriaproject.com) is one of six documentaries at the Green Festival, a two-day event at the Washington Convention Center (801 Mount Vernon Pl. NW). It will be shown at 6 on Saturday in Room 4. Hosted by the nonprofit organizations Co-op America and Global Exchange, the festival is a green-thinking cornucopia of businesses, speakers and healthy food.
The other films include Taggart Siegel's "The Real Dirt on Farmer John" (Saturday at 2 on the main stage), about Illinois farmer and artist John Peterson; and Todd Clark's "The Anacostia: Restoring the People's River" (Sunday at 4 in Room 4), produced by the Anacostia Watershed Society. Admission is $15 per day. For more information about the festival and the films, and to reserve tickets, visit www.greenfestivals.com or call 800-584-7336.
SEE THE WORLD AT GOETHE
Walter Ruttmann's 1927 "Berlin, Symphony of a Great City," a silent, image-laden tribute to the German capital, revolutionized the notion of poetic documentaries about cities and inspired others to do the same. Preceded by Joris Ivens's 1929 "Rain," (a melancholy short salute to Amsterdam), "Berlin" screens Monday at 6:30 at the Goethe-Institut (812 Seventh St. NW). The evening is the first of a Monday night series (at 6:30 unless noted) called "Metropolis: Eight Film Portraits of Great Cities."
Through Nov. 21, you'll be able to see non-theatrical and theatrical films about Sao Paulo (Adalberto Kemeny and Rodolfo Rex Lustig's 1929 silent doc "Sao Paulo, A Metropolitan Symphony," Oct. 3), Paris (Nicole Vedres's 1948 doc "Paris 1900," Oct. 17, 4:30 and 6:30); Rome (Roberto Rossellini's 1945 drama "Rome: Open City," Oct. 24); Tokyo (Yasujiro Ozu's 1953 family saga "Tokyo Story," Nov. 7), New York (Martin Scorsese's 19th-century-set epic from 1993 "The Age of Innocence," Nov. 14); and Havana (Fernando Perez's 2003 "Suite Habana," Nov. 21, 4:30 and 6:30). Admission is $6 ($4 for seniors). Tickets can be bought at the institute or online at www.boxofficetickets.com/goethe. For more information about the films, visit www.goethe.de/washington or call 202-289-1200.
-- Desson Thomson