March 09, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

— Believer … or Not Veteran screenwriter Henry Bean‘s feature directorial debut about a Jewish skinhead, The Believer, won rave reviews, explosive buzz for star Ryan Gosling, and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance — so why hasn’t the drama been able to find a distributor? According to Bean, an interested studio became spooked after the film got a thumbs-down from Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at L.A.’s Simon Wiesenthal Center, which screened the film shortly after its showing at Sundance. ”I heard the next day that Rabbi Cooper called an executive at the company who wanted to buy it, and said it was a primer for anti-Semitism … After that, people backed away,” says Bean. While Cooper says the distributor in question called him, he acknowledges that he offered his opinion. ”American History X worked,” says Cooper. ”This film failed.” One studio executive who passed on The Believer says, ”The film is really well done, but you have to look at the box office struggles of this movie’s cousins — Romper Stomper and American History X — and you have to consider the tough road ahead to motivate people into theaters.” Bean says he’s still in talks with major studios, adding, ”This film will get distribution.”

— On Holiday Nearly 30 years after Diana Ross won an Oscar nomination in the role, R&B diva Mary J. Blige will be playing Billie Holiday in a biopic about Holiday’s musical partner, Lester Young. The project, written by composer-producer Buddy Bregman, ”is definite,” says Blige, who intends to sing Holiday’s blues herself on the soundtrack. ”We’re just waiting for a leading man.”

— Furthermore Chazz Palminteri, who has written The Wanderer, a biopic about Dion & the Belmonts, is considering casting ”a great singer like one of the Backstreet Boys.” … Director Gore Verbinski is wooing Frances McDormand to join Julia Roberts and Aaron Eckhart in Project 3.

(Additional reporting by William Keck and Cindy Pearlman)

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