Fourth annual series unspools Zaillian pic

Variety launched its fourth annual screening series Thursday with an unspooling of Steven Zaillian’s “All the King’s Men” at the ArcLight.

“Tonight is the kickoff of what is to become this ritualistic mating dance that leads up to the Academy Awards,” Variety publisher Charles C. Koones told the aud. “We’ve hopefully created a conversation that lasts for about four months.”

This year’s edition, running through December, will feature 35 films, all followed by a Q&A with filmmakers and thesps; confirmed guests include Al Gore, Pedro Almodovar and Sofia Coppola.

Upcoming films include the latest works by George Clooney, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Angelina Jolie, Beyonce Knowles and Brad Pitt.

Further films will be announced in coming weeks.

All films will be screened at one of three theaters: Pacific’s ArcLight in Hollywood, the Aero in Santa Monica or the Fine Arts Theater in BevHills.

Moderating each evening will be one of Variety’s editors, critics or reporters.

Thursday’s screening was followed by a discussion with “King’s Men” writer-director Zaillian and producers James Carville and Mike Medavoy, moderated by TV critic Brian Lowry.

Zaillian said he made a point of not viewing the Oscar-winning 1949 version of Robert Penn Warren’s book. “I couldn’t figure out an advantage to doing that. In my mind it was a liability. My introduction to this was through the novel. All the images in my mind were from that.”

Carville said, “I hope people enjoyed the previous movie but it doesn’t have anything to do with the current movie. Look, we made ‘Hamlet’ 8 million times, we can make ‘All the King’s Men’ twice!”

Zaillian decided to keep the story in its 1930s setting.

“I would’ve updated it all the way up to today if I could’ve figured out how to do the sequence where Sean (Penn) goes around the state standing on flatbed trucks giving speeches. These days it’s all done on television. That sequence alone was the reason why I felt I couldn’t update it.”

The pic was lensed in Louisiana and the preem will take place Sept. 16 in New Orleans. Carville said the film will give a psychological boost to the area post-Katrina.

For information on this year’s series, visit http://www.varietyscreeningseries.com. The screenings are by invitation only and for Academy and guild members.

(Jill Feiwell and Timothy M. Gray contributed to this report.)

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