Monday, January 25, 2010

Ex-AFI Artistic Director Kuo and Partners Team Up Again

Ex-AFI Fest artistic director Rose Kuo (who is covering Sundance with screenwriter husband Larry Gross for Movie City News) has been named co-executive director of the Santa Fe Film Festival with Michael Hare.

In addition, she and her former AFI partners have also created a unique film festival consultancy, Festworks, which will provide consultation and services for film festival operations, development, programming and communications.  Rose Kuo, festival producer David Rogers, head of press and public relations John Wildman and the festival’s director of programming Robert Koehler will have less hands-on responsibility for running their own festival in this new venture which will allow festivals to profit from their long experience. 

Never before has such an endeavor been made available to festivals, although the International Film Festival Summit is also instituting a festival training course. 

“The four of us share a great passion for the art of film, for film-makers and especially for the unique film viewing experience and interaction with those film-makers that film festivals offer the public,” Wildman said. “It’s our hope that through Festworks, we can help enhance the way things are done that will benefit both film maker and filmgoer and improve a way of seeing films that we truly love.”

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sundance Rights RoundUp - More Activity Internationally Than Domestically

At Sundance this year, more than usual activity immediately kicked in among the international buyers and the international sales agents bulking up in preparation for the Berlinale's EFM even as the US distributors were slow to show much energy in acquisitions.  First out of the gate for the Americans was Lionsgate's acquisition of Buried .  Next came extended discussions with CAA and Apparition and its ancillary distributor partner Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquistions for Splice for what is rumored $2.5 million while an independent source supplies $20 million P & A.  Next came Newmarket's $1 million acquisition of Hesher.  The Oprah Winfrey Network acquired Family Affair.  OWN's documentary film club is being done in partnership with doc film distributor Ro*co Films International.  OWN, a co-venture between Winfrey's Harpo Prods. and Discovery Communications slated for a January 2011 launch, is planning to create communities nationwide that can screen the films together and participate in a live, moderated panel discussion. Closing the festival, IFC took US rights to Wild Bunch's The Killer Inside Me, and North American rights to Joan Rivers - A Piece of WorkPhase 4 acquired North American rights to The Freebie in a mid six figure deal.  And somewhere along the way, Roadside Attractions picked up US rights to Winter's BonesFocus acquired The Kids are All Right.  And finally The Weinstein Company, back in the fray to such a degree that rumor has it they have been approached by 2 hedge funds about buying back their Miramax name, has acquired two films in Sundance, Blue Valentine and The Tillman Story for North America and all English language territories from A&E IndieFilms (via Submarine and CAA). Catfish went finally to Rogue for US.  First Independent acquired Holy Rollers for US February 21.

Other US buyers spotted in Anne Thompson's blog thusly:
"...despite reports of pulling back on production at Overture Films, execs Chris McGurk and Danny Rosett are trawling Sundance for good titles to buy. So are SPC, Apparition, Harvey Weinstein, Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions, Fox Searchlight, Magnolia and IFC. And also in town checking out movies that will inevitably not land big theatrical sales are so-called 'self-service' distribs Russell Schwartz’s Pandemic Marketing, Mark Urman’s Paladin" whose platform also helps connect producers with ancillary deals. Urman said he can even help a film transition from a service deal to a traditional rights sale to a bigger distributor as it starts attracting attention in the marketplace, Richard Abramowitz's Area23a  whose goal "is to acquire social issue and music films and the idea is to combine event and screening and you can target those subjects’ fans. We create this army who proselytize to an audience and it spreads the word.” per Abramowiz, Larry Greenberg's Phase 4, Andy Reimer's Inception Media Group and Susan Margolin and Steve Savage's New Video which has begun to acquire narrative features beginning with Gil Holland's Bass Ackwards. and Tom Ortenberg's One Way Out Media just contracted for by Hannover House to release Twelve.  Nolan Gallagher, founder and CEO of Gravitas Ventures, said his company now releases about 300 films a year on-demand at 40 cable TV operators, and the industry already is at a point where a producer can realize a profit via an on-demand deal. For a more complete list of US distributors, see my blog from Toronto.

The Rights RoundUp with its preponderence of international rather than US activity follows here:

Arte's film Fix Me was acquired by Other Angle for France.

CAA licensed Catfish to Relativity for US, Canada and UK. Rogue will release it through Universal in US.

Cat & Docs licensed The Last Train Home to Zeitgeist for U.S.

Cinetic licensed worldwide rights for Holy Rollers to Pyramide International.

Fortissimo acquired worldwide rights, excluding North America, to the Miramax documentary Jean-Micheal Basquiat: The Radiant ChildLife During Wartime (not a Sundance title) went to IFC for US.  Head of now extinct Miramax, Daniel Battsek has moved on to head National Geographic replacing Adam Leipzig who is moving into production.

Gaumont licensed Twelve to Hannover House for a rumored $2m for North American rights. CAA and Gaumont negotiated the deal. Hannover has hired Tom Ortenberg’s One Way Out Media to oversee domestic distribution sometime in 2010.

Hanway has licensed Nowhere Boy to Alta for Spain.

Hyde Park 's Blue Valentine went to The Weinstein Co. for North America and pan-Asian TV rights for approximately $1m.  Deal was brokered by William Morris Endeavor (WME) Entertainment.

Inferno Entertainment's The Kids Are All Right went to Focus Features for U.S., the U.K., Germany and South Africa.  Bart Walker and John Sloss of Cinetic Media negotiated the North American rights deal on behalf of the filmmakers and collaborated with Inferno Entertainment on the international aspects of the pact.  The deal is said to have been made for between $4,500,000.  It has also gone to Hopscotch in Australia and New Zealand, Swen in Latin America, and Seven Films in Greece.

Kimmel 's Hesher was picked up via WME by Newmarket for North America for what is rumored to be around $1,000,000. Per Screen Daily, Newmarket's high seven-figure p&a commitment will kick off  the theatrical release in select cities later this year, expanding into at least half of the top 75 markets within three weeks of release. Newmarket distributor came in aggressively for Hesher at the eleventh hour after several buyers had been talking to CAA and WME Global, among them Lionsgate.  Kimmel is also selling the Sundance film Sympathy for Delicious starring Orlando Bloom.

Kinology's Buried repped for North America by UTA's Independent Film Group, went to Lionsgate for North America for for what is rumored to be between $3M and $4M.

LevelK, Tine Klint's (former head of sales at Nordisk Film and TrustNordisk) new sales company has picked up Estonian director Veiko Öunpuu’s The Temptation Of St Tony (Püha Tonu Kiusamine). The film is the first Estonian feature to screen at Sundance and is also competing in this year’s VPRO Tiger Awards at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, which opens on January 27). It will has also been selected to close the Göteborg Film Festival (Jan 29-Feb 8). Öunpuu picked up the MEDIA European Talent Award in Cannes for the script.  LevelK has also taken rights to Öunpuu’s 2007 feature debut, Autumn Ball (Sügisball), which won the Horizons Award in Venice, and screened at many international festivals, among them Tallinn’s Black Nights, Thessaloniki, Marrakech, Valencia, Brussels and Bratislava.

Myriad Pictures acquired international rights to happythankyoumoreplease.

The Coproduction Office, with Cactus Three has licensed Women Without Men to IndiePix for North America.  Indiepix also has worldwide rights to All My Friends are Funeral Singers.

The Match Factory picked up worldwide rights to Howl Sundance's opening film in the narrative section.

Shoreline acquired worldwide rights to its second Latino film Contracorriente (Undertow) for a low six figure amount. Wolfe acquired North American rights to it.  Shoreline had acquired Zona Sur (Southern District) which is also showing in Sundance at Ventana Sur in November and last year acquired La Nana (The Maid) at Sundance.

Paramount Vantage acquired Davis Guggenheim's new documentary about the crisis in public education in the U.S. Waiting for Superman which was developed, financed and executive produced by Participant Media who backed Guggenheim's previous doc An Inconvenient Truth.

Submarine and CAA licensed Amir Bar-Lev’s documentary I’m Pat Tillman to The Weinstein Company for North America and all English language territories. Submarine licensed The Freebie to Phase 4 for North America, Joan Rivers - A Piece of Work to IFC for No. America.

Summit and Bill Pohlad's River Road have licensed The Runaways to E1 for Canada  It has also sold to Long Shong for Taiwan and Planis for South Korea.  Summit and River Road also licensed Terence Malick's The Tree of Life to E1.  Apparition has US rights to both films.

T & C Pictures International (David Jourdan's new international sales company) has acquired international rights from WME Global to Teenage Paparazzo.  WME Global still represents North American rights.

The Film Sales Company sold His & Hers to Madman in Australia and New Zealand. His roster also includes worldwide rights to The Imperialists Are Still Alive! as well as Night Catches Us.  The company also has English-speaking rights to The Man Next Door.

Visit acquired worlwide rights to The Taqwarcores before its Sundance premiere.

Voltage has licensed Tucker & Dale vs Evil to Wild Bunch for France and Germany and to Svensk for Scandinavia and Maple for Canada.  Negotiations are ongoing with Australia and Spain and there are offers from other territories as well as interest shown among North American buyers.

Wide Management picked up worldwide rights to All That I Love while it showed in Pusan.

Wild Bunch licensed U.S. rights to Gaspar Noe’s Sundance 2010 feature Enter the Void to IFC in the first pre-Sundance deal.  The Killer Inside Me also wentto IFC for US in the last Sundance deal before its closing night for $1,500,000.

Variety's Monday edition makes its set of predictions: (the titles stuck out have made deals since last Monday)
"Winter's Bone, one of the sleeper hits at this year's Sundance...At least four buyers are holding discussions with the film's reps, ..The Tillman Story is in play. ...Catfish is a favorite as well, with HBO said to be particularly interested...The Freebie had a promising premiere on Sunday...Splice... is also seeing interest from a number of domestic distributors...Blue Valentine...Distrib vet Mark Urman, as well as Oscilloscope's David Fenkel, were enthusiastic...with both expressing interest in distributing the film. Other buyers were more circumspect...Monday night's preem of Annette Bening-Julianne Moore drama The Kids Are All Right...heavily attended by buyers."

Screen International's list of films soon to sell includes Catfish, The Perfect Host, Winter’s Bone, The Company Men, Lovers Of Hate, The Pat Tillman Story, and 8: The Mormon Proposition, The Extra Man, Diego Luna’s Abel, and Kevin Asch’s Holy Rollers, and Cane Toads: The Conquest.

Digital Exhibition and the Festivals

What are film festivals doing in increase distribution possibilities for their filmmakers and how are they using digital technology to do this and enhance their own position at the same time?

1) Sundance Film Festival is debuting films through VOD under a label called "Sundance Selects".  Three films that premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival will debut simultaneously into 40 million US households, via cable systems and satellite TV. The films will then be available for viewing for 30 days.  The films include Michael Winterbottom's and Mat Whitecross's sociopolitical documentary The Shock Doctrine, Benny and Josh Safdie's comedy Daddy Longlegs, and Daniel Grou's drama 7 Days (Les 7 Jours du Talion).

"Moving the storytelling of the Sundance Film Festival beyond 10 days in Utah remains a top priority for us," said actor Robert Redford, founder of the Sundance Institute, about bringing the event to a wider audience, including selected screenings of Sundance films in other US cities.

The Shock Doctrine, which screened at the 2009 Berlinale debuts January 28th. Based on Naomi Klein's book, subtitled ‘The Rise of Disaster Capitalism' the screening is followed by an onstage dialogue the author, Redford, and filmmaker Winterbottom.

The Safdies' Daddy Longlegs (previously known as Go Get Some Rosemary at its premiere at Cannes last year), is an autobiographical bittersweet comedy that screens January 22. Grou's 7 Days, described as the story of a doctor whose world is upended by his daughter's murder. The Canadian feature debuts January 22 at midnight program.

2) Sundance Institute today announced a collaboration with YouTube to make available for rent three world-premiere films from the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Beginning today, films will be spotlighted on the YouTube homepage, after which they will also be available until January 31 at YouTube Movies. Two audience favorites from the 2009 Festival will also be made available for rental.

John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival said, “It has been our goal this year to find opportunities for our filmmakers by linking them to our technology partners and YouTube has been a great sponsor and partner. The You Tube commitment to independent film is aligned with ours at Sundance. This begins a new age of connecting our artists directly to audiences.”

From 2010, three world-premiere films from the Festival’s new NEXT section – highlighting innovative and original work in low- and no-budget filmmaking – will be available:

Bass Ackwards (Director and screenwriter: Linas Phillips)—After ending a disastrous affair with a married woman, a man embarks on a lyrical, strange and comedic cross-country journey in a modified VW bus. Cast: Linas Phillips, Davie-Blue, Jim Fletcher, Paul Lazar. World Premiere

Homewrecker(Directors: Todd Barnes and Brad Barnes; Screenwriters: Todd Barnes, Brad Barnes, Sophie Goodhart)—The last romantic in New York City is an ex-con locksmith on work release. Cast: Ana Reeder, Anslem Richardson, Stephen Rannazzisi. World Premiere

One Too Many Morning (Director: Michael Mohan; Screenwriters: Anthony Deptula, Michael Mohan, Stephen Hale)—Two damaged young men recover their high school friendship by awkwardly revealing to each other just how messed up they've become. Cast: Anthony Deptula, Stephen Hale, Tina Kapousis. World Premiere

From 2009, two highly acclaimed films:

The Cove (Director: Louie Psihoyos)—The horrors of a secret cove nestled off a small, coastal village in Japan are revealed by a group of activists. 2009 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award Winner. Available for one 24-hour period only.

Children of Invention (Director and screenwriter: Tze Chun)—Two young children living outside Boston are left to fend for themselves when their mother gets embroiled in a pyramid scheme and disappears. Chun was selected as one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film.

The films will be available for rental from January 22 - 31. The price for rental will be $3.99, and includes an unlimited number of views during a 48-hour period (with the exception of The Cove which will be a 24-hour window). Filmmakers receive the majority of the revenue share, and none of the participating filmmakers opted to have a cap on streams - meaning there will be no limit to how many rentals can be purchased during the 10-day period. As of January 31, the films will no longer be available under their current deal with YouTube, however the filmmakers will be able to negotiate new deals with YouTube.

YouTube is the world’s most popular online video community allowing millions of people to discover, watch and share originally-created videos. YouTube provides a forum for people to connect, inform and inspire others across the globe and acts as a distribution platform for original content creators and advertisers large and small. YouTube, LLC is based in San Bruno, CA and is a subsidiary of Google Inc.

For a festival that has built a reputation as a marketplace for new American work for nearly two years, the moves to bring Sundance films to audiences via VOD during the event marks a noteworthy shift as filmmakers try to cash in on the Sundance name, hoping that it will drive immediate interest in their work.

UPDATE:  NewTeeVee has this report on the You Tube experiment:

Written by Ryan Lawler

Posted Monday, January 25, 2010 at 4:39 PM PT

YouTube Users Pass on Paying for Movies

Indie filmmakers looking to YouTube as a possible new distribution outlet might want to think twice, based on weekend returns from the video site’s new movie rental service. Last week, the online video site teamed up with the Sundance Film Festival to make a small selection of critically acclaimed full-length films available for rent for 48 hours.

But, despite a post on the YouTube blog and pickup from various tech blogs, very few users have actually taken YouTube up on the offer. Based on a quick look through the movies that were made available, it appears that YouTube viewers rented the five films less than 1,500 times in total, or an average of 300 times each. At $3.99 a piece, that means the indie films generated less than $6,000 in total sales over the course of the weekend, or about $1,200 per movie — and that’s before YouTube took its cut for hosting the files.

Video Views:

Bass Ackwards 308

Homewrecker 308

The Cove 303

Children of Invention 301

One Too Many Mornings 250

That’s bad news for the films involved, and could be bad news for YouTube, which is looking for new ways to monetize videos through sales and rentals. While the films are independently produced and haven’t generated the same amount of buzz as some Hollywood blockbusters, the low view counts are surprising, given the buzz before the film festival and prominent “featured” placement from YouTube.

The good news for YouTube is that it’s still expected to become profitable this year. In a recent research note, Barclay’s Capital analyst Doug Anmuth suggested that YouTube would add to Google’s bottom line for the first time in 2010, with revenues growing more than 55 percent year-over-year to $700 million.

3) The San Francisco Bay Area’s California Film Institute is launching a non-profit division to distribute films theatrically.

Dubbed CFI Releasing, the new unit will kick-off with Marin County residents Noah and Logan Miller’s “Touching Home.” The film stars Ed Harris, Robert Forster, Brad Dourif as well as Lee Meriwether, and also includes the Millers in their acting debut. It is based on their own story.

The film will be have a limited release this spring, launching in seven markets including San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and Denver. It will open in April with a gala premiere at the California Film Institute’s Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, CA.

“Our focus going forward will be on distributing independent films with an original voice that have something distinctive to say,” said CFI’s Fishkin, in a statement. “Our distribution arm will develop organically in a productive way that supports the organization, while supporting who we are and what we do. Our hope is that these films and their filmmakers will greatly benefit from our long film festival and theatrical presentation experience.”

4) Slamdance has announced a worldwide video content collaboration with Microsoft on both Zune and Xbox platforms.  Zune video Marketplace will make the selected films available on video-on-demand across North America on both Zune and Xbox platforms. During this 7-day period movie fans have the opportunity to rent some of the same films being screened at the Slamdance Film Festival on their computers or through Xbox LIVE. Price per film rentals during the festivals will range from 600 to 880 Microsoft Points*.

Thereafter, the video content from Slamdance will expand worldwide through the Zune Marketplace with year-round programs featuring download to own and rental videos to the more than 20 million Zune and Xbox LIVE members. The first films in the collaboration include two documentaries and two narratives, showcasing Slamdance’s range of emerging diverse and independent voices.

The initiative will launch during the festival on January 27 with a four-film, seven-day programme providing video rental throughout North America.

The films are the documentaries American Jihadist and Mind Of The Demon: The Larry Linkogle Story, as well as the fictional titles The Scenesters and The Wild Hunt.

Online film store Zune Marketplace will make the selected films available on VOD across North America on both Zune and Xbox platforms.

During the seven-day period customers will have the opportunity to rent some of the same films being screened at Slamdance on their computers or through Xbox LIVE. Film rental costs during the festival will range from 600 to 880 Microsoft Points.

After the initial window, video content from Slamdance will expand worldwide through the Zune Marketplace with year-round programmes featuring download-to-own and rental videos to Zune and Xbox LIVE members.

Additional Slamdance films will be added to the programme throughout the festival, which runs in Park City from January 21-28 –

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sundance Film Festival Kicks Off

Sundance Film Festival 2010 kicked off today with a press conference with Robert Redford and John Cooper, the festival's new director.  It was laid back, friendly, open and gave an interesting insight into the meanings of this year's edition, labeled with such slogans as Cinematic Rebellion, Renewed Rebellion, The Recharged Fight Against the Establishment, The Rebirth of the Battle for Brave New Ideas, Sundance Reminded.

As the festival's beginnings went back to the time before independent films had been co-opted by the major studios and the filmmakers integrated into the mainstream, so now the business of the majors is again recognized as a totally different business from that of independent flmmaking and the distribution of their films.  Again we see the separation clearly. 

Robert Redford opened with the T.S. Eliot quote, "What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from." as the theme of this festival.

Though neither Redford nor Coop stated exactly what the exact roots of the festival were aside from independence and a way for "small film makers" to show their films publically, Redford did say one of his greatest pleasures was the realization that not only did the festival create new opportunities for the filmmakers, it also created new opportunities for audiences to see work previously unavailable to them and that the audience itself had grown enormously and internationally in response to the independent works being shown, and that many of today's innovations were to extend the audience even further though its initiatives of VOD and You Tube.

My own interpretation of Return to Roots and Rebellion Against the Establishment, having attended every festival since its second edition, was also elaborated on by Redford as he spoke of globalization and the elimination of borders internationally.  In the early days of the festival, all of us 5 acquisitions executives would come and see regional independent films.  Rarely did we actually buy films, so it was remarkable when Skouras acquired Glen Petrie's New Orleans film Belizaire the Cajun. 

As Redford spoke of the growing importance of international documentaries telling true stories by filmmakers who put their lives into jeopardy to tell the stories, and as he expanded on his view that in the future, these docs would be more and more sought after by audiences searching for truth as media continues to gloss over the true emotional stories of world events, I realized that the Return to the Roots and the Rebellion themes of the festival, the end where we are starting, is in the regional story telling aspect of the festival.  Only now it's been expanded beyond the borders of the original U.S. Film Festival where it all began.

I may be wrong, but I don't think there is a single story of a dysfunctional family taking a road trip this year and I am thankful that what was becoming a recurring (and boring) Sundance theme has been replaced by the basic regional stories of people struggling and prevailing over the vicissitudes of their lives.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Latin America in Sundance (and Slamdance!)

This blog, Latin America in Sundance, will continue to be updated at least up to the day of the World Cinema round tables January 28 which Caroline Libresco inaugurated several years ago.  The focus of this blog obviously will be the selection of Latin American films from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Cuba, Mexico, and Peru.  We shall see if any creates enough of a stir - or what I consider a stir - within my purview of buying and selling (the agents surely will discover the directors and other talent without my prompting) - for a longer span of my attention.  The politics of the films also interest me as Latin America is such an integral part of the USA today.

NALIP has this to say about the current state of Latino programming: "... in NALIP's 11th year, this seems worse than slow: it appears that diversity is really on a backburner..The dipstick on diversity reading is far too low for the 21st century, where Latinos and other minorities are the majorities in many states, and in consuming media across all platforms...What about in indieland? While we are very proud of LPA Fellow Nicolas Entel, who has been invited to Sundance TwentyTen with the wonderful documentary Sins of My Father, just licensed for broadcast by HBO, there is no LA MISMA LUNA as at Sundance 2007, no SLEEP DEALER as at Sundance 2008, no DON'T LET ME DROWN as at Sundance 2009. The U.S. Latino documentaries that are coming out of the Latino Producers Academy, LPB or ITVS are not represented there, either."

Starting with the film which caught my eye (and that of Shoreline) during Ventana Sur, Zona Sur, directed by Bolivian director Juan Carlos Valdivia and picked up for worldwide sales by Shoreline and will be showing in Sundance. It was the most stylish and interesting version I have seen of a Latin American theme we've seen in several films before, namely, the rich decadents’ being replaced by the indigenous industrious. Last year's Sundance World Cinema selection from Chile, The Maid, was also a Shoreline pick up and they sold quite a number of territories and its US distributor Elephant Eye, (the international sales agent of Precious) did quite well at the box office in the US, grossing almost $500,000 and still playing.  Valdivia's direction is very accomplished and I look forward to seeing his next film.  The film has also been chosen by Tokyo Int'l Film Festival as one of the top 15 films of the world and is Bolivia's Academy Award submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

As a partner in Cinenomada, Valdivia directed the company's first film Zona Sur, and is co-producing  Los Viejos, currently in post production, by a young Bolivian director, Martin Bouloucq. Per Valdivia, "we have a new film in development, which we plan to shoot this year. Cinenomada has a small production platform and we are interested in producing films that can have an impact in the market place by virtue of their artistic quality. We feel we have an enormous resource of unique themes, stories and new talent in our country. We are working to strengthen our own market and we seek to broaden our relationship to the world market place. We currently have a project about an indigenous nation within Bolivia seeking international co-production."

Referring back to my earlier blog on Latin America and in light of the discussion of Bolivia and their president elect Ivo as depicted by Oliver Stone in South of the Border (being sold by The Film Sales Co.), and Gonzalo Arijón's Eyes Wide Open, Galeano's sequel to The Open Veins of Latin America, (being sold internationally by Autlook) the subject matter of the indigenous nation within Bolivia is very interesting.

Counting the other Latino (Spanish language and not from Spain) films which will be in Sundance, the most riveting is Sins of My Father by Nicolas Entel, the son of Pablo Escobar, who was and still is at considerable risk to his own life for making this film. The HBO Arte produced documentary played at IDFA and the news of it caused quite a stir. The Google page on this film alone is enough to encourage many buyers.
UPDATE:  At the industry screening today, many international sales agents were eying the film.  My take on it:  After being moved by the dilemna of the son of Pablo and learning that the two politicians running for president were assassinated by Escbar leaving four more sons fatherless, and seeing Pablo's son make overtures to them to stop the violence expected in revenge, words failed to convey the full import of the story.  The film in the end seems better suited to television than to theatrical exhibition.  The animated opening credits were especially outstanding however.

Contracorriente (Undertow) from Peru, Colombia, France and Germany premiered in San Sebastian, also gay themed, is a small jewel and should surely sell at this festival 
UPDATE: Shoreline acquired worldwide rights just before the festival began.

Argentinean film The Man Next Door is stylish, taking place in a mid century Le Corbusier home. It depicts what seems like the neighbor from hell who is bent on making a window in his apartment which will destory the integrity of the perfect symetry of the Le Corbu house.  While a bit too long, and not very well attended by the trade, those who saw it were drawn to the story whose keystone was the moral cowardice shown by the sophisticated apartment owner. Abel is the directing debut of Diego Luna, exec produced by John Malkovich, Russell Smith, Lianne Halfon and Gael Garcia Bernal and said to be worth the great interest of acquisitions excutives.

Memories of Overdevelopment (a play on words of the classic Cuban film Memories of Underdevelopment) is of interest by nature of its Cuban roots. The issue of what happens when a socialist revolutionary intellectual asserts creative freedom is an issue Castro has had to deal with throughout his tenure and still must deal with as a new generation grows up in Cuba. It is part of the New Frontier, so the format is very artistic, beautiful if too avant garde for commercial exploitation, and the protagonist, a lecturer on revolution, is such a depressive that it is difficult to like him.  However the subject is very interesting and the film is very well made, though difficult.

The Imperialists are Still Alive might count as there is a Mexican in the film, but there are also Arabs and Koreans and it concerns post 9/11 Manhattan.  The Dry Land does not explicitely call itself Latino, but it was produced by Sergio Aguero and Maya who has worldwide, including U.S. rights.  It concerns a Tejano soldier returning from Iraq with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

And further into the political aspects of Latin American film,  must see is the short doc The Fence (La Barda) by acclaimed producer, director and writer Rory Kennedy about "Our Wall", the 700 mile long fence snaking its way from Texas to California along the US-Mexico border.  This35 minute HBO production about our 2,000 mile shared border and the 700 mile fence which has cost taxpayers $3 billion epitomizes the ultimate stupidity of Bush's administration to date, destroying lives of people and wildlife for pure idiocy.  I could barely sit through it as its revelations of short sightedness piled one on top of another.

In addition to the Spanish language Latino films, there are two Portuguese language Brazilian documentaries. Secrets of theTribe is an investigation into the Yanomami Indians of the Amazon Basin in the 1960s and 70s is revisited and revised by the Yanomamis themselves and the original scholars who represented the "virgin" society 30 years ago.  And Waste Land, an uplifting feature documentary highlighting the transformative power of art and the beauty of the human spirit in which top-selling contemporary artist Vik Muniz takes us on an emotional journey from Jardim Gramacho, the world's largest landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, to the heights of international art stardom. Vik collaborates with the brilliant catadores, pickers of recyclable materials, true Shakespearean characters who live and work in the garbage quoting Machiavelli and showing us how to recycle ourselves.

Competing at Slamdance this year, Betty M Park, Director, Producer and Editor, a Korean American filmmaker based in Brooklyn, New York, makes her debut as a feature film director with Mamachas del Ring about cholita wrestlers in Bolivia! Please take a look if you have a minute: or go to

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Women Directors in Sundance

As I said in Toronto and again at the Hof Flm Festival, until there is parity between male and female directors I will continue to look at women directors.  I heard the other day that the number of women directors is actually decreasing in the television world.

Here are some quick facts on Sundance this year:
If you include shorts- 51 women directors are represented at Sundance.

In the Premiere section, out of 16 films 7 have women directors.

John Cooper, Director, Sundance Film Festival, brought it to my attention that "Low Budget is dominated by the boys still but that is changing with Lynn Shelton, Katie Aselton etc stepping up. Even there, many have women producers. I have a hunch in the indie creative producer world women dominate. Like I said, that is just a hunch I have never done a study."

Sundance Film Festival is showing approximately 115 features.  Of those 25 (20%) are directed by women:

Pepperminta by Pipilottit, from Austria and Switzerland and being sold by The Match Factory, The Freebie by Katie Aselton, US, Women Without Men by Shirin Nesat and Shoja Azari of Iran and being sold by The Coproduction Office, To Catch a Dollar: Muhammed Yunus Banks on America by Gayle Ferraro of Bangladish and US, Lourdes by Jessica Hausner of Austria and sold by The Coproduction Offce, Countdown to Zero directe by Lucy Walker of US and produced by Lawrence Bender, Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann, The Kids Are Alright by Tze Chun of US being sold by Circus Road, It's A Wonderful Afterlife by Gurinder Chadha of UK and being sold by Hanway,  Brae Nue Dae by Rachel Perkins of Australia and being sold by Bankside, The Runaways by Floria Sigismondi of US and sold by Summit, The Romantics by Galt Niederhoffer of US and being sold by SC Films International, Please Give by Nicole Holofcener of US produced by Sony Pictures Classics, The Extra Man by Shari Springer Berman and Roger Pulcini of US and being sold by Wild Bunch, Grown Up Movie Star by Adriana Maggs of Canada being sold by Mongrel Media, Waste Land by Karen Harley and Joao Jardin of UK and Brazil, Russian Lessons by Olga Konskaya and Andrei Nekrasov of Russia, Norway and Georgia, Kick in Iran by Fatima Geza Abdollahyan of Iran and Germany and being sold by Telepool, Obselidia by Diane Bell of US and being sold by Dominion 7, The Imperlialists are Still Alive by Zeina Darra of US in Spanish, French, Arabic, Korean and English, A Small Act by Jennifer Arnold of US, The Oath by Laura Poltras of US in Arabic and English, Joan Rivers – A Piece of Work by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg of US, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child by Tamra Davis of US and produced and distributed in France by Pretty Pictures, Bhutto by Jessica Hernandez, Johnny O’Hara of US, 12th and Delaware by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing of US.

Palm Springs FilmFestival: 8 Films on World War II and 2 on China

What do 8 films on World War II -- all submitted for Academy Award consideration for Best Foreign Language Film by their originating countries -- have in common with two Chinese Films, City of Life and Death (Nanking Nanking) a 9th film about World War II and Quick Quick Slow?

1. They are all part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival. (White Ribbon, Winter in Wartime, Broken Promise, Ba’aria, Max Manus, Protektor, Draft Dodgers, Reverse - except for Ba'aria)

2. All the films are state financed.

3. All are male centric (except for Reverse).

3. All (perhaps not the romantic comedy Quick Quick Slow) reflect the realization that war is not a black and white issue but involves many shades of good and bad, personal decisions as well as national decisions, all are male centric, and all call for re-examination today as ultimate tools to destruction of all mankind in the face of current conflicts still occurring around the world.

The contradiction of this desire for peaceful resolution which would result in greater liberty for all segments of a society is given substance by the Chinese decision to pull their films from Palm Springs because Palm Springs insists on showing the Tibetan documentary, The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom, about the Dalai Lama and protests over Tibet's status vis a vis China. Obviously we're not waging a war over this here in the U.S. but just as obviously, it is apparent that the words and sentiments being expressed by the films are the idealistic reexamination of the past and not the Real Politik of the present.

Parenthetically a further contradiction: Nanking, Nanking is also dislked by many of the Chinese for the supposedly sympathetic portrait of some Japanese colonial miltary officers during that infamous WW 2 massacre of thousands of innocent Chinese civilians by the Japanese Army.

My interview here in Palm Springs with Nicolas Steil, the president and CEO of Iris Productions in Luxembourg shed an interesting light on the universal need to give voice to one's thinking. After his career in journalism in print and producing TV news, in 1986 Steil was one of 5 who decided to start a film industry in Luxembourg from scratch. Today it has all of 600 industryites (US has about 10,000) in a country with a population of 500,000. They produce 25 coproductions a year with France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and the UK. They have 20 active directors, no film school. During the war years his film Draft Dodgers depicts, the Germans took over Luxembourg quite quickly and the young men were forced to serve in their army or flee. Steil, who has produced numerous works and directed docs, news and much live theater chose this story as his debut fiction feature, taking 5 years to write and raise financing. He chose it because of the urgency of not repeating such war elsewhere, as a way to use in schools, especially after September 11, to create a political conscience about engagement and the necessity of engaging on different levels and for many complicated reasons.

A nation such as Luxembourg, but probably not just Luxembourg, was comprised of 4% collaborators and 4% resistors during the war years. The rest of the population just waited...It is likely that after September 11 until today 4% of the US population is vociferously jingoistic, 4% is determined to resist the racist and jingoistic factions and the rest just waits...hoping the world will be alright in the end.

To be a part of the Palm Springs Festival, resisting -- as did the Melbourne Film Festival -- the demands of the Chinese State to pull films expressing undesirable points of view, as Toronto Film Festival did and Edinburgh did not -- resisting demands of individuals not wanting the Israeli point of view to be visible, to be part of the international film community actively engaging in this dialogue of unity vs. exclusion puts us personally into that 4% segment of resistance which is exactly the reason most of us entered the world of independent film to begin with. I am proud to stand with Darry McDonald and the rest of the Palm Springs International Film Festival for the freedom of expression in this country and to resist the dictates of any country or individual to determine which film should or should not be played.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

$140,000 for Films Exploring Science, Math, Technology

The TFI Sloan Filmmaker Fund will provide up to $140,000 in support of innovative and compelling filmmaking that explores scientific, mathematical, and technological themes and storylines, or a leading character who is a scientist, engineer, innovator or mathematician in fresh ways.

We are seeking exceptional narrative work of all genres (except science fiction or fantasy) with scientifically accurate themes or characters.

Selected projects from eligible directors, screenwriters and producers will be highlighted at the Tribeca Film Festival in May 2010. In addition to funding, grantees will receive professional guidance and industry exposure as needed.

Deadline is January 11, 2010

Visit for complete details and to apply now!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Filmotech: A European Digital Distribution Case Study

Ricardo Fraguas of the MEDIA Desk Hellas discussed the European perspective of digital distribution during November's Thessaloniki Int'l Film Festival.

In Spain 132.000.000 downloads of films per year take place.

Connecting to allows for free streaming movies on-line. It is also linked with official sites of on-line Distribution such as  FILMOTECH , the platform of on-line distribution with all the Spanish producers. It it are sections of films from England as well as Spain. The aim of the platform is the lawful downloading plus security for user competitively to the distribution  at Dvd prices. In the future there will be sections of films from Germany and Greece.

An already existing section is dedicated to free downloading of short films. The cost of digitalization was covered by Filmotech for the 242 available films.

Microsoft has covered security accreditation, quality and the abiity of the user to copy a DvD of the download. Use Windows Media Player via a codec file format Mpg for buying or renting movies.

65% of revenues are paid to producers of the project. The Treaty between the platform and the manufacturer is not exclusive use with the most common concession rights movement for one year.

Producers can access the database platform to check the numbers of rentals. There is a flexible pricing structurel and fees vary from fil to film, though the normal fee for 7 days rental is 2 € The price to buy a Dvd is 6 €.

Experimental tests are ongoing for simultaneous distribution of the film on the site and in the theatres.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2010: A Look to the Future: Shorter Windows, Lower Marketing Costs as the Majors Emulate Indies.

Spending the holidays in sunny California after three weeks in Latin America, I was struck with how life is so easy here, the luxury of living so taken for granted. What a pleasure to be home.

Looking homeward, I find the theatrical distribution/ exhibition business is less changed than all the fear of change suggests. The exceptions to this are the decline in DVD revenues and the proliferation of grassroots hybrid distribution models…the last post about this being Gene Hernandez’ article in Indie Wire on Bass Ackward’s proposed release plan after its Sundance debut. Among the first 57 backers was Ted Hope himself.

But the majors -- which constitute a completely different business from the indies -- go on as (blindly) as usual, still luxuriating in the ease of releasing without sweating too much over originality or innovation. The majors preempt the indies whenever the indie business shows vitality. They did it creating the classic divisions and Paramount did it with online marketing for Paranormal Activity. It will be to the majors’ advantage that digital is changing film distribution because it is to their advantage that consumers are watching more movies than ever – and whenever and wherever they want.

Chez the majors:

• Attendance and box office are up and ticket sales hit $10 billion for the first time ever in 2009.

• Internationally the majors $10 billion as well. Often films playing abroad bring in more than they do in their US releases.

• DVD revenues were down to $21.6 billion in 2008, and declined another 13% in 2009.  [Additions by a reader:  Rentals however have spiked a bit.]

• Online distribution revenues are very slow to grow and numbers are not yet published, nor will Amazon likely ever publish their numbers. [Important addition by a reader: To add to the conversation: you state that "online distribution revenue is very slow to grow." While it's true that VOD still represents a relatively small % of overall distribution revenue it's growing very quickly, doubled in 2009 and is currently estimated to quadruple by the end of 2011. Later in the article you point to the success that companies like Magnolia have seen with internet VOD and IFC have seen with Cable on Demand. There isn't a company out there that doesn't agree that DVD distribution is looking at a shelf life of 5-10 years. The decline in DVD sales is an indication of this (even, incidentally, as DVD rentals have spiked - indicating that DVD owner/collectors are hesitant to expand their permanent collections).

The domestic and international growth allows the studios a chance to continue as usual theatrically while they watch the indie sector’s vital and groundbreaking activity. Hulu turns to charging viewers and Paramount stalls on its decision to go with Redbox pending closer investigation on whether the cheap rentals hurt the “other” already declining rental business – in other venues, in cities not serviced by the other venues, etc. The five year agreement to supply movies to Redbox was expected to generate $575 million for the studio. They will decide whether to sign on in June 2010 instead of the earlier deadline of December 31, 2009.

And the tug of war regarding the windows, how long a film will stay in the theaters whose ticket sales have increased in volume remarkably well in this economic time of crisis with a 5% increase of moviegoers continues as seen in Sony’s fight with Regal over a 90 day window for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. The typical interval of time between a studio film’s theatrical and its DVD release has narrowed by a month (four months being the average period between these two windows) over the last decade.

Viewed from the other end of the spectrum, the indies are having fewer problems with windows…witness HDNet which draws viewers offering pre-theatrical if not day and date release of its films of IFC’s day and date strategies. Again this is a distinguishing difference between the business model of the majors and that of indies and as online exhibition continues to grow the marketing power of the indies will need to keep pace.

What also bears comparison is to be seen as we watch the indies and the majors in their international runs. International box office continues to thrive (2009 combined gross $10 billion, 7% more than last year and 20% more than 3 years ago), with day and date theatrical releases from studios protecting them somewhat from piracy and with movies often grossing more abroad than they do here. Fox's Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs grossed $691 million internationally -- 77% of its gross compared with $197 million domestically. Sony’s 2012 and This is It both helped Sony exceed $2 billion overseas for the first time making it the fourth studio to ever do so, though it was beaten out by Fox which grossed $2.4 billion. The Hollywood Reporter points out that Of 2009's top 10 best-grossing domestic titles, only three failed to gross more overseas than in the U.S. and Canada.

Obviously the indies don’t approximate such numbers as these. So how are they doing? The traditional international sales agents continue to bank on theatrical sales which bear watching in 2010. To their disadvantage, low budget American indies must compete with European subsidized films whose distribution is also often subsidized as well. Latin American cinema (subsidized by their countries) is now gaining subsidy money for coproduction and distribution from Europe as well and paying back investors is less important than to their US indie filmmakers. Video on demand with such entities as Kadokawa MovieGate and MovieWalker, Spain’s Filmotech, The Auteurs, etc. need to be watched. How many films are US made? What returns are being made? Equally, IFC and HDNet, iTunes and Amazon. All need to be tracked publically to know the rate of growth of online exhibition.

The belief that mass marketing through the internet is key to growth and that new demographic targets offer the greatest room for growth may be slow to be implemented by the studios that have been targeting 13- 35-year-old men or families. That thinking is what we see in the predominance of actioners, raunchy comedies, horror and animated fare.

However, women’s flms have been breaking some records of their own (Sex and the City, The Devil Wears Prada, Mamma Mia, The Proposal, Julie and Julia, and the Twilight franchise), and African American women (Tyler Perry’s films, Disney’s The Princess and the Frog) are creating a new space for action. However, this has not extended to Latino or African American films either in the studios or among the indies. It seems like a missed opportunity to many of us.

Smaller indie distributors such as IFC Films and Magnolia had their most profitable years ever thanks to a combination releasing approach. Magnolia senior VP Tom Quinn credits the shingle's stellar year to a combination of the VOD platform, a solid and eclectic slate, plus a great year on DVD through their own label Magnolia Home Entertainment. "We have multiple titles netting seven figures on VOD alone," he added, "and more in the high six." Magnolia prexy Eamonn Bowles also pointed to more efficient marketing spends.

Theatrically, Magnolia is one of about a dozen U.S. distribs outside of the six major studios and the mini-majors to cross into the double-digit millions. It opened 25 films and grossed nearly $12 million in 2009. Magnolia's top title was documentary Food, Inc. ($4.4 million), which received a big marketing push thanks to various grassroots efforts.

IFC Films opened the same number of films theatrically in 2009 with a year-end cumulative gross of $7.2 million. Three titles crossed the $1 million mark, with Sundance pickup In the Loop grossing $2.4 million and also becoming one of IFC's most successful VOD titles of the year. Another big VOD title was Cannes acquisition Antichrist.

The niche films, specialty films, art house films (whatever) remain in their small niche. Of Focus, Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures Classics, the three surviving studio specialty units we are only hearing about SPC lately who is holding steady and happy with greatly decreased marketing costs thanks to the internet and viral campaigns. And I doubt that Paramount will know how to operate its planned “microbudget" unit, inspired by the $11,000 it cost to make Paranormal Activity, but their “belief” should convince others that there is a space for indies with true low budget fare. A last note on digital marketing: Variety on December 30, 2009, New Focus For Film Marketing gives an insightful view of how marketing costs are being reallocated.

So what is so bad about the business?

In LA we are so lucky to be able to see the entire range of films, from revival, arthouse, foreign and American. But throughout the US and the world, with online services, more people can see more films than ever before.