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by Jay A. Fernandez
December 21, 2012 11:27 AM
7 Comments
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Sundance Curiosities: What's With All the Retitling and Retreads?

Thanks goodness Fox Searchlight didn’t decide to go with “The Bayou.”

Specialty houses have been on a bit of a bender this year with renaming festival films for theatrical release. The latest is Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions’ decision, announced Thursday, to turn the Kristen Wiig-Annette Bening Toronto film festival comedy “Imogene” (directed by "American Splendor" filmmakers Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman) into the eminently bland, rom-com-sounding “Girl Most Likely” for its July 19, 2013 opening.

A few 2012 Sundance selections have been released this year with blander titles, too, including Ben Lewin’s “The Surrogate,” which Searchlight redubbed “The Sessions” (snore…) for its fall release, and Phil Dorling and Ron Nyswaner’s “Predisposed,” which IFC Films opened over the summer as “Why Stop Now.” (Actually, “Predisposed” was clunky, too.) In the midst of this fever for trying to broaden these indie films’ potential audiences, it really is a miracle that Benh Zeitlin’s Sundance grand jury prize-winning “Beasts of the Southern Wild” has retained its wondrous title.

READ MORE: Sundance Curiosities: Why Richard Linklater's 'Before Midnight' Will Be a Hit at the Festival -- And Beyond

Does Lionsgate really think it’ll be able to market “Girl Most Likely” to the same audiences that pay money to see “Failure to Launch” and “Along Came Polly?” Well, obviously it does. But “Bridesmaids” it is not, or "Imogene" wouldn’t have been in that festival slot to begin with.

So when did the indie-film world decide to latch on to one of the major studios’ most dubious habits? Isn’t the whole point of having a festival world that showcases original voices to provide hungry audiences with the odd, the provocative and the unexpected? Would “Reservoir Dogs” ring in the ears (let alone the guts) if it were called “The Heist?” What about renaming Cassevetes’ “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” something like “The Debt?” Would we all still be talking about “sex lies and videotape” if Soderbergh hadn’t gone for the mystery (and the libido) with his title?

READ MORE: Sundance Curiosities: 5 Observations on the 2013 Lineup, From the Mysteries of NEXT <=> to the New Provocateurs

Remakes have become another creeping indie-film sin. The 2013 Sundance program includes a few (David Gordon Green’s Premieres comedy “Prince Avalanche” and Jim Mickle’s Park City at Midnight entry “We Are What We Are” come to mind). But can’t we leave the retreads to Warner Bros. and Paramount? Who wouldn’t rather stumble on the surprise of a “Beasts” or “Like Crazy” instead? Did the Coen Bros. really need to remake “True Grit” when they could have made something like “Fargo,” “Miller’s Crossing” or “Raising Arizona?” Granted, both Green's and Mickle's new movies could be wonderful, but it's their original storytelling that made us want to pay attention in the first place.

Filmmakers certainly have the right to explore whatever they wish, and some fantastic cinema has come from a new take on old material. But Sundance programmers should have a serious conversation about whether remaking someone else’s material is a disqualification for the spotlight that the festival is purportedly designed to shine on new worlds, new voices, new approaches and, yes, new content.

What do you think?

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7 Comments

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  • Aaron | December 22, 2012 7:21 PMReply

    Jay-- This is (for the most part) well written and interesting piece, but it's unclear what remakes and retitling has to do with one another... they seem like two separate grievances you attempted to tie together by the fact that the involve revising (or maybe just because they contain the prefix "re"?). You should really just make two individual stories, one thoroughly explaining your problems with remakes... the conclusion seems to confirm how muddled this article is. However, I am really fascinated by both trends and would like to see you write more about them!

  • Chris L. | December 22, 2012 4:07 PMReply

    I'm glad the Coens made "True Grit" - it was fully possessed of their singular voice and in many ways outshone the 1969 version. But I certainly concur about the dumbing down of titles, which would also include "Lawless" and "Killing Them Softly" from the genius marketer Harvey Weinstein. How'd those work out for ya Harv?

  • dummy | December 22, 2012 3:18 PMReply

    It would appear that studios are afraid of titles with words with 3 syllables or more... It's a shame. I'm sick of Hollywood's constantly lowering the bar until it almost touches the ground. I don't even think it's warranted. I feel people are quite capable of seeing a film titled "Imogene". Perhaps they thought that some people might be turned off by something called "im-o-gheenie?".

  • bob hawk | December 21, 2012 7:03 PMReply

    1. Filmmakers (any filmmaker) opining their film is better than any other film is a purely subjective call.

    2. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK did not play Sundance (wasn't even finished yet). It premiered at Toronto, nine months later.

  • Michael Medeiros | December 21, 2012 2:42 PMReply

    Well...having been rejected twice by Sundance, it's very tempting for me to criticise. All I can say is, my film is better than most of those mentioned (except Fargo which is a masterpiece and other Coens and Beasts and uh...probably some others, but it's certainly better than that Silver Linings mishmash which was great in the first half but devolved into such a cheap hollywood wrap up). Tiger Lily Road on youtube for a short promo and scene clips.

  • jimbo | December 21, 2012 11:35 AMReply

    Should we ask them then to forbid adaptations?