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Flick Chick 

Published June 12, 2002 at 4:00 a.m.

The Cannes Film Festival on the French Riviera is renowned for the sometimes outrageous antics of celebrity wannabes, but a low-key gathering in the Adirondacks attracted its fair share of attention-getters this year. Last Thursday’s opening reception at the third annual Lake Placid Film Forum was the setting for some bizarre movie make-believe.

An unsuspecting Burlington College senior named Seth Whittier was accosted by a wild-haired, tattooed stranger wearing a fur vest and billing himself as Thor the Barbarian. “I looked like a Samurai,” explains the skinny 23-year-old, whose own long locks were in a topknot. “He offered me his woman, but I respectfully declined.”

Feigning displeasure, the burly warrior unsheathed his machete and challenged the Queen City lad, who was armed with only a pizza box, to a duel. Thor’s cameraman captured a final shot of Whittier and classmate Nick Wood, 21, running away from the mock encounter. The sequence will be included in the barbarian’s cinema verité production scheduled for later broadcast on his UHF and cable TV shows in Manhattan.

The two Vermonters were among 15 fellow film students from their school frolicking in Lake Placid as part of a three-credit course, “The Festival Experience” — a title that certainly resonated for Whittier and Wood. Other Green Mountain State aficionados in Lake Placid last weekend — Norwich writer-director Nora Jacobson, Burlington activist Robin Lloyd and Rick Winston, who owns the Savoy Theater in Montpelier — missed Thor’s escapade.

In less surreal circumstances on Friday, filmmakers such as Joan Micklin Silver (Crossing Delancey), Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan) and John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) held a panel discussion called “Seriously Funny: Using Comedy as a Means of Social Satire.”

“In the ’70s, there was a sense of being irreverent and anti-establishment,” Mitchell surmised. “In the yuppie ’80s and even more materialistic ’90s, that kind of humor became less fashionable.”

Seidelman — who brought her funny noir-with-a-twist Gaudi Afternoon, to the Forum — praised the golden age of screwball comedies after the Great Depression. “Back then movies were smarter, more verbal and sophisticated,” she added. “Now, Hollywood feels the need to dumb down.”

The Lake Placid extravaganza tries to “smart-up” by creating a special niche within the worldwide proliferation of film festivals. “We have a literate audience,” boasts Executive Director Naj Wikoff. “People read in the North Country. For one thing, the winters are so long and cold.”

Saratoga Springs resident Russell Banks was signing his books in the lobby of the Hilton Resort, headquarters for the four-day event. A Forum co-founder, he authored The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction, both of which were later adapted for independent cinematic release.

The already successful career of mystery writer Elmore Leonard, also in Lake Placid autographing copies of his work, got a boost when Get Shorty became a popular John Travolta movie in 1995. The 76-year-old wordsmith has published 37 novels; 18 of them have made it to the big screen, and four more such projects are in the pipeline.

“Don Cheadle is directing Tishomingo Blues and acting in it,” Leonard said. “I’ve got Pagan Babies at Universal and Be Cool, the sequel to Get Shorty, at MGM. Paramount’s doing my novella Tenkiller, with Bruce Willis as the star.”

Lake Placid native Kathleen Carroll, a former New York Daily News critic, is the Forum’s artistic director. The 90 features, documentaries and shorts she programed drew crowds. One of her biggest coups was the world premier of Scorched, a crime caper with Woody Harrelson, Alicia Silverstone and John Cleese.

Sunshine State, by John Sayles, was a Forum centerpiece about ordinary Floridians confronted with real estate development schemes. Sayles fielded questions from Banks at a public interview and participated in a Sunday “roundtable” on collaboration.

He shared the Lake Placid spotlight with actors Campbell Scott, Kyra Sedgwick, Timothy Hutton and Mary Beth Hurt, among other film folks. That did not leave much room for lesser-known practitioners of the art form, such as Thor.

The hirsute character, who is 43 but declines to give his real name, does have a New York City office — Barbarian Enterprises is located on trendy Fifth Avenue.

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