September 4, 2004
New York Newsday
Sayles to screen new film in upstate hometown
By Michael Virtanen
Associated Press Writer
SCHENECTADY, N.Y. – Filmmaker John Sayles plans to return to his upstate hometown for an early screening of the political satire Silver City on Sept. 18, and its release in election season is no accident.
The movie concerns Dickie Pilager, candidate for Colorado governor, and a corpse that turns up during a political outing. Advance notices have made comparisons to Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911, the independent documentary critical of the Bush administration and the Iraq war.
"It certainly has some of the same aim, which is to get people speaking about connections between things as they go in to vote in whatever race, including races I know nothing about," Sayles said. "It's a murder mystery as well, and it's a movie movie, a fiction movie, not a documentary."
It also has Bush in its sights. The neophyte candidate Pilager is prone to misspeak, has politicians in the family and a lot of corporate money behind him.
"He's pretty much based on George Bush when he ran for governor of Texas the first time," said screenwriter and director Sayles. "You get the feeling the backers found the candidate rather than the candidate found the backers."
The 53-year-old independent filmmaker's 15th movie will open in about 25 cities and 60 screens Sept. 17, probably twice that the second week. "It's a bit more than usual," he said last week, though far from the 2,000 or 3,000 screens for a studio release.
"It's still a very low-budget movie," Sayles said. The cast includes Oscar winner Chris Cooper as Pilager, plus Kris Kristofferson, Daryl Hannah, Richard Dreyfuss and Mary Kay Place.
On Sept. 18, Proctor's Theatre in Schenectady is hosting a screening after discussions by Sayles and partner Maggie Renzi on the connection between independent filmmaking and politics. The theater scheduled four of his other films in the week before.
The 78-year-old downtown theater also is establishing a regional entertainment hall of fame with Sayles as its first inductee, Proctor's spokeswoman Kathy Jarvis said. Democratic Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton will give Sayles the key to the city, she said, and the fine arts wing of the high school will be named for him.
A post-screening party with Sayles and the other events are fund-raisers for the theater, now undergoing renovation with major expansion planned that officials hope will revive the Rust Belt city's downtown.
City Democrats plan to hold a fund-raiser as well at the Parker Inn next door and expect Sayles and Renzi to stop by, Jarvis said.
After growing up in Schenectady, Sayles attended Williams College. He appeared in school plays and summer stock. In the 1970s, he published two novels and a short story collection and worked as a screenwriter for Roger Corman. The screenplay for 1980's Return of the Secaucus Seven, about a reunion of '60s activists, won the Los Angeles Film Critics Award.
In 1983, Sayles received a MacArthur Foundation grant. He has acted in two dozen films, including many of his own.
"I've certainly done other political films," Sayles said. "City of Hope was probably the most political of the other ones. Matewan got into the labor politics of the early 1920s. And certainly there is some satire in Return of the Secaucus Seven, although it's kind of about footsoldiers, not about politicians themselves.
"I think it's (Silver City) the first movie that we made that very specifically deals with electoral politics."
When asked, Sayles recalled being an independent but voting for George McGovern for president in 1972, despite suspicions many people held about the Democratic Party machinery that had made Hubert Humphrey its candidate four years earlier.
He also recalled the late Rep. Sam Stratton, longtime Democratic congressman from Schenectady and father of the current mayor, as someone his father knew a little and admired for being straightforward.
"We lived in upstate New York so it was a place where a lot of people voted Democratic in presidential elections," he said, "and voted for Nelson Rockefeller for governor."