Based on the actual story of William Street, a young man who in the 1970s and 1980s very successfully pretended to be a foreign exchange student, lawyer, and even a surgeon (so much so that he performed operations despite his bare-bones knowledge of human anatomy). This, the only film in Wendell Harris's output, turned out to be a hit at the Sundance festival in 1990, beating in the competition featuring works by Whit Stillman and Hal Hartley. However, critics gave it a tepid reception and it fell into oblivion. Discovered many years later, it surprises with freshness, insight and surreal humor. Combining social satire with melodrama, elements of crime fiction and references to French classics (especially Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast), Harris produces one of the most interesting films of its time about prejudice and systemic racism, but also our fascination with sociopaths. As one American critic noted, someone like Street (daringly played by Harris himself) would be a hero of the popular imagination today.
Sundance FF 1990 - Grand Jury Prize
Wendell B. Harris Jr. was born in 1954. He studied acting and directing at Juilliard and the Interlochen Center for the Arts. His debut comedy-drama Chameleon Street, hailed as one of the highlights of the 1990 Sundance Film Festival, remains his only directorial effort to date, although for many years Harris worked on the documentary Arbiter Roswell, which has not been completed to date. As an actor, he has played in small roles with Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight) and Todd Phillips (Road Trip).
1989 Chameleon Street