Sundance marks upward trajectory for Benzfilm; feature “Polish Bar” slated for fall production

Ben Berkowitz and Ben Redgrave are fresh from a Sundance Film Festival that saw them make strides on their diverse feature projects.

At Sundance they attended the launch party for Duly Noted, Inc., the new Hollywood independent production company founded by Effie T. Brown (Jane Campion’s “In the Cut,” HBO’s “Everyday People”).

Now Brown is producing “Polish Bar” for Berkowitz to direct from a script he wrote with Redgrave. They are co-producing through their Benzfilm Group, with a Chicago shoot slated for this fall.

“Polish Bar” is the story of a young jewelry salesman who moonlights as a strip club DJ and is drawn into the Polish underworld. A 35mm SAG low budget production is planned.

Brown, who has a first-look deal with HBO, is seeking the over-$1 million budget for “Polish Bar” from the cable outlet and other sources.

In November Brown brought on Venice, Calif.-based casting director Monika Mikkelsen (“Nurse Betty,” “Keep Your Distance.”)

“We’ve gotten some of our first choices” for casting interested in the project, Berkowitz said.

“One of the lead actresses has been in huge Hollywood movies, worked with directors like Clint Eastwood and Michael Mann. She was literally our first choice to play the mother in ?Polish Bar.’ She calls us up and tells us ?it’s Mom.'”

“Some of the younger actors we’re talking to are people we’ve liked from Sundance films, working with directors we’ve really admired,” added Berkowitz.

Back at Sundance, the Bens were also pushing Usama Alshaibi’s in-progress doc “Nice Bombs,” which they’re co-producing. “The festival programmers are already excited about this film,” Berkowitz said. He and Redgrave are helping raise funds for the film, and expect to work on distribution and legal issues.

“You don’t want programmers to find out about your film when it’s done,” Redgrave said. “You want them to be tracking you when you’re shooting it.

Benzfilm is also in talks with three gay and lesbian-targeted cable outlets about the TV premiere of “StraightMan”?here!TV, Queer Channel, and Q Television. (Q Television signed a $3.2 million deal in December for broadcast rights for the 2006 Chicago Gay Games.)

“StraightMan”

Berkowitz and Redgrave co-wrote and co-produced the 16mm “StraightMan.” They co-star as an ostensibly heterosexual guy (Redgrave) who falls in love with his roommate (Berkowitz). Berkowitz directed.

“StraightMan” was their 2000 debut feature, and winner of the Grand Jury Prize for best screenplay at Outfest 2000. It’s out on home video through Water Bearer Films, and enjoyed a brief Canadian theatrical run through Vagrant Films.

Benzfilm also co-produced Luis Fernandez de la Reguera’s doc “Rockets Redglare,” about the New York underground icon and sometime film actor. Steve Buscemi was executive producer.

They’re in early development on the forthcoming doc “Black Jews.”

“We want to grow so we can have several projects moving simultaneously,” Redgrave said. “We want to keep building a community here and in New York and L.A. Being based out here in Chicago, to stay alive in the film community it’s really important to remain fresh in people’s minds.”

“We’re not afraid of getting bigger,” Berkowitz commented. “It just has to be on the right terms.”

See www.benzfilm.com.

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