Darwin introduced the world to the concept of ‘survival of the fittest.’ Most independent theatrical distributors who bootstrap themselves with their own money don’t make it to ten let alone fifteen years without selling out to Hollywood (Miramax, October) or outside investment sources (Fox/Lorber). Panorama, headed by Stuart Strutin, a veteran of Troma and Vestron’s Lightning Video division, and Steve Florin have beat the odds and have come out on top in 2001 with not one but two critically acclaimed features.
“Lake Boat” (directorial debut of Joe Mantegna, with Charles Durning, Peter Falk, Denis Leary, Robert Forster, Andy Garcia) is David Mamet’s comic play about a grad student who takes a summer job on a Great Lakes freighter to see life through the eyes of his low-brow crew members. Robert Forster’s performance had the press clamoring for an early nomination for Best Supporting Actor in the 2001 Academy Awards. “Diamond Men,” also starring Robert Forster, with Donnie Wahlberg, Bess Armstrong, is about a veteran jewelry salesman breaking in his new replacement who shows him a thing or two about life on the road and introduces him to new tricks of the trade.
Past hits for Panorama include Bryan Singer’s Sundance Grand Jury prizewinner “Public Access” (shrewdly picked up before Singer’s Academy Award win with “The Usual Suspects”), “Bang” (Ash), and John Hickenlooper’s “Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade,” which launched the career of Billy Bob Thornton.
Panorama has never shied away from difficult subject matter, particularly when it comes to documentaries considered akin to box office poison by many distributors and exhibitors. Their carefully constructed grassroots campaigns keyed to individual cities has worked well for them with a number of documentaries. “Salvaged Lives” by Barbara Leibovitz (Annie’s sister), is a powerful look at six hardcore prisoners in the grueling deep-sea salvage training program run out of the Southern California State Prison in Chino. Harriet Wichin’s “Silent Witness” is a harrowing look at the buildings that once housed concentration camp victims at Dachau, Auschwitz and Berlin. Katherine Gilday’s “The Famine Within” is concerned with how consumerism and mass media have created a public obsession with body size and shape which forces women to view their bodies as marketable objects and judge them according to unrealistic standards of an ‘ideal body.’
Current releases include the buzzed about UK thriller “Urban Ghost Story” (Genevieve Jolliffe) is about a poltergeist causing havoc in a high-rise Glasgow tenement featuring Jason Connery. Scott Smith’s “Rollercoaster,” which takes everyone’s fantasy, the takeover of an amusement park for the private enjoyment of yourself and friends, and puts a dark twist on this coming of age story in which five teenagers try to remain as kids while stumbling through the perils of impending adulthood.
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