ThinkFilm has acquired all North American rights to John Cameron Mitchell‘s “Shortbus,” perhaps the most talked about film at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival and, in a separate pact, The Works U.K. Distribution has secured UK rights to the new movie. A sexually explicit, strikingly artistic and ultimately hopeful new film, “Shortbus” is the story of a group of New Yorkers — straight and gay, male and female — coping with life and love in the modern day big city. They come together weekly at a polysexual, bohemian Brooklyn salon that features music, art and yes, sex. The follow-up to Mitchell’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “Shortbus” features an ensemble cast who workshopped the project and engage in graphic on-screen sex scenes.
A sex therapist who can’t have an orgasm, a dominatrix seeking a deep, lasting relationship, and a gay couple who talk about bringing a third guy into their relationship are among the interconnected group of New Yorkers depicted in the provocative new film. Mitchell developed the story with a cast selected through a casting call that received some 500 submissions via a website visited by more than a half million people.
Newcomers Paul Dawson, Lindsay Beamish, PJ DeBoy, Raphael Barker, Jay Brannan, and Peter Stickles, co-star in the film alongside Sook-Yin Lee and well-known performer Justin Bond. A fall theatrical release in numerous North American markets is in the works with specifics yet to be announced.
Perhaps as many as a dozen U.S. companies were eyeing the film, according to insiders, with such entities as IFC Films, Magnolia Pictures, Roadside Attractions, Netflix, Criterion and many other outlets bandied about within industry circles as potential buyers or partners for the release. The buzz over the film emerged immediately after the world premiere of the film at Cannes where the movie garnered a rousing standing ovation and mostly critical raves. While the filmmakers had gone into the festival thinking that they might have to release the film themselves because of the graphic sexual content, the reaction at the festival quickly turned into a competitive bidding environment with ThinkFilm emerging victorious in a deal for North American theatrical, home video, television and Internet rights to the movie.
CAA negotiated the North American deal on behalf of the filmmakers with Executive VP of Acquisitions and Business Affairs Randy Manis on behalf of ThinkFilm.
“We pursued ‘Shortbus’ aggressively from the moment we saw it in Cannes and witnessed the audience’s overwhelming response,” said ThinkFilm president Jeff Sackman, in a statement. “Considering how many offers they received from such a wide variety of distributors, we are extremely pleased and proud that the filmmakers recognized our unique abilities as well as our company-wide enthusiasm for their film.”
Touting the movie as fun, sweet, innocent and natural, ThinkFilm head of theatrical distribution Mark Urman, in a conversation with indieWIRE Wednesday night, praised the film and added that it is poised to become a commercial title, despite its graphic sexual content. “It chooses to go someplace that a lot of movies don’t go,” Urman explained, saying that if he and his colleagues are reading the zeitgeist correctly, the film will appeal to a broad range of moviegoers who are “fed-up with pre-emptive self-censorship” and want to “let their hair down.” He added, “It really could be part of a moment, a new counter-culture.”
Howard Gertler, producer of the film with Tim Perell, told indieWIRE that negotiating a deal after Cannes took some time as the filmmakers considered a wide range of offers, but that he and the “Shortbus” team were bolstered by the reactions of buyers, exhibitors and cable networks who have all expressed a commitment to presenting the film uncut.
A Process production presented by Fortissimo Films in association with Q Television, the film was shot by Frank DeMarco (who also shot “Hedwig”) and edited by Brian A. Kates. Jody Asnes was the production designer and Kurt and Bart were costume designers, while Yo La Tengo created the original score. Michael J. Werner and Wouter Barendrecht of Fortissimo, which is handling all international sales for the film, served as executive producers of “Shortbus.”
Fortissimo’s Senior VP International Sales Nicole Mackey negotiated the UK deal with The Works UK Distribution’s Laurence Gornall and Mick Southworth. The company also sold the film to a number of territories at this year’s Marche du Film.
Talking about the film in Cannes this year, John Cameron Mitchell said that the movie is meant to be a “call to arms,” explaining that many people simply feel powerless in an era in which so much clamping down is taking place. “We couldn’t get Bush out in 2004, so a lot of people put their ideas into their artistic work.” Continuing he added, “There is a bit of a lack of hope among young people that we, my friends and I, want to do something about.” And later he quipped, “If we can’t do elections we might as well do erections.”
“John’s approach to adult intimacy,” Urman said in a statement, “is so buoyant, natural, and humorous that audiences will be too busy enjoying themselves to be shocked!”