Here’s a head start on the upcoming weekend’s specialty releases. Sony Classics’ Michael Barker gives Deadline an inside snapshot of the distributor’s long ties to Polish director Agnieszka Holland and her latest Polish Holocaust feature In Darkness, based on a true story. Return director Liza Johnson offers her casting and financing coup for her film about an Iraqi war veteran’s return home which Focus World is rolling out Friday. Also among specialties this weekend is Woody Harrelson starrer Rampart about a cop in a scandal-plagued department.
Director: Agnieszka Holland; Writer: David F. Shamoon; Cast: Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Furmann, Agnieszka Grochowska, Maria Schrader, Hubert Knaup, Kinga Preis, Krzysztof Skonieczny; Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics; Awards: Best Foreign Language Oscar Nomination (Poland)
Polish Director Agnieszka Holland has had a longstanding relationship with Sony Pictures Classics co-presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard dating back to their time at Orion Classics when they acquired her 1990 feature Europa Europa, one of their last releases at the company before founding SPC. They worked with her again on Olivier, Olivier (1992), one of the first releases at the new Sony division they ran with Marcie Bloom which opened the New York Film Festival, but Europa Europa and the mini-Oscar controversy surrounding the title put Holland on the map in America.
“It was a tremendous success for us,” Barker told Deadline. “It was a major film about the Holocaust and not told before. We had an incredible experience with her. Germany refused to submit it for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration which really upset the German film community in Los Angeles.” Filmmakers such as Werner Herzog and others campaigned on its behalf and it eventually nabbed a screenplay nomination and won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. READ MORE »
NEWS, NOTES AND ANALYSIS FROM AWARDS SEASON:
Today’s narrowing to nine finalists out of 63 entries puts the Academy’s Foreign Language process back in the spotlight. Although there were surprising omissions — notably Finland’s Aki Kaurismaki’s brilliant and clever Le Havre, one of several Cannes competition entries snubbed by the Acad’s foreign-language committee (perhaps its position as the first of the 63 films shown back in October kept it out of mind in the end) — there likely won’t be any raging controversy over these mostly admirable choices. Controversy was the reason the Academy switched to its new system a few years ago where the larger, mostly older and more mainstream volunteer committee would get their six top vote-getters in and the Acad’s Foreign Language executive committee — headed by Oscar-winning producer Mark Johnson — would get to choose three more generally edgier movies with strong international reputations whose omissions might have caused an outcry. That was the case in the past when movies like City Of God were bypassed in favor of more conventional fare.
This year’s list generally jibes with what I had heard coming out of the committee over the past three months and in conversations with some exec committee members. The entries from Canada, Denmark, Germany, Iran, Israel and Poland were all much-buzzed-about contenders. Belgium’s Bullhead, Morocco’s Omar Killed Me and Taiwan’s 4 1/2-hour epic Warriors Of The Rainbow: Seediq Bale all played in the final 10 days of the three-month screening process, likely to much smaller groups of voters who ranked them very high. In fact, I heard Warriors’ Saturday morning screening January 7 was sparsely attended but enthusiastically received. It causes a problem for this weekend’s final nine screenings (to a committee of 20 members in LA and another 10 in New York) who will be blurry-eyed at the end of the process of viewing all these contenders. Poland’s In Darkness is just under 2 1/2 hours itself. Read More »
This season, 63 countries have submitted films for consideration in the Foreign Language Film category for the 84th Academy Awards. The 2011 submissions are vying to be among the 9 long-listed by the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences before the 5 finalists are announced with Oscar nominations on January 24. Here are the films that AwardsLine London Contributor Tim Adler believes will make the semifinal round:
Declaration Of War (France)
Sundance Selects, U.S. release date: January 27
Valérie Donzelli’s Declaration Of War has been a huge hit with critics and the public alike. The movie, which opened Cannes Critics’ Week this year, has sold to more than 30 territories and has already generated over 810,000 admissions in France for distributor-sales agent Wild Bunch. Declaration Of War is based on Donzelli’s own life story. She and her former partner Jérémie Elkaïm play themselves in the film, which charts their fight to save the baby they had together after he is diagnosed with a brain tumor. The film’s success with audiences is largely attributed to its happy ending: the baby survives. Donzelli tells me, “The audience is confronted with the worst thing you can imagine, and yet they see people overcoming the situation. It’s not about the anguish of death but passion for life.”
The Flowers Of War (China)
Wrekin Hill, U.S. Release: 2012
Flowers marks a return to high drama for China’s favorite director Zhang Yimou and represents his fourth attempt at an Academy Award,
following defeats for Hero (2003), Raise the Red Lantern (1992) and Ju Dou (1991). With a budget of nearly $100 million, The Flowers of War – starring Christian Bale – is Zhang’s most expensive film ever. Zhang’s problem: Judges of the Best Foreign-Language Film category don’t really go for blockbusters. The film is based on events in the former Chinese capital of Nanjing when the Japanese occupied it during the Second World War. Bale plays a mortician who goes to collect the body of an American priest from Nanjing Cathedral, where he discovers local schoolgirls hiding from the carnage outside. Pledging to protect them, he dresses up as a priest and also shelters a group of prostitutes who have arrived at the cathedral. The Flowers of War ran for seven days in a 22-seat Beijing cinema to meet entry standards for the Oscars, which requires films to be shown in domestic theatres for at least a week. (It’s reportedly 40% English-language and 60% Mandarin, which lets it squeak by one of the Academy’s rules.) Despite little promotion and tickets costing 200 yuan ($30), double the normal price, Zhang’s latest sold out within 40 minutes of its box office opening. Chinese producer New Pictures Films handled U.S. rights with exec producers Chaoying Deng and David Linde and Stephen Saltzman of Loeb & Loeb. Wrekin Hill has acquired for U.S. distribution and releases on December 23.
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