Good morning. We're more than halfway through August and just under three weeks away from the World Premiere of Michael Moore's CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY at La Biennale di Venezia...
But the big documentary news of the weekend is the stellar debut of the new film from another Oscar winner. Davis Guggenheim's IT MIGHT GET LOUD, the story of the electric guitar as seen through Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White, broke out this weekend - and big. Playing at just 7 theaters, the Sony Pictures Classics release made more than $100K, marking the best release for a documentary this year that was playing on more than 2 screens.
IT MIGHT GET LOUD continues the sensational nonfiction streak for SPC this year, coming on the heels of WALTZ WITH BASHIR (just under $2.3M) EVERY LITTLE STEP ($1.6M and still going) and even TYSON ($886K).
It also marks the latest nonfiction feature from the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival to become a hit with moviegoers (following BASHIR, VALENTINO: THE LAST EMPEROR, EVERY LITTLE STEP and FOOD, INC. Together, those five titles (including IT MIGHT GET LOUD) have taken in nearly $8.5M. The highest grossing Sundance film this year is ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL from the 2008 fest (although many haven't been released yet).
One 2009 Sundance title that entered theatres with lofty expectations - huge box office, Oscar nominations, changing maritime law - was THE COVE. But this was not a good week for that film in terms of the things that worry filmmakers and distributors - box office and press.
First, despite strong reviews and a new promotional push - including an appearance by director Louie Psihoyos on the Today Show - the film slipped to a per theater average of just $1,660 this weekend and a total cume of $424K. It now looks like the film will have to struggle to make it to $1M at the box office Worse was a piece in the LA Times by John Horn that used THE COVE as the poster child for why environmental docs aren't working at the box office (we wondered why Horn never bothered to mention Disney's EARTH in his story). It's never a good sign to have your distributor (in this case, Roadside Attractions' Howard Cohen) quoted as saying, "It's not what we would have hoped" and "the concept of the movie is much more off-putting than the experience of watching it".
But amazingly, still worse was the email sent by producer Fisher Stevens to Hollywood blogger Nikke Finke bemoaning the fact that THE COVE had not been accepted to screen at the Tokyo Film Festival. It's apparently become the fad of the moment to submit crazy documentary outrages to Finke (witness her reprinting Mark Lipsky's complaint about MUST READ AFTER MY DEATH being ineligible for the Oscar since it was released in theatres and online the same day - well, duh.), but it doesn't play well for Stevens or for the film to be whining about a festival rejection. And the timing - coming out hours after the LA Times had all but pronounced the film's theatrical prospects DOA - was dreadful.
It's usually a bad idea to promote your festival rejections, no matter what that little voice inside your head is telling you. Case in point: the trailer for the forthcoming fan-made film, THE ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT DOCUMENTARY PROJECT, looking at the success of recently-departed FOX sitcom. Unfortunately, someone thought it would be fun (and perhaps in the style of the show) to mention that the film had been rejected by at least three major U.S. festivals this year at the top of the trailer. We shit you not.
The problem - if it's not obvious on its face - is that being "officially not selected" by Sundance, SXSW and Tribeca means that three quite different sets of programmers, each with their own style and personal preferences, thought that the film didn't work for one reason or another. I mean, I can imagine Sundance passing on it immediately - it's not like somebody's doing rescue work in the Sudan, but this seems totally and completely up SXSW's alley and, well, if they passed on it...
The thing is, based just on that intro - and even if we didn't see another frame of the trailer - the film is now tainted as some misformed reject, a high profile, star-studded car wreck. And if they hadn't told us, if they'd kept their festival rejections to themselves? We'd probably assume that the film was just reaching its final editing stage and would likely to be seen at a festival or somewhere in the next six to nine months. As my pal Basil might say, Dear documentary filmmaker: don't tell us in your trailer that folks have already watched your movie and didn't love it.
With the ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT doc and the recent after-death acquisition of (what MCN referred to as) the John Hughes stalkumentary, it seems that fan-made, fan-focused docs are a trend (well, if two films makes a trend). But is anyone looking to watch a movie where fans from coast to coast talk about how awesome something is? Isn't that a little like being stuck in a room talking to someone who just discovered "The Wire" on DVD?
Stuff we missed last week: The New York Times profiled ANVIL director Sascha Gervasi's decision to fund his theatrical release after a series of distributors offered a pittance. It also offers a nugget that left everyone scratching their head - supposedly filmmakers of this year's TIFF films are already in Toronto talking up concierges. Really? Tom Bernard is asking the staff at the Four Seasons for viewing tips? This seems like someone's version of a practical joke of Times writer Michael Cieply.
The David Lynch Interview Project - an amazing series of simple sit-downs with folks across America directed by Austin Lynch and Jason S. - has made it to Natchez, Mississippi to talk to John D. Montgomery.
Martin Scorsese penned an open letter to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Michael Govan over the recent announcement that LACMA will shutter its 40-year old weekend film program. Says sometime-doc-director Scorsese:
Coming this week: X GAMES 3D: THE MOVIE becomes Disney's latest wide-release nonfiction release of the year, opening Friday on 1200 screens. The IDA's DocuWeeks concludes in Los Angeles and New York.
Finally, what we're pondering now: The 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Music Festival reminds me that Michael Wadleigh's WOODSTOCK: 3 DAYS OF LOVE AND MUSIC was probably the first documentary film that I saw where I knew I was watching a documentary feature. I think it played on KETC, the St. Louis PBS affilliate - although it could have been KPLR, at the time the main independent station in town and one that regularly screened classic films.
WOODSTOCK was released in 1970, one year after the festival, and was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning for Best Documentary and scoring nominations for Thelma Schoonmaker's editing and the sound work of Dan Wallin and Larry Johnson. It's difficult to imagine now - particularly when the Academy rarely recognizes films about popular artists - that they would honor this film about a pop culture landmark, and that they would do it the same year that they handed a raft full of Oscars to PATTON.
Pennebaker's MONTEREY POP was released fifteen months before WOODSTOCK, while the Maysles' GIMME SHELTER would come out nine months later. Together with Pennbaker's DON'T LOOK BACK in 1967, these films ushered in a affinity for the music documentary that has made the genre one of the most vital threads of nonfiction filmmaking.
A nice symmetry then to see IT MIGHT GET LOUD leading specialty releases this weekend and to see Barbara Kopple on VH1 with her latest, WOODSTOCK - NOW AND THEN, the third film of hers to deal with the festival (and its sequels).
Davis Guggenheim's film may even offer a bit of a lesson. The challenge for those of us who like making films about music and musicians is, I like to think, finding new ways to tell these stories. In his case, Guggenheim deconstructs the genre by bringing together three very different musicians of different eras who all have an affinity for the electric guitar. A film about any one of his subjects would have been interesting - and potentially conventional - but the act of putting the three in a room together creates something that we haven't seen a hundred times.
What then is the next step for the music documentary? Will there ever be another film that can examine the goings on at a major music festival and feel as fresh and vital as MONTEREY POP or WOODSTOCK did? How will we take the sub-genres - the concert film, the tour film, the biopic - and find ways to turn them inside out, or at least to give them a new coat of paint? Not new questions certainly, but ones - particularly in the current financing and distribution climate - that deserve to be asked.