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Aronofsky talks about the making of The Fountain

by Mark Burger

Having scored with Pi and the adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.’s Requiem for a Dream, filmmaker Darren Aronofsky tackled his biggest, most personal project to date with The Fountain, written and directed by Aronofsky from a story he wrote with long-time friend Ari Handel.

The Fountain (see DVD review, page 47), which was released theatrically last November and is now available on DVD from Warner Home Video, was not a box-office success but inspired an immediate following among sci-fi and fantasy fans.

Starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, The Fountain is a three-tiered story that depicts the passionate romance between the two leads – in three different eras, and in three different incarnations.

“I always wanted to make a banana split – and not just one flavor,” Aronofsky recalls with a laugh. “It’s a very personal film. It was a little bit outside the box, [encompassing] three genres – a big Mayan action story, a big sweeping love story, and a psychedelic science-fiction story.”

Each storyline of the film runs parallel throughout the narrative, ultimately intersecting as it depicts the efforts of one man (Jackman) to save his beloved (Weisz) from impending death – never to fully come to terms with her loss.

During the film’s lengthy pre-production, both of Aronofsky’s parents fell ill with cancer, lending an eerie immediacy to the film’s themes.

“It opened up my understanding about those issues,” Aronofsky says. “Losing someone close, or the threat of that, awakens all of these issues of mortality – which I had never confronted before.” (Both parents, adds Aronofsky, are in remission and doing fine.)

With a script in place, the real battle began.

“Getting to the starting line was a real war,” Aronofsky says. “It took lots of persistence and trials and tribulations.”

Locking down a leading lady for the film proved easier than a male lead. In real life, Aronofsky and Weisz are engaged and became parents of a son, Henry, in May 2006.

For more than a year, Brad Pitt was involved in the project – working closely with Aronofsky on further honing the script. Then, when Pitt passed, it made headlines in the Hollywood trades – right around the same time that Weisz was winning an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for The Constant Gardener.

Not long after, Aronofsky saw Hugh Jackman in his Tony Award-winning role as Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz. They met backstage, exchanged pleasantries, and Aronofsky handed him his script to The Fountain. Jackman not only promised to read it that night, but made good on his word.

“It kept him awake,” Aronofsky recalls. “He realized he was really into the ideas, and he’d thought about it.”

That was enough to score Jackman, and that was enough to push the film forward.

“Had Brad Pitt done it, it would’ve been a much different movie,” Aronofsky says.

Having graduated from a $60,000 budget for Pi to an estimated $35 million for The Fountain, Aronofsky says that his approach to filmmaking has not changed.

“It’s always about getting every single dime out of the budget,” he says. “The filmmaking itself is basically the same. A movie becomes the actors,” observes Aronofsky. “Their emotions are what’s on the screen. If I were a painter, they are the colors. Both are really serious, very dedicated actors, so it was a pleasure. They’re both very generous.”

Prior to The Fountain, Aronofsky was in the running – in a major way – to direct the next Batman movie for Warner Bros. In the end, however, Christopher Nolan (Memento), directed what would become Batman Begins.

“I liked it,” Aronofsky says of Nolan’s film, and had no problem about walking away from the project. After all, he adds in a mock whisper, “What I was really trying to do was to make The Fountain.”

This Thursday, the 12th Annual North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival kicks off at the Carolina Theatre in Durham.

Since its inception, the NCGLFF has endeavored to present a wide variety (1,000 and counting) of feature films, shorts and documentaries which examine gay and lesbian life the world over.

When people claim that Brokeback Mountain was some sort of landmark in gay cinema, remember that Brokeback Mountain came out two years ago – and the NCGLFF was already 10 years old.

Named by the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau as a “Signature Event for Durham” – the bureau’s highest honor, didn’t you know – the festival celebrates cinematic and cultural diversity.

This year’s event, which runs through Sunday, includes films from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Taiwan, Israel, Iceland, Spain and Canada. In total, the 12th Annual North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival boasts 76 films, including two world premieres and 72 North Carolina premieres.

Pratibha Parmar’s acclaimed Nina’s Heavenly Delights, starring Laura Fraser and Shelley Conn (as “Nina”), will be the Women’s Centerpiece presentation. The Men’s Centerpiece presentation will be Carlos Portugal’s Latin-themed romantic comedy East Side Story, starring Luis Accinelli and Rene Alvarado. The Women’s Opening Night film is Anthony Cardarella’s What’s Up, Scarlet? with Sally Kirkland, Jere Burns and the always-welcome Carmen Argenziano. The Men’s Opening Night film is Casper Andreas’ award-winning comedy A Four Letter Word. (I’m not sure what the four-letter word is, but I know I use a lot of them on a daily basis.)

Individual tickets are $8, and ticket five-packs are $35. The Carolina Theatre box office is located at 309 W. Morgan St. The box office phone number is 919.560.3030 and the website is carolinatheatre.org. If that’s not enough for you, you can also obtain more information about the festival at festivals.carolinatheatre.org/ncglff or check out its official MySpace page at myspace.com/ncglff.

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