David Giancolahas been creating action and horror movies since the late 1980s without much national fanfare, but the 37-year-old Rutland filmmaker is now in the grip of America's ravenous celebrity culture. He recently became immersed in a tabloid-driven frenzy about the mysterious death of Anna Nicole Smith's 20-year-old son, Daniel, a few days after she gave birth to a baby girl. The former Playboy Playmate invested money and stars in Giancola's latest production, Illegal Aliens, a sci-fi spoof that credits Daniel Smith as associate producer.
"Anna asked me to make a plea for the media to back off until we get a toxicology report," explains Giancola, who served as the primary source for a September 20 New York Post article on the situation. "I tried to honor her wishes on 'Larry King Live,' 'Entertainment Tonight' and the E! channel. I've never been more misquoted in my life. People and InTouch keep calling, so I'm not answering my cellphone anymore."
Giancola is amenable to meeting with Hollywood honchos, however. He flies to California this week to screen the project, which is 90-percent edited, for several major studios that are interested in distributing it. "These are people who wouldn't talk to us about any other movie we've ever done," he notes.
Giancola feels torn between his dual roles as entrepreneur and family friend. "Daniel was a great kid, not a Paris Hilton," he says. "He was here for three-and-a-half weeks a year ago. I later met him and Anna in L.A. repeatedly. She's just distraught. They've sedated her so much that there's memory loss, and she has to be told all over again he's gone."
Infotainment "journalists" are hounding Giancola for a scoop on the untimely demise, the infant's name and competing claims of paternity. Such attention should wane now that Smith attorney Howard Stern - not the radio shock jock - has announced that he fathered the newborn, Dannie Lynn Hope.
If you spot a familiar-looking tall, dark, handsome stranger in Burlington this weekend, it could well be David Strathairn. The Good Night, and Good Luck actor, currently shooting The Spiderwick Chronicles in Québec, will speak at a three-day Champlain College conference called "Facing the Media Crisis." Other luminaries on tap are "Democracy Now" host Amy Goodman, U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders and Middlebury-based author Bill McKibben - featured in John O'Brien's upcoming eco-friendly docudrama, The Green Movie. Go to www.acmecoalition.org  for conference information.
This will be a banner year at the Vermont International Film Festival, from October 11 through 15. For one thing, the annual Burlington event has actual banners to help promote its new Waterfront Theatre location. These 3-by-5-foot flexible vinyl signs depict the Earth reflected in an eyeball, and the official fest subtitle: "Images and Issues of Global Concern." The catchphrase represents VIFF's overarching themes of war & peace, the environment, and human rights & justice.
The 2006 gathering, also booked at the Roxy, offers 126 features, documentaries and shorts from 21 countries. More than two dozen of them originated in Vermont.
"We've got some cutting-edge indies likely to attract a younger crowd not necessarily devoted to the festival mission," says Mira Niagolova, VIFF executive director. "And more than 200 high school students are coming for a special morning show of China Blue, about child labor in a factory that manufactures jeans. I think they'll be able to relate very well. The director will be on hand to answer their questions."
Many filmmakers have signaled their intentions to attend the Green Mountain State extravaganza, in fact. Who wouldn't want to be here during fall foliage season? Then again, visitors probably will remain in dark venues. They'll be watching, among other selections, exposés about capital punishment (In Loving Memory), the beef industry (Frankensteer) and the conflict in Chechnya (Three Comrades).
Luckily, VIFF also plans some lighter fare - I Will Avenge You, Iago is billed as a Woody Allen-esque comedy about actors - and daily live music. More on the fest next week. Meanwhile, check out www.vtiff.org  or call 660-2600 for details.
My September 27 column mis-takenly referred to a film with Helen Mirren previewing at the Key Sunday Cinema Club as Elizabeth. Add the Roman numeral I after that name and you've got the title of an HBO miniseries in which the very same Emmy-winning actress plays the infamous 16th-century monarch. My apologies to Her Royal Highness: In The Queen, a new motion picture by Stephen Frears, the contemporary Elizabeth presumably doesn't behead or disembowel perceived enemies.
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