film reporter

Short and sweet works well for New York's flirty dozen

Start spreading the news: Short films are all the rage on the streets of New York.

The format, long celebrated in Europe, is finding a new home stateside thanks to Emmanuel Benbihy's "Cities of Love" short films-turned-feature franchise, which is in the process of wrapping preliminary shooting on its next installment, "New York, I Love You," in the city that never sleeps.

The film, a sort of menage-a-twelve of a dozen short films shot by different directors with a cast list ripped from the VIP section of the yellow pages, might just be changing the filmmaking landscape in this new era of shorter consumer attention spans and shorter gaps in big stars' filming schedules.

The directors film their individual five- to six-minute shorts for two days, then turn over their talent — think Natalie Portman, Kevin Bacon, Orlando Bloom, recent addition Andy Garcia, Julie Christie, Ethan Hawke and other famous friends — to a director of transitions who shoots for a third day with the same actors. The dozen shorts will come together for the 100-minute final product through intertwining transitional sequences and opening and closing segments to give viewers a single narrative experience.

"It's a fragmented vision of life," producer Benbihy says. "In 15 minutes, the spectator can be in a different place with different people speaking a different language. I want to extend the vision of what a film experience can be."

The work-in-progress will wrap shooting in early May before three to four months of editing. "It's a leap of faith," Benbihy says. "We're building a format that takes its final shape little by little."

Adds Marina Grasic, managing partner at Palm Pictures and also a producer on the film: "We've cast as we've gone along. The value of the film has gone up exponentially since we started."

So how did the film's producers manage to pile a dozen of the world's most acclaimed directors and handfuls of in-demand talent into one movie? Simple: Ask them for only two or three days of their time and give them not only an excuse to visit New York but also a chance to work with filmmakers or stars they wouldn't have otherwise.

"There hasn't been a single movie star who hasn't embraced the concept," Grasic says.

But will audiences be caught in traffic trying to navigate the different stories?

"The challenge of the film will be to cut everything together and to find the right order for the segments," Benbihy says. The producer went through 84 cuts of "New York's" mother film, "Paris, je t'aime," before choosing the one that ended up in theaters.

"The challenge of the movie is to create unity with diversity," Benbihy says. Not to mention, he adds, "In an American environment, you have a lot of rules."

Yet despite the obvious cultural differences that come from moving the Europe-based format to the U.S., the short film-turned-feature anthology format has yet to be lost in translation.

"A lot of filmmakers have said to us, 'Can we do another one?' " Grasic says. While the answer was "no" in every language, the directors might get another chance eventually since Benbihy plans take the franchise across the globe.

"We're not sure where we want to go next," he says. "It's all about what is possible."
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