Welcome to another edition of Indie Insights, in which we examine a pressing issue facing the independent film community, recap recent box office activity, and preview upcoming releases.
Issue #1: The European Perspective
With last month’s Sundance Film Festival now considered ancient history, the independent film community turned its attention to Berlin, Germany. As our own Christopher Campbell recently recounted, opinions on major new titles that are debuting there have been divided, but the real action is taking place at the concurrently-running European Film Market (EFM), which runs through Friday.
While American indie filmmakers target Sundance, the rest of the world aims at getting their projects ready for EFM. Last year, nearly 7,000 industry professionals participated, representing 90 nationalities and more than 700 films, of which 570 made their market debut. That’s a staggering number of films to sort through; for comparison’s sake, Sundance screened 110 features this year.
Naturally, both buyers and sellers have done their homework in advance. And many films making their “market debut” have not even started production yet; they are projects searching for financing, with talent and filmmakers attached. Which projects are selling? The Hollywood Reporter talked to a British sales agent, “who said that the presales market this year is good for those with big, commercial projects but almost non-existent for small, low-budget films.”
Those “big, commercial projects” include Two Guns, an action picture starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg; All is Lost, the next film from J.C. Chandor (Margin Call), starring Robert Redford; and Steven Soderbergh’s Bitter Pill, with Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum.
More modestly-budgeted independent films that have made deals for presales include Jim Mickle’s remake of Spanish ‘family cannibal’ flick We Are What We Are and Ti West’s horror-science fiction hybrid The Side Effect, starring Liv Tyler.
Not all of these films have secured U.S. distribution deals yet, but they’re in the pipeline now, and some of them should start showing up at festivals before the end of the year.
Academy Award-nominated films dominate the box office conversation, though they’e beginning to saturate the market.
The jazz-inflected Chico & Rita, which came out of left field to grab an Oscar nod as Best Animated Feature Film, opened in one theater in New York and grossed $20,654, according to Box Office Mojo, which is not bad considering it has no “names” attached. The story revolves around the romantic travails of a piano player and a singer, as the action moves from Havana, Cuba, to New York, Paris, Hollywood, and Las Vegas. Reviews have been generally favorable.
Oren Moverman’s edgy drama Rampart earned an average of $12,089 at five theaters where it opened. Woody Harrelson stars as an L.A. cop who’s convinced he’s doing “the people’s dirty work,” which includes beating up suspects, along with other suspicious activity that gets him branded as a dirty cop. He tries to preside over an extremely dysfunctional domestic situation, and can’t find satisfaction there either. His downward spiral accelerates throughout the film, leaving a greasy residue that is certainly memorable -- Harrelson is top-notch in the role -- if all a bit too familiar and one-note in its harsh pessimism. The supporting case is superb: Ned Beatty, Robin Wright, Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Ben Foster, Ice Cube, Anne Heche, and Cynthia Nixon. Reviews have been mixed to positive.
The Descendants continues to draw well in its 13th week of release, passing the $70 million mark over the weekend, while The Artist, odds-on favorite for the Best Picture Oscar, has made a more modest $24 million so far. Another Best Picture nominee, War Horse, has galloped past both and stands at $78 million.
Meryl Streep and her bio-pic The Iron Lady continue to impress, nearing $23 million in returns, with Gary Oldman and his spy drama Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy not far behind in total U.S. earnings (nearly $22 million).
Two key titles with Oscar ties will be competing for your attention this week.
Bullhead. (Opens in New York, Los Angeles, and Austin on Friday, Feb. 17; expands to selected cities Feb. 24)
Michael R. Roskam’s hypnotic, unsettling drama was the best film I saw last year, a sprawling yet intimate epic that cuts to the very heart of masculinity. Nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film, Bullhead is “an absolutely fascinating film,” in the words of our own Brian Salisbury, “a violent tale of obsession and lost youth … set against the backdrop of Belgium's crime-infested beef trade.” Bullhead is highly recommended.
Undefeated. (Opens in limited release on Friday, Feb. 17.)
Nominated for an Academy Award as Best Documentary (Feature), the film tells the true tale of a high school in North Memphis, Tennessee, that has never sent a football team to the playoffs. A former coach turned businessman resolves to change that, volunteering as coach to turn things around. Directed by Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin, the doc has received very good reviews.
Indie Insights will return on Wednesday, Feb. 29.