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 »
Oren Moverman’s corrupt LA cop drama Rampart stars Woody Harrelson, Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Ned Beatty, Ben Foster, Ice Cube, Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon. Millennium Entertainment plans to launch Best Actor, Director and Screenplay campaigns for Harrelson and Moverman.
The 9/11 anniversary was a strong memory in Toronto because it happened right in the middle of 2001′s film festiva – even though it was business as usual today. In fact the pace of this place just seems to be quickening. Deals, as Deadline’s Mike Fleming reports, were slow to percolate but may be picking up. Most buyers I talk to are irritated by some sellers’ insistence that their film be released this year in time for Oscar consideration. That’s a tall order and leaves little time for creating a marketing campaign, much less an awards strategy. Nevertheless, that was one of the demands made by the sellers of the controversial Shame during negotiations. Fox Searchlight agreed, others didn’t. In fact I was told that Sony Pictures Classics, which wanted the picture, came up with a smart strategy they compared to The Weinstein Company’s for Colin Firth. That consisted of Firth doing a lot of campaigning and earning a nomination for A Single Man in 2010, thus laying the groundwork for his The King’s Speech win the next year. SPC was going to put Michael Fassbender out there and get him recognition for their November release of David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method and then release Shame later in 2012 for a one-two punch that the Academy would notice. No go. The sales people behind Shame insisted it be released this year, thereby throwing the Venice Film Festival’s Best Actor winner into an already overcrowded awards race that among others includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman, and Leonardo DiCaprio who are better known — at least at this point.
One former studio head-turned-producer complained loudly to me today that this kind of strategy is not necessarily what’s good for the movie and asked, “Isn’t that what we should be concerned with over anything else?” For example, Open Road’s Tom Ortenberg is here with his first release Killer Elite but is not rushing into a year-end release if it might end up hurting the bottom line. “Isn’t the 2012 Oscar race just as good as this year’s?” he asked. He might consider putting the Liam Neeson film The Grey into a year-end qualifying run since Neeson’s performance is said to be so strong. But only if it was in the best interest of the film. When he was at Lionsgate, Ortenberg acquired Crash at Toronto but held it for a May release. Then he did a now-legendary and successful Oscar campaign almost 1 1/2 years after the Toronto buy. The same strategy worked for The Hurt Locker two years ago. Both went on to win Best Picture.
Nevertheless, several films for sale in Toronto are said to be eyeing a 2011 release in order to get into the Oscar race. These include Luc Besson’s The Lady, which premieres Monday night and which I have already seen. It contains two powerhouse performances from Michelle Yeoh who could jump into the lead actress race. There’s also David Thewlis for Supporting Actor. The Lady will certainly be part of any sales discussion, but I know of at least one mini-major who would like the film but just not for this year. As I mentioned yesterday, Barrymore with its sensational title performance from Christopher Plummer also wants to make a deal that includes a 2011 year-end release. Also director Zhang Yimou’s epic The Flowers of War (formerly Nanking) starring Oscar-winner Christian Bale had a 20-minute footage presentation here and hopes to get a domestic deal in place in time for a possible year-end run at Oscar. I am told it could certainly be ready what with its debut in Beijing in December. Read More »
The 55th BFI London Film Festival has set its slate for the 16-day festival that runs Oct. 12-27. It’s composed mostly of the high-profile films that will have made their debuts at the Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York film … Read More »