indieWIRE’s Picks For the Best Undistributed Films of 2002
As 2002 comes to a close, a number of worthy films remain without a U.S. theatrical distributor once again. For the past five years, indieWIRE has asked its editors and regular contributors to send us a list of their favorite such titles. This year, our initial batch comprised nearly 50 films — each of them a film one or more of our respondents felt strongly about, which gave us the unenviable task of whittling down that list to a more manageable 16.
Some of the films listed below have been accepted to Sundance 2003, thus ensuring a longer festival run and more opportunities to land a sale. Others have less of chance of a “life,” either on the circuit or in the theaters. There were also a number of other deserving films, such as Tim McCann’s “Revolution #9” or Mark Moskowitz’s “Stone Reader,” that have or will have played in art houses despite remaining technically without a distribution deal. We did not include those titles, in order to support the films that have not secured any commercial bookings whatsoever.
This year’s contributors were: Mikita Brottman, Eddie Cockrell, Howard Feinstein, Scott Foundas, Eugene Hernandez, Brandon Judell, Anthony Kaufman, Matthew Ross, David Sterritt, Erin Torneo, and Wendy Mitchell. [Matthew Ross]
[The following are in alphabetical order]
Assorted countries , collection
Track Record: Directors won the UNESCO award at Venice Film Festival; Ken Loach won FIPRESCI award at Venice for Best Short Film for his short, which appeared in “11’09″01.”
Lowdown: This collection of 11 short films from 11 filmmakers presents 11 different points of view on the tragedy of September 11. It boasts several brilliant episodes by international filmmakers, especially ones by Ken Loach, Danis Tanovic, and Samira Makhmalbaf, but its honesty, interpreted by some as anti-U.S. bias, has kept it from finding a courageous exhibitor here.
Director: Duncan Roy
Cast: Matthew Leitch, George Asprey, Lindsey Coulson
Track Record: Playing at Sundance 2003; won HBO First Feature Award at L.A. OutFest 2002; won Gay and Lesbian Jury Award for Best Film at Montreal 2002; won Best Feature at Seattle Gay and Lesbian Film Festival; won Audience Award at Copenhagen Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
Lowdown: A startlingly moving film with the screen constantly in a triptych. A lower class British lad, who’s slowly coming out, takes on a high society teen’s identity and is embraced by high society in France. The result is moving, marvelously acted and directed, with astonishingly complex editing.
Director: Ulrich Köhler
Cast: Lennie Burmeister, Lou Dastel, Trine Dyrholm
Track Record: Screened at Thessaloniki, Hamptons, Berlinale, Torino, Pusan, Vienna, MoMA’s Kino 2002; Best Film prize at the Schwerin Film Festival; Best Actor prize at the Buenos Aires Film Festival; Special Jury Award at Thessaloniki International Film Festival.
Lowdown: A young German soldier goes AWOL and returns home to more problems than he left. A note-perfect portrait of teenage malaise from a first-time director.
Director: Jose Padilha and Felipe Lacurda
Track Record: To play at Sundance 2003; won best doc at Sao Paolo International Film Festival and best doc/FIPRESCI Prize at Rio 2002.
Lowdown: Visceral two-hour documentary about the real-life hijacking of a city bus in Rio. An in-depth study of the background of the drugged-out black man from the slums who committed it — one of the most solid depictions of the problems of poverty ever put on screen. A non-fiction counterpoint to the lauded narrative film “City of God.”
“De l’autre cote” (“From the Other Side”)
Director: Chantal Akerman
Track Record: Playing at MOMA Documentary Fortnight; presented at Cannes Film Festival 2002.
Lowdown: Excellent documentary, formally and thematically, about the nasty fate of those attempting to illegally cross the U.S./Mexican border from the southern side. Writing in indieWIRE, Howard Feinstein said, “Akerman interviews her subjects, many of them survivors of nasty desert treks, or relatives of the deceased, in straight-on, stylized tableaux. She then switches to long, graceful, and unpredictable tracking shots along the fence itself. Fixed funding provided a substratum for making an artful, meaningful doc.”
“Funny Ha Ha”
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Cast: Kate Dollenmayer, Christian Rudder, Myles Paige, Andrew Bujalski
Track Record: Played in Woodstock, Sidewalk Moving Pictures, Olympia, Northampton. Special Jury Prize, Performance by Ensemble Cast, Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival; Most Promising New Filmmaker Award, Northampton Independent Film Festival.
Lowdown: “Funny Ha Ha” is not just a beautifully made film, it’s also a brave one. Writer/director Andrew Bujalski, along with his mostly non-professional cast and crew, have created a story of a girl’s unrequited love for the wrong guy that deserves comparison to Mike Leigh’s spectacular work for British television in the ’70s and ’80s.
“Halbe Treppe” (“Grill Point”)
Director: Andreas Dresen
Cast: Steffi Kühnert, Gabriela Maria Schmeide, Thorsten Merten, Axel Prahl
Track Record: Jury Grand Prix Award at Berlin International Film Festival and a Silver Spur at Flanders International Film Festival; won Best Director and Best Ensemble Playing at Chicago International Film Festival; won Direction Award at Schwerin Art of Film Fest, won Outstanding Feature Film Award in Silver at the German Film Awards
Lowdown: Andreas Dresen’s Berlin winner finds inspiration from Mike Leigh for this trenchant story. Two couples living in their late 30s living in East Germany are shaken by a surprising love affair.
“Horns and Halos”
Directors: Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky
Track Record: Won Best Documentary at Chicago Film Festival; won Best Documentary at NY Underground Film Festival; screened at Toronto Film Fest and Rotterdam.
Lowdown: Documentary about a writer whose unauthorized biography of George W. Bush, “Fortunate Son,” is picked up by a semi-underground publisher after being dumped by a mainstream house due to legal and political pressures. Writing in indieWIRE, Tim LaTorre said, “Rather than painting their subjects as martyrs, the filmmakers uncover how the tough journalistic and business decisions of people under stress — at times influenced by ego, greed and the genuine passion to expose the ‘truth’ — can have a very human, tragic toll.”
Director: György Pálfi
Cast: Ferenc Bandi, József Forkas, Attila Kaszás
Track Record: Hungary’s submission for the Academy Awards, won New Director’s Award at San Sebastian Film Festival, played in Toronto 2002, Jury Recognition at Torino 2002; won Best First Film, Foreign Critics Award, and the Student Jury Prize at the Hungarian Film Festival; won Best Feature Award at the Santa Fe Film Festival; won Festival Diploma at the Molodist International Film Festival 2002; won Audience Award at Cottbus Film Festival of Young East European Cinema 2002.
Lowdown: Hungary’s submission for Oscar consideration, directed by first-timer György Pálfi, “Hukkle” is a dialogue-free small-town portrait (except for the sound of hiccups and a final song) that is equal parts exquisitely shot nature documentary, experimental film, and murder mystery.
“Il Più Bel Giorno Della Mia Vita” (“The Best Day of My Life”)
Director: Cristina Comencini
Cast: Virna Lisi, Margherita Buy, Sandra Ceccarelli
Track Record: Won Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress at the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists; screened at Berlin, Torino, Venice, Brazil, Locarno, Cannes, and Berlin.
Lowdown: A huge family comedy/drama starring former sex idol Virna Lisi as Mama. Often very funny, frequently moving, and constantly sexy, this film has the makings of an art-house hit.
Directors: Larry Clark and Edward Lachman
Cast: James Ransone, Tiffany Limos
Track Record: Screened at Toronto, Thessaloniki, Venice, Vienna and Valladolid International Film Festival.
Lowdown: “Kids” director/photographer Larry Clark and famed cinematographer Ed Lachman have worked on this labor of love for many years. Southern California teenagers find solace from their troubled lives by having lots of sex — with each other and occasional adults. This highly controversial film isn’t for everyone, but perhaps more people should have the chance to see it for themselves.
“The Last Just Man”
Director: Steven Silver
Track Record: won Audience Award and Humanitarian Award at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival; won a Canadian Gemini for Best History Doc for History’s TV; screened at Hamptons International Film Festival, Newport Film Festival and Human Rights Watch Film Festival.
Lowdown: Steven Silver offers a devastating portrait of Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, the UN peacekeeping commander who tried — and failed — to prevent the slaughtering of some 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994.
“Love and Diane”
Director: Jennifer Dworkin
Track Record: Playing at Sundance 2003. Winner of the Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival. Screened at the New York Film Festival and the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA).
Lowdown: Dworkin spent more than a decade working to bring to the screen the story of Diane, a recovering crack addict, and her daughter Love. Navigating social services and the basic trials and tribulations of everyday life makes for compelling viewing, all underscored by Dworkin’s expert approach to the story of Love and Diane’s difficult lives.
“My Father, the Genius”
Director: Lucia Small
Track Record: Won Grand Jury Prize for Best Doc and Best Editing at Sundance 2002, Won Grand Jury Prize at Atlanta Film Festival 2002; won Best Documentary at Newport International Film Festival 2002. Screened at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA).
Lowdown: Lucia Small provides a wry and penetrating portrait of her arrogant father, a once celebrated, now struggling visionary architect who abandoned multiple wives and children to pursue his dreams of building a Biomorphic Biosphere.
Director: Przemyslaw Reut
Cast: Phe Caplan, Jessica Fuchs, John Gelin
Track Record: Grand Jury Prize in Dramatic Category at Sundance 2002; screened at New Directors/New Films, Viennale, and Oslo.
Lowdown: Shemie Reut’s American indie about a young man working at an autistic summer camp, a heartfelt film that may suffer from a Shyamalan-esque conclusion, but shows promise and is more interesting than half of the films that actually make it to theaters. A challenging hybrid of fiction and non-fiction that’s both enigmatic and informative.
“The Same River Twice”
Director: Robb Moss
Track Record: Playing at Sundance 2003; screened as a work-in-progress at the Newport International Film Festival 2002 and at the IFP Market 2002.
Lowdown: “The Same River Twice” is a heartfelt portrait of the filmmaker’s good friends from the freewheeling ’70s, all of who were also the subjects of his 1978 film “River Dogs.” In that film, Moss and his buddies a group of well-educated, leftist 20-somethings took a kayak trip through the Grand Canyon, usually choosing to eat, paddle, and hike while completely in the buff. When Moss returns, some 25 years later to catch-up with them, we learn how the time, and the process of aging, has impacted their lives.