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DISPATCH FROM LOS ANGELES | “Skin,” “Marriage” Look For Sales as Sun Sets on AFI

DISPATCH FROM LOS ANGELES | "Skin," "Marriage" Look For Sales as Sun Sets on AFI

Though many of the 2008 AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival‘s most high-profile screenings have long found distribution, some films are on the look out for pick ups as the festival enters its busy final days. So far, two sales have gone through. Thursday, Strand Releasing picked up U.S. rights to Pablo Trapero‘s “Lion’s Den,” Argentina’s Oscar submission, and last week, MSNBC Films finalized a North American television deal for Dana Nachman and Don Hardy‘s “Witch Hunt.” indieWIRE spoke with two filmmakers who haven’t been so lucky – yet.

“Skin”

Anthony Fabian‘s “Skin” spans thirty years in the life of Sandra Laing in South Africa (played by Sophie Okonedo), a woman who, despite being born to white Afrikaner parents, has dark skin. Because of this, she is classified as “colored” and thrown out of the all-white boarding school her brother attends. Set in the 1960s, her family set out to have Sandra classified ‘as white’ under the Apartheid-era classification, beginning a legal battle that leads Sandra to embrace of her identity as an African woman.

“Skin” director Anthony Fabian at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. Photo by Peter Knegt.

The film’s obvious relevance to race issues surrounding Barack Obama’s rise to winning the U.S. election were heightened at AFI, where the film’s two screenings fell a day before, and two days after Obama’s landmark win.

Director Fabian was introduced to Laing’s story when he heard an interview with her on BBC radio eight years ago. “I completely fell in love with the story and was very moved by it,” he said in an interview with indieWIRE. “I got on a plane to South Africa and persuaded her to sell her life rights to me. It took a long time to get the script in shape. It’s a very complicated story and I’m not South African… Doing a biopic that spans thirty years is very difficult without making it feel episodic.” Laing gave Fabian access to herself as well, so anything he needed to know she’d advise him on.

But in order to find the financing, Fabian knew he had to have international names. “There wasn’t really, at the time that we started looking, anyone that could really bring anything to the party in terms of an actress playing the role of Sandra Laing,” he explained. “But Sophie Okonedo was nominated for an Academy Award for ‘Hotel Rwanda‘ after we had been casting for about a year. And suddenly, that nomination made it possible for us to consider her. She was very hot at the time, so I was quite surprised that she came back to us so quickly and said she loved the script… So she was the first of the building blocks in the terms of the casting front.”

The film was pre-sold to ten countries. “That was what gave confidence that there was a market for the film,” he said. “Particularly France, where we had a really good sale to UGC the distributor there.”

But it has yet to find a distributor in the United States. “Distribution wise, it’s been very difficult this year because so many of the specialty division studios have gone to the wall,” he said. “New Line, Paramount Vantage… They would have been the natural buyers for this film. So there’s half the numbers left to actually buy, and they are all quite gun-shy right now. They want a kind of guarantee that a film is going to be a success… It’s a difficult time for everyone. But I think what we’ve got counting in our favor right now is that the U.S. election has made a huge difference in people’s attitudes towards the film. It’s perceived to be an incredibly relevant story that goes to the heart of what’s going on in America today.”

Fabian remains grateful the film has even made it this far. “Let me put in this way,” he said. “I’m glad were not trying to finance production right now. We probably would not have been able to get the film made at the current time.”

A Quiet Little Marriage

“This is our home town for the whole project,” “A Quiet Little Marriage” director Mo Perkins told indieWIRE at the Roosevelt Hotel yesterday in Hollywood. “So I’m super excited. Most of the cast and crew haven’t seen the film yet. So we’re pretty geared up to have it [in AFI] where everybody can come and feel a part of it. I’m honored.”

“A Quiet Little Marriage” Director Mo Perkins at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. Photo by Peter Knegt.

The film, which won the Audience Award at its World Premiere at the Austin Film Festival two weeks ago, is having its AFI debut tonight at the Arclight in Hollywood. The feature stars Cy Carter and Mary Elizabeth Ellis as a young married couple trying to negotiate their expectations for life together. Shot in just fifteen days last August in Carter’s Los Angeles apartment, “Marriage” – which indieWIRE got a chance to preview this week – is a remarkably honest portrait about what can happen in a relationship without sufficient communication.

Perkins, Carter, and Ellis all met at UCLA, where Perkins was in grad school for film. “We had all worked together on my thesis film at UCLA,” she recalled. “A short called ‘Piss Hat.'” That film went on to be nominated for a student Academy Award, but that success did not prepare them for what happened next. “We graduated, and were all in a similar boat: ‘Now someone will come and drop a project in our lap and we’ll just make the feature.’ And it wasnt happening. I mean it was happening, but in this really slow, painful, tedious Hollywood way.”

So the three of them – all recently married – got together again. “We wanted to do something small that we knew we could make happen no matter what, and we were all thinking about marriage,” she said. “So we chose it as a subject matter. We knew that we weren’t seeing movies right now about that. It’s usually where movies end. So we delved into that as a story and the two of them started to create characters and then we outlined [the concept]. Then I went and started to write and once a week we would get together and rehearse based on the scenes that I had written, and we did that for a year. It was a really fun way to work. It allowed them to really have ownership of their characters.”

After a year of writing, fifteen days of shooting, and a year of post-production, “Marriage” was finally finished just prior to its debut in Austin. And thus begins a new phase in the film’s life, one that Perkins admits she wasn’t entirely prepared for. “Festivals are expensive,” she said. “You don’t know that until you get into them. Travel is expensive, so that’s a challenge. The biggest challenge for me is that this was my first feature, and it was the first feature for almost everyone involved. We are having to make decisions on things like sales reps and how to handle taking your film out. It’s very different than shorts. So, the challenge is wanting to make really good decisions so your film goes on and has a life. Because you put so much freaking work into it!”

The film has yet to find a distributor, and is at AFI with a sales rep, hoping to find interest. But even if it doesn’t, Perkins is still excited for the film’s festival life over the next few months. “We just want to go travel,” Perkins said. “Mary Elizabeth said it really well when she said, ‘I feel like I’m in a band. I want to go Europe!’ We want to take the film around and share it. Because we worked really hard.”

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