Dispatch From Europe: Warp Films Heats Up with Distribution and Production; Karlovy Vary Preview
by Wendy Mitchell
Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's documentaries "Paradise Lost" (1996) and "Revelations: Paradise Lost 2" (2000), hailed as some of the most important non-fiction films in the past decade, are back in the spotlight. New U.K. distributor and production company Warp Films is releasing the docs on DVD June 20, and, even more impressively, is launching a theatrical run in England and Scotland in June and July.
If you had to pigeonhole Warp's releases so far, the only common trait might be "disturbing." Its award-winning production of Shane Meadows' "Dead Man's Shoes" followed a man seeking violent revenge in the English Midlands. (That film, which had been one of indieWIRE's top 15 undistributed films of 2004, will be released in U.S. theaters by Magnolia Pictures.) And the "Paradise Lost" docs are the haunting story of three teenage boys behind bars for the shocking murders of three young boys in a small Arkansas town. Later this month, Warp will release "Rubber Johnny," an experimental short film and accompanying art book by Chris Cunningham. The director is famed for his disturbing music videos for Aphex Twin ("Come to Daddy," "Windowlicker"), and "Rubber Johnny" pushes the envelope as well -- it's about a shape shifting mutant child locked in a basement.
It shouldn't be surprising that Warp Films isn't going after a mainstream audience. The company was formed as an offshoot of groundbreaking music label Warp Records in 2001. Its mission statement echoes the cutting-edge vibe of the music slate: "By keeping the creative process at the core of our approach to filmmaking, Warp Films aims to create fresh and innovative feature length and short films to be viewed by a wide audience."
Developing lasting relationships with directors is crucial, says Mark Herbert, managing director of Warp Films. Cunningham is now developing two features with the company, and Shane Meadows will also make his next film with Warp. The company also plans to work on a feature with Lynne Ramsay ("Ratcatcher," "Morvern Callar"). "We are very much into people with an individual style, directors who genuinely have a vision," Herbert says. "We look at them as artists who will grow over time. It'll be interesting bodies of works, not necessarily making a lot of money on one particular film release."
Warp is in pre-production with Shane Meadows on his next film, which could be shooting as soon as August. That project is set in the 1980s, delving into the skinhead subculture in England. Funding will come from the U.K. Film Council as well as Film Four, which has a first-look deal with Warp. Herbert notes that the company's production office in Sheffield also opens up doors to regional funding agencies. (Warp's distribution activities are run through its London office.)
While features may take the spotlight, Warp Films is committed to working with directors on shorts when appropriate. "Rubber Johnny" will be out on DVD, in theaters with "Paradise Lost," and also available for download at bleep.com. Shorts have been successful for the company in the past -- Warp's first release was short "My Wrongs #8245-8249 & 117" from well-known British comedian Chris Morris. That 12-minute comedy won a BAFTA and sold 25,000 copies in the U.K.
Herbert says that the company will continue to make shorts as well as features, depending on the ideas of its directors. The company doesn't want to grow too fast, however. "We want to take a bit of care, we'd rather have two or three films a year instead of four or five," Herbert says.
As for the acquisitions side, "Paradise Lost" was brought to the company by its distribution head Luke Morris, a longtime fan of the films. "Luke brought 'Paradise Lost' to our attention and we all agreed that it was perfect for our first acquisition," Herbert said. The music tie-in (Metallica donated their songs to the films) was appealing, but Herbert also points to the timelessness of the compelling story. In fact, Berlinger and Sinofsky reveal in their DVD commentary that they are working on "Paradise Lost 3." The forthcoming U.K. release can only help draw attention to this excellent series of films.
It's shaping up to be a good year for the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, which will celebrate its 40th event from July 1-9. Guests this year include Crystal Globe recipients Robert Redford (who will have a dedicated program) and Liv Ullmann (whose work will be seen in the Nature and Landscape in Norwegian Cinema section), Alexander Payne, Michael Radford, Walter Salles, Raoul Ruiz, and Atom Egoyan.
More than 230 films will screen. Organizers have already announced that the Czech film "The City of the Sun: Working Class Heroes" by Martin Sulik will be in the international competition, as will Polish production "My Nikifor" by Krzysztof Krauze and Marta Meszaros' "The Unburied Man" (Hungary-Poland-Slovakia).
Julietta Zacharova, program director of the KVIFF, says those three Eastern European films in competition have "less in common in terms of style and story but all three of them can be described as films with very strong acting performances, films that are in a way quite typical for the countries they come from -- in terms of filmmaking but also in terms of describing a certain atmosphere and "soul" of a certain country."
She told indieWIRE that the program's overall theme would be "humanity and interest in the destiny of a human being." Of course, with more than 230 films, they are all diverse, "from classical beautiful cinema with stunning images to modern and very rough movies shot on digital."
The annual program of Czech films had a strong year in terms of number of productions as well as international acclaim for a Jan Hrebejk's "Up and Down."
Special programs will include eight films in the World War II: 60 Years After program, presented with the National Film Archive Prague, a retrospective devoted to Japanese puppeteer and animator Kihachrio Kawamoto, a six-film tribute to Sam Peckinpah (including the director's cut of "Wild Bunch"), a focus on Canadian film, a music-focused sidebar, an experimental program.
The Horizons program, of hits from other festivals, will include "Sin City," Russian blockbuster "Night Watch," Thomas Vinterberg's "Dear Wendy," Todd Solondz's "Palindromes," and Kim Ki-Duk's "3-Iron."
In one notable change, the festival's East of the West section of Eastern European cinema will now have its own competition in addition to the international competition. Philip Morris will sponsor the section's award, which carries a prize of 250,000 Czech crowns. Other changes will be a bigger industry office and a larger videotheque. (indieWIRE will be covering the festival.)