[EDITORS NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of 5 articles looking back at some of the notable people, trends and companies of 2005. Additional articles in this series will be published all next week.]
Every year a few films capture the attention and hearts of filmgoers everywhere. Maybe even more exciting than the discovery of these films, however, is the detection of the new creative voices behind their making. More than just great cinematic works, they become vehicles for their talented actors, writers and directors to attain greater notice both within and outside the greater film community. In the film business, however, those who finally have a breakthrough year may not in actuality be so "new." That's certainly the case with the three people indieWIRE has identified as having breakthrough years in 2005: Actress Vera Farmiga from "Down to the Bone," "Me and You and Everyone We Know" star/writer/director Miranda July and "Junebug" director Phil Morrison have all been successful artists in one form or another for years, but it was their work in 2005 that transformed them into stars of the independent film world.
When the Los Angeles Film Critics Association announced their annual awards recently, many were startled by Farmiga's win for her starring role in Debra Granik's "Down to the Bone," but to those who had seen the film, the only real surprise was how long it took for the actress to attain mainstream attention. "Down to the Bone" won both Granik and Farmiga awards when it premiered at Sundance in 2004, yet by year's end, it was still eligible to be one of "indieWIRE's Top 15 Undistributed Films of 2004."
Laemmle/Zeller Films gave the film a small theatrical release last month. Farmiga has received nearly unanimous kudos for her performance, yet she gives most of the credit to her director. "It's because of Debra," Farmiga said. "I rested throughout the whole experience in her embrace and her integrity. It's really her process that gave me the courage and enhanced my performance."
Farmiga isn't exactly new to the industry, having appeared consistently in film and on TV for nearly a decade. Yet she has been pleasantly surprised by how many roles have resulted from this performance. "There have been about six or seven jobs, and they've all been because ['Down to the Bone'] has been a calling card for me. It did more than I ever expected it to for my career."
That calling card helped her land roles in upcoming films from Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" and Anthony Minghella "Breaking and Entering," but she still doesn't feel like her struggles to survive as a working actress are over. "About a month ago I was going to invest in a herd of Angora goats. I figured I had more of a chance making wool than a movie."
Still, Farmiga longs to continue acting in smaller projects like "Down to the Bone." "If I am not challenged, I lose interest really quickly, and I feel the most risk and the most interesting stories are in the independent world." To that end, she makes special mention of the recently-wrapped "Quid Pro Quo" (HDNet Films) from debut helmer Carlos Brooks. "I had that same feeling making it as 'Down to the Bone.' I'm really excited about it."
Even before the June release of "Me and You and Everyone We Know," Miranda July became the darling of the indie world. The film arrived in theaters with much hype: earlier this year, July won a Special Jury Prize "for originality of vision" at Sundance and the Camera d'Or at Cannes.
The triple threat writer/director/star did not consider "Me and You"'s embrace by audiences and the film community a sure thing, and she wasn't confident that the Sundance reaction would carry over to other festivals and into the film's release. "For a couple months after [Sundance], I kept waiting for it to not work."
As the year continued, however, and audiences and critics continued to praise the film, July came to realize that "Me and You" was going to occupy most of her time. "I actually had [stage] performances scheduled this year, which now just seems so ludicrous." Ever since the film's Sundance premiere, she's been doing nonstop press. "I did five countries last month."
Most of July's career has been as a writer and performance artist. While she doesn't feel audiences have reacted differently to her film than to her previous work, she does notice that her fan base has expanded. "I just debuted a new performance in San Francisco. Someone from the theater sent me a link from Craigslist showing me how hundreds of people were trying to get tickets for the show. That's not really the performance world per se."
Along with this recent performance, July is finishing a book and then plans to start another screenplay. She doesn't think she's "the kind of person who will be churning out movies consistently," and while "Me and You" has brought July attention from within the industry, she doesn't have much interest in becoming a director or writer for hire. "I think acting would be the 'funnest' for me," she declares. "I would get a ton out of that because I've never really been directed. But I feel like writing something for another director -- it's like having the child for nine months and then giving it up for adoption. It might just kill me."
For Phil Morrison, the secret to filmmaking is patience. For the past decade, Morrison has been directing television, commercials and music videos. He and screenwriter pal Angus MacLachlan began working on "Junebug" (Sony Pictures Classics) almost that long ago, but Morrison was never even sure that this film would prove to be his feature debut. "I just made this movie because I wanted to," he says. "I don't feel driven to make a movie at all costs."
The film community has embraced "Junebug," and some of the first reactions Morrison received came as a pleasant and welcome surprise. "I've lived in New York since 1985," he says, "so getting a call that [Killer Films producer] Christine Vachon wants to have a meeting -- that's a big deal. It never occurred to me that I was going to be somebody that she would say, 'I want to have a meeting with that guy.'"
Since "Junebug" premiered at Sundance, Morrison has heard from a lot of industry folks looking to work with him, yet patience continues to be his virtue. "I am really excited about the prospect of making a movie, but not in a generic way. I don't feel a sense that if I'm not either shooting a movie or posting a movie, I'm not really doing anything." And so while he hopes and plans to make another film, he's yet contemplating what it might be.
In fact, because of the constant activity he's endured all year, what Morrison wants to do most is simply see some movies. "I didn't even get to see 'Grizzly Man,'" he complains. "I have a lot of catching up to do. Supporting the release of the movie has diminished my ability to go to see movies, and I've really missed that." He just recently started going to movies again, and he's noticed that watching them satisfies some of the same fulfillment he got out of making one. But make no mistake: he still relishes his experience making "Junebug," and "I'll be really super-psyched when and if I get to make another one."