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From Charlie Chaplin to Charles Laughton to John Cassavetes, the actor-turned-director has long been a potent force in independent cinema. Film savvy and possessing of strong personal visions, the best actor-directors have, in their films, melded a nuanced take on performance with a keen understanding of the unexplored possibilities of cinema.

Of late, the actor-turned-director trend has intensified as cable television has looked to famous actors to direct episodic TV and movies of the week. Many mid-career actors have recently turned to directing as a way of extending their professional film lives. And indeed, some production companies, realizing that famous directors are more promotable than non-famous ones, have offered directing opportunities to a slew of high-profile names. And there's one other reason why financiers are fixated on actor-directors. Because high-profile actors know other high-profile actors, they tend to have their home phone numbers and are more easily able to coax them to be in their movies.

But there still periodically appear the best kind of actor-director movies, the kind in which an actor's screen presence and directing style merge into a singular cinematic vision. We're not talking here about the occasional Hollywood blockbuster directed by a major star in which personal megalomania conflates with the cinematic kind. Instead, we're talking about films like the work of Takeshi Kitano, whose laconic, deadpan mixture of comedy and melancholic violence arrives in America this Spring in Sonatine and Hana-Bi. And we're talking about films like this issue's dual cover stories, Robert Duvall's The Apostle and Vincent Gallo's Buffalo 66.

In The Apostle, the veteran actor returns to the directors' chair with a film that views evangelical religion as both a particularly American form of entertainment as well as a paradoxical arena for inquiry into the soul. The film owes much of its power to Duvall's discrete and observational direction as well his flashy star turn as the eponymous preacher. The film's rare achievement is its ability to give us the pleasures of such a show-stopping performance while also allowing us the critical space to examine the social, racial, and political issues the story raises.

A couple generations away from Duvall is Vincent Gallo, who has brought both an odd intensity and a disarming vulnerability to his various acting roles over the years. Manic as the over-the-top movie fan in Emir Kusturica's Arizona Dream, quietly moral in Abel Ferrara's The Funeral, and goofily charming in Alan Taylor's Palookaville, Gallo has always refused easy typecasting. With Buffalo 66, his directorial debut, Gallo ups his own aesthetic risk factor with a defiantly personal work that is at times reminiscent of '60s and '70s classics like Mickey One and Two Lane Blacktop while it also boasts an up-to-the-minute sense of cinematic experimentalism. Special thanks to photographers Grant Delin and Richard Kern for their striking cover portraits of these two director-writer-stars.

Our piece on Buffalo 66, which arrives in theaters this Spring from CFP, is the centerpiece of our larger-than-ever, 43-page Sundance preview. Also in this issue is David Geffner's look at distant location shooting, Liane Bonin's dissection of the most annoying mistakes found in indie films, and the first part of an occasional series on new distributors entering the theatrical arena.

See you next issue,

Scott Macaulay


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