CANNES 2001: Scant U.S. Projects for Sale; Howard and Kollek Prepare, Sort Of, for Distributors' First Peeks
by Anthony Kaufman/indieWIRE
Pictured yesterday at the American Pavilion, actress Debra Winger (left) with director Arliss Howard.
"One of the things that Jim Jarmusch told me," says actor-turned-director Arliss Howard, "is that you can do more business in 8 or 9 days in Cannes than you can do in a year, because everybody's there." "So that's certainly a chief reason that we're going," continues Howard, whose directorial debut "Big Bad Love" will have its world premiere in the 33rd Directors Fortnight (Quinzaine des Realisateurs) sidebar in Cannes tomorrow.
Howard's "Big Bad Love" is one of the few American premieres screening in Cannes that does not have U.S. distribution in place. There's also David Lynch's Competition film "Mulholland Drive," Abel Ferrara's Un Certain Regard opener "R-Xmas," and Amos Kollek's Directors Fortnight closer, "Queenie in Love." And the fact that no completed films from the UK or Australia are a part of this year's official program makes these films' unveiling all the more important for acquisition execs on the look out for North American-friendly product. (Christine Jeffs' New Zealand entry "Rain," screening in the Fortnight on Monday, generated major buzz going into the festival, no doubt because it is one of only five available English language titles.) No pressure, right?
"It never seemed like something that I could imagine doing and being happy about doing," Howard told indieWIRE of his impending Cannes experience. The actor has never been to the festival, though he starred in Bob Rafelson's "Wet," a 1994 Cannes entry, and appeared in such notable non-Cannes titles as Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket" and Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers." He hasn't been to many film festivals, he says. And he's not exactly revved up. "And not for any particular reason," he explains, "aside from the amount of people per square inch; I come from wide open spaces, so I never thought [Cannes] would be appealing."
This lackadaisical attitude has worked to the film's advantage, according to Howard. "[Selling] has not been our main focus, and so, paradoxically, it's caused a great deal of interest. Some things are already pending," he says. "We've been fine to go in by ourselves." Though the production has not hired any big name producer's rep or sales agency to broker any distribution deal, apparently William Morris' Cassian Elwes will handle the technicalities of any negotiations.
The film does have, however, the industry cache of its producer, actress Debra Winger, who also acts in the film alongside her husband (Howard plays Leon Barlow, a frustrated writer and Vietnam vet living in Mississippi; Winger portrays the ex-wife). Based on the acclaimed short story collection by Larry Brown, "Big Bad Love" is a labor of love for the husband-and-wife filmmaking team. It brought Winger out of film acting retirement (ever since a bad experience on a 1995 film shoot in Ireland) and provided Howard a means to launch his directing career.
As far as landing domestic distribution, Howard isn't daunted by the process. After negotiating music rights to some 30 songs that appear in the film, he says, "however intriguing it might get, I don't think we'd blink. Because once you've gone into the music business, you have entered into one of the most fascinating, labyrinthine creations in America. It makes the movie business look like choir practice."
But compared to fellow Quinzaine director Amos Kollek, Howard and Winger are junior flute players amidst the massive orchestra of Cannes' international business community. Kollek, represented this year with "Queenie in Love," premiered his last film "Fast Food, Fast Woman" in the highly esteemed Cannes competition section last year. And though the Israeli-born filmmaker remains largely unknown in his current home of the U.S.A., he and his muse, Anna Thompson, are popular names in France and Germany. (His 1997 film "Sue" also garnered a couple prizes at the 1998 Berlin Film Festival.)
"I would say that I am not sure of a country where I would be more comfortable," Kollek told indieWIRE about his latest trip to France. "I'm not anticipating a great success or anything, but France is good for this, Cannes is good for this; the rest is up to whomever."
In fact, "Queenie in Love," the story of a young and wacky New York woman (Valerie Geffner, not Anna Thompson), was completely financed by French television company Marathon and already has French distribution through Pyramide. "Fast Food, Fast Women" was funded by sources in France -- as well as Germany and Italy -- and was acquired for U.S. distribution by Lot 47. That film will open in New York and Los Angeles next week stateside, and as a recent New York Times profile of Kollek posited, "will then be released nationwide, potentially the most exposure any Kollek movie has received in this country" -- which may be Kollek's ultimate goal. After all, he's been making movies in the Big Apple since 1985's "Goodbye, New York." He should be able to see them here.
"I am very interested in breaking into the American market, because it's a market that I haven't substantially broken into," he says. "Cannes is a good place to get that, but again," he continues with a familiar stoicism, "whatever happens, happens."
Both "Fast Food" and "Queenie" represent a shift in tone -- and perhaps marketability -- for the 53-year-old director. Previous films like "Fiona" and "Sue" are dark, edgy tales of loneliness and urban alienation; the newest two can best be described as light-hearted comedies. Describing "Queenie," Kollek says, "It's a crazier comedy. 'Fast Food' is a bit tamer. This is wackier." Kollek has also just finished production on a third movie, tentatively titled "Beirut," which stars Thompson, and sounds as if it's closer to film noir than wacky comedy.
With three movies in various stages (the release of "Fast, Food," the delivery and premiere of "Queenie," and the post-production of "Beirut"), Kollek may simply be too busy to focus on the distribution and marketing issues surrounding the world premiere of "Queenie in Love." "That's not to say that it's not important to me," he explains, "but I talked to those people [Marathon, who will be selling the film] and they seem to have their ideas. What am I going to do? Fly to France and try to become involved? It's not so much in my nature. I'm much more interested in the creative side than the business side."
And creatively, what else is more thrilling than sharing your work with an audience for the first time? Speaking like a true veteran, Kollek describes his feelings: "All the bullshit clichés: I hope people enjoy it, I hope people think it's funny, I hope people buy it."
Arliss Howard is a bit more forthright with his thoughts: "I'd be lying if I said I don't care what people think, that I won't sit there with my heart in my throat, or I wouldn't be upset if people walked out, or I wouldn't be thrilled if people applauded," he says, "but I just don't think about that stuff."