BIZ: indieWIRE Picks Favorite Pics (without U.S. Distribution) of 2001
by Anthony Kaufman/indieWIRE
(indieWIRE/12.20.01) -- As indieWIRE winds down for yet another year, it's that time again when we reflect on the past year's calendar and consider which films we caught on the festival circuit that deserve distribution in the United States.
But first a look back at last year's list: we are happy to report that a majority of our chosen films were acquired or screened in theaters in 2001. Two of the films, Paul Pawlikowski's "The Last Resort," and Shinji Aoyama's "Eureka" played in the now defunct Shooting Gallery Film Series; Fatih Akin's "In July" was recently released by new distrib Film Philos; Roy Andersson's "Songs from the Second Floor" and Bela Tarr's "Werkmeister Harmonies" received limited runs in major cities; Adrienne Shelly's "I'll Take You There" went to cable, and we're still waiting for the releases of Samira Makhmalbaf's "Blackboards" (Offline Releasing) and Arnaud Desplechin's "Esther Kahn" (Empire Pictures). Jia Zhang Ke's "Platform" and Makoto Shinozaki's "Not Forgotten" seem to have been, well, nearly forgotten.
This year's list yielded few unanimous titles (only four), though far and away the most popular choice among our critics and contributors was Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien's "Millennium Mambo." A large majority of the titles, like "Mambo," came from overseas, confirming the notion that "American films that are worth their salt are getting picked up," according to indieWIRE's Editor-in-Chief Eugene Hernandez. Challenging American films like "Wendigo" recently acquired by ContentFilm, and cable buys such as "The Believer," "Things Behind the Sun," or "Margarita Happy Hour," which in previous years might have made our undistributed list, are now finding exhibition outlets. With more distribution companies than ever, it seems the films that really need a leg up are the foreign ones.
Monteith McCollum's documentary "Hybrid" was the only American film to make it to the top of our list. The remaining picks were Manoel de Oliviera's "I'm Going Home," and Robert Glinski's "Hi, Tessa," with a couple dozen runners-up, ranging from Venice winner "Dog Days," Ulrich Seidl's ruthless portrait of suburban Austrians, to DeMane Davis and Khari Streeter's shoplifting familial melodrama "Lift," sure to find some sort of long-in-the-works deal in the coming year.
The same probably goes for Hou's "Millennium Mambo." With his stature as one of the greatest living art filmmakers, we expect Hou is enough of a favorite among cinephiles to propel his movie to some sort of exhibition in 2002. We first caught up with the film at its 2001 Cannes Film Festival premiere, where the film received an underwhelming response, but critic Scott Foundas saw the film at the AFI Film Festival, and had this to report: "This dreamy, romantic, deceptively simple (which may explain its curt dismissal by some) diversion is certainly Hou working in a minor key. But Hou is so deeply attune to the inner rhythms of his characters . . . that you can't help being riveted from the get-go. . . . It may be the most knowing study of dependency (on drugs, on people, on anything) since 'Sid & Nancy.'"
Another Cannes premiere, Oliviera's "I'm Going Home," also seems to have gotten better with age. While a slight delight at the French festival, it has grown to become one of our contributor's preferred international indies of the year. In a mid-way dispatch from Cannes, critic Mark Peranson wrote, "Were it not for 92-years-young Manoel de Oliviera, I would have an even harder time getting up in the morning. . . . Rather than make a film about suffering, de Oliviera uses the opportunity and takes the time to ponder the present, and the last, very moving stage of an ethical artist on the somewhat fast track to 'King Lear'-like senility. Both rigorous and riotous, often within the same scene . . . de Oliviera's film is a reckoning and, one can hope, not an ending."
Falling under the radar of most industry watchers, Polish director Robert Glinski's "Hi, Tessa" did earn a Special Jury Prize at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival this summer, where it had its world premiere. "How much veracity is packed into Robert Glinski's tough, unsparing black-and-white look at juvenile delinquency in modern Poland?" writes in critic Eddie Cockrell about the Eastern European gem. "A strong yet pitiless work that could resonate in American arthouses for its cautionary dramatic tale of decent youth tragically neglected." Sounds like Glinksi's social drama might have the same sort of significance and powerful style as last year's favorite "The Last Resort." Yet with Shooting Galley no more, let's look to the latest brave new group of distributors and marketers to give this one a second chance.
And while "Hybrid" may not have the sexiest marketing hook either (as one staffer said, "it's about corn, for god sakes!"), McCollum's innovative documentary about one man's passion for the yellow vegetable was an undisputed favorite of U.S. film festivals, screening in the prestigious New Directors/New Films festival, and winning Best Feature at Slamdance, Best Documentary at South by Southwest and a FIPRESCI critics honor at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. Critic Scott Foundas, who discovered the film at Slamdance, later wrote for indieWIRE, "The resultant rush of sensory images overpowers and blurs the lines between documentary, narrative and experimental forms of filmmaking in a way that truly expands the boundaries of cinematic language." (The quote appears on McCollum's video box.) Maybe this is the kind of American independent that will always suffer in a marketplace frequently dependent on pigeonholing. Or maybe not. There's always next year.
Runners-up (alphabetized according to country)
"Animal," directed by Sergio Bizzio
"Son of the Bride," directed by Juan Jose Campanella
"La Libertad," directed by Lisandro Alonso
"Dog Days," directed by Ulrich Seidl
"Cyberman," directed by Peter Lynch
"Un Crabe dans la tete," directed by André Turpin
"Coronation,' directed by Silvio Caiozzi
"The Orphan of Anyang," directed by Wang Chao
"Ali Zaoua," directed by Nabil Ayouch (w/Morocco)
"Loin," directed by Andre Techine
"Carrement a l'Ouest," directed by Jacques Doillon
"Le Souffle," directed by Damien Odoul
"La Commune (Paris 1871)," directed by Peter Watkins
"Breve Traversee," directed by Catherine Breillat
"The King Is Dancing," directed by Gerard Corbiau (w/Germany/Belgium)
"Jeunesse Doree," directed by Zaida Ghorab-Volta
"A Fine Day," directed by Thomas Arslan
"If I Should Fall From Grace," directed by Sarah Share
"Pulse," directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
"Happy Man," directed by Malgorzata Szumowska
"This Filthy Earth," directed by Andrew Kotting
"Lift," directed by DeMane Davis & Khari Streeter
"Paper Boys," directed by Mike Mills
"The Sleepy-Time Gal," directed by Christopher Munch
"Roof to Roof," directed by Ara Corbett
"Gaudi Afternoon," directed by Susan Seidelman (w/Spain)
"The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein," directed by John Gianvito
"American Mullet," directed by Jennifer Arnold