Buyers from American distribution companies have been taking meetings, popping in and out of screenings, and power-lunching in Southern California for the past few days, but most have stayed well west of the 405 Freeway, mingling and networking in Santa Monica with European, Asian, and Latin American sellers at the American Film Market (AFM). Separately, filmmakers, festival programmers and journalists have been hanging out east of La Brea at the Arclight in Hollywood for screenings and parties at the AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival in Hollywood. People crossing the geographic borders in that separate the two events in traffic-congested Los Angeles have sometimes been left frustrated. Despite the grousing though, market activity here in Los Angeles the past week has been punctuated by a number of deal announcements, even if they are for films that are not so new to buyers.
"Mutual Appreciation," "EV Confidential" and "Rolling Family" Deals
Among the noteworthy announcements timed to the ongoing American Film Market here in Santa Monica this week is the news of twenty-city release that is planned for Andrew Bujalski's "Mutual Appreciation," the follow-up to his film "Funny Ha Ha." The film premiered at SXSW this year. Goodbye Cruel Releasing has acquired worldwide rights to the film and will debut it in theaters next Spring. At the American Film Market in Santa Monica Sunday, company distribution head Houston King touted the pact in a conversation with indieWIRE. Hoping to further develop Bujalski's growing fan base, Goodbye Cruel will release the movie in twenty cities.
"Midway through 'Mutual Appreciation', I realized that Andrew had not succumbed to a sophomore slump and that it was even a better film than 'Funny Ha Ha'," said company releasing president Gary Stewart. "Andrew is and going to be a major talent and I wanted to be a part of it." The film is playing at the AFI Fest tomorrow (Wednesday) and Thursday in Hollywood.
Meanwhile Sony Pictures Classics, ahead of Monday's AFI Fest centerpiece premiere screening of Tommy Lee Jones "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," announced its acquisition of North American rights for the doc "EV Confidential." The film, directed by Chris Paine ("Faster"), produced by Jessie Deeter and financed by Dean Devlin's Electric Entertainment, explores the birth and death of the electric car. In a statement, Devlin said, "The foremost goal in making this movie is to educate and enlighten audiences with the story of this car, its place in history, and in the larger story of our car culture and its enablement of our addiction to foreign oil." The company will release his passion project in theaters next year.
Palm Pictures on Monday announced a deal for North American and Caribbean rights to Pablo Trapero's "Rolling Family," which debuted this year at the Sundance Film Festival. It will be released in theaters early next year followed by a Palm DVD release. The film is the story of cross-country journey to the Argentina-Brazil border by an Argentine grandmother (played by Gracina Chironi) and her family. The film won the best director and best actress prizes at the Gijon Film Festival last year.
West Side V. East Side in L.A.
Over at the AFI Fest Saturday night, industry attendees complained a bit about the recent partnership between AFI Fest and AFM. The concurrent events in Los Angeles have resulted in long distance driving between AFI Fest in Hollywood and the AFM in Santa Monica for some attendees. On stage Saturday at the AFI Fest's European Film Promotion celebrating new European talent, organization head Claudia Landsberger from Holland Film quipped that in the hour and a half it took her drive from the beach to the festival that evening, she could have driven from her home in Amsterdam to somewhere in Belgium. Other guests who arrived late to the party at the comfortable AFI Fest Rooftop Village laughed and clapped knowingly. During the day on Sunday and Monday, travel times were more manageable, with the few guests traveling on the shuttle between the two events enjoying complimentary sponsored beverages, including Aquafina water and Stella Artois beer.
On Sunday night a lead buyer for an American distributor who ventured to Hollywood for AFI Fest complained, like many U.S. buyers in Santa Monica, about the lack of hot films at AFM. The exec instead asked for updates on some of the films playing in Hollywood at the fest. Calling the AFM "depressing," the buyer expressed anticipation for the expanding European Film Market in Berlin in February, saying that event is a "good market at a good festival," second only to Cannes with its "so-so market at a great film festival." Most American theatrical buyers here in SoCal this week seem to be focusing more on meetings, giving companies an opportunity to pitch new projects and offering them a chance to plant items in industry trades filled with ads of mostly schlocky new exploitation films and B movies.
Studio shakeups have had some market attendees buzzing here in Santa Monica. Last week, Warner Bros. laid off hundreds, includes a few top production execs at Warner Independent. Meanwhile, the coming changes at Paramount Classics are on many minds, with insiders curious to know new company head John Lesher's plan for the division. Will the name stay the same? What about the company's mission and staffing? Everyone is expecting major changes, but Paramount has yet to make the announcement official. A formal announcement that could answer a lot of these questions has been anticipated for days. Departing company co-presidents Ruth Vitale and David Dinerstein recently closed a deal for the next animal doc from National Georgraphic Feature Films. Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson's "Call of the North" is about a polar bear and a walrus struggling for survival.
TV sports network ESPN announced a deal for theatrical, home entertainment and TV rights to Jonathan Hock's "Through the Fire," the story of basketball player Sebastian Telfair in his senior year of high school as he considers skipping college to go pro. It debuted back in April at the Tribeca Film Festival and will screen later this week at AFI Fest. ESPN will air the doc on March 12, 2006 after the men's NCAA basketball tournament section, releasing the movie through corporate sibling Buena Vista Home Entertainment just two days later. The company said Monday that a small theatrical release is being considered for February, ahead of the cable TV debut.
The Weinstein Company, celebrating its first market appearance here at AFM with a party Friday that welcomed Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, toasted a deal this weekend. The company nabbed North American, UK, and Irish distribution rights to Wilson Yip's Hong Kong action film "SPL," which debuted at Toronto this year. The film stars Sammo Hung, Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, and Wu Jing. It was written by Szeto Kam-yuen ("A Hero Never Dies") and Ng Wai-lun, and was produced by Carl Chang and 1618 Action Limited.
Gold Circle and Media Asia's plan for a U.S. remake of Johnnie To's action film, "Breaking News," which played at Cannes last year, was touted in the Screen International market daily. The paper also highlighted a March 2006 release for Stephen Wooley's "Stoned," about Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, through Screen Media Ventures. Screen International also weighed in with a report on the latest from Lars Von Trier. The director plans to deliver his comedy "My Man The President" in Spring of '07, and is also planning to make a documentary about Carl Dreyer's 1964 feature film, "Gertrud."
Trade papers seem mixed about how to characterize this year's AFM. In a front page piece published Wednesday, the first day of the event, The Hollywood Reporter wrote that buyers "say they are anticipating a busy market," but four days later in a front page story published in their AFM daily, the Reporter wrote that while the market has been crowded with buyers and sellers, "business is relatively slow."
Despite the criticisms and talk in the trades that there are still too many markets in the Fall, AFM organizers touted attendance of more than 8,000 this year, an increase of 13% over last year. Market organizers cited some 1,500 buyers hailing from 62 countries this year.
[Coverage of AFI Fest and AFM is available in a special AFI FEST section of indieWIRE.com.]