DISPATCH FROM CANNES: Doc Directors Dominate American Showcase, Moore Talks About 9/11 Film, and More
by Eugene Hernandez
Americans making movies outside the system, many of them documentaries, are being showcased this year in Cannes. In fact, documentary filmmakers dominated Saturday's American Directors in Cannes discussion, hosted by IFP/New York at Variety's beachside pavilion. The 14th annual discussion, again moderated by Roger Ebert, welcomed Michael Moore ("Fahrenheit 9/11"), Xan Cassavetes ("Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession"), Jonathan Nossiter ("Mondovino"), Nicole Kassell ("The Woodsman"), Jonathan Caouette ("Tarnation"), and Jacob Estes ("Mean Creak").
Caouette's "Tarnation" is already a hit here on the Croisette. The film, which played yesterday in the Director's Fortnight section, elicited an extended nearly 10-minute standing ovation last night, drawing tears of joy from director Caouette and his team. The powerful personal documentary, which screened at MIX in NYC last year and at Sundance in January, is Caouette's autobiography, told through a stunning collage of photos, musical numbers, Super-8 home movie footage, short films and even some reenactments. Caouette began documenting his own experiences at age 11, capturing the drama of his own life coming-of-age and coming out of the closet, intensified by his mother's struggles with schizophrenia; all for an initial budget of just $218.32. (Caouette famously edited the movie on Apple's consumer iMovie software, before selling the film to Wellspring to secure finishing funds and clear music rights.)
"'Tarnation' is not good because it cost $218.32, it's good because it's good," critic Roger Ebert said Saturday at the panel. Ebert has been a champion of the movie, recently showcasing it at his Overlooked Film Festival.
"I had a lot of pretty interesting footage from a pretty interesting family," explained Caouette on Saturday, "I wish I was 11 years old right now so that I could start right now." He added that he hopes his movie will inspire those who have never had a voice to pick up a camera to tell their stories.
Wellspring confirmed Sunday that it has closed its first international deals for distribution of the picture. Optimum Releasing has acquired the film in the United Kingdon, while Dendy Films will release the movie in Australia.
Look Back at "Z Channel"
Xan Cassavetes, daughter of the late filmmaker John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands, profiles the former L.A. cable outlet, Z Channel, and its maverick programmer Jerry Harvey in her new documentary. The channel, which debuted in Southern California in 1974, was an early pay outlet in the U.S. that aired a mix of classics, foreign films, indies, and Hollywood hits. Ebert called it a predecessor to places like the IFC and Sundance Channel.
"It was if Z Channel was invented for all those films that must be seen and could not be seen," explained Cassavetes, who is making her debut as a doc director with this project (an IFC production).
More American Movies
Jonathan Nossiter's competition doc "Mondovino," profiled Friday here in indieWIRE, is a look inside the colorful world of the wine business, from small local wineries to international powerhouse Mondavi.
On the narrative side, Saturday's panel welcomed two newcomers on the fiction side. Nicole Kassell's "The Woodsman," which debuted earlier this year at Sundance, was acquired by Newmarket Films, while Jacob Estes' "Mean Creek" was picked up by Paramount Classics after its premiere at that fest.
"I wanted to be a director, but it was hard," explained Kassell, "No one wanted to make this movie, (given) the subject matter and a (my being a) first-time director. "There is nothing worse than being a first-time (narrative) director," agreed Estes, regarding finding a backer for his self-described "morality tale." Kassell, a screenplay winner at Slamdance who also had a short at Sundance, secured Kevin Bacon as a star in the tough story of a pedophile that was produced by Lee Daniels ("Monster's Ball"). Music guru Damon Dash later came in with additional financing to get the movie made. Praising distributor Newmarket, Kassell added, "They're not afraid of films that everyone else is afraid of touching."
Michael Moore Speaks
Of course, all ears perked up when Michael Moore took the mic (the director arrived a little late so that he could speak at a concurrent arts workers protest and demonstration nearby). His new film, its title slightly altered with the addition of a small bit of punctuation (now titled "Fahrenheit 9/11"), premiered this morning in official and unofficial screenings for media and buyers, followed by the red carpet competition premiere later today (Monday). It marks Moore's third trip to this festival, following "Canadian Bacon" in 1995 and award-winner "Bowling for "Columbine" in 2002.
[indieWIRE will report on the film's first screenings, including a review, in Tuesday's edition.]
Moore reiterated that Disney made the decision not to release his new film just two weeks ago. "We knew that Eisner was not happy about Harvey and Miramax making this movie, nevertheless Disney kept sending the money every month so we could make it," Moore told the crowd. He showed the movie to an exec from Disney last month and they later rejected it.
"It has not been the easiest week," added Moore, "We worked so hard on this film, we are very proud of it -- in every other country in the world except Taiwan, the rights have been sold." He reinforced that he still intends to have the film out in U.S. theaters during the Fourth of July weekend. "I have a lot of say about Disney and a lot that hasn't been reported, it's very dangerous to give someone like me a peek behind the curtain, and I will tell all as soon as all these negotiations have been concluded."
As for the charge that all of the attention is being drummed up to help the film, Moore countered, citing "Kids" and "Dogma" (two movies that Miramax could not release), "All that controversy didn't help either of those movies -- no filmmaker wants this to happen." Continuing he added, "I don't like the message this sends to people either, what it tells people who aren't Michael Moore is, don't even think about making a movie like that -- it has a chilling effect -- our media has consolidated, five men and one woman make the decisions about what Americans can see, and we are worse off as a society."
At Sunday's session with Variety editor Peter Bart, back at the Variety pavilion, Moore gave attendees a preview of the movie saying, "You'll see things you don't know -- we got cameras embedded in Iraq. You'll learn things you've never heard before." Continuing, in a reference to the Bush administration, Moore added succinctly, "They're fucked!"
"By hook or by crook, I'll make sure Americans will see this film," Moore said Sunday.
First Look Active in Cannes
First Look has signed deals for five films currently in pre-production. The company will finance and handle international sales on a slate of new movies as part of its production initiative, with president Bill Lischak and VP Dana Lamber leading the charge.
Projects set include Nisha Ganatra's "Cake," starring Heather Graham, David Sutcliffe, and Sandra Oh; Toni Kotite's "Kevin Approaches" with Guy Pearce, Laura Linney, Robert Carlyle, Minnie Driver, and Christopher Walken; Jonathan English's "Minotaur" with Luke Mably, Tony Todd, and Steven Berkoff; Derick & Steven Martini's "Lymelife" with Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Timothy Hutton, Cynthia Nixon, and Rory Culkin; and the CGI/live action title, "Wind in the Willows."
The company also announced that it has partnered with Samuel Goldwyn on the domestic theatrical release of John Irvin's "Boys and Girl from County Clare." The film stars Andrea Corr, lead singer of The Corrs, as well as Colm Meaney, Bernard Hill, and Phil Barantini. The movie will be released under the First Look banner as part of the pact with Goldwyn. First Look is here in Cannes selling international rights to the movie.
Last week, the company announced here that it will release Christian Johnston's "September Tapes" with THINKFilm.
Goldberger's Latest Set With Antidote and This is That
Julian Goldberger's new film, "The Hawk Is Dying," will star Paul Giamatti, Sarah Polley, and Michael Pitt, with Jeff Levy-Hinte & Mary Jane Skalski's Antidote Films and Ted Hope, Anthony Bregman & Anne Carey's This is That teaming up for the movie. The film is adapted by Goldberger from Harry Crews' novel and will shoot in Florida this fall.
"Julian's first feature ("trans") was one of the strongest visual and aural debuts I have witnessed," said Hope in a statement. "Through the development process Julian has proven to be equally adept at narrative and character. 'Hawk' promises to be a uniquely visual world anchored by the kind of performances that will catch everyone's attention." Golberger's "trans" was a critical hit at Sundance, Toronto, and New Directors/New Films.