WORLD CINEMA REPORT: Dining Out at Fall Festivals; Scouring the Globe for Tasty Films
by Anthony Kaufman
(indieWIRE: 09.04.02) -- Think of it as a multi-course meal: Telluride is the hors d'oeuvre; Montreal is the bread basket; Venice is the piquant appetizer; then comes the bountiful main course, Toronto, some bites subtle, some not so. Take a small break, then comes dessert, sweet San Sebastian; and finally, a fine digestif to wash it all down, New York.
The fall film festival season has begun, and with the main course drawing near in a matter of hours, the independent film industry is donning its bibs. Many of the same films travel around the festival table, so a trip to every event is excessive -- even for the hungry acquisition executive or starving journalist. Toronto, with its 343 film-strong menu, can adequately fill up just about any cinephile.
As ThinkFilm's Head of Distribution Mark Urman says, "When you consider each of these treks to a market or festival is about two weeks, with all the preparation, research and mobilizing of forces, it's simply impossible to run a business and do these things more than three times a year. I have two kids and two dogs."
Most acquisitions executives consider Toronto top priority -- and are bypassing Venice this year. But they also say the 27th edition of the Canadian fest is especially limited in the number of available movies. "If you were in Cannes, you probably saw most of the films," Urman explains. Then again, he continues, citing a certain DV Inuit-language movie that premiered in Toronto last year and has since grossed well over $3 million in North America, "the hits come from unexpected places."
English-language films, however, still remain the obvious first-choice on buyers' lists. The world premiere of Jim Simpson's "The Guys," an adaptation of the September 11 themed play, starring Sigourney Weaver and Anthony LaPaglia, will be filled-to-the-brim on that somber anniversary day. And from the same producing team of Jason Kliot and Joanna Vicente, "This is My Father" director Paul Quinn's drug-addled drama "Never Get Outta the Boat" has been recently let loose from its Lot 47 distribution pact and is searching for other buyers. In addition, indie stalwart Alan Rudolph ("Afterglow") unveils his latest "The Secret Lives of Dentists" to a bevy of specialized distribs with holes in their 2003 slates.
Other stateside titles such as Michael Almereyda's "Happy Here And Now," Larry Clark's "Ken Park" or horror midnight B-movie "Cabin Fever," while intriguing, may prove just too weird or salacious to get audiences or executives salivating. Discovery entries Jeffrey Porter's wacky coming-of-ager "Try Seventeen," with Elijah Wood, and Mehdi Norowzian's ensemble drama "Leo," with Joseph Fiennes and Elisabeth Shue, will also demand attention.
But one of the most appealing, available American-made films may actually be a documentary. "Hoop Dreams" director Steve James' "Stevie," an emotional rollercoaster ride about the filmmaker's relationship with a down-and-out man he once mentored as a young boy. Even '60s counter-culture rock 'n' roll history doc "MC5 * A True Testimonial" should sound pretty tantalizing to distribs. (And both are being sold by bigwig John Sloss's Cinetic Media.)
Outside of the U.S., Deepa Mehta's "Bollywood/Hollywood," a culture-clash comic melodrama, is sure to be necessary viewing, in light of the recent success of "Monsoon Wedding." There's also "Hideous Kinky" director Gillies MacKinnon's "Pure," about a heroin addicted mother plus Kristian Levring and Janet McTeer's post-"The King is Alive" collaboration "The Intended," and Thaddeus O'Sullivan's period drama with Paul Bettany and Helena Bonham Carter, "The Heart of Me."
Australia has bragging rights to a couple of films that sound too good to be true for specialized studios looking for the next broad "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" success: David Caesar's mobster comedy "Dirty Deeds," with John Goodman and Toni Collette, and "The Nugget," a working-class comedy about three losers who discover gold, from director Bill Bennett ("Two If By Sea," "Kiss or Kill").
For the more serious-minded, Peter Mullan, star of "My Name is Joe" and director of the wondrous "Orphans," plays his "The Magdalene Sisters," about a brutal Irish convent, at Venice, Toronto, and New York. Agnieszka Holland showcases "Julie Walking Home," her story about crises and conflicts of faith in a family, at both Venice and Toronto. And screening in San Sebastian's main competition as well as Toronto is "Whale Rider," from New Zealand's Niki Caro (1999's "Memory and Desire"), a magical realist tale about a girl's attempt to take a leadership role in the male-dominated Maori culture.
While impressive, the list still has executives concerned. "It feels like a lot of the indie film companies are involved in films before they're available as finished product," says Sara Rose, senior VP of production and acquisitions at United Artists. "A lot of good films already have distribution."
"I think it's going to be a challenge from an acquisitions point of view," agrees Tom Quinn, Samuel Goldwyn Films' director of acquisitions. "The critics will really lead the way." So aside from a couple of potentially feel-good world premieres such as "La Buche" actress-director Daniele Thompson's romantic comedy "Jet Lag" and Emilio Martinez-Lazaro's sexy Spanish musical "The Other Side of the Bed," starring Paz Vega ("Sex and Lucia"), it's a pretty arty collection of available titles whose success will largely depend on critical response.
French auteur Claire Denis' latest "Vendredi Soir," described as an "almost entirely visual imagining" is one such intriguing entry, screening at Venice, Toronto, and New York. There's also "L'Idole," with Leelee Sobieski, from Australia's Samantha Lang ("Monkey's Mask"); and Belgian Lucas Belvaux's curiosity "The Trilogy," consisting of three complete films, in varying genres, all revolving around the same incident.
Among expected Northern European critical favorites, new Swedish maverick Lukas Moodysson's "Lilya 4-Ever," already in overseas release, about a 13-year-old girl struggling to survive in Moscow, has already been heralded at Venice and in Variety, and "Thrane's Method" director Unni Straume nabbed slots at both Toronto and Venice for "Music for Weddings and Funerals." And the latest Dogme film "Open Hearts," from Danish stalwart Susanne Bier, screens in Toronto and San Sebastian, as does "The Sea," the follow-up from Toronto 2000 Discovery Award co-winner Baltasar Kormakur's "101 Reykjavik."
Both Venice and Toronto will screen "Prisoner of the Mountains" auteur Sergei Bodrov's "Bear's Kiss," a fairytale about a circus girl who falls in love with a bear, while Toronto and San Sebastian are championing Valery Todorovsky's "The Lover," about a man dealing with his wife's mysterious death.
Asian titles sure to get a look are Chinese auteur Chen Kaige's "Together" (Toronto, San Sebastian), "Durian, Durian" director Fruit Chan's "Public Toilet" (Venice, Toronto, New York), "Peppermint Candy" filmmaker Lee Chang-dong's "Oasis" (Venice, Toronto), "Tetsuo" fantasist Shinya Tsukamoto's erotic "A Snake of June" (Toronto, Venice), Chang Tso-chi's mob flick "The Best of Times" (Venice, Toronto) and the Toronto Midnight world premiere of recent Miramax first-look assignee Ryuhei Kitamura's "Alive."
Whether any of these films actually find their way into theaters after the festival circuit remains to be seen. "The current market is very down," says Wouter Barendrecht of Fortissimo Film Sales, which has seven films for sale at the Toronto Film Festival. "Many smaller and midsize companies are in serious trouble because [European] TV doesn't buy arthouse anymore, so expectations are low to modest," he commented via email.
"There aren't a lot of good, fiction features out there that are available," says Cinetic Media's Micah Green, who expects to spend more time focusing on financing up-and-coming projects than late-night bidding wars. On the other hand, for those who attended Toronto in 2001, Green adds, "There's no doubt about it will be better than last year."