Mt. Lebanon woman makes film here

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When Los Angeles movie producer Dana Jackson had to pick a city for the premiere of her independent movie "Park," she didn't hesitate; she chose her hometown.

The Mt. Lebanon native will have the first theater showing of the movie tomorrow at the SouthSide Works Cinema. It is an adult comedy about 10 people whose paths cross during a lunch hour in an out-of-the-way park in Los Angeles.

"I'm just really excited to be back at home and sharing the movie," said Ms. Jackson, a 1985 graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School.

The movie, which is not rated because it is independently produced, stars William Baldwin, Cheri Oteri and Ricki Lake. It includes story lines about infidelity, nudism, homosexuality and attempted suicide, yet it causes audiences to laugh and it offers a message of redemption for all but one of the characters, the philandering husband played by Mr. Baldwin.

Miss Jackson said the film has been shown at film festivals and appealed to audiences that ranged in age from 17 to 70. "With the multiple story lines there's something that everyone can connect to," she said.

The movie has won various awards, including the Audience Award at the CineVegas Festival in June 2006.

During her years growing up in Mt. Lebanon, Ms. Jackson lived on Morrison Drive, attended Lincoln Elementary, danced as a rockette in the high school marching band, was part of a dance company and performed in school plays and musicals. After graduating from high school, she attended Penn State for a year before transferring to New York University, where she earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Tisch School of the Arts.

Her original goal in college was to produce Broadway and off-Broadway plays. But her focus changed to movies after a classmate asked her to produce her movie for a school project.

After college, Ms. Jackson worked for a publicist in New York City and later moved to Los Angeles and took a job with the William Morris Agency. From there, she joined Castle Rock Entertainment, where she spent five years and rose to director of development. During that time, she worked on dozens of major releases.

Then she went to work as a senior vice president of Hunt/Tavel Productions, a company owned in part by actress Helen Hunt. When she left that firm, it was to start developing independent movies.

The two projects she had in mind were "Park," and "Divorce Mommy Sandwich," a story told through the eyes of a child who has to shuttle back and forth between divorced parents. "It's like this generation's 'Kramer vs. Kramer,' " Miss Jackson said. Both scripts were written by Kurt Voelker, who also directed "Park."

Producing films independently means "we do everything ourselves," Ms. Jackson said. That includes raising the money -- which came at first from family and friends -- and handling the distribution. The movie was shot in just 18 days, which is about one-third of a normal shooting schedule, Ms. Jackson said.

After the Pittsburgh premiere, the movie will open in October in Dallas, Mr. Voelker's hometown, then in November in Los Angeles and in December in New York City. The length of the movie's Pittsburgh run depends on its popularity, Ms. Jackson said. "It could have a really long run if people like it and come to see it," she said.

Ms. Jackson and Mr. Voelker will talk today about their movie-making experience at the University of Pittsburgh, where they are being sponsored by the student film group Pitt in Hollywood. The talk will take place at 3:30 p.m. in room 1700 of Posvar Hall and is open to the public.


Mary Niederberger can be reached at mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1512.


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