Happy President's Day and Happy Day After Valentines Day as the Sundance sales and THE COVE's onward march toward Oscar continues. But first...
It was a good (if not mind-blowing) weekend at the box office for two of our favorite documentaries of 2009, both kicking off exclusive runs at New York's IFC Center.
Erik Gandini's VIDEOCRACY, which premiered at Toronto and took the Jury Prize at Sheffield, opened with a 3-day take of $10,000, according to figures at indieWIRE. While the film had mixed reviews (at least Manohla gets it, while most of the other reviews seem to be at a loss to explain what they've just watched), the Lorber Films release was the top doc (per screen) of the weekend.
Meanwhile Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher's OCTOBER COUNTRY, nominated for Best Doc at the Spirit Awards, winner of two Cinema Eye Honors and recipient of nearly unanimous positive notices, made $7,500 at the same theatre. The film explands to Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon this week.
Last night, at the ACE awards (no, not the old Cable Ace awards, the American Cinema Editors), THE COVE continued its sweep of the 2010 documentary prizes. While the film came up empty in the early going (including getting shut out of Best Doc nominations at the Gothams, Spirits and IDA Awards), the film began a December film critics' sweep that has carried well over into 2010. Adding the Documentary Editing prize after awards from the Producers Guild and Directors Guild (not to mention three wins at Cinema Eye), it's pretty hard at this point not to expect the film to go the distance and win the Oscar.
Add to the awards bounty the fact that THE COVE continues to make news - announcing this week that a Japanese theatrical release had finally been secured - and a Oscar vote for that film suddenly becomes a vote for making real change. Even though each of the other four nominees plays to the Academy's liberal heartstrings, none seems to offer the seemingly visceral chance to make a difference that THE COVE does. Even the NY Times' Carpetbagger gets into the act:
"The filmmakers behind THE COVE have been open about their goal: not to win an Oscar – though they wouldn’t mind – but to stop the dolphin slaughter that the documentary depicts. They may have moved one step closer to that goal with the news that the Oscar-nominated film, which shows a secret dolphin-killing field in Taiji, Japan, will now be distributed in Japan...
"'To me the awards are the collateral in hopefully trying to create this awareness to stop what’s going on there,” [director Louie Psihoyos] said, though he did acknowledge that the Oscar nomination has made his next feature, about the effect of acidification on the oceans, easier to finance. “Career-wise, just having a nomination is an amazing achievement for everybody associated with the film,” he said. “But the real reason to try to win, for me, is that then you have 45 seconds to talk to the Japanese people. You have a platform.'"
If this year's Oscar race is seemingly set-in-stone, one suspects that at least a few of this year's Sundance filmmakers are pondering their own Oscar strategy for 2011. One important part of that equation is getting picked up for distribution (or at least having a distribution strategy in mind), so there was some good news on the distribution front for a few of this year's out-of-competition titles.
Lucy Walker's COUNTDOWN TO ZERO, one of two films Walker helmed at this year's fest, was picked up by Magnolia Pictures. The film, which was produced by Participant, also solidified a deal with History Channel for US television. Magnolia expects to release the film later this year.
Another television deal was announced for Adrian Grenier's TEENAGE PAPARAZZO. That film goes - not terribly surprisingly - to HBO, which aired Grenier's pervious documentary, SHOT IN THE DARK, and is the home to his popular television series, Entourage.
Finally, Reed Cowan's 8: THE MORMON PROPOSITION will be the first release for Red Flag Films, a new entity launched by former Warner Independent execs Paul Federbush and Laura Kim. indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez reported on Red Flag's vision for the future:
"Red Flag Releasing (RFR), was created—in the words of an official announcement today—“out of a desire to create new paths and opportunities for independent filmmakers in this age of ubiquitous technological change.” The company reiterated, in their Wednesday release, that they will, “operate with agility and innovation, taking advantage of every available platform to customize a release that is organic to the needs of each film.”
RFR intends to acquire completed films at festivals in its first year, and also pursue projects for which it can provide finishing funds. The new outfit will not shy away from politically themed or issue oriented movies, Federbush said today. Yet, they certainly don’t want to be pigeon-holed. He added that the company will grow organically, is well capitalized and will pursue releases with breakout potential. They are working with Ron Stein to raise additional capital to support the future growth of the new company."
Stuff You Should Read: Manohla Dargis examines Sundance docs CATFISH and the Bansky film EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP and wonders where the truth lies in documentaries nowadays. This year's Hot Docs tribute honoree Kim Longinotto goes deep with The Guardian's Kira Cochrane (even if we are partial to our own Longinotto interview from last year's Hot Docs). Karina Longworth goes long and deep recapping this year's Sundance film fest in her new gig at the LA Weekly and Eric Kohn turns up in the same pages with a profile on Oscilloscope Founder Adam Yauch.
And finally... SXSW announced its short film line-up this past week and we'd like to highlight one of those films - BIG BIRDING DAY, the latest short film by our Branson filmmaking compatriot David Wilson. It's a terrific film and we're raising a glass to David and sending congratulations his way. This year's SXSW Documentary Shorts also include new work from Bradley Beesley, Jessica Edwards and Peter Esmonde.