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December 8, 2019

Sundance Film Festival Announces Travel Stipend for Minority Journalists

The 2020 Sundance Film Festival is right around the corner, beginning January 23 through February 2. As shared in an email with journalists today from Time’s Up, the festival is ramping up its support for minority press with a new travel stipend. The Sundance Press Inclusion Initiative will support critics who identify as women, non-binary and/or transgender, people of color, and people with disabilities.

In order to be considered for the travel stipend, applications are due Friday, December 13, and will be considered as they are received — notifications will be sent out on a rolling basis through Friday, December 20. Here’s the application.

Per Sundance, “Recognizing that quantitative matters alone aren’t a complete solution, Sundance Institute is deepening the qualitative experience for press at Festival, ensuring that new applicants, who may be covering the Festival for the first time, can best navigate accreditation, attendance and reporting. The Institute is providing grants to defray travel and lodging costs for freelance critics and journalists, with support from Critical Minded, Netflix, Open Society Foundations, and Rotten Tomatoes.”

The Sundance Film Festival recently announced its jam-packed feature film lineup, including all four Competition sections, plus the Midnight, NEXT, and Spotlight selections. The 11-day event will showcase 118 features, including premieres from Sundance regulars and newcomers alike. Hot titles include the premiere of Jim Rash and Nat Faxon’s remake of the Swedish dark comedy “Force Majeure” (now titled “Downhill”) with Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Julie Taymor’s inventive Gloria Steinem biopic “The Glorias,” Liz Garbus’ narrative debut “Lost Girls,” Michael Almereyda’s Nikola Tesla biopic “Tesla,” and Alan Ball’s “Uncle Frank.” On the documentary front, and much to the excitement of Twitter, Lana Wilson’s Taylor Swift-centric entry, “Miss Americana,” will also make a surprise bow at the festival, premiering on its first day.

The festival will host a number of long-awaited followups from previous Sundance breakouts, such Miranda July with her first film since 2011’s “The Future,” “Kajillionaire,” plus Dee Rees’ Anne Hathaway-starring Joan Didion adaptation “The Last Thing He Wanted,” and Sean Durkin’s second feature “The Nest.” Benh Zeitlin will finally premiere his long-awaited “Beasts of the Southern Wild” followup “Wendy,” which Fox Searchlight will release later in 2020. “Dear White People” creator Justin Simien returns to the festival with his first feature since his breakout movie became a Netflix series, with the horror-satire “Bad Hair” in the Midnight section.

IndieWire also identified 23 hidden gems to look out for at the festival.


Source: IndieWire film

December 8, 2019

Neon’s ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ Grabs Arthouse Crowd, Amazon’s ‘The Aeronauts’ Deflates

The successful specialized season chugs ahead as the top-tier hits add to their impressive totals. “Harriet” (Focus), “Parasite” (Neon), and “Jojo Rabbit” (Fox Searchlight) still hold the lead as recent titles haven’t reached the same levels. Three Netflix awards contenders, “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story” and “The Two Popes” are not getting major theater play,  although Martin Scorsese’s film might get close to $10 million. With no new films in the last couple weeks likely to explode over Christmas, that means that unlike most years, some of the strong earlier performers have more chances to thrive during Christmas.

They are competing with other well-reviewed, Oscar and adult friendly studio releases like “Ford v Ferrari” (20th Century Fox), “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (Sony), and “Knives Out” (Lionsgate), all competing for the same audience.

This week brought a preview of what will be an early 2020 specialized top film. Neon released high-end acclaimed French romance “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” in two theaters in New York and Los Angeles for a one-week awards-qualifying run, which yielded excellent grosses for a subtitled film. They should do well after New Years when the current films are played out.

Meantime, Amazon’s pre-Prime release of “The Aeronauts” received very little interest in a national big market release.


Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Neon) – Metacritic: 95; Festivals include: Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, New York 2019

$67,105 in 2 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $33,552

When you got it, flaunt it. Every year December sees a number of films open for one week to qualify for awards, then return in the new year for regular dates. And the grosses for these brief dates aren’t reported. Neon is releasing the numbers on Celine Sciamma’s Cannes and New York Film Critics’ and European Film Award winner, a period drama about a brief, intense relationship between a wealthy bride-to-be and the woman hired to paint her portrait. This is a French, subtitled film, more chamber drama than epic, with reviews at the top end of any releases this year (ahead of crowdpleaser “Les Miserables,” which was selected by France).

As a subtitled film, it doesn’t rank with the staggering initial results for Neon’s “Parasite.” But compared to nearly all other foreign language titles, this is at the high end, more so with an relatively unknown director to American audiences and stars. These are huge numbers compared to most–the lesbian romance also carries strong queer appeal.

What comes next: This will return in initial dates on February 14.

Felicity Jones in THE AERONAUTS

“The Aeronauts”

Courtesy of Amazon Studios

The Aeronauts (Amazon) – Metacritic: 61; Festivals include: Telluride, Toronto 2019

$(est.) $185,000 in 185 theaters; PTA: $ (est.) 1,000

Once anticipated as a top fall specialized and potential break out title, this fictionalized retelling of an early balloon adventure in England changed to a two-week window before Amazon Prime release. The grosses, per their policy, have not been released. Our estimate is based on some available theater grosses, most of which fall below this average, but also spot checking some top screens (the film has support from Landmark and others in major markets) which are somewhat better. For a film co-starring Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne with significant marketing presence, these are discouraging numbers. The more mixed reviews aren’t a help in a time when so many titles are getting strong critical response. (“The Report,” which is on prime after two weeks, has nearly totally disappeared from screens, while the Netflix titles have lingered longer.)

What comes next: This goes Prime on December 20.

In Fabric (A24) – Metacritic: 84; Festivals include: Toronto 2018

$(est.) 26,000 in 26 theaters; PTA: $(est.) 1,000

Garnering terrific reviews, this London department store-set horror-genre adjacent film is set from VOD availability during this week. The theater dates got it the reviews A24 wanted to boost those. As a theater play, it had little impact.

What comes next: This goes on demand on Tuesday.

Midnight Family (1091) – Metacritic: 85; Festivals include: Sundance, New Directors/New Films 2019

$3,500 in 1 theater; PTA: $3,500

Quietly earning acclaim on the documentary circuit

What comes next: “Midnight Family” reopens limited on February 14 after the Oscars.

“The Two Popes”

Week Two

The Two Popes (Netflix)

$(est.) 50,000 in 19 theaters (+15); PTA: $(est.) 2,632; Cumulative: $(est.) 115,000

As always, our estimate based on some access to actual grosses since Netflix won’t report. The core initial New York/Los Angeles theaters looked to sustain their modest initial interest. That’s a bit more impressive since both regions were where expansion occurred. From what we can tell, though, these results otherwise were mediocre or less. This looks to be so far the least effective of the streamer’s three top year end awards releases. At home viewing starts on December 20.

63 Up (BritBox)

$22,355 in theaters (+1); PTA: $11,178; Cumulative: $48,080

Excellent second weekend for Michael Apted’s latest update to his long running documentary about the lives of a group of Britons. At three hours and limited showings and now Los Angeles added, the multi-decade appeal of this epic work continues. Ten more cities open this Friday.

Ongoing/expanding (Grosses over $50,000)

Dark Waters (Focus) Week 3

$4,100,000 in 2,012 theaters (+1,918); Cumulative: $5,285,000

Todd Haynes’ corporate thriller with Mark Ruffalo went very wide in its third weekend. The lack of major new films allowed them to get top theaters to give the film its best chance at exposure. It ended up #6 for the weekend, better than many early December initial wide studio films. But it also looks like a high water mark for a film that at best will reach around $10 million.

Harriet (Focus) Week 6

$810,000 in 1,000 theaters (-84); Cumulative: $40,852,000

Still holding on to most screens, and hoping for the start of an awards boost for lead actress Cynthia Erivo to push it further, the film is nearing $41 million has already achieved high end results for Focus.



Parasite (Neon) Week 9

$700,000 in 333 theaters (-49); Cumulative: $19,354,000

Already closing in on $20 million, and with its guaranteed strong awards contention ahead with much life in it, this Korean film is already one of the top specialized titles of the year. Among subtitled films, it’s in a league of its own going back far more than a decade.

Jojo Rabbit (Neon) Week 8

$562,000 in 579 theaters (-151); Cumulative: $19,297,000

Taika Waitit’s satire has neared $20 million in its two month run. How far more it can add will depend on possible awards involvement. It looks likely to scale back considerably in the weeks ahead.

Honeyboy (Amazon) Week 5

$452,439 in 460 theaters (+274); Cumulative: $2,139,000

More expansion for this very personal story based on Shia LaBeouf’s own life. As it widens, the results have become more spotty, with the per theater average now just shy of $1,000 a theater. That won’t be enough to sustain a much longer showing. Of note is that this unlike two other recent Amazon releases is a normal theatrical window play.

The Irishman (Netflix) Week 6

$(est.) 450,000 in (est.) 320 theaters (-180); Cumulative: (est.) $6,665,000

Now in its second week of streaming and getting significant viewing on Netflix, while beginning its expected award accolades run, this lost about 180 theaters from its peak last week. This is now by far the biggest-grossing film from the company in theaters (our numbers are estimates, but likely in range of the actuals). What is significant is that at this point theaters playing it are doing so knowing it is streaming: it’s financially sensible for them to play it. The number will fall, but expect this to be on some screens for weeks to come.

Waves (A24) Week 4    44

$421,625 in 570 theaters (+523); Cumulative: $1,046,000

This well-reviewed and prominent festival film enjoyed a good platform start, but since has found trouble getting its footing. In its breakout week, it’s positioned to get a wider group of top theaters than more crowded ones before and after. This fell short. The per theater average is $740, which will be far short of what is needed to sustain a future run in all but a few theaters shortly. This is one quality film that might have scored better outside the awards season.

“Marriage Story”


Marriage Story (Netflix) Week 5

$(est.) 300,000 in (est.) 120 theaters (-10); Cumulative: $(est.) 1,650,000

Again, a best guess based on limited available figures. Unlike “The Irishman,” the start of streaming didn’t lead to a jump in theaters for Noah Baumbach’s marital drama with sky-high reviews. Still, with its wide national theater exposure and older-audience appeal, this is showing some old-school viability in its second month,

The Lighthouse (A24) Week 8

$73,640 in 82 theaters (-8); Cumulative: $10,522,000

In less top-heavy quality years in the acting race, the two male leads would be strong contenders. As it is, this black-and-white fundamentally specialized film is still playing after two months and passed the $10 million mark. Those are wins.

Pain and Glory (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 10

$57,317 in 78 theaters (-74); Cumulative: $3,608,000

With Antonio Banderas rising in best actor awards and Pedro Almodovar’s film placing high on ten best lists, expect this to have a presence in some theaters for weeks to come.

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Source: IndieWire film

December 7, 2019

Maggie Smith Says Her Work on ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Downton Abbey’ ‘Wasn’t What You’d Call Satisfying’

Dame Maggie Smith has two Academy Awards, five BAFTAS, four Emmys, and a Tony Award, along with Screen Actors Guild prizes and Golden Globes for days, but that apparently hasn’t always equated to fulfillment for the “Downton Abbey” star. According to a new interview with Smith in the Evening Standard, the actress was especially underwhelmed by her participation in the “Harry Potter” films, dating back to Chris Columbus’ 2001 “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and even in “Downton.”

“I am deeply grateful for the work in ‘Potter’ and indeed ‘Downton’ but it wasn’t what you’d call satisfying. I didn’t really feel I was acting in those things,” Smith said, recalling her turn as Professor Minerva McGonagall in the hit series adapted from the J.K. Rowling novels. Smith also said that she pivoted to screen roles such as in “Harry Potter” and on “Downton Abbey” as Violet Crawley — a performance that has earned her a bounty of accolades that the British actress notoriously, rarely shows up to collect — because the work on stage, her true passion, just wasn’t happening.

“I wanted to get back to the stage so much because theatre is basically my favorite medium, and I think I felt as though I’d left it all unfinished,” she said. “But there wasn’t anything that came along.” Indeed, Smith has appeared in dozens of plays dating back to the early 1950s, including countless iterations of Shakespeare. Most recently she reprised her iconic “Downton Abbey” role in Focus Features’ fall screen version of the Julian Fellowes series. Fellowes also wrote the original screenplay for Robert Altman’s 2001 “Gosford Park,” which earned Fellowes an Academy Award win and Maggie Smith a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

Also in the Evening Standard piece, Smith talked about the origins of her acting ambitions in a manner that’s very, well, Maggie Smith. “Honest to God, I have no idea where the urge came from,” she said. “It was such a ghastly time and we didn’t go to the theatre. I got into terrible trouble once because the neighbors took me to the cinema on a Sunday. But I had a wonderful teacher, Dorothy Bartholomew, who also taught Miriam Margolyes, and who encouraged me.”

Source: IndieWire film

December 7, 2019

Vatican Holds Private Screening of Terrence Malick’s ‘A Hidden Life’

Director Terrence Malick rarely shows up for anything these days, but the “Tree of Life” and “Days of Heaven” filmmaker was in attendance at a screening of his new film, “A Hidden Life,” at the Vatican this past Thursday. Releasing from Fox Searchlight, “A Hidden Life” centers on the real-life story of conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter. While he refused to fight on the side of the Nazis during WWII, he was declared a martyr by the Catholic Church and was sentenced to death at 36.

The screening was held in the Vatican Film Library event space. Claudia Di Giovanni, Delegate of the Vatican Film Library, said, “It is an honor to present this film in this venue, as we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Vatican Film Library, where we have saved films which narrate the history of the Church but also remind us of important values. It is also key for the dialogue of the Vatican with the film world.”

Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery of Communications, introduced the film, saying, “We thank Terrence Malick for being here and sharing this moment with us. The narrative of the film is at the same time beautiful and terrible, and it is a challenge because we are brought to face our souls, our consciences, our fears, our forgetfulness and our avoidance of responsibilities. This narrative overturns the rhetoric of heroism, because it tells of a hidden hero, in a film which speaks of love, of consistency, of death and resurrection. It tells of how important it is to keep our memories and tell them with such beauty.”

“A Hidden Life,” which releases stateside on December 13 and is Malick’s first feature since 2017’s Austin-set romance “Song to Song,” joins the rare list of movies that have earned the Vatican’s seal of approval. That includes Martin Scorsese’s “Silence,” “Spotlight,” “The Passion of the Christ,” “Babette’s Feast,” and “Pokémon: The First Movie.”

IndieWire recently sat down with the two stars of “A Hidden Life,” August Diehl and Valerie Pachner, who discussed their process on the World War II drama while working with American cinema’s most elusive director.

Source: IndieWire film

December 7, 2019

‘The Farewell’ Director Lulu Wang’s Secretive Next Film Is About a Fertility Crisis in a Virtual-Reality World

Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” has made an enormous impression on the late-year awards season despite opening over the summer. This fictional retelling of her own family’s efforts to keep their matriarch’s cancer diagnosis a secret claimed a spot on the AFI top 10 and earned a Film Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Feature. Adding to her many accolades already, Wang was honored by SFFILM at the San Francisco nonprofit’s awards night on December 3, where she received the Kanbar Award for Storytelling. At the event, Wang spoke exclusively with IndieWire about her secretive next project, a sci-fi film she’s lined up with Big Beach (which also produced “The Farewell”) and Votiv (“Free in Deed,” “Obvious Child”).

Currently titled “Children of the New World,” the film adapts from Alexander Weinstein’s bestselling short story collection by the same name, which was lauded by both NPR and The New York Times. Each story is set in a near-future society. According to Wang, her film will focus on how technology shapes modern relationships and will tackle the construct of the nuclear family in a speculative-fiction setting.

“It’s sci-fi, it’s set in virtual reality, as well as real reality,” Wang said. “But really, for me, it’s about a relationship. It’s about a couple. And it’s about family. Basically, the premise is that they can’t have children, and so they end up going into the VR world and they have children there, digital children, as a way to experience parenting. So that’s how it’s marketed, as a parenting experience.”

Wang said that the film will tackle ambitious themes that resonate with those that took center-stage in “The Farewell.” “It’s about love and loss over something that quote-unquote doesn’t really exist, so what does that mean? What is love?” Wang said of “Children of the New World,” which will mark her third feature after “The Farewell” and 2014’s “Posthumous.”

Wang, however, said she is still in the early writing stages of the project. At the moment, she’s busy on the awards circuit promoting “The Farewell,” a film that still remains very much a secret from her real-life grandmother. Speaking with IndieWire earlier this season about what will happen to her real Nai Nai (which means grandmother in Chinese) once the film inevitably opens in China next year, Wang said, “That’s a long thing that I am still dealing with, with my family, and whether or not we will keep the secret is up in the air, because we want to show her the movie.”

Source: IndieWire film

December 6, 2019

SXSW Alumni Releases – November and December 2019

Discover some of the SXSW Film Festival alumni films on release this November and December such as Daniel Isn’t Real, Ernie & Joe, and Well Groomed. Check out the complete list below!

Don’t forget that SXSW is still accepting extensions for the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, find out how to make a request here.

Age Out (World Premiered as Friday’s Child)   

World Premiere, Narrative Feature, 2018

A.J. Edwards’ film achieves a fine balance of delicate observational naturalism and raw emotion, led by an impressive cast including Tye Sheridan, Imogen Poots, and Caleb Landry Jones.

Available November 22

Adopt a Highway   

World Premiere, Narrative Feature, 2019

Actor and alum Logan Marshall-Green makes his directorial debut in this thoughtful drama that explores life after incarceration. The film stars SXSW veteran Ethan Hawke, as captivating as ever.

Now Available  

Daniel Isn’t Real   

World Premiere, Narrative Feature, 2019

Troubled Luke suffers a violent family trauma and resurrects his childhood imaginary friend to help him cope. Charismatic and full of manic energy, “Daniel” helps Luke to achieve his dreams, before pushing him into a desperate fight for his own soul.

Now Available    

Ernie & Joe

World Premiere, Documentary Feature, 2019

This nuanced portrait of two Texas cops works as both character study and as provocative look at how new approaches to mental health can improve relations between law enforcement and their communities.

Available November 19

Everybody’s Everything

World Premiere, Narrative Feature, 2019

Everybody’s Everything is the story of artist Lil Peep (Gustav Ahr) from his birth in Long Island and meteoric rise as a genre blending pop star and style icon, to his death due to an accidental opioid overdose in Arizona at just 21 years of age.

Now Available

Frances Ferguson   

World Premiere, Narrative Feature, 2019

Nick Offerman narrates this deviant comedy, based on actual events.

Available Now

The Jog   

World Premiere, Narrative Short, 2019

A man gets the news of a lifetime. But his morning jog doesn’t go as planned.

Now Available

Mickey and the Bear   

World Premiere, Narrative Feature, 2019

Camila Morrone’s electric, breakout performance anchors this poignant exploration of what it takes to balance family and independence when the odds are against you.

Available November 13

Well Groomed   

World Premiere, Documentary Feature, 2019

Well Groomed travels the humorous, visually stunning world of Competitive Creative Dog Grooming alongside the colorful women transforming their beloved poodles into living sculptures.

Available December 17

Join Us for SXSW 2020

Register and book your housing for SXSW 2020 early for the best rates. While you await the 2020 Film lineup (coming in January), browse the latest confirmed programming for SXSW on the online SXSW Schedule including Conference sessions for Film Tracks and more.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, explore our YouTube Channel, and SXSW News to stay current with all things SXSW.

See you in March! 

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Featured Image: Mickey and the Bear – Photo by Conor Murphy

The post SXSW Alumni Releases – November and December 2019 appeared first on SXSW.

Source: SxSW Film

December 4, 2019

Bridging Film & TV With Activism, Social Change, and Unique Voices

Every person has the power to ignite change and make a difference. In recent news, many everyday people have turned activists – proving it doesn’t matter your age or origin to speak up for change.

Throughout sessions for the 2020 Conference we see this passion and resilience reflected in the numerous unique voices fighting for social change. These efforts have been chronicled in media and an effort is currently being made to increase representation and diversity in order to enact lasting change.

Turning the spotlight onto the film and television industry, explore SXSW sessions within our Film & TV Industry Track where we will examine the current and future states of film and television that echo the message of activism that any person, idea, piece of news, series, or film can make a big impact.

Diversity & Representation

In recent years, we’ve seen how the inclusion of underrepresented voices has positively impacted society as a whole, further emphasizing the importance of these social change efforts. In Breaking Into Hollywood and Creating Change, join Nina Yang Bongiovi, Bryan Smiley, Sophia Yen, and Bert – key players in social justice from a variety of professional backgrounds – as they share how they are using their Hollywood stature to create positive change in our society and how you can do the same.

For too long, Native people have been erased from cultural dialogue, their voices have been systematically silenced, or portrayed through a non-Native lens as crude stereotypes. It is because of those stereotypes that they are now reclaiming their narrative. During Decolonize Hollywood: Why Indigenous Voices Matter, filmmakers, actors, and writers explain the importance of having Native voices on your next project as a means of re-shaping the Hollywood and American narrative.

Media & Social Change

Amidst the noise of the 2020 election, how can creative media stories have meaningful social and political impact? From the Screen to the Streets: Media & Activism will take a deep dive into how advocates, storytellers, productions, companies, and distributors have successfully worked together to inspire social and political change from the global to the local.

Speakers Bing Lui, Denae Peters, and Nanfu Wang (2017 SXSW Special Jury Winner for Documentary Feature Competition) believe that social interaction is what leads to social action. Explore more about this notion during their panel, Is Empathy Enough: What Drives Social Change.

Film Highlights

Check out the Film Festival and Film-related Conference Tracks like Making Film & Episodics, Experiential Storytelling, and XR for even more Film programming.

Join Us for SXSW 2020

Register and book your housing for SXSW 2020 early for the best rates. While you await the 2020 Film lineup (coming in January), browse the latest confirmed programming for SXSW on the online SXSW Schedule including Conference sessions for Film Tracks and more.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, explore our YouTube Channel, and SXSW News to stay current with all things SXSW.

See you in March!

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Rotten Tomatoes ‘Your Opinion Sucks’ – Photo by Will Blake

The post Bridging Film & TV With Activism, Social Change, and Unique Voices appeared first on SXSW.

Source: SxSW Film

December 3, 2019

What is Inclusive Storytelling?

Source: Visual Storytelling

December 1, 2019

John Waters Names Gaspar Noé’s ‘Climax’ the Year’s Best Film

John Waters has revealed his top 10 films list for Artforum and, in keeping with the “Pink Flamingos” director’s typically eccentric taste, it’s always a dark treat. His top pick for the year is Gaspar Noé’s acid-laced dance freakout “Climax.” “Frenzied dance numbers combined with LSD, mental breakdowns, and childhood trauma turn this nutcase drama into ‘The Red Shoes’ meets ‘Hallucination Generation,’” Waters wrote.

Waters is also high on “Joker,” the most controversial movie of the year. “Irresponsible? Maybe. Dangerous? We’ll see. The first big-budget Hollywood movie to gleefully inspire anarchy. Bravo, Todd Phillips! Only you could get away with it,” Waters wrote. It’s number 10 on his list, which also includes Bruno Dumont’s “Joan of Arc,” the creepy Swedish fairytale “Border,” Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Joanna Hogg’s “The Souvenir” (which topped Sight & Sound’s recent list), Pedro Almodóvar’s “Pain & Glory,” and more. See the full list below.

Of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Waters wrote affectionately, “A real crowd-pleaser that deserves every bit of its critical and financial success for pulling the rug out from under America’s true-crime obsession and daring to give the Manson murders a feel-good happy ending that manages to be both shocking and terribly funny.”

He also successfully captures whatever the hell is going on “Border,” which pushes the buttons of audience discomfort in a very Watersian way. “If ‘Eraserhead’ had cousins, this transgressive troll couple would have welcomed them into their jaw-droppingly bizarre world of over-developed noses, maggot-eating diets, and pedophile-hunting duties. You won’t believe this one!”

Waters said that “Pain & Glory” was the first Almodóvar movie to shock him. “It’s not one bit funny or melodramatic and even the colors are muted, yet it goes beyond the valley of maturity and over the top of riveting self-reflection to gay mental health. You’re not dying, Pedro, independent cinema is.”

While the cult hero has not released a directorial feature since 2015 with “Kiddie Flamingos” — which depicts a kid-friendly table read of his iconically nasty “Pink Flamingos” script — he will soon take to the road again with his one-man comedy special “A John Waters Christmas,” kicking off in Los Angeles and ending in his native Baltimore.

10. “Joker”

9. “The Souvenir”

8. “The Golden Glove”

7. “Pain & Glory”

6. “Hail Satan?”

5. “Amazing Grace”

4. “Border”

3. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

2. “Joan of Arc”

1. “Climax”

Source: IndieWire film

November 30, 2019

Apple’s Movie Launch Became a PR Disaster, and One That’s Not Easy to Prevent

When it came to planning its first major theatrical release, Apple pulled out all the stops for “The Banker.” Starring Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson in the true story of two African American bankers who thwarted the racial limitations of the 1950s, the tech company earmarked the film for an awards campaign and landed a November 21 premiere as AFI Fest’s closing-night selection.

And then, Apple yanked it from AFI November 20, citing the need to look at unspecified concerns with the film. A few days later, Apple delayed its scheduled December 6 theatrical release. The reason: Mackie portrays Bernard Garrett and Garrett’s daughter, Cynthia Garrett, leveled sexual abuse allegations against Bernard Garrett, Jr., her half brother and the film’s co-producer, while also arguing that film’s narrative was inaccurate.

The fallout has been intense. Bernard Garrett, Jr. has since removed his name from the credits. He denied the allegations in a November 25 statement to Deadline, and on November 26 Cynthia Garrett responded with her own statement detailing the accusations. “It seems the legal representatives on this film want to position themselves as defending the actions of a child molester,” she wrote. “It shows what we have seen from them the whole time — an exploitative orientation of our family.”

“The Banker” would be a PR disaster for any distributor, but particularly for a film meant to launch a major division of a multinational corporation that obsessively guards its reputation as a maker of family-friendly, must-have products. How could this have happened? (Apple declined comment for this article. Producer Romulus Entertainment did not return a request for comment.)

It’s easy to point fingers. Why didn’t the producers reach out to more members of the Garrett family? Didn’t someone at Apple read Cynthia Garrett’s 2016 book “Prodigal Daughter: A Journey Home To Identity,” where she discusses the allegations? What about E&O (errors and omissions) insurance?

The truth is, even in hindsight, the conflict that Cynthia Garrett alleges in her family makes it hard to imagine a path that would have allowed this film to be produced and released without controversy. While this may be an extreme case, all true-life stories carry inherent risk that’s almost impossible to entirely mitigate — even with E&O coverage.

“If you do a background check on each individual, you can find out if they’ve committed crimes, if they’ve gone bankrupt, but you wouldn’t be able to know about things that haven’t come out yet. That’s going to be very, very difficult for somebody to anticipate, even if you do a really thorough job,” said Chris L. Perez, a partner at Donaldson + Callif. “There’s always going to be things that you can’t anticipate.”

Trying to shoehorn a life into a three-act structure is tricky at best, and buying life rights can introduce as many issues as it resolves. While it gives legal access to the subject’s perspective, it doesn’t address the perspectives of others who shared the experience. And legally, it doesn’t have to. “Based on a true story” gives a lot of leeway to modify timelines, fabricate dialogue, and create scenarios in the aim of telling a story that’s protected under the First Amendment, provided the film causes no harm to living people.

A cached version of Apple’s press site for the movie from last week describes the film as “inspired by a true story.” The current version of the site says the film is “inspired by true events,” while the poster says it’s “based on a true story.”

“When you’re making something based on real-life people, there’s not a lot of legal recourse that the subjects of the show have,” said Steven J. Peña, a former legal affairs VP at 20th Century Fox. “That doesn’t prevent people from filing lawsuits, raising issues, or putting out press releases.”

Sometimes, the filmmakers might chalk that up to an annoyance, like this year’s back-and-forth between Quentin Tarantino and Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee over the filmmaker’s unflattering portrayal of the martial-arts legend in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

Other circumstances can completely derail a project, as with “The Birth of a Nation,” which was the priciest Sundance buy in history when Fox Searchlight acquired it at the 2016 festival for $17.5 million. The problem didn’t lie with the film’s hero, slave rebellion leader Nat Turner; it was writer-director Nate Parker and co-writer Jean Celestin’s sexual assault trial 15 years earlier, which went unnoticed until it made headlines after Sundance. Though Parker was acquitted and Celestin’s conviction overturned, their accuser committed suicide over a decade after the incident. All told, it was a scandal from which the film couldn’t recover.

Others fall somewhere in the middle, such as Norman Jewison’s “The Hurricane.” Universal’s 1999 biopic of Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter, a former boxer whose triple-murder conviction was overturned, earned star Denzel Washington an Oscar nomination, but questions about the film’s accuracy have dominated its legacy.

Where “The Banker” lies on the spectrum remains to be seen, but the stakes are high for an elite company that hoped to establish a Hollywood brand and now finds itself embroiled in a controversy that evokes the worst aspects of MeToo.

The film went into production in fall 2018, and Apple announced its purchase in July 2019. With its story of real-life figures subverting racist culture, “The Banker” looked like it could be a bedrock for the Apple brand. In the announcement that Apple would pull the film from AFI, the company said: “We purchased ‘The Banker’ earlier this year as we were moved by the film’s entertaining and educational story about social change and financial literacy.”

It’s unclear how much Apple paid for the movie, but sources say it bought the film after viewing less than 10 minutes of footage. According to Nolfi, who discussed the film at IndieWire’s November 5 Consider This FYC Brunch, the budget was about $11 million. He added that after the acquisition, Apple put up additional monies for Nolfi to shoot an additional day at his most expensive location, a stand-in for the US Capitol building.

Bernard Garrett Jr, Niceole R. Levy and George NolfiIndieWire 'Consider This' FYC Brunch, Los Angeles, USA - 05 Nov 2019

Bernard Garrett, Jr., screenwriter Niceole R. Levy, and writer-director George Nolfi at the IndieWire ‘Consider This’ FYC Brunch, November 5, 2019

John Salangsang/IndieWire/Shutterstock

As for E&O insurance, it’s an essential backstop to protect filmmakers against legal challenges that might arise from negligence — but for the issues facing “The Banker,” it may not apply.

There are two sets of controversies: One is Cynthia Garrett’s frustration over how the story was told. She told IndieWire that she found out about the movie’s production at the start of 2019 and hoped the producers would reach out to her. She said no one contacted her about the film but after the trailer dropped November 4, she had her attorney contact Apple.

“We hoped we could discuss this privately with them and navigate what to do,” she wrote to IndieWire over email. “We wanted nothing financial. We just wanted to be heard in the hopes they could figure out a way to correct this mess and stop our abuser from profiting and clearly deceiving them and others. After days thinking they would meet — they then refused to meet. We were devastated.”

However, neither Cynthia Garrett or Bernard Garrett’s second wife, Cynthia’s mother, are portrayed in the film, and their absence may fall under the catchall of being “based on” or “inspired by” real life.

“When you have a movie and you leave people out, there’s no red flag because they’re not in the script,” said attorney Mark Litwak, who serves as production counsel and has written several books on entertainment law. “It doesn’t necessarily violate their rights.”

The second and more disturbing challenge, stemming from the allegation that Bernard Garrett, Jr. sexually abused her, doesn’t have direct connection to the film itself. As such, it’s not something that would arise in vetting the film’s story — but presumably it’s a claim that the producers and Apple would have wanted to know.

Ultimately, filmmakers can’t be entirely certain that vetting captures all contingencies. Independent films, which may be armed by little more than a producer with a checklist, can be more vulnerable than studio films with swarms of expensive lawyers who meticulously root out risk scenarios.

“If you limit your review to a strictly E&O review, in the sense that you’re looking for any kind of viable trademark, copyright, or rights claim, something like this might get missed,” Perez said.

At the IndieWire FYC event, Garrett Jr. said his dad was adamant about his story being told. “He wanted black people to see that there’s motivation stories out there that haven’t even been told yet,” he said.

Nolfi added that the first script was written by two friends of Garrett, Jr., whom he did not name. (Cynthia Garrett denies the existence of such a script, saying that her father only penned a book for her and her siblings.) According to Nolfi, Joel Viertel, who edited and produced the film, got his hands on a copy about 20 years ago, and pitched it to Mackie and Nolfi in 2009 on the set of the director’s 2011 “The Adjustment Bureau.” (Mackie was unavailable for comment. Viertel did not respond to a request for comment.)

“Bernard and Joe [Morris, portrayed by Jackson] had to essentially dress as chauffeurs and janitors in their own banks, essentially to be able to monitor things. It was an incredible story,” Nolfi said at the event. “I was like, ‘Look, I’ll do anything to get this made.’” Levy (Marvel TV’s “Cloak & Dagger”) and Nolfi are the credited screenwriters, with “Lodge 49” co-executive producer Brad Kane receiving story credit and David Lewis Smith and Stan Younger as additional writers.

Ultimately, the only real failsafe for avoiding all true-story complications is if absolutely everyone attached to the subject is dead. Beyond that, however, producers must decide: Do they want to involve a minimum of people, limiting the cost and the possibility of script interference, while risking conflict upon release? Or, they could spend the money to get life rights and cooperation from as many people as possible, which then introduces the very real possibility of power struggles and legal battles if family members won’t come to terms.

“The one thing no writer wants to hear is, ‘No, you need to tell this story,’” said awards publicist Tony Angellotti, who has worked on multiple true-life films including “Frost/Nixon,” “Cinderella Man,” “Erin Brockovich,” and “Green Book.” “A biographer interviews everyone, but ultimately it’s their opinion.”

Dana Harris-Bridson contributed to this report.

Source: IndieWire film