Two American indies and three films from Portuguese filmmakers were atop a list that may become more significant in the next decade as the definition of 'distribution' continues to change.
Writer/director Harmony Korine's "Trash Humpers," from the Toronto and New York fests, was named Best Undistributed Film of 2009 by indieWIRE's annual critics poll published Tuesday with over 100 critics and bloggers participating. Portuguese director Jao Pedro Rodrigues' "To Die Like a Man" (Morrer Como Um Homem), which debuted earlier this year at the Cannes and Toronto International Film Festivals placed second in the poll, which named 200 titles currently without U.S. distribution as of December 1, 2009.
One film that is still included in the list, Erik Gandini's "Videocracy," announced a U.S. deal on December 21st with Lorber Films, but it will remain in this year's list since voting had taken place prior to its acquisition.
Rounding out the top of the list were Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira's "Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl" (Singularidades de uma Rapariga Loura), which debuted at the 2009 Berlinale as well as in Toronto; the debut directorial effort of the U.S.'s Damien Chazelle's Tribeca 2009 feature, "Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench," which received a Gotham Awards nomination for "Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You"; and Portuguese director Pedro Costa's "Ne change rien" - also a Cannes debut. "Humpers," "Man" and "Eccentricities" each had their U.S. debuts at the New York Film Festival in Autumn and ranked one, two and three respectively in the Best Undistributed list (with "Madeline" and "Rien" tying for third.
"I was inspired by the idea of finding an artifact found in an attic or a videotape buried in a ditch," "Trash Humpers" director Harmony Korine told indieWIRE in Toronto. "I wanted to create something that was more like a feeling. I had to close my eyes and allow myself to get to a place where I could tap into ideas and images." "Trash Humpers" employs "creepy masks, low-grade torture, frequent public urination, senseless vandalism and the title, acted out on defenseless garbage cans," according to a Toronto fest description of the film, which - not surprisingly perhaps - polarized audiences with ardent admirers and vocal critics. The "Gummo" director's previous film, "Mister Lonely" (2007) received numerous festival awards and found distribution Stateside via IFC Films. The film went on to make nearly $170,000 in its domestic theatrical release.
This year's runner up "To Die Like a Man" is the biography of a transvestite who tries to erase her past history as a male. She watches as her world around her crumbles and struggles with her own religious convictions. 101 year-old director Manoel de Oliveira's "Eccentricities," meanwhile centers on a young man who falls helplessly in love with a mysterious blond woman who turns his life upside down. "Madeline" is described by its website as an "often uneasy but always beautiful relationship between music and love. It tells the story of a young Boston jazz musician who drifts from affair to affair, his trumpet the only constant in his life." Directors Fortnight entry "Ne change rien" is described by Reverse Shot's Damon Smith as " cinematic offering laid at the feet of its bewitching singer-star, Jeanne Balibar." Balibar sings in rehearsal recordings, rock concerts, club settings with a black and white look at an of an artist as she rehearses and finds her way into song after song with her accompanying musicians.
The five films that placed in the top three (again with three titles tying for third place) each received at least ten per cent of the mentions in the critics score with 11 mentions for "Eccentricities," "Madeline" and "Rien." "To Die Like a Man" took 18 mentions, while "Humpers" received 21 - nearly 20% of all participating critics in The list of the Best Undistributed Films.
indieWIRE had included additional titles in the survey initially including "City Island," which is being released by Anchor Bay, "The Girl on the Train" and "Toe to Toe," which went to Strand Releasing as well as "Air Doll" and "Accident," which will both be released by Palisades Tartan. Also removed was "Ajami," which received a distribution deal via Kino International.
Going forward, it may be interesting to note the relevance of the Best Undistributed List as the convergence of technology and economic realities make it more likely for filmmakers will opt for a DIY approach. Festivals will also figure more prominently in distribution strategies some insiders have contemplated. In a First Person article written for indieWIRE earlier this week, veteran entertainment lawyer Steven C. Beer commented, "For many independent filmmakers and producers, 2010 - starting with the upcoming Sundance Film Festival - figures to be a watershed year and the beginning of a Decade of Filmmaker Empowerment. After years of disenchantment with traditional all-rights distribution deals, filmmakers and producers are poised to take matters into their own hands and forge a truly independent path to marketing and distributing their films."
Indeed, subsequent indieWIRE Top Tens may include undistributed films in the "Best Film" list, perhaps even making "Best Undistributed Film" seem redundant. We shall see.
The Results of the iW 2009 Critics Survey: