- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2007

Screenwriter Mike White serves up two kinds of movies. Sometimes, he gives us 2005’s “School of Rock” or last year’s “Nacho Libre,” accessible, often hilarious romps with a slightly subversive bent.

He’s also known for less mainstream fare, like 2000’s “Chuck & Buck” and 2002’s “The Good Girl.”

Spend a few minutes with Mr. White, and it’s clear which movies he prefers.

“When you set out to win a popularity contest, and you win, it’s fun,” Mr. White says of “Rock’s” box office bounty. However, he’d rather take the roller-coaster feedback from his less commercial films.

“Some people find the message inspiring. Some find it disturbing,” Mr. White says. “It makes for a more lively conversation.”

He can expect “Year of the Dog” to provoke plenty of animated chatter.

Mr. White’s latest, for which he steps behind the camera for the first time, follows a single woman named Peggy (Molly Shannon) who falls to pieces when her beloved dog dies. Poor Peggy takes extreme measures to heal her pain, some of which will leave animal rights activists squirming.

“The movie is about how each person finds their own version of what makes them happy” no matter how unconventional, he says.

Mr. White first worked with Miss Shannon on the short-lived Fox series “Cracking Up,” which he wrote. He created “Dog” with the former “Saturday Night Live” standout in mind.

“There’s just something about her that makes me laugh,” says Mr. White, dressed casually in sneakers and a T-shirt.

True to form, Mr. White didn’t write Peggy to play to Miss Shannon’s obvious strengths.

“There’s an inherent sweetness to her, but also a kind of lunacy, too,” he says. “That was right for Peggy.”

“Dog” convinced Mr. White to direct for the first time, even though he’s enjoyed collaborative relationships with the directors shooting his scripts.

“It’s all about the tone, this weird tone I like,” he says. “There were things I wanted to protect about it.”

This isn’t the first time he’s written a project for a specific actor.

Mr. White once lived next door to Jack Black, for whom he wrote “Rock” and “Libre.”

“He would give me scripts to read that he was debating whether to do,” he says, adding that they typically had the portly actor “getting drunk at a frat party and falling through a plate glass window.”

“I thought I should just write something for him that could really show that other side to him,” he says.

Growing up, Mr. White loved dissecting movies with his father.

“I like the idea of movies not just being a source of entertainment but having ideas and being worthy of discussion,” says Mr. White, adding that he was a “weird kid” who would carry around books of Sam Shepard’s plays as a teen.

Anyone who could put Mr. Black in a unitard can’t be a full-blooded intellectual, but he tries to balance his goofy streak with more thoughtful work.

“I don’t wanna take myself too seriously, but I don’t wanna sit at the kiddie table all my life,” he says.

“I want to talk about things that are important to me … it’s a weird mix.”

Christian Toto

France-focused Filmfest

It might not be Cannes, Toronto or Park City. But the District has quite a bit to offer in the way of independent and foreign film. Film buffs are probably never so busy here as they are during Filmfest D.C. The international film festival is going on from now until April 29 at various venues around town.

The 21st incarnation of the festival features more than 80 films and special events, with more than 30 countries represented. For the first time, most screenings will take place in one theater, the recently shuttered cinema at 4000 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

This year’s focus is new films from France. You couldn’t do better than attend the festival’s closing film, “Paris, je t’aime.” This piece, which played at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, features 20 short films by acclaimed directors, all exploring a different neighborhood in the City of Light.

The Coen brothers’ entry, set at the Tuileries metro stop, is almost entirely silent. Steve Buscemi carries the short with his expressive face. Horror master Wes Craven’s entry is surprisingly sweet, its supernatural element a visit from the late wit Oscar Wilde. But the best of the bunch is an insightful look at the French Muslim’s world, from “Bend It Like Beckham” director Gurinder Chadha.

French actress Fanny Ardant, who appears in the film, will introduce it at 3:30 p.m. on April 29 at Regal Gallery Place.

Other notable international films playing include Lars von Trier’s “Boss of It All,” Hal Hartley’s “Fay Grim” and Roberto Benigni’s “The Tiger and the Snow.”

Of course, the District has plenty of homegrown talent, too. Crime novelist George Pelecanos, a writer and producer of HBO’s acclaimed series “The Wire,” talks about the show at Busboys & Poets at noon tomorrow. Busboys also hosts a directors’ roundtable for the festival at 3 p.m. on April 28.

For a full festival schedule and ticket information, visit www.filmfestdc.org.

Kelly Jane Torrance

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