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Billy Gil graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and has worked for People and Daily Variety. He is the editor of the Pipeline section and IndieFile, both of which highlight independent films on DVD. For IndieFile tips and inquiries, email bgil@questex.com. For inclusion on IndieFile's Feedroom channel, contact Renee Rosado (rrosado@questex.com). Follow IndieFile on Twitter, at Twitter.com/IndieFile.


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1 Feb, 2011

Sundance 2010 Acquisitions Wrap


The following is a partial list of buys at Sundance and their eventual home DVD/Blu-ray/digital distributors in North America, along with a pithy description of what the films promise, courtesy of the fine folks at indieWire:

Focus Features: Pariah (urban tale about the struggles of a black lesbian teen)
Fox: Another Earth (sci-fi romance), Homework (coming-of-age story with Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts), Martha Marcy May Marlene (drama about a young woman overcoming an experience with a cult, with breakout Sundance star Elizabeth Olsen)
HBO: Project Nim (biography of a chimp raised as a human)
Lionsgate: Margin Call (financial thriller with Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons), The Future (Miranda July’s directorial follow-up to Me and You and Everyone We Know)
Magnolia: I Melt With You (drug-fueled road trip movie with Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe and Jeremy Piven), Page One A Year Inside The New York Times
MPI/IFC: Perfect Sense (romantic thriller starring Ewan MacGregor)
New Video: The Flaw (documentary on the current financial crisis, to be released by Docurama), The Last Mountain (David-and-Goliath doc about a small town vs. a coal company)
Oscilloscope: Bellflower (apocalyptic drama, in theaters this summer)
Paramount: Like Crazy (Grand Jury Prize winning drama about a young couple’s long-distance relationship falling apart)
Sony Pictures/IFC: Salvation Boulevard (religious comedy starring Pierce Brosnan, Marisa Tomei)
Sony Pictures/Weinstein Co.: The Details (dark comedy with Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks and Laura Linney)
Sony Pictures Classics: The Guard (comedy/thriller with Brendan Gleason and Don Cheadle), The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (Morgan Spurlock doc) and Take Shelter (starring Michael Shannon)


Also, Feb. 18-March 3 film magazine Film Comment will screen 16 films that do not have U.S. distribution, including John Landis’ Burke and Hare, in a showcase of rare and rediscovered films, as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Film Comment Selects series at the Walter Reade Theatre in New York. IndieWire has the full list of films screening, and tickets can be purchased Feb. 3 at http://www.filmlinc.com.
 

By: Billy Gil


17 Jan, 2011

Indie ‘Kids Are All Right’ Cleans Up at Golden Globes

Annette Bening in 'The Kids Are All Right'
Annette Bening in 'The Kids Are All Right'

Independent films did exceedingly well at the 68th Annual Golden Globes, with wins for Best Picture and Best Actress (Annette Bening), Comedy or Musical, for Focus Features’ The Kids Are All Right, which is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

That film’s win again raises the question as to how films benefit by having been released on DVD before major awards shows. Crash and The Hurt Locker famously won the Best Picture Oscar over bigger movies, possibly in part due to their easy availability on disc building hype. The Kids Are All Right was released on DVD and Blu-ray by Universal Studios Home Entertainment in November of 2010. The only other film nominated here that was available on disc was Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, although that film and the other nominees (Red, The Tourist and Burlesque) didn’t exactly give Kids a run for its money, critically speaking.

Indies, in total, won eight major awards at the ceremony. The King’s Speech (The Weinstein Co.) got a Best Actor win for Colin Firth, and Barney's Version (Sony Classics) scored a Best Actor, Comedy or Musical, win for Paul Giamatti. The Weinstein Co.’s The Fighter won Best Supporting Actress (Melissa Leo) and Supporting Actor (Christian Bale), Drama. Additionally, Denmark’s In a Better World won Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Mini-Series / TV Movie went to Sundance’s Carlos.

“We applaud the independents that have won tonight in a tough race,” said Independent Film & Television Alliance President-CEO Jean Prewitt. “HFPA’s nominations and awards have again highlighted the breadth of fine film-making from both studios and independents.”

The King’s Speech (which will be released by Anchor Bay Entertainment, the first Genius title releasing by Anchor Bay after a deal signed Jan. 4), Barney’s Version (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), The Fighter (Paramount), In a Better World (Sony Pictures) and Carlos (MPI/IFC) have yet to be slated for home video release.
 

By: Billy Gil


10 Jan, 2011

Filmmaker Reignites Cinema Verité With 'Alamar'

Alamar
Alamar

Pedro González-Rubio takes a unique approach to filmmaking with Alamar, on DVD Jan. 11 from Film Movement, at $24.95.

The film follows a boy (Natan Machado Palombini) and his father (Jorge Machado) playing alternate versions of themselves (as they are a real-life son and father) spending time together before being separated after a divorce. The father, of Mayan heritage, takes his half-Italian son to live simply, as fishermen, near Mexico’s Banco Chinchorro coral reef. Alamar creates a lush film world out of the real father-son bond as it exists in the film’s gorgeous natural setting.

I spoke with the Mexican-born director about his filmmaking process.

IndieFile: So tell me about the making of Alamar. I’ve read a bit about it, that you filmed this father and son doing tasks and so it was fiction based on reality. Was there a script guiding you?

 

Pedro González-Rubio
Pedro González-Rubio

González-Rubio: There was no conventional script. I was being guided by a story treatment based on the location, the main activities of the fishermen living there, the story of Jorge, Roberta and Natan, and, finally, my own anxieties regarding all of these. But all the dialogues and all the ways of resolving the scenes were decided on location, on the spot.

IndieFile: How much extra footage did you take? And will any of that make it onto the DVD or another release sometime?

González-Rubio: There are a couple of great scenes that didn't make the film in my final cut, but will be available on the DVD. In them you can see the electricity between the camera, the natural elements and the characters. One of the scenes starts with a full shot of a hermit crab’s shell. At the beginning, we just listen to the movement of a small eolic turbine, the body is motionless, and, after several seconds, the shell is lifted up by the fragile body of this beautiful hermit crab. What happens next is a ballet between nature and the protagonists of the film. This I am very excited to share it on the DVD.

IndieFile: You also did the making-of featurette for Babel. As a filmmaker, what you think of going behind-the-scenes of a narrative film and also what you bring to something like that as a documentarian?

González-Rubio: Babel was a big school for me. I was very close in the process of the director and every choice he had to make regarding the creative issues of the film. I was invited to do the making-of in Babel because of my personal documentary approach with my camera and the characters that I am photographing. I like them to feel comfortable with the presence of a lens aiming at them. Then for Alamar, I think I was able to try some mise en scene that fiction requires but maintaining the freshness of the spontaneity in doc genre.

IndieFile: Alamar’s creation seems to be unique. Do you hope to keep making films such as this, that are part narrative, part documentary? What other genres could you envision?

González-Rubio: I want to maintain my own personal exploration of the film language, but that doesn’t mean I will have a specific categorization for my films. I am guided by intuition rather than by formulas or preconceived styles. I film from my heart.

IndieFile: How did you meet Jorge and Natan? Is their real-life story anything like the movie?

González-Rubio: Even though it feels like Jorge comes from the area where the film is shot, it’s not true. He comes from a village in Chiapas and was working as a tour guide in the touristic spot of Tulum when I met him. They are not portraying a character as an actor would do, they are portraying themselves but the film gives them the opportunity to live a different situation from their daily lives.

IndieFile: Would you ever like to revisit this film and give a behind-the-scenes look at it?

González-Rubio: I think I’d like to do something else with different people. If you look at my first feature length (documentary Toro Negro, unreleased in the United States), it is very different from Alamar. I like to step away and discover something new for me. Kind of like children do, otherwise I would get bored very rapidly and would just be a cheap copy of my own self.

By: Billy Gil


3 Jan, 2011

‘Picture Me’ Tells the Tale of the Model


Ole Schell and Sara Ziff delve into the modeling world with their documentary Picture Me: A Model’s Diary, due Jan. 11 on DVD ($24.99) from Strand Releasing.

The film follows model Ziff as she travels around the world, modeling for such companies as Tommy Hilfiger, with then-boyfriend (and co-director) Schell.

“The film kind of happened by accident,” Schell says. “I had just come out of NYU film school and started to date Sara Ziff. She was starting her career as a fashion model and I was just sort of tagging along with her everywhere she went …. with no real intention of making a film.

“I was shooting a lot of home video footage. I would go with her to the Bahamas or to Morocco and edit together these clips for her. My father is a film journalist and said you have something interesting here — a fly-on-the-wall look into the modeling industry.”

Juxtaposed with those home videos are interviews with models, who were given cameras to create their own video diaries, as well as with others in the industry, such as designers and casting directors.

“At first I didn’t know what we were sort of trying to tell,” Schell explains. “Then these issues kept arising that Sara faced. Then we realized that almost all the girls faced these issues: age, money, objectification, sexual malpractice. Every girl faces [them] at one point or another in their career.

“Every time one of these issues came up, we interviewed other models about the issues. The film took a long time to make, so these issues kept showing themselves and rearing their head.”

Ziff adds, “I think the film is really unique in that it is a really inside look at the industry from the model’s perspective. I think Ole and I were trying to give as unfiltered a look at the industry as possible.”

While one model speaks of being sexually mistreated during a photo shoot, another model’s interview was cut from the film because the model was working at the time and was afraid it would jeopardize her career, Schell and Ziff say. They say the point of their film, and Ziff’s raison d'etre, is to achieve better working conditions for models.

“It’s sort of opened a lot of eyes, especially for people in the fashion industry,” Schell says. “Models have come up to Sara after screenings in tears.”

The DVD also includes footage from the film’s premiere at the Gen Art Film Festival.
 

By: Billy Gil


17 Dec, 2010

Katie Aselton, Dax Shepard Deliver ‘The Freebie’

Katie Aselton and Dax Shepard
Katie Aselton and Dax Shepard

A one-night stand seven years into marriage is proposed as the solution to a couple’s doldrums in The Freebie, coming to DVD Jan. 11 ($29.99) from Phase 4 Films.

Katie Aselton, a former Miss Teen USA contestant and current writer, director and actress, said the idea for the movie came to her while shooting the breeze with a friend.

“When you're having a glass of wine with a friend, those are the sort of things you talk about,” she said. “The point of what we were talking about was, ‘Remember how easy it was to be single ... and you could just be whoever you wanted to be?’ When you're in a relationship, you owe it to that person to talk over every single thing. Sometimes you just want to give your husband a fake phone number and say, ‘Don't call me.’”

Aselton was looking for something to sink her teeth into after not getting the kind of experience she wanted to as an actress. Her husband, Mark Duplass (writer/director of Cyrus, with brother Jay Duplass), suggested taking his approach — if you’re not getting the projects you want, come up with your own.

“I was just a frustrated actor who was just sitting around,” said Aselton, who may be exaggerating a bit — she and her husband co-star FX’s fantasy football TV show “The League.” “My husband, who’s a big do-it-yourselfer just said, ‘You should just do it on your own!’”

Aselton said everything fell into place from there, with Aselton in the lead actress role, but casting her male counterpart proved more difficult after the first actor didn’t work out. Dax Shepard of “Punk’d” fame came on board at the 11th hour. His addition proved crucial, as his performance has been garnering rave reviews after the film aired at Sundance.

“I met Katie for the first time about five hours before we started shooting,” Shepard said. “Our second day of filming was all of our intimate, bedroom scenes. I have no explanation as to why we had good chemistry, but I know that if we hadn't, the movie would have been very flat.

“We got lucky. She's awfully cute though, so that certainly helps.”

The situation for The Freebie’s Annie (Aselton) and Darren (Shepard) doesn’t quite go as planned, but Shepard thinks it could work for some couples.

“There are a couple billion relationships happening around the world, and I'm sure every conceivable permutation is being played out somewhere,” he said. “I don't think there is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to love someone.”

Despite coming up with the concept, Aselton is dubious of the prospect of infidelity working to strengthen a couple’s relationship.

“Beyond that first night, it's work after that,” Aselton said. “One night away from what you have now is probably not worth it, especially if you like what you have. The idea of exploring this couple that is sort of over-therapied in their own minds, where they think they are the couple who could completely sort of challenge tradition and monogamy and social ideas and they’re the ones who could rise above and beyond all that — I liked watching them fall on their ass.”

Of the DVD release, Aselton said home video means “everything” to independent films such as this one.

“Most of these small films, that’s where their life is,” she said. “It's hard to do well theatrically in the market today. For the most part, most of us do a theatrical release so we can get great reviews for a DVD release because that really is where we will find our audience. I think if people are going to be spending $14 for a movie, you're going to want to go see big productions … you're gonna see Inception.

“Unless you are a part of the small few who want to support independent film, you're going want to get your money's worth and then you'll save these small movies for the small screen.”

The Freebie DVD includes a commentary with Aselton and Shepard.
 

By: Billy Gil


13 Dec, 2010

IFTA Urges Piracy Protection


The Independent Film & Television Alliance has some words about online piracy for the Department of Commerce, urging them and other government agencies to enhance copyright protections. IFTA’s comments came in response to a Notice of Inquiry issued by the department to gather more information from stakeholders to effectively battle piracy.

“The policy and technological solutions that emerge from this proceeding should assist in establishing a transparent framework that takes into account advances in technology and the need for protection of copyright to encourage further innovation,” said IFTA President-CEO Jean Prewitt. “We believe solutions are achievable through government leadership and cooperation among all stakeholders and are necessary to ensure that investment in independent content can be recouped and new online distribution models developed.”

IFTA says piracy inhibits independent filmmakers from recouping expenses on productions in order to create future films. The organization recommends government oversight in establishing mechanisms to protect copyright and innovation digitally.

IFTA also urges adopting international standards for copyright, such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Act.

It’s good to hear IFTA put their muscle behind this issue. Piracy takes a big chunk out of the DVD pie, where most indie filmmakers make their money.

By: Billy Gil


10 Dec, 2010

‘Handsome Harry’ Explores Gay Issues in Military

steve buscemi
steve buscemi

Steve Buscemi is an actor who knows how to make an impression. Though he appears at the beginning of Handsome Harry, coming to DVD Dec. 28 from Screen Media Films ($24.98), the celebrated character actor’s shadow hangs heavy over the film about an aging ex-Navy man who finds his old buddies to atone for an unfortunate attack they inflicted upon their friend.

“My work is the same whether it’s one scene or many scenes,” says Buscemi, who recently has seen his profile raised even further as the lead in Martin Scorsese’s Atlantic City crime drama “Boardwalk Empire,” on HBO. “I knew it was an ensemble-type film. I like those kinds of films. Bette Gordon, who directed, is an old friend, and she was one of the directors from the East Village days of the ’80s that was doing independent film before it was labeled independent film.”

The film stars Jamey Sheridan (“Trauma,” “Law and Order: Criminal Intent”) as Harry, a man who can’t shake a past event involving his old navy crew beating one of their own when they find out he’s gay. Buscemi stars as the friend who brings it all back when he calls Harry out of the blue, to say that he’s dying and wants to make amends. The film also stars Aidan Quinn and Campbell Scott as members of the ex-Navy crew Harry visits.

“It’s timely with the whole — hopefully — repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell because a lot of the argument seems to be about the culture of the military and ‘will they be able to adapt,’” Buscemi says. “I just think at the heart of it, it’s bigotry.

“I think it’s ridiculous that gay men and women are not allowed to serve openly. I know this film doesn’t address that in an obvious way, but it does address the culture of certainly not all the military but especially back when this film takes place, that this male-dominated culture could not tolerate even a hint of homosexuality, and that to me is a pretty sad and tragic story.”

Sheridan, who also serves as a producer, says the film does have an anti-DADT message, but it also works on many other levels.

“It was, for us, a cross between film noir and Greek tragedy,” Sheridan says. “It was about a guy who has erased himself and has hidden himself from himself, and succeeded. I saw him as a man in a blackout, like a drunk can go into where they don’t even know where they’ve been or six months or two weeks. And then, slowly, the psyche comes up, with Steve Buscemi and a fateful phone call and then slowly the layers are peeled away from Harry’s eyes.

“I must say there is a part of me that wanted to speak to the gay community, but I think it was on a much deeper level than Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I wasn’t thinking that specifically. I was reaching to much deeper things I think.”

He and Gordon did commentaries for the Handsome Harry, which appear on the DVD alongside a behind-the-scenes featurette.

By: Billy Gil


9 Dec, 2010

IFTA Releases New Licensing Agreements

The Independent Film & Television Alliance has released a new edition of its international licensing agreements.

The IFTA Model International Licensing Agreements 5th Edition 2010 sets the stage for licensing international rights of motion pictures and television programming. This latest set takes on licensing in the digital age.

“The IFTA Legal Committee and the IFTA Legal Department have spent considerable time and effort to create the best possible model agreements,” said IFTA President-CEO Jean Prewitt. “The MILA 5th Edition is a step forward in the rapidly evolving landscape of motion picture and television licensing. We sincerely hope it will continue to act as a helpful model for our members and the industry at large.”

By: Billy Gil


30 Nov, 2010

Jay and Mark Duplass Graduate to the Studio System With ‘Cyrus’

Jay and Mark Duplass
Jay and Mark Duplass

Jay and Mark Duplass spent years paying their dues in the indie world before making their way into the mainstream with Fox Searchlight’s Cyrus, coming to DVD ($29.98) and Blu-ray Disc ($39.99) Dec. 14.

The brothers recently told KCRW’s The Business that each time they reached a benchmark, such as having a short film or feature screened at Sundance, they felt the need to improve. Cyrus represents that next step, as the film was their first to feature a bigger budget (about $7 million) and wide distribution (the film went on to make about $7.5 million at the U.S. box office and more than $9.5 million worldwide).

Starring John C. Reilly, the film tells the story of a man steeped in a funk years after his wife (Catherine Keener) has left him. At her urging, he slaps himself back into reality and finds mutual attraction with a single mother (Marisa Tomei) who has baggage of her own — a 21-year-old man-child (Jonah Hill) that won’t leave her side without a fight.

The film had a basic script written by the brothers, who also co-directed, but allowed the actors to improvise lines, which were then pieced together into the final product. Essentially, the Duplass brothers maintained their mumblecore roots (a style of filmmaking featuring naturalistic actors improvising lines, as shown in their previous films, The Puffy Chair and Baghead) while working within the studio system, altering minor details when necessary and working with big-name actors.

“What we learned on this movie is we can make the kind of movies we want to make in the studio system,” Jay Duplass said. “From our perspective, it’s like, we’re just trying to make the next best movie. We wouldn’t necessarily tailor the content for studio versus indie.”

The DVD and Blu-ray releases include two alternate scenes.

“There’s definitely lots and lots of extra material,” Jay Duplass said. “We’re trying lots of different things until the lightning strikes, but sometimes we’ll do a scene two ways. … This movie could have been cut 20 different ways.”

Mark Duplass added they’d include scenes that wouldn’t change the story, but rather are different iterations of the same themes, perhaps funnier or darker.

“For us there really is no difference in the comedy and drama and where they’re rooted,” Mark said. “What Jay and I are trying to do is find very truthful moments on the set that ring true to us.”

By: Billy Gil


22 Nov, 2010

Hefner Exposed in New Doc

Hugh Hefner and Brigitte Berman
Hugh Hefner and Brigitte Berman

Hugh Hefner considers himself a “humanist.” He thinks gay people should be allowed to get married and serve in the armed forces. He understands that the Tea Party is reflective of people who are fed up with the government, but thinks another side of it is bigoted and “a little nutty.”

If those sentiments sound surprising, Brigitte Berman’s documentary Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel should be an eye-opener. The film comes to DVD Dec. 7, from Phase 4 Films, at $29.99.

Berman in 1981 made the film Bix: ‘Ain’t None of Them Play Like Him Yet,’ about jazz musician Leon Bismark “Bix” Beiderbecke, whom Hefner loved, as an avid jazz fan (Berman also directed the Academy Award-winning 1985 documentary Artie Shaw: Time Is All You've Got). He released Bix on DVD on his Playboy Jazz label, thus beginning a relationship that culminated in her asking Hefner to make a film about him.

“I got to know him over the years and got to know there was so much more to him than the Playboy side,” Berman said.

He gave her unprecedented access to him and files covering his life and career.

“What I didn’t expect was that it would turn out to be a special kind of documentary and reveal a part of my life many people didn’t know about,” Hefner says. “It’s very rewarding.”

Berman interviews a wide array of celebrities and others to discuss the legacy of Hefner, which may have been forgotten by some in the age of Internet pornography and Hefner’s TV show “The Girls Next Door.” Sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, former playmate and TV personality Jenny McCarthy, rock star Gene Simmons, comedian Bill Maher, actor James Caan, and singer Joan Baez are some of the famous folk that appear to explore the impact made by Hefner’s Playboy empire. Through perseverance, Berman also was able to get the participation of Reverend Jesse Jackson (who was interviewed in the pages of Playboy in 1969 because of Hefner’s unwavering support for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) and George Lucas.

Berman’s rough cut of the film was seven-and-a-half hours long. She showed Hefner another early cut of the film, who then approved, sending Berman to make her final 124-minute version. The end result paints a complex picture of Hefner as a man who fought against repression and McCarthyism, who wanted people to have a healthier view of sex, who didn’t get enough affection at home as a child, who had a failed marriage before deciding to start Playboy.

The film plays almost as a progression of attitudes toward sex, race and censorship during the 20th century. Controversies followed Hefner throughout his career, including the publication of a Ray Bradbury story in which the future sees homosexuality as the norm and heterosexuality as a perversion; his arrest when relatively tame photos of actress Jayne Mansfield were deemed obscene, perhaps in retaliation for editorial defense of pioneering, controversial comedian Lenny Bruce; and his “Playboy Penthouse” TV show, a seemingly innocuous late-night variety show that featured a then-revolutionary view toward race, with both black and white party guests and featured artists, and mixed-race groups that would be turned down from other shows.

“Hugh Hefner’s name evokes a kneejerk reaction almost immediately,” Berman says. “The young people who don’t know too much about him [see the film and] are amazed, and even people in their 40s. But the older people who are set in their ways who don’t like him, who absolutely do not like him … they see it as an unbalanced film.”

To her credit, Berman includes the points of views of those who don’t agree with what he does, such as Pat Boone, who call him a pornographer, and several feminist thinkers, who offer complex criticisms of his work — in a clip from a 1970 episode of the “Dick Cavett Show,” feminist Susan Brownmiller hilariously says she would believe Hefner supported women’s rights “the day [he was] willing to come out here with a cotton tail attached to [his] rear end.”

However, Hefner feels the film portrays him accurately and says he doesn’t mind the negative comments about him.

“Each person has their point of view, but it’s people expressing their opinions,” he says. “That is the nature of America. That’s half of why I started the magazine in the first place.”

Though the film does overwhelmingly portray Hefner positively, as a freedom fighter of sorts, he would be the last person to want to censor any of its negative aspects.

“My folks were very repressed and puritanical,” he says. “I saw the hurtful side of that. I recognized that long before I started the magazine.

“From the very beginning, I thought I was fighting the good fight for things that really matter. I think that the focus of the documentary … is the part that people don’t see. They see the playmates, the centerfolds … they don’t see the good writing in the magazine and the impact it’s had in terms of race and the women’s movement and the changing of law regarding the human condition.

“I really don’t have any secrets. I said it before, my life is an open book — with illustrations.”
 

By: Billy Gil