IOWA HALTS MOVIE TAX INCENTIVES

The state of Iowa has shut down its tax incentive program for filmmakers and has launched a criminal investigation into the operations of the Iowa Film Office following the release of an accountant's review showing widespread abuse of the program. In one instance, director Bruce Isacson was able to purchase a new Range Rover for $61,000 by listing it as a production expense, a spokesman for the Iowa Economic Development Department said. Somewhat ironically, Isacson told the Des Moines Register last year that he had decided to film his movie South Dakota in Iowa because of the state's generous tax-incentive program. No mention of the film appears in the Internet Movie Database's (IMDb) listings, and Isacson has only one credit -- as an actor in a movie released in 1995. Another filmmaker, the horror film producer Donald Borchers, reportedly chalked up a $67,783 Mercedes Benz to his production costs for his TV movie version of Children of the Corn, which aired last month on SyFy. Neither filmmaker was accused of wrongdoing. However, the manager and staff of the Iowa Film Office were accused of failing to provide sufficient oversight of film projects and wrongly approving unqualified expenses. Tom Wheeler, who was hired in 2004 to head the Iowa Film Office, was fired last month. The state's decision to suspend the tax-incentive program has brought filmmaking to a halt in Iowa. Neil Wells, an actor who has worked on three recent films in the state, told the Register, "You don't shut down a whole industry because of a couple bad actors. ... [Gov. Chet Culver] has actually taken about $400 million away from Iowa's economy because filmmakers are starting to go elsewhere."

DISNEY'S ROSS: FIRST OPENLY GAY STUDIO CHIEF

Rich Ross, appointed this week as the new head of Disney Studios, has become the first openly gay studio chief in Hollywood history, the Los Angeles Times observed today (Wednesday). In an interview with Times columnist Patrick Goldstein, producer Howard Rosenman who is also openly gay, said, "It's not just the first time ever, but it's the greatest thing ever. ... It's a new era in Hollywood. Rich Ross will only be judged by how well he makes the product and and how commercial it is, not who he is in his private life. He's obviously already been a big success at the Disney Channel, so he clearly knows what he's doing." The disclosure is likely to infuriate followers of the Rev. Don Wildmon, whose American Family Association led a decade-long boycott of all things Disney for what it called "promoting the gay agenda." (The AFA ended the boycott following the resignation of Disney Chairman/CEO Michael Eisner in 2005.) On the other hand, many of the programs that Ross was responsible for bringing to the Disney Channel (Hannah Montana, High School Musical, The Jonas Brothers) have been praised by the AFA and other conservative Christian groups for promoting family values.

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL TO HAND OUT FIRST BEST FILM AWARD

For the first time the London Film Festival plans to award a trophy to the festival's best film and has selected nine titles to compete for the honor, including Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr Fox, Jane Campion's Bright Star and Sam Taylor-Wood's Nowhere Boy, Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Micmacs, Robert Connolly's Balibo, Jacques Audiard's A Prophet, John Hillcoat 's The Road and Ethan and Joel Cohen's A Serious Man. The festival also plans to hand out an award to either a producer, director or writer making his or her feature debut at the festival.