by Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE
indieWIRE has learned that two distributors are at the head of the pack in pursuit of Kevin Smith's new film "Dogma." The movie, which had its public Cannes screening on Friday night at midnight following two press screenings earlier in the day, is being chased by Lions
Gate and MGM, with a third distributor -- Artisan Entertainment -- hanging on as a "distant" third according to a source close to the film. Reached on his first day back in
the office yesterday (Wednesday), Lions Gate President Mark Urman acknowledged that he saw the film this weekend -- he did not deny his company's pursuit of the movie, but declined comment.
Artisan has been mentioned often as a potential suitor for the film. Reached at a mid-week party in Cannes, one Artisan executive confirmed the company was interested in the movie, but then quipped,"So is everyone else!" -- an LA Times report Saturday positioned Artisan as a front-runner for the film.
However, in a post on the NewsAskew (http://www.newsaskew.com) site surveying his trip to Cannes, Kevin Smith essentially put the Artisan rumors to bed. "You can all put away your Artisan hats," Smith wrote, indicating that the company offered to take video rights for the movie. "Word was they called back Saturday afternoon after the NY and LA Times pieces hit the street," Smith added, "Needless to say, I'd like to go another way." indieWIRE reached Artisan late yesterday afternoon and the company declined comment.
Although Miramax International is handling foreign sales of "Dogma," as the new owners of the pic, Harvey and Bob Weinstein are personally taking the lead on selling the domestic rights, an insider indicated yesterday. According to Smith, Harvey Weinstein "wants to take his time to hear everyone out (except Artisan at this point)." Smith speculated on a September or October release date for the movie, depnedent upon whether the film screens at the New York Film Festival.
"It's nice that Harvey and Bob are still involved with the movie," Smith commented in indieWIRE over the weekend, "Eventually it'll find a home, hopefully, you know -- it's got those 'Good Will Hunting' guys so maybe we'll make a dime off it."
While the "Dogma" cast includes Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Salma Hayek, Alan Rickman, Chris Rock, Janeane Garofalo, and Bud Cort, as well as Smith-regulars Jason Lee and Jason Mewes, an emerging issue is whether the film should be considered a smaller "art-house" film or -- given the high profile cast -- a larger, more mainstream release. During the impromptu news conference following Friday's Cannes press screening, Harvey Weinstein stated more than once, "This movie is not a small movie, it's not an art house movie." He offered, "It's going to be the size of 'Pulp Fiction,' if they [the distributor] do it right." In a conversation with indieWIRE yesterday, an IndieWood studio insider who saw the film in Cannes pegged the movie as a smaller art-house release, despite its stellar cast.
Critical response to the film has been lead by major mentions in high-profile dailies stateside. As indicated, Janet Maslin from the New York Times weighed in over the weekend, as did Kenneth Turan in the LA Times. Turan called the movie, "A lively, if uneven, film of ideas that combines a breezy and brazen save-the-world comic fantasy with crude adolescent humor and a sincere exploration of questions of religious faith."
Roger Ebert offered his take on Monday, delivering a supportive review. "Smith's dialogue is funny and smart, getting laughs with concepts and paradoxes that would be beyond the reach of many filmmakers," he wrote. Addressing the controversial aspects of the picture which forced the Weinsteins' wallet in the first place, Ebert added, "My own suspicion is that 'Dogma' will play funnier and be more entertaining for Catholics than for any other group. Stand back to get the big picture, and the movie isn't blasphemous so much as devout by an extremely indirect route." Meanwhile, Amy Taubin of the Village Voice added to the heat yesterday, writing, "Disappointed Star Wars devotees take note: Kevin Smith's Dogma is the real 'Phantom Menace,' as inspired, goofy, subversive, and thought-provoking a pop-culture vision of the battle between good and evil as has been presented on the movie screen."
If any singular review stung the "Dogma" camp it was clearly Todd McCarthy's slap published Monday morning in Variety. "A very vulgar pro-faith comedy rather than a sacrilegious goof, 'Dogma' is an extraordinarily uneven film that significant cutting might be able to transform into a playable one," the critic offered, adding that the 135-minute film needs to be shortened by 30 - 40 minutes.
McCarthy is not the first critic to recommend cutting the movie. In his post-Cannes dispatch, Smith indicated that the journalists he spoke with in Cannes, while positive about the movie, encouraged that it be shortened. "They almost all threw out a figure of ten to fifteen minutes, though - a far cry from a half hour or more," Smith wrote, "So once we've settled in, it's back to the Avid for some more trimming."