Undistributed Update: Pics Plucked for Exhibition and Release
by Anthony Kaufman
Thanks to the proliferation of media outlets, from DVD to cable TV, or the American consumer's increased desire for works that don't fit the mold or the old adage that the crème always rises to the top, a number of films from indieWIRE's 2003 list of best undistributed films will be coming to a theater near you. And if you live near San Rafael, California, they'll be coming a lot sooner.
Starting today, the California Film Institute's film series "indieWIRE Undiscovered Gems" (running through April 15) will showcase 12 of our 20 top choices of 2003. The eclectic mix of films, comprised of documentaries, American independents, and foreign-language dramas, make up a varied cross-section of the arthouse film sector, all of whom are vying for a piece of the same small and unpredictable specialty pie. indieWIRE statistics put market share for "independent films," on average, somewhere around 5 percent of total box office.
Still, the high number of "indie" films acquired and released in theaters and ancillary markets continues unabated. For the first six films in the series (listed below), for example, you'll find everything from micro-releases to TV broadcasts to specialized distribution pacts. And for the couple of films that remain in distribution limbo, we can seek solace in the fact that deals for most of those pictures are pending, too. (indieWIRE will look at the final six films in the series next week.)
Director: Ron Mann
Update: "Go Further," Mann's comical and eco-conscious documentary about a hemp-fueled bus trip taken by actor-activist Woody Harrelson along the Pacific Coast, has been acquired by one-man-distribution band (and admitted vegetarian) Richard Abramowitz. His company Abramorama (which is currently taking out Neil Young's "Greendale") is planning for "a unique distribution strategy in keeping with the tone of the movie," says Abramowitz, during the late summer/early fall of 2004. Nominated for a Canadian Genie for best documentary, the Toronto audience award winner will also be released in Canada on Earth Day (April 22) by Mongrel Media. Home Vision purchased U.S. DVD rights and a major music channel, according to Mann, is negotiating for TV play.
What's Next: Mann's new project, currently titled "The Mushroom Movie," will document mushroom culture (from legal to illegal), assisted by amateur mycologist (and filmmaker) Jim Jarmusch.
Director: Jesse Moss
Update: Continuing its much-appreciated run on the festival circuit (the film garnered awards at fests including Newport, Full Frame, and the Hamptons), Ed "Speedo" Jager continues to delight and move audiences with his passion for demolition derbies, while struggling with marital dysfunction and a deep love for his children. "Speedo" will air on PBS' P.O.V. series on August 24. According to Moss, he is negotiating with a few companies for home video and DVD distribution, and the film should be available for purchase shortly after the late summer broadcast. In addition, adds Moss, "Speedo's son, will be racing in his first stock car race on April 25 at Riverhead Raceway."
What's Next: "There's been some interest in a feature adaptation of the documentary, so I'm also developing that," Moss says.
"Good Morning, Night"
Director: Marco Bellocchio
Update: A critical hit at last year's major fall film festivals (Venice, Toronto, New York), Bellocchio's riveting portrait of a band of Red Brigade terrorists who kidnap and eventually murder an Italian prime minister in 1978 was acquired last month at the American Film Market by Wellspring Media. The film was recently nominated for eight Nastro d'Argento Italian film critic awards, including best film, director, screenplay, and acting awards. Wellspring will release the film in late 2004 or early '05, followed by a DVD release. To remedy the fact that most Americans are unfamiliar with the incident, Ryan Werner, Wellspring's new head of theatrical distribution, notes that the release will include a title card summarizing the history of the controversial events on which the film is based. "It's an incredibly moving and beautifully realized work by a filmmaker who has spent years attacking the status quo, but now has the hindsight to look back at a dark moment and comment intelligently," Werner says.
What's Next: Just last week, the 64-year-old Italian maestro recently passed through New York for a whirlwind of belated U.S. recognition (he's made some 20 films, few of which have come to the U.S.), timed with a special tribute at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He's currently writing his next project.
Director: Rodrigo Bellot
Update: Bellot's sexually provocative, and innovative split-screen digital video debut has recently screened at festivals from Guadalajara to Mar Del Plata to Cleveland. At the recent American Film Market, according to producer Ara Katz, Canada-based sales company Cinema Vault held private screenings for various distributors and is continuing to field offers for a U.S. sale.
What's Next: Newcomer Bellot is already in development on his next project. "It's a little more commercially viable," says Katz, whose Arrival Cinema is currently in negotiations with reps at ICM and Robert Stein Management to produce the picture. Slated for a November start-date, the film will be shot in Bellot's native Bolivia during the country's flood season.
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Update: Along with "Rana's Wedding," his fiction debut about a young woman's frustrating attempts to stage a marriage in 24 hours inside Israeli-occupied Palestine, Abu-Assad's "Ford Transit" is a bracing and funny examination of life inside the territories. After winning documentary prizes at the Thessaloniki, Jerusalem, and Human Rights Watch Film Festivals, "Ford Transit" drove into controversial terrain at last November's International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam where the film was withdrawn from competition after it was discovered that a scene in the film was staged and the lead subject, a wily taxi driver, had acted in one of Abu-Assad's other movies. Either way, "Ford Transit" is a compelling piece of cinema, and Arab Film Distribution, which acquired and released "Rana's Wedding," has been actively seeking to purchase U.S. rights.
What's Next: The Netherlands-based Palestinian director's latest effort "Paradise Now," a narrative drama about two Palestinian friends who are chosen to be suicide bombers, has already pre-sold to multiple territories in Europe and Israel. Developed at last year's Sundance Screenwriters Lab, the film has been described by Celluloid Dreams honcho and sales agent Hengameh Panahi as "so surreal that it's sometimes humorous."
Director: Allan Mindel
Update: So far, this quirky, character-driven caper movie has received more attention in France (awards at the Cannes and Deauville film festivals) than in the U.S. (though it did receive a prize in Seattle). Featuring an assortment of oddball characters (performed by the likes of Troy Garity, Bruce Dern, Josh Brolin, and Randy Quaid), "Milwaukee Minnesota" -- about two crooks that try to swindle an autistic ice fisherman -- premiered at Slamdance 2003. At the Toronto Film Festival last fall, Anne Thompson reported that most of the distributors had passed on the film, and as of press time, Mindel and producer Jeff Kirshbaum did not return calls for a further update.