AFI fetes ‘Fisher’

Oscar-winning thesp's directorial debut finally develops

HOLLYWOOD — Star-helmer Denzel Washington kept his opening remarks brief at the U.S. preem of “Antwone Fisher.” He interrupted a lengthy intro of AFI Fest sponsors by fest director Christian Gaines with a simple “Enjoy the movie everybody.”

Damp weather didn’t stop people from making the trek to the Henry Fonda Theater to toast Washington’s directorial debut, and the affecting bigscreen debut of Derek Luke as the title character.

Fox Searchlight production prexy Peter Rice Washington’s nuanced direction impressed him even more: “The performances are so strong in the silences, and it’s those quiet moments that you can’t see on the page.”

Tale of a young sailor’s triumph over crippling inner demons spawned in an abusive childhood took almost as long to make as Fisher did to grow up, languishing in development for a decade. Joked Joe Pichirallo, the exec responsible for five years of its development at Searchlight: “A lot of times in Hollywood, you start movies before they are ready. Here, you could say we were all really well prepared.”

“Antwone” producer Todd Black called the process “a real lesson in development,” observing that while “I had more hair and it wasn’t gray” when he started on the project, it has steeled his belief that “the good ones always get made — never when you want them to be, but they always get made.”