On Movies: 'Pina' melds dance with 3-D - and her death

Wim Wenders, director of "Pina,"a documentary focused on the late choreographer Philippina "Pina" Bausch and her dance troupe.

Wim Wenders was two weeks away from the start date for his new film when his star - Philippina "Pina" Bausch, the German choreographer - died. She had cancer, and had been diagnosed only five days earlier.

"We had been talking about making this together for almost 20 years," says Wenders, who had finally figured out how to go about doing his documentary - in 3-D - when Bausch died.

"We were so happy that after 20 years of stalling, Pina and I were finally now on."

And then came the news of her death.

"It was the unimaginable, nobody had seen it," Wenders recalls. "Not her friends, not her company. . . . It found us all unprepared, and because the film and the concept for it and the whole desire to make it had been such a mutual thing between us, I canceled the film and pulled the plug and told everybody that it was off. That was it."

But here Pina is, in its second week at the United Artists RiverView and United Artists King of Prussia, a beautiful celebration of movement and grace - and of a driving creative force in the world of dance. Two weeks ago, Pina was nominated for a best documentary feature Academy Award.

"We never would have made the film if it hadn't been for the dancers," Wenders explains, speaking of Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal troupe. "They decided to continue the company, they decided to fulfill the contracts and the tours and the performances and selected an artistic director from their midst . . . . And they also started to rehearse the four pieces that Pina had put on the agenda of the company so we could film them.

"They started to actually rehearse what we would have filmed - that's when I realized that maybe it was wrong not to film."

Wenders, whose narrative fiction work includes the great road movie Paris, Texas and the Berlin-set epic fantasy Wings of Desire, has another documentary-feature Oscar nomination on his resume: for his 1999 celebration of Cuban music, The Buena Vista Social Club.

In Pina, he puts his 3-D cameras into the streets, on monorails and motorways, on the barren ridges of slag heaps and the verdant gardens of modernist mansions, following the whimsical, sensual work of Bausch's devoted gang of men and women. Wenders could not be more thrilled with how the stereoscopic technology captured their movements, and how it creates a sense of space and depth that adds to the viewing experience.

"It seemed like dance and 3-D were made for each other," he says. "They bring out the best in each other."

And there's no looking back for the German filmmaker. Like his friend and countryman, Werner Herzog, who released his first 3-D doc, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, last year ("we're two old German warhorses," Wenders cracks), he plans to carry on with the new technology.

In fact, Wenders can't foresee going back to 2-D.

"3-D allows people to be in front of the camera in a different way," he says. In Pina, he shot many of the members of Bausch's company close-up, their faces etched with detail, with presence.

"That's when I realized that 3-D has a fantastic future in the documentary, because that's the one genre where you really want your audience to get close to somebody and into somebody's world. And 3-D can do that in a way that we've never dreamed of before. . . .

"So, I'm completely on the hook and I would not want to go back. I'm convinced we're only scratching the surface, and there's so much more to discover [with 3-D], both in storytelling and in documentary. It would be a waste of time to go back, I feel."

Gooding and Daniels in new pic? In an interview for the Tuskegee Airmen aerial-dogfight drama Red Tails a few weeks back, its star, Cuba Gooding Jr., said he had been talking with filmmaker Lee Daniels - the Philly-bred powerhouse behind Precious - about a new project.

Gooding starred opposite Helen Mirren in Daniels' directing debut, 2005's Shadowboxer, an engaging, over-the-top thriller about mother-and-son assassins. Gooding and Mirren's characters also happened to be lovers (she's his stepmom, so it's not that icky), and there's a scene with the two of them naked and writhing in Fairmount Park.

"We've got another one we're developing," Gooding reported. "Lee has a lot of films in development, but we've talked about doing this one specifically."

It's called The Butler, and based on the story of Eugene Allen, a servant who worked under eight presidents in the White House and watched their respective efforts to fight segregation.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" 50th anniversary rerelease. Just out on Blu-ray and DVD is a restored, remastered edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, the 1962 Oscar-winning adaptation of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

Russell Harlan's cinematography has never looked more pristine, and two new docs are included in the package: a "making of" feature called Fearful Symmetry, and A Conversation With Gregory Peck, which is just that. Peck delivered one of his career-defining performances as the upright Southern attorney Atticus Finch, Brock Peters is compelling as the black man wrongly accused of rape, Robert Duvall makes his big-screen debut as Boo Radley, and Mary Badham, as Atticus' young daughter, Scout, is unforgettable.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies.