DAILY NEWS: New This Week, Raindance Winners and The Coen Brothers Make a Return
by Eugene Hernandez, Anthony Kaufman and Jacque Lynn Schiller/indieWIRE
>> NEW THIS WEEK: Indies Go for the Gold; and Piggybacking Success
(indieWIRE/10.31.01) -- As we approach the Holiday season, the time is nigh
for "Oscar" -- when companies, big and small, start placing their bets on
"high quality" pictures they hope to compete for next year's Academy gold
(and the box office that can come with the little statuette). While the
studios plan to rake in the money with Halloween fright fests this week,
specialized distributors have pre-empted their mega-rivals with two new
releases likely to be remembered next March.
Opening today in New York and L.A. from USA Films, idiosyncratic masters
Joel and Ethan Coen return to their noir side with "The Man Who Wasn't There," a Chandler-esque drama that combines the genre's typical fatalism with quirky comedy and sci-fi paranoia. Billy Bob Thornton stars -- along
with the movie's pristine black and white cinematography (actually shot on
color stock) -- in this latest free-flowing escapade by the brothers Coen.
As a stone-faced 1950s barber, Thornton is virtually unrecognizable,
perfectly quaffed and as stiff as Montgomery Clift, in a performance that is
certainly to raise eyebrows. Don't be surprised if Thornton, co-star Frances
McDormand ("Bingo!"), cinematographer Roger Deakins (nominated in 2001 for "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"), and the sibling filmmaking team (nominated
for Best Screenplay for "O Brother") make it up the red carpet once again.
(Read today's indieWIRE's review of the film from its Cannes 2001 premiere.)
Miramax can't lose with their foreign language Oscar hopeful, "Amelie,"
another fate-filled journey, however more rose-colored, directed by
Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Delicatessen," "The City of Lost Children"). The film became a popular sensation back home in France, young starlet Audrey Tautou has been hailed as the next Hepburn, and the film's already received
audience awards at the Toronto, Edinburgh, and Karlovy Vary Film Festivals. Enough said. (Read our interview with Jeunet later this week.)
The sheer force of "Amelie" even prompted another distributor, Lot 47, to
shift their release date for "Happenstance," now also opening Friday and
starring Tautou (along with a structure that is heavily indebted to the
playfully fated worlds made famous by Jeunet). Originally called "The
Beating of Butterfly's Wings," for the notion that even a butterfly's wings
can trigger a larger cause and effect chain, "Happenstance's" success will
largely depend on Tautou's rising star. (Variety reported Tuesday that she
will tackle her first English language picture, Stephen Frears' upcoming
"Dirty Pretty Things," which has been acquired by none other than Miramax.)
Also capitalizing on another film's release, Lions Gate will release Richard
Linklater's "Tape," his follow up to "Waking Life" (which opened two weeks ago from Fox Searchlight). By piggybacking on Fox Searchlight's campaign for "Waking Life," Lions Gate need not push Linklater into the marketing
limelight once again. In addition to indieWIRE's own interview, which is
several articles have included discussion about both films in light of
Produced by InDigEnt, the DV joint venture of Gary Winick, John Sloss and the IFC, "Tape" was purchased at last year's Sundance Film Festival by Lions Gate in a package deal. "Tape" is the first release as a result of the pact, and reportedly the most successful film in the batch (Ethan Hawke, Robert
Sean Leonard and Uma Thurman star as a group of reunited college friends,
trapped in a psychological powder keg of a hotel room); next up in the
InDigEnt series is "Final," Campbell Scott's sci-fi picture, which is coming
out jointly through Cowboy Pictures and Lions Gate. Ethan Hawke's
directorial debut "Chelsea Walls," after a few aborted release dates, is now
scheduled for April.
Urbanworld, the film festival turned film distributor, will also join the
fray this weekend with "Punks," Patrik Ian-Polk's Sundance 2000 entry, which claims to be the first feel-good gay comedy by and about black men. A winner
at the L.A. OutFest and Cleveland Film Festivals, "Punks" faces a
particularly small niche market (perhaps only served thus far by the British
TV series "Metrosexuality"), but Variety called the film "slick,
ingratiating and high-spirited enough to win over gay men of all colors."
The intersection of African American and gay themes, incidentally, is also
on display in Carl Seaton's debut indie "One Week," which in its second
weekend garnered the highest grossing per screen average of any movie in
release (at an average of $2,658 on 16 screens). The story of a young man
who learns he may be HIV positive one week before his wedding, "One Week" is
being released by new distributor Film Life, established by "One Week"
executive producer Jeff Friday to offer theatrical opportunities for
independent black and Latino films.
Lastly, there is one film opening in New York City that is certain not to be
honored by the Academy, "Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV," directed by
Lloyd Kaufman (no relation to this reporter). The Troma legend returns with this latest installment of the exploitation franchise to New York's East
Village Pioneer Theater, celebrating what the company calls "27 years of
Reel Independence." [Anthony Kaufman]
>> No Man's Land Finds Itself in Winners Circle at Raindance Film Festival
(indieWIRE/10.31.01) -- Danis Tanovic's "No Man's Land" won the Official
Selection Feature Jury Prize at the well-attended and well-received 9th
annual Raindance Film Festival. The event, established to provide support
for the burgeoning British indie community, also introduced Jury Prizes this
year in recognition of the outstanding achievements of the filmmakers
showcased at the festival. "Having been astounded by the quality of this
year's films we felt the time was right to launch the Jury Prizes to reward
the best of the best", said Elliot Grove, Raindance Festival Director.
Raindance Film Festival Jury Prizes were awarded to: "About a Girl" (Brian
Percival) for Official Selection Short; "New Year's Day" (Suri Krishnamma) for UK Feature; "Shadowscan" (Tinge Krishnan) for UK Short; and "Bahama Mama" (Phil Turner) for Digital Cinema. The juries presented Honorable Mentions to the shorts "Swapped" and "Hubert's Brain" along with the Christie Malry's feature, "Own Double Entry."
According to Festival Jurors, (actress Saffron Burrows, editor Tom Charity,
writer Ayub Khan Din, producer Allan Niblo, screenwriter William C. Martell, Geraldine Moloney Head of UIP Marketing, Richard Morris Digital Consultant to the Film Council, Liz Rosenthal Head of UK Office and Next Wave Films and Steve Wisem General Manager FAST Multimedia UK), "All of the films were provocative and full of imaginative storytelling. We were especially heartened by the ambitious content of the films."
Digital video was lauded for its ease and creative promise, while the
Festival was complimented for its recognition and encouragement of
Mr. Grove concluded, "For nine years, Raindance has been fighting to create
a voice for independent filmmakers. This year's festival was the most
successful in the nine-year history of Raindance, attracting record
audiences and smashing house records by thirty percent. Next year will be
our tenth anniversary so we are already looking forward to celebrating a
decade of the best of independent filmmaking". [Jacque Lynn Schiller]
>> Catching Up With the Coens as "Man Who Wasn't There" Opens
(indieWIRE/05.14.01) -- The Coen Brothers latest, a competition entry at the
2001 Cannes Film Festival entitled "The Man Who Wasn't There," is a black
and white crime story set in Northern California in 1949. In this tale,
Billy Bob Thornton stars as Ed Crane, a mild-mannered everyman, a quiet
barber who takes a chance on a get rich quick scheme and ends up embroiled
in a murder investigation. Joel and Ethan Coen sat down with indieWIRE over in France, to discuss their new movie. (This report was initially published
during the Cannes Film Festival and has been slightly revised and updated).
The seeds of the story actually come from a 50's poster of boy's haircut
styles that was used to dress the set of a scene in "The Hudsucker Proxy,"
the Coens told indieWIRE. The artifact, which now hangs in their office
according to producer and co-writer Ethan Coen, got the brothers talking
about the story of a barber. "It was the idea of somebody trapped in that
position," commented director and co-writer Joel Coen, picking up for his
brother, "Who is this guy?"
Despite the beautiful, shadowy, black & white photography and crime theme,
to casually or simply brand their new movie as film noir is to miss the
point. This is fact that is not precisely pointed out by the Coens, but upon
their deeper explanation the distinction becomes clearer. The story is
rooted in the work of author James M. Cain, a leading pulp fiction writer
whose novels have resulted in such well known films as Billy Wilder's
"Double Indemnity," Michael Curtiz' "Mildred Pierce," and Tay Garnett's "The Postman Always Rings Twice."
The reactions to the Coen's stunningly shot film were not universally
positive back in France. The most common complaint surrounded the film's
slow pace. Many however, proclaimed it to be their best film yet and the
Festival jury awarded Joel Coen the Best Director prize (an award he shared
with David Lynch). Historically, this festival has proven quite successful
for the brothers, who were in France last year with the highly successful "O
Brother, Where Art Thou?" not to mention the successful trip to The
Croisette with "Barton Fink."
"Our movies do well in Europe" smiled Ethan Coen. "This is a good place to
showcase a movie for Europe," chimed in Joel, speaking softly as he and his
brother jointly picked at the label of a bottle of Pellegrino water.
Frances McDormand has re-teamed with her husband Joel and her brother-in-law
Ethan for the new film, starring as Ed Crane's wife Doris, an accountant who
is tangled up with Big Dave, her boss at Nirdlingers Department Store. While
Tony Soprano himself James Gandolfini appears as Big Dave, the husband of
The movie, which was shot in the summer of 2000 in Los Angeles, was actually
photographed in color, according to the Coens. Given the fact that black and
white film stock is no longer widely used it made more sense to shoot the
movie in color and later print the film in black and white. Roger Deakins
(interviewed earlier this week in indieWIRE) is back with the Coens for the
sixth time as the director of photography, he also shot "O Brother,"
"Fargo", and "Hudsucker" among others. Also back on the Coen team is Dennis
Gassner, the production designer on five of their films, including "Barton
Fink" and "Hudsucker." Carter Burwell returns to create music for the Coens
for the ninth time and costume designer Mary Zophres is working with the
Coen's for the fifth time.
Next up for the brothers was to have been "To the White Sea," based on a
James Dickey novel, a film they described back in May as a color, widescreen
movie. "It's a landscape movie to a certain extent," offered Ethan. Brad
Pitt was set to star. Last month, trade reports indicated that the film had
fallen apart and earlier this month, word had it that the Coens would next
tackle "Intolerable Cruelty" with George Clooney in the lead.
"We've done six films now; we were going to do "White Sea" together which
would have been the seventh," Roger Deakins told indieWIRE, in this week's
interview, "Maybe it will be 'Intolerable Cruelty,' I don't know." [Eugene
>> YESTERDAY in indieWIRE DAILY NEWS: "Trembling" Grosses; Nicholl Fellowships; and Denver Winners
(indieWIRE/10.30.01) -- "Trembling Before G-d," Sandi Simcha Dubowski's
documentary about Orthodox and Hasidic gays and lesbians topped Film Forum's
opening day box office record previously held by Jennie Livingston's "Paris
is Burning."; The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has
announced the five writers selected to receive the 2001 Don and Gee Nicholl
Fellowships in Screenwriting; And, the Denver International Film Festival
announces its honorees.