A lot of movies come out this time of year, noted Miramax president Daniel Battsek straining to make his voice heard over the din of a busy Manhattan lunch hour at Brasserie Ruhlmann in Rockefeller Center last week. Speaking to an intimate group of journalists, insiders and Academy members seated at a wing of tables on one end of the restaurant, Battsek praised Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" as, "The most special film of the year." Moments later, the acclaimed artist turned filmmaker Schnabel walked over to a low divider separating his party from the general public eating nearby and yelled, "Excuse me!" briefly silencing the entire restaurant and asking the business people and tourists to quiet themselves while he made remarks to his luncheon attendees. It was just one of the many oppurtunities that the director has taken in recent weeks to promote his upcoming passion project.
Two weeks ago, Schnabel was on the scene at parties, screenings and Q & A sessions on the West Coast, while last week he started making the rounds in New York, including a gala premiere at the historic Zeigfeld Theater in Midtown. When Miramax's Battsek acquired "Diving Bell" at the Cannes Film Festival back in May (where Schnabel won the directing award), he promised a New York launch at the classic theater, and last week delivered a full house at the massive venue. Ahead of the film's upcoming theatrical debut, Schanbel basked in the glow of a NYC showing that stoked talk about the film being a serious awards contender this year.
Miramax was among the specialty divisions in focus in indieWIRE's previous awards dispatch, already at the front of the awards season picture pack with the Coen Brothers "No Country For Old Men." Now, with "Diving Bell," Battsek and company are backing a contender that on the surface might seem like a tough sell. It is entirely in French with a lead character unable to speak. But, behind the scenes it boasts names well known in Hollywood. Producers Kathleen Kennedy ("Jurassic Park", "Seabisquit") and Jon Kilik ("Babel," "Pollock" ushered to the screen a script by writer Ronald Harwood ("The PIanist", "The Dresser").
Set to open next week, Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is the moving, strikingly visual adaptation of Jean-Dominique Bauby's Le Scaphandre et papillon, starring Mathieu Amalric as the well-known former editor of French Elle (and Max Von Sydow as the Parisian's aging father). Incapacitated by a rare stroke that left him almost 100% paralyzed, Bauby had to learn to communicate by blinking just one eye in order to write his memoir.
"This was the epitome of a passion buy for me," Battsek told the Zeigfeld premiere audience last week, explaining that he was such a big fan of Bauby's autobiography that he went into the film's debut Cannes screening with fear and trepidation. His worries that Bauby's story was unfilmable were short-lived, however, and he quickly acquired the film at the fest. Expressing great pride in the project, the Miramax president vowed last week to do what it takes to "make this film what it can be."
"This is a good day," enthused Julian Schnabel, speaking shortly after Battsek at the "Diving Bell" New York premiere. He paused, "A real good day." Continuing he admitted that he's never done this much press for a movie, thanking Battsek for his support, including making good on the promise of a Zeigfeld screening. "I saw 'Apocalypse Now' here," Schnabel enthused adding, "It's nice to show a movie in your home town, in a great theater." And then he read a lengthy, touching poem written to Schnabel by his late father before his death. A few in the audience became a bit restless as Schnabel read the poem, but the personal note set an appropriate tone for the evening.
"I read this poem to Kathy [Kennedy] and she decided to give me the job," Schnabel explained to the audience. Eliciting a bit of laughter he added, "You think I'm kidding..."
After the premiere showing, Schnabel was surrounded by a host of famous friends -- including Michael Stipe, Adrien Brody, and Abel Ferrara -- during an exclusive Gucci/Interview magazine party in his honor at Mr. Chow's restaurant downtown where guests sipped pink champagne and shared family style platters of Asian cuisine.
Schnabel will continue to make the scene over the next week, appearing at BAM on Monday night to support Gotham Awards honoree Javier Bardem, his lead in "Before Night Falls," who is co-starring this year in "No Country for Old Men." While on Wednesday, Schnabel will be talking "Diving Bell" as well as music in film generally at the Apple Store Soho with friend Lou Reed.
Tuesday's 17th annual IFP Gotham Awards, to be held this year at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn, will also honor Mira Nair ("The Namesake", "Monsoon Wedding"), film critic Roger Ebert, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and IFC Entertainment president Jonathan Sehring. With the boutique ceremony, the IFP seeks to showcase "creative vision and risk-taking" in independent film. Six competitive categories are also up for grabs, including the recently profiled "Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You" section.
indieWIRE's predictions for the upcoming Gotham Awards follow, the complete list of competitive nominees were announed last month. Predictions below are from indieWIRE Editor-in-Chief Eugene Hernandez (EH), Managing Editor Brian Brooks (BB), and Assistant Editor Peter Knegt (PK):
EH: "Into the Wild"
BB: "I'm Not There"
PK: "I'm Not There"
EH: "Taxi to the Dark Side"
BB: "My Kid Could Paint That"
PK: "The Devil Came on Horseback"
Best Ensemble Cast
EH: "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"
BB: "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"
PK: "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead"
EH: Craig Zobel, "Great World of Sound"
BB: Stephane Gauger, "The Owl and the Sparrow"
PK: Craig Zobel, "Great World of Sound"
EH: Ellen Page
BB: Emile Hirsch
PK: Emile Hirsch
Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You
EH: "August the First"
BB: "Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa"
PK: "August The First"
Get the latest on awards season anytime in indieWIRE's special Awards Watch section.