After his Haiti appeal, Robert Redford made it clear from his mission statement that the new Sundance programmed by John Cooper was going to bring the film festival back to its indie roots. Sure, blah, blah. What everybody really wants to know is: who has a film that is going to tempt more than one distributor and create a skirmish — or at least an entertaining custody battle like last year’s tug of war between The Weinstein Co and Lionsgate over Precious or The Weinstein Co and Focus Features or Summit Entertainment over A Single Man.
Most buyers and agents expect some action, at least more than Toronto’s, where everybody died of boredom. The fun of Sundance, as one buyer admitted, is “none of us knows anything”. Much of the reports handicapping which films will send buyers into a frenzy are meaningless hype based on star casts or past track records of filmmakers. After all, the pre-fest vibe on Precious (then called Push) wasn’t good. And Paranormal Activity, one of the most lucrative films to ever come out of Park City, was a Slamdance title that originally got bought for remake and not even theatrical release.
Buyers, who are seemingly in no hurry, will likely try to make deals with low minimum guarantees and P&A commitments. Beyond the usual suspects, there are new buyers on the scene promising VOD and other schemes. And rumors have Blockbuster despite its financial troubles forming a new venture under Neil Davis that involves some theatrical distribution through Landmark and sell-through in retail stores beyond its own vidrental outlets.
So what are the hot films? Howl premiered last night and, while there were plaudits for James Franco, many felt the film was arty, which at least for fest organizers is a good thing but no much for the pic’s commercial prospects.
Today, the hot ticket was business as usual: TV producer/writer John Wells’ film The Company Men, with Ben Affleck leading a marquee cast. Still, there were discoveries. Like a daytime screening of the docu Catfish which, despite its innocuous title, got a resounding ovation. But most of the big buyers were busy elsewhere and therefore sent only underlings to see the cyber romance that develops between a 24-year old photographer and the sister of a youth who takes an interest in his work. Tomorrow’s screening should have more bigwigs who’ll decide if the film’s worth buying for distribution and/or remake.
Also today’s trio was the Natalie Portman-produced Hesher, as well as Douchebag, a film that doesn’t have stars but is one of the few comedies available.
Other films with high wanna-see is the weekend debut of Blue Valentine with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, and the two films with Twilight Saga’s Kristen Stewart in the cast, The Runaways and the Jake Scott-directed Welcome to the Rileys, which also has James Gandolfini in the cast. Buyers also mention Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me, a potentially polarizing drama based on the Jim Thompson novel, The Kids Are Alright, and Buried, a late night preem that has Ryan Reynolds trying to escape a coffin in the desert.
Potential discoveries include films from actors-turned-directors like Mark Ruffalo’s Sympathy for Delicious, Diego Luna’s Abel, and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Jack Goes Boating. There are plenty drawing interest because of star casts, which buyers reason help them sell the film because there’s someone to put on the poster. Those include The Extra Man, The Romantics and Twelve, where Joel Schumacher gathers yet another group of young talent that includes Chace Crawford, Emma Roberts and Rory Culkin.
On the docu front, there is I’m _ Pat Tillman, about the heroic Arizona Cardinals defensive back who quit football, joined the Army after 9/11, and was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in a death that was covered up. (There’s also going to be a feature of Tillman’s story. Rumors have Tony Scott interested, though it’s unclear whether such a project would be based on a docu, or the book written by Jon Krakauer, or other sources.)
Restrepo is also on the radar, with The Perfect Storm’s Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington directing their year spent with a platoon assigned to an Al Qaeda stronghold in Afghanistan. The paparazzi doc Smash His Camera by Leon Gast is mentioned as one to watch, along with the ESPN docu Winning Time by Dan Klores. Also one to watch is Alex Gibney’s docu Casino Jack And The United States of Money (which is not to be confused with the indie biopic starring Kevin Spacey and directed by George Hickenlooper that’s being made with jailed Washington DC lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s cooperation). The most unusual with a high wanna-see is Cane Toads: The Conquest, a docu about giant destructive toads in Australia that was filmed in 3-D. No, really.
We will add to the list of hot films, and drop some, as they reveal themselves.