In Focus

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Five new films in postproduction. By Mary Glucksman

Against the Current

"It's about grief, loss and the true responsibility of friendship, but, like real life, it has as much comedy as tragedy," says Peter Callahan (Last Ball) about his second feature, Against the Current. The film is a road trip on water with Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love) as a depressed New York widower on a memorial swim 150 miles down the Hudson River five years after the death of his wife and unborn child. It's an intensely personal project for Callahan, whose girlfriend of 10 years died suddenly the day after their daughter was born in 1996. "I'm not this character but obviously it was inspired by events in my own life," he says. "Humor and despair exist side by side in the films that informed my view of what movies can be - films like Dog Day Afternoon, Midnight Cowboy and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. This film was made in the same spirit."

Callahan, 45, grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, where his father co-founded the preeminent U.S. bioethics research institute The Hastings Center in 1969. He earned a journalism M.S. from Columbia University and was trying his luck as a screenwriter in L.A. when his girlfriend died. Callahan and the baby returned to his parents home, and four years later he made Last Ball, a coming-of-age story that premiered at the 2001 LAIFF and screened at 30 festivals in 20 countries but never got a distributor. He got Against the Current made with Josh Zeman (Choking Man) and Mary Jane Skalski (The Visitor) producing with financing from the prominent sales agent Fortissimo Films (Mysterious Skin) and Ambush Entertainment (The Squid and the Whale).

The Super 16mm film shot for 22 days in September in Brooklyn and along the length of the Hudson from Troy to Manhattan with Sean Kirby (Zoo) as d.p. "Shooting on the water was just as frustrating as I anticipated," Callahan says, "but I think Sean captured the river's grandeur. We got some spectacular images, like Joe swimming past the Empire State Building." Also in the film are Justin Kirk (Angels in America), Elizabeth Reaser (The Family Stone), Michelle Trachtenberg (Ice Princess) and Mary Tyler Moore.

The Book of Caleb

"The premise is the death of childhood friendships in suburban Philadelphia and, more specifically, characters in a quarter-life crisis trying to maintain connections despite colliding private realities," says Matthew von Manahan about his first feature, The Book of Caleb. Five years in the making, the bittersweet coming-of-age comedy finds a senior-year college dropout back under his parents' roof and reengaged in dubious hijinks with his serial prankster best friend until he has to choose between old loyalties and a new love.

Von Manahan, 27 grew up in Pennsylvania's Bucks County and graduated in 2003 with a film degree from Florida State University. "It's a supercompetitive program because [you] shoot all your projects on film and the school pays your production costs - they only take 30 people a year," says the director, who worked unpaid gigs on 38 film sets to impress an admissions committee he feared would be swayed by his dismal math grades.

At FSU, von Manahan was a junior-year finalist of Coca Cola's Refreshing Filmmakers competition for the short Prometheus Rebound. He also made four shorts workshopping early versions of Caleb scenes that got him to the IFP Market's Emerging Narratives program in 2004. That paved the way for partial financing through IFP's Fiscal Sponsorship Program and eventual selection to the 2006 IFP Rough Cuts lab. "This film was made from the basement of my parents' house so I could keep my cost of living low and avoid distractions until I found a way to make it work," says von Manahan.

North Carolina School of the Arts alum Grant Fenster produced the film. The 35mm Caleb shot 38 days north of Philadelphia two winters ago with art photographer and gaffer Mike Gioulakis as d. …