OSCARS Q&A: Ava DuVernay

By | Thursday January 3, 2013 @ 10:30am PST

Christy Grosz is Editor of AwardsLine.

In a season dominated by splashy studio fare from relatively mainstream directors, the quiet African-American focused Middle Of Nowhere is something of an anomaly. Shot in just 19 days in and around Los Angeles, the microbudgeted film about a woman who works to earn her nursing degree while dealing with a husband in prison is the second feature from former publicist Ava DuVernay, who started her filmmaking career just five years ago at age 35. Not only did DuVernay write and direct the feature—which has earned three Independent Spirit Award nominations, plus a breakthrough Gotham Award for star Emayatzy Corinealdi—but she launched her own film collective, AFFRM, to distribute. On the eve of a new year, and in the middle of moving, DuVernay took time to speak with AwardsLine about her work as a businesswoman and as a filmmaker.

Related: OSCARS: Will Earlier Voting Schedule Influence Nominations? Read More »

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Specialty Box Office: ‘Middle Of Nowhere’ Tops Newcomers With $13K Per Theater

By | Sunday October 14, 2012 @ 11:22am PDT

Brian Brooks is managing editor of MovieLine.

Studio box office owned the spotlight this weekend, while specialties failed to impress. Sundance winner Middle Of Nowhere reigned over an otherwise blasé specialty weekend, averaging $13,005, while Middle Of NowhereEuropean-financed Simon And The Oaks took in over $10K in a single theater. Sony Pictures Classics rolled out its Sundance ’12 feature Smashed in four locations with an average of $7,506. The Weinstein Company’s War Of The Buttons, however, tanked with only a $914 average from 5 locations. Also opening, MPI Media’s Big Picture debuted with an average of $7,250 from two locations.

Related: ‘Taken 2′ Still #1; Ben Affleck’s ‘Argo’ Opens #2; ‘Sinister’ #3

Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron starrer The Paperboy headed into an additional 38 theaters in its second weekend, averaging $2,122, a big drop. In its debut, the polarizing pic averaged a bit more than $10K from 11 theaters. Read More »

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Specialty Box Office Preview: ‘Middle Of Nowhere’, ‘Smashed’, ‘Excuse Me For Living’, ‘Simon And The Oaks’, ‘Gayby’

By | Friday October 12, 2012 @ 12:06am PDT

Brian Brooks is managing editor of MovieLine.

Smashed is a surprising story with an impressive cast including Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Will & Grace‘s Megan Mullally. Sony Pictures Classics picked up the film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Gayby began its life as a short but progressed to an outright feature after producers Anne Hubbell and Amy Hobby gave their a go-ahead last year at the Sarasota Film Festival. The complicated WWII coming-of-age story Simon And The Oaks stalled when the director dropped out, but the project came back to life when a former European Film Commissioner took over. Excuse Me For Living filmmaker Ric Klass, not only produced and directed his project, he wrote the screenplay and the novel. He also used his business acumen to figure out financing: DIY. And Ava DuVernay’s Middle Of Nowhere took some time to come together, but the publicity-maven-turned-director convinced investors her second feature would find an audience.

Middle Of NowhereMiddle Of Nowhere
Director-writer: Ava DuVernay
Cast: Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, Lorraine Toussaint, Sharon Lawrence, Omari Hardwick
Distributor: AFFRM

Writer-director DuVernay segued into filmmaking after running a successful publicity agency for years. She “stumbled” upon what she thinks may be her true calling while working on Collateral (DreamWorks) in 1999. “I was standing on a street in Compton and that’s where the idea of Middle of Nowhere came about,” said DuVernay. “I worked on the script weekends and evenings beginning in 2003. I didn’t know how to produce a film.” The film concerns a medical student who drops out of school after her husband is sentenced to prison. Middle Of Nowhere continued to gestate in subsequent years as DuVernay focused on publicity, repping Dreamgirls and later The Help through her DuVernay Agency. She also focused on making some music docs such as This Is The Life and feature I Will Follow.

I Will Follow was my first film which was self-financed from $50K out my own savings,” DuVernay said. “It was a good model to show investors. I made eight times that [amount] back.” She convinced investors the same could be done for Middle Of Nowhere, eventually raising $200K, with Participant Media among the companies on board. The project shot for 19 days in LA although DuVernay noted that they were “not among the lucky ones” to get a California tax credit. The film played in competition this year at Sundance, winning DuVernay the Best Director prize. “It caused excitement in the African American community and the film has had a wonderful life since then.” Read More »

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Sundance Winner Ava DuVernay Helms Venus Williams Doc For ESPN

By | Friday September 7, 2012 @ 7:00am PDT

EXCLUSIVE: This year’s Sundance Film Festival best director Ava DuVernay is helming an in-depth documentary that explores tennis star Venus Williams’ fight for fair pay at Wimbledon. Entitled Venus VS, the project is directed by … Read More »

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Hot Trailer: ‘Middle Of Nowhere’

By | Wednesday July 25, 2012 @ 6:03pm PDT

Here’s a trailer for Sundance Best Director winner Middle Of Nowhere, which Participant Media and AFFRM acquired at the festival and plan to release October 12th. Written and directed by Ava DuVernay, the movie stars Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, Omari Hardwick, Lorraine Touissaint, Edwina Findley and Sharon Lawrence.

Watch the … Read More »

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ICM Signs Sundance Breakout Emayatzy Corinealdi

By | Thursday February 23, 2012 @ 12:27pm PST

Corinealdi played the lead in the Sundance ’12 competition film Middle Of Nowhere which Participant Media and AFFRM jointly picked up at the festival this year. She received good word of mouth during the festival for … Read More »

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Participant Acquires ‘Middle Of Nowhere’: Sundance

By | Friday January 27, 2012 @ 3:03pm PST
Mike Fleming

Park City, UT – January 27, 2012 – Participant Media and AFFRM (African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement) have jointly acquired U.S. theatrical rights to MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, an elegant and emotional drama chronicling a woman’s separation from her incarcerated husband and her journey to maintain her marriage and her identity. Written and directed by AFFRM founder Ava DuVernay, the film was produced by DuVernay and Howard Barish with producer Paul Garnes.

Staring into the hollow end of her husband Derek’s eight-year prison sentence, Ruby Sexton fights to support him on the inside and survive her own identity crisis on the outside. Through a chance encounter and a stunning betrayal that shakes her to the core, Ruby is propelled in new and, often frightening, directions of self-discovery.

AFFRM will distribute the film theatrically later this year, activating marketing and promotional support through its broad grassroots collective powered by the nation’s top black film organizations. AFFRM’s inaugural feature through this innovative model was the critically-acclaimed drama, “I Will Follow,” released in March 2011. In December 2011, AFFRM distributed last year’s Sundance World Cinema Drama Audience Award winner, “Kinyarwanda.”

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2012 Sundance Film Festival Sets Competition Slate

Mike Fleming

BREAKING: The Sundance Institute has unveiled the U.S. and World Cinema Dramatic and Documentary competition slate for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival that runs January 19-29. There is a total of 110 features. At the Gotham Awards earlier this week, both agents and distributors felt there would a bounty of promising films with no distribution. That could make for a lot of dealmaking, which is certainly the way it went down last January in Park City.

Here are the selections in all categories:

U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
The world premieres of 16 American narrative feature films.

Beasts Of The Southern Wild / U.S.A. (Director: Benh Zeitlin, Screenwriters: Benh Zeitlin, Lucy Alibar) — Waters gonna rise up, wild animals gonna rerun from the grave, and everything south of the levee is goin’ under, in this tale of a six year old named Hushpuppy, who lives with her daddy at the edge of the world. Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry.

The Comedy / U.S.A. (Director: Rick Alverson, Screenwriters: Rick Alverson, Robert Donne, Colm O’Leary) — Indifferent even to the prospects of inheriting his father’s estate, Swanson whiles away his days with a group of aging Brooklyn hipsters, engaging in small acts of recreational cruelty and pacified boredom. Cast: Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, Kate Lyn Sheil, Alexia Rassmusen, Gregg Turkington.

The End Of Love / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Mark Webber) — A young father unravels following the loss of the mother of his child. Cast: Mark Webber, Shannyn Sossamon, Michael Cera, Jason Ritter, Amanda Seyfried, Frankie Shaw.

Filly Brown / U.S.A. (Directors: Youssef Delara, Michael D. Olmos, Screenwriter: Youssef Delara) — A Hip Hop-driven drama about a Mexican girl who rises to fame and consciousness as she copes with the incarceration of her mother through music. Cast: Lou Diamond Phillips, Gina Rodriguez, Jenni Rivera, Edward James Olmos.

The First Time / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jonathan Kasdan) — Two high schoolers meet at a party. Over the course of a weekend, things turn magical, romantic, complicated and funny, as they discover what it’s like to fall in love for the first time. Cast: Brittany Robertson, Dylan O’Brien, Craig Roberts, James Frecheville, Victoria Justice.

For Ellen / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: So Yong Kim) — A struggling musician takes an overnight long-distance drive in order to fight his estranged wife for custody of their young daughter. Cast: Paul Dano, Jon Heder, Jena Malone, Margarita Levieva, Shay Mandigo.

Hello I Must Be Going / U.S.A. (Director: Todd Louiso, Screenwriter: Sarah Koskoff) — Divorced, childless, demoralized and condemned to move back in with her parents at the age of 35, Amy Minsky’s prospects look bleak – until the unexpected attention of a teenage boy changes everything. Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Blythe Danner, Christopher Abbott, John Rubinstein, Julie White. DAY ONE FILM

Keep The Lights On / U.S.A. (Director: Ira Sachs, Screenwriters: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias) — An autobiographically inspired story of a passionate long-term relationship between two men driven by addiction and secrets but bound by love and hopefulness. Cast: Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth, Julianne Nicholson, Souleymane Sy Savane, Paprika Steen.

LUV / U.S.A. (Director: Sheldon Candis, Screenwriters: Sheldon Candis, Justin Wilson) — An orphaned 11-year-old boy is forced to face the unpleasant truth about his beloved uncle during one harrowing day in the streets of Baltimore. Cast: Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton.

Middle Of Nowhere / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Ava DuVernay) — When her husband is incarcerated, an African-American woman struggles to maintain her marriage and her identity. Cast: Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, Omari Hardwick, Lorraine Touissant, Edwina Findley.

Nobody Walks / U.S.A. (Director: Ry Russo-Young, Screenwriters: Lena Dunham, Ry Russo-Young) — Martine, a young artist from New York, is invited into the home of a hip, liberal LA family for a week. Her presence unravels the family’s carefully maintained status quo, and a mess of sexual and emotional entanglements ensues. Cast: John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt, India Ennenga, Justin Kirk.

Safety Not Guaranteed / U.S.A. (Director: Colin Trevorrow, Screenwriter: Derek Connolly) — A trio of magazine employees investigate a classified ad seeking a partner for time travel. One employee develops feelings for the paranoid but compelling loner and seeks to discover what he’s really up to. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni.

Save The Date / U.S.A. (Director: Michael Mohan, Screenwriters: Jeffrey Brown, Egan Reich, Michael Mohan) — As her sister Beth prepares to get married, Sarah finds herself caught up in an intense post-breakup rebound. The two fumble through the redefined emotional landscape of modern day relationships, forced to relearn how to love and be loved. Cast: Lizzy Caplan, Alison Brie, Martin Starr, Geoffrey Arend, Mark Webber.

Simon Killer / France, U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Antonio Campos) — A recent college graduate goes to Paris after breaking up with his girlfriend of 5 years. Once there, he falls in love with a young prostitute and their fateful journey begins. Cast: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop, Constance Rousseau, Michael Abiteboul, Solo.

Smashed / U.S.A. (Director: James Ponsoldt, Screenwriters: Susan Burke, James Ponsoldt) — Kate and Charlie are a young married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of music, laughter and… drinking. When Kate decides to get sober, her new lifestyle brings troubling issues to the surface and calls into question her relationship with Charlie. Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally.

The Surrogate / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Ben Lewin) — Mark O’Brien, a 36-year-old poet and journalist with an iron lung, decides he no longer wishes to be a virgin. With the help of his therapist and the guidance of his priest, he contacts a professional sex surrogate to take him on a journey to manhood. Cast: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy. Read More »

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