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“You don’t need a lot of money to tell a good story,” says Marla Grossman. For the past 18 months, her company, Sidekick Entertainment, has provided late-stage funding and production assistance for independent films with budgets under $5 million. Sidekick’s latest venture, a drama from writer-director Allison Anders called Things Behind the Sun, just made its world premiere at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.

Grossman, a Maryland native, and her partner in Sidekick, Los Angeles-based Gary Barkin, became friends while at Harvard Law School. “I would drag him to all these art-house movies and independent movies,” she remembers. “When Sex, Lies, and Videotape came out—as soon as I saw that, I was like, ‘Wow, this is a film that could only be made as an independent film.’ No studio would have made that film at that time.”

After law school, Grossman returned to the Washington area and served as minority counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, working for Sen. Pat Leahy on entertainment issues. “I found those public-policy issues just fascinating and was very interested in them. So I wanted to even get closer to the filmmaking process itself.”

Sidekick has so far produced four films: The Trial of Old Drum, starring Randy Travis (The Rainmaker) and Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap); the independent feature Diamond Men, starring Oscar nominee Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) and Donnie Wahlberg (The Sixth Sense); Things Behind the Sun; and underground director David DeCoteau’s recently completed horror film, Final Stab.

Anders (Gas Food Lodging, Mi Vida Loca, Grace of My Heart) based Things Behind the Sun on a childhood rape that changed her future and those of the boys involved. The film stars Kim Dickens (Hollow Man, The Gift) as a singer-songwriter and Gabriel Mann (Outside Providence, High Art) as the journalist assigned to write about her first big hit. The two soon discover that they share a terrible secret.

“She’s got a really keen eye for how to tell a story,” says Grossman of Anders. “She has this knack for personal stories that haven’t been retold a hundred times…and for putting them into the hands of talent that can really get the most out of these parts. In this one, [it’s] Kim Dickens and Don Cheadle [Traffic, The Family Man]—who I just love. He’s so good in this role.” The film also features Eric Stoltz (The House of Mirth, Killing Zoe) and Rosanna Arquette (The Whole Nine Yards, Buffalo ’66), as well as a score by Sonic Youth.

Sidekick provides varying degrees of assistance to filmmakers, says Grossman. Production is “a way for us to be integrally involved in the creative process while working directly with the artists—but focusing on where our strengths are. We can give our input at every step of the way, while trusting the captain of the ship.” It also provides a way for Grossman, who is expecting her first child, to keep her family in Washington and still be involved in the film business.

Although Grossman says that Sidekick will continue to back films with a variety of themes and genres—she’s very enthusiastic about the upcoming Final Stab—she has some ideas about future projects. “Particularly since my husband and I have a baby on the way, the thought of doing a couple of family-friendly films is enticing. We want to have some films we can show [the baby] when he’s young; when he’s older, we can show him Allison’s film and Final Stab.”

—Pamela Murray Winters