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Producers eye Jackson Hts. kids for roles in new film

During an open casting call Sunday at PS 149, Ruby Slipper Productions will search for at least four young actors for the modern iteration of the watershed tale of a practical joke gone too far and the bonds of brotherhood.

"We're looking for the widest range possible of kids," said director Joanna Lipper. Any level of experience goes, she added, from children who have acted in major motion pictures to basketball players.

The moviemakers want to fill two lead roles: Lenny, who tricks his younger brother into believing that he has killed him, and younger brother Joey, who is so traumatized that he runs away to Coney Island.

The modern-day remake, which like the original examines the sometimes conflicting roles of child and caregiver that siblings experience, will be updated to reflect today's social realities, Lipper said.

Lenny is to be played by a 10- to 13-year-old and Joey, Lenny's younger brother, is to be played by a 6- to 8-year-old. Lipper will also be looking for two supporting actors to perform as Lenny and Joey's friends Malcolm and Caleb, both of whom will be played by boys between the ages of 10 and 13.

Although the lead will most likely go to an Hispanic or mixed race child, Lipper, who already has directed two documentaries examining childhood and adolescence in diverse environments, stressed that parts are available for everyone.

To help find the right actors, Lipper has partnered with well-known casting company Hopkins-Smith-Barden, whose credits include films such as "Peter Pan" and "Ciderhouse Rules." The film will be produced by ZPI, whose principals have produced many wildly successful films, including "Mississippi Burning" and "Quiz Show." Engel will act as a consultant and his daughter, Mary Engel, will co-produce. Australian musician Barrington Pheloung will also assist.

Engel's original, which was nominated for an Academy Award, marked a turning point in independent American cinema, and is credited with influencing later French classics, including "The Red Balloon."

"I always thought ('Little Fugitive') was such a gem," said Lipper, who added that like "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" -- both films that inspired her -- Engel's work did not shy away from the intense and sometimes dark side of childhood.

The Jackson Heights casting call will be held Sunday, starting at 10 a.m. at PS 149 located at 93-11 34th Ave. Those interested in trying out must bring a photo, which will not be returned.

For more information, visit the movie Web site at www.littlefugitive.com.

Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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