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Cuban and Wagner Change Course at HDNet Films as "Redacted" Stirs Venice, Telluride and Now, Toronto

Indiewire By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire September 7, 2007 at 4:56AM

Formed four years ago, HDNet Films has either reached the end of the road or hit a major intersection. Producers Jason Kliot and Joana Vicente will be leaving the digital production company that was formed by Mark Cuban as the unit marks four years of digital filmmaking. The move is stirring buzz just as the company's latest production, Brian DePalma's "Redacted," makes waves internationally this week after screenings in Venice, Telluride and now at the Toronto International Film Festival. Countering industry speculation that he has "pulled the plug" on the HDNet Films brand, Mark Cuban acknowledged the shift on Thursday saying that production and development at HDNet Films will be moved to 2929 Productions, his company with Todd Wagner. 2929's Marc Butan will run operations for the label, Cuban said.
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Formed four years ago, HDNet Films has either reached the end of the road or hit a major intersection. Producers Jason Kliot and Joana Vicente will be leaving the digital production company that was formed by Mark Cuban as the unit marks four years of digital filmmaking. The move is stirring buzz just as the company's latest production, Brian DePalma's "Redacted," makes waves internationally this week after screenings in Venice, Telluride and now at the Toronto International Film Festival. Countering industry speculation that he has "pulled the plug" on the HDNet Films brand, Mark Cuban acknowledged the shift on Thursday saying that production and development at HDNet Films will be moved to 2929 Productions, his company with Todd Wagner. 2929's Marc Butan will run operations for the label, Cuban said.

"This is a bittersweet moment for us," Jason Kliot told indieWIRE late Thursday, expressing pride over his and Vicente's track record of producing low-budget, digital films first at Blow-Up Pictures and then with Cuban's HDNet. He reiterated that his goal all along was to make "innovative [and] exciting" films to boster Cuban and Wagner's HD cable networks and show the possiblities for films in High Definition by both emerging and established filmmakers. Kliot added that HDNet Films, in its current incarnation, has succeeded, "We have now achieved our goal and have decided together to slowly wind down the company over the next six months."

While the move apparently marks the end of a chapter for HDNet, Cuban reiterated to indieWIRE, "When we started we needed to convince people to produce in HD. That's no longer the case," he said by email, adding that some HDNet staffers will join 2929 and others will work with his company on a project by project basis. Meanwhile Kliot commented separately, "Now that people have accepted that digital technology can create wonderful artistic works, it is now but one more choice available to the independent artist choosing to work in film."

Such was the case for De Palma, whose "Redacted" will debut on Monday in Canada. The powerful new anti-Iraq war polemic was a $5 million production that grew from a meeting between the filmmaker and HDNet one year ago here at the Toronto fest. "Who would have thought only a few years ago that an industry legend like De Palma would have made an ultra-low budget film about the Iraq war? And yet Brian chose to work with this technology because he felt it was more appropriate to the story he had to tell than the traditional Hollywood apparatus he habitually works with," Kliot explained, days after the provocative film's debut at the Venice Film Festival and subsequent sneak screening in Telluride (see related indieWIRE article).

"'Redacted' works so well because it is digital -- not in spite of the fact that it is digital." Looking ahead, Kliot noted, "Joana and I hope that the artistic success of Brian's film, along with that of Steven Soderbergh's 'Bubble,' will encourage the many talented filmmakers trapped in Hollywood to embrace the new technology and make more films 'from the heart.'"

2929 Entertainment's Todd Wagner and director Steven Soderbergh with Joana Vicente and Jason Kliot in Toronto two years ago to announce a new slate of HDNet films. Photo by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE

HDNet was formed four years ago and quickly stirred controversy in certain industry circles as Cuban and Wagner explored a day and date distribution model about releasing films in the company's Landmark Theaters circuit, on the HDNet cable network, and via DVD all on the same day. With this summer's "Broken English" the company staggered the DVD release from its simultaneous premiere in theaters and on TV.

Previous HDNet projects have included Steven Soderbergh's "Bubble," Hal Hartley's "Fay Grim," Zoe Cassavetes' "Broken English," Alex Gibney's Oscar nominated, "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room." HDNet's "Enron" was the big box office winner, by far, earning some $4 million, while the company's recent "English" has come close to breaking the $1 million mark. Much less successful were Hal Hartley's "Fay Grim," which earned just over $125,000 in theaters and two films from Toronto '05, "The War Within" which made just $74,655 and "One Last Thing" which earned only $13,334 at the box office.

De Palma's "Redacted" and five other HDNet Films remain en route to theaters, including Doug Pray's "Surfwise," playing here at the Toronto fest as well. Also upcoming are Carlos Brooks' "Quid Pro Quo" with Nick Stahl and Vera Farmiga (and producers Midge Sanford and Sarah Pillsbury); director Alex Gibney and producer Graydon Carter's "Hunter" about Hunter S. Thompson, Don McGlynn's "Untitled Gospel Project" about the legends and influence of gospel music (with producer Joe Lauro), and Mark Levin's "Mr. Untouchable" about the rise and fall of heroin dealer Nicky Barnes (with Gibney and Mary-Jane Robison as producers). All are being sold here in Toronto by HDNet Films International, the sales division launched last year.

"We made great movies and will continue to do so," Mark Cuban told indieWIRE via email on Thursday, adding, "Jason and Joana have done a great job of selecting projects and intend to continue that trend." But, he noted, "With these changes, we should be able to increase the number of releases under each banner."

Praising Cuban and Wagner as visionaries, Jason Kliot emphasized that a number of HDNet Films projects are still being completed and will hit festivals, and then theaters via Cuban/Wagner-owned Magnolia Pictures. "Joana and I are very excited about our future endeavors with all of the writers and directors we have created such strong relations with throughout the years," noted Jason Kliot on Thursday, "The digital model is still strong--but it is no longer a model that exists in opposition to traditional filmmaking. It is simply expression in itself--and we need as much of that as possible."