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No less an authority than director Joe Russo (Avengers: Endgame) has sounded the death knell for the independent theatrical business.
“I don’t see a resurgence of independent movies at theaters; I just don’t,” said Russo, speaking at the Rome Film Festival’s MIA Market on Oct. 14. “You get more money to make them digitally. It’s the easiest thing for Netflix to greenlight, and nobody really bothers you [creatively].”
Russo, whose indie company AGBO has produced features for Netflix (Extraction), Amazon (Citadel) and Apple TV+ (Tom Holland starrer Cherry), can point to early signs from the post-lockdown cinema market as evidence for this thesis. Studio blockbusters (No Time to Die, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) are sucking up all of the oxygen and booking up all of the screening slots in movie theaters, leaving the streamers to take the place of specialty distributors.
It’s appropriate then, that the American Film Market will this year again be an all-digital affair, with online screenings and Zoom pitches. But despite the Russo warning, producers and sales outfits logging in have not (yet) given up on theatrical. The best new projects at AFM 2021 aim to break through the digital static and convince distributors to take a chance and put them out in cinemas worldwide.
Here’s THR‘s look at some of the hot titles.
DIRECTOR Phyllis Nagy
STARS Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver
BUZZ With the battle for women’s reproductive rights returning to U.S. courtrooms, this ’60s-set period drama looks especially timely. Banks plays a traditional housewife who is overjoyed at the prospect of a second child until the pregnancy threatens her own life, forcing her to seek help from an underground abortion network.
SALES UTA Independent Film Group (domestic), Protagonist Pictures (international)
Helen & Teacher
DIRECTOR Wash Westmoreland
STARS Millicent Simmonds, Rachel Brosnahan
BUZZ Biopics remain a safe bet for independent distributors, and this project, featuring A Quiet Place star Simmonds as legendary deaf and blind activist Helen Keller (Brosnahan plays her teacher, Anne Sullivan) also screams awards-season success.
SALES UTA Independent Film Group/ WME (domestic), Cornerstone (international)
DIRECTOR Ellen Kuras
STARS Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law
BUZZ Arguably the most star-studded package at AFM this year, this World War II drama follows the incredible career of Lee Miller (Winslet), a glam fashion model who in midlife became a war photographer exposing the atrocities of Nazi Germany.
SALES Rocket Science/CAA Media Finance/UTA Independent Film Group
DIRECTOR Catherine Hardwicke
STARS Toni Collette, Monica Bellucci
BUZZ This mob comedy stars Collette as an unsuspecting suburban woman who inherits her grandfather’s mafia empire. A clear play for mainstream distributors worldwide who will spot theatrical potential in the concept and the cast.
SALES CAA Media Finance (domestic), Cornerstone (international)
DIRECTOR Karim Aïnouz
STARS Michelle Williams, Jude Law
BUZZ A period drama/psychological horror tale that could be a hot cross-over title for arthouse distributors, this stars Williams as Queen Catherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of Henry VIII (Law), and the only one to avoid banishment or death by her infamous husband.
SALES FilmNation, CAA Media Finance
DIRECTOR Vaclav Marhoul
STARS Michael Shannon, Emilia Clarke
BUZZ Another hot biopic hitting AFM this year is this star vehicle for double Oscar nominee Shannon; he plays notorious anti-communist demagogue Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The drama will be a must-see for high-end distributors worldwide.
SALES CAA Films (domestic), HanWay Films (international)
The Pod Generation
DIRECTOR Sophie Barthes
STARS Emilia Clarke, Chiwetel Ejiofor
BUZZ A smart sci-fi feature for up-market distributors looking for a cross-over title, this feature from Madame Bovary director Barthes is set in a near-future where new technology allows a couple (Clarke and Ejiofor) to share the experience of pregnancy via detachable artificial wombs, or pods.
SALES CAA Media Finance (domestic), MK2 Films (international)
DIRECTOR Alex Gibney
STARS Viggo Mortensen, Caleb Landry
BUZZ Real-life drama, with its built-in marketing hooks, is usually an easy sell, something that should help this Vietnam War-set thriller being directed by Oscar-winning documentarian Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) about the U.S. helicopter pilot who turned against his fellow soldiers in an attempt to halt the killing of unarmed civilians in the My Lai massacre.
SALES UTA Independent Film Group/ICM/Altitude Film Entertainment
The Great Emu War
DIRECTOR Yaniv Raz
STARS John Cleese, Monty Franklin, Jim Jefferies, Rhys Darby
BUZZ This Aussie anti-war spoof, inspired by the true story of how the Australian army in the 1930s went to war with a population of Emus (and lost!), is targeting the same family-friendly audience that made WWII satire Jojo Rabbit a surprise global hit.
SALES Mister Smith Entertainment
Lost And Found in Paris
DIRECTOR Rupert Everett
STARS Kit Clarke, John Malkovich, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rupert Everett
BUZZ Based on his true-life experiences (already the subject of a best-selling series of memoirs), Everett’s sophomore feature as a director, after the well-received The Happy Prince, should delight arthouse and speciality distributors worldwide.
SALES HanWay Films
DIRECTOR Anna Gutto
STARS Juliette Binoche, Morgan Freeman, Frank Grillo
BUZZ Star-driven action thrillers are catnip for mainstream distributors, which will be piling in on this feature starring Oscar winner Binoche as a truck driver smuggling illegal cargo and Freeman as the FBI operative hot on her trail.
SALES Lionsgate (international)
The Land of Saints and Sinners
DIRECTOR Robert Lorenz.
STARS Liam Neeson, Ciarán Hinds
BUZZ Action + Neeson = AFM sell-out This version re-teams the Taken star with his The Marksman director in an Ireland-set tale as a newly-retired assassin forced to face off with a trio of vengeful terrorists.
SALES CAA Media Finance, UTA Independent Film Group (domestic), Bleiberg/Dimbort (international)
The Portable Door
DIRECTOR Jeffrey Walker
STARS Christoph Waltz, Sam Neill
BUZZ This adaptation of the 2004 bestseller by fantasy novelist Tom Holt (aka K.J. Parker) sees two bottom-line-minded wizards (Waltz and Neill) looking to disrupt the world of magic by applying corporate strategy to ancient mystical practices.
SALES ICM/UTA’s Independent Film Group (North America), Arclight Films (international)
Father & Son
DIRECTOR Mathieu Vadepied
STARS Omar Sy
BUZZ Hot of the global success of Netflix’s Lupin, French superstar Sy is in high demand, which should boost the asking price for this WWI action drama in which he stars as a father in the French colony of Senegal who enlists in the army to stick close to his 17-year-old son, recruited against his will.
The Railway Children Return
DIRECTOR Morgan Matthews
STARS Jenny Agutter, Tom Courtenay, Sheridan Smith, John Bradley
BUZZ Strong family-focused features are a rare commodity in the indie market, which should boost interest in this Brit drama, a sequel to the beloved 1970 film, with Jenny Agutter reprising her role as Roberta from the original.
This story first appeared in the Oct. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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