‘Stoker’ Review: When Style Becomes Self-Parody

The translation of foreign films for American audiences involves subtleties as much as it does subtitles. The unspoken social norms of a Japanese movie, say, or the lugubrious personal tragedy of a French film work perfectly within their own cultural c...

‘How to Survive a Plague’ Miniseries Being Developed by ABC Studios

David France's 2012 documentary "How to Survive a Plague" has been optioned by ABC Studios, which is planning to develop the film into a dramatic miniseries.

The film, which was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary Feature Film category, chronicled the early days of AIDS activism by the coalitions ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group).

Also read: 'How to Survive a Plague' Has a Message for the Young: AIDS Isn't Over

France, who wrote and directed the film, will executive produce the miniseries project, along with Howard Gertler (who produced the film) and John Lyons.

In addition to the Academy Award nomination, "How to Survive a Plague" was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and was an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'How to Survive a Plague' Has a Message for the Young: AIDS Isn't Over

'How to Survive a Plague' Review: Turns Out You Can Fight City Hall, Even When It's the White House

Tribeca Picks Rock Documentary ‘Mistaken for Strangers’ as Opening Night Film

"Mistaken for Strangers" will be the opening night film at the Tribeca Film Festival this spring.

The film follows the indie band The National on tour. It was directed by Tom Berninger, who also happens to be the brother of The National's lead singer Matt Berninger.

It's an edgier choice to kick off the festival than "The Five-Year Engagement," the Judd Apatow-produced romantic comedy that opened Tribeca last year.

"Mistaken for Strangers" also will have its world premiere at the festival. The opening screening will take place on April 17, will be followed by a special performance by The National.

For the uninitiated, The National is a Brooklyn-based band that has been likened to Leonard Cohen and Wilco. Their 2010 album High Violet sold more than half a million copies worldwide. A brand new studio album from The National is slated for a May release.

Their songs have also been featured on the soundtracks to films like "Win Win" and "Warrior."

"When my brother asked me along on tour as a roadie, I thought I might as well bring a camera to film the experience,” Tom Berninger said in a statement. “What started as a pretty modest tour documentary has, over the last two and a half years, grown into something much more personal, and hopefully more entertaining. It's a huge thrill to be showing this movie at the Tribeca Film Festival."

Tribeca runs through April 28.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'Any Day Now,' 'Burn' Win Tribeca Audience Awards

Winners & Losers at the Gothams, Indie Spirits and NY Film Critics

Michael Moore on '5 Broken Cameras' Director's LAX Ordeal: It Doesn't Compare to Palestinians' 'Daily Humiliation'

Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Bling Ring’ Arrives in June; Sundance Darling ‘The Spectacular Now’ Set...

A24 will release Sofia Coppola's "The Bling Ring" June 14 and James Ponsoldt's Sundance hit is set for "The Spectacular Now" Aug. 2, the independent distributor announced on Thursday.

A24 acquired both projects in January -- "The Bling Ring" on the eve of Sundance and "Spectacular" after it screened well at the Utah-based festival.

Coppola's film stars Emma Watson as one member of a group of real-life kids who tracked celebrities' wherabouts in order to rob their homes. They stole more than $3 million of goods from the likes of Paris Hilton.

Coppola wrote and directed the film based on Nancy Jo Sales’ Vanity Fair article, “The Suspects Wore Louboutins."

Also Read: Shailene Woodley, Miles Teller Get Sundance Buzz for Teen Spirit in 'The Spectacular Now'

Ponsoldt's film stars Miles Teller as Sutter, a high-school senior who refuses to think about his future as those around him begin to plan for college and the next phase of their lives. After breaking up with his girlfriend, he meets Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a sweet, hard-working girl whose life contrasts with his own more hedonistic approach. 

"(500) Days of Summer's" Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber wrote the script.

A24 launched publicly last August and just released its first movie, Roman Coppola's "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III." It will open two more in March, "Ginger & Rosa" and "Spring Breakers," before turning to these two summer titles.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Seeking an Oscar for Elle Fanning: A24 Acquires 'Ginger & Rosa'

Watch Emma Watson Say 'That's Awesome!' Like an American (Video)

Shailene Woodley, Miles Teller Get Sundance Buzz for Teen Spirit in 'The Spectacular Now'

How Oscar-Nominee ‘War Witch’ Improvised the Gut-Wrenching Tale of Child Soldiers

“Amour” was always the clear favorite in the Oscar foreign-language category, and its win on Sunday was one of the least surprising parts of a generally unsurprising ceremony.

But if Michael Haneke’s drama hadn’t been in the mix, there’s a good chance that Kim Nguyen’s “War Witch” would have emerged as a serious contender for the prize.

The film is the wrenching story of a teenage girl who becomes a child soldier in an unnamed African country – and then, because she can see the dead, the “witch” of the gang of rebels.

Also read: 10 Moments to Remember From a Long, Strange Awards Season

Starring the remarkable Rachel Mwanza, who won the best-actress award at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, it will receive a post-Oscar release from Tribeca Film on Friday in New York and March 8 in Los Angeles.

Born in Montreal to a Vietnamese father and a French-Canadian mother, Nguyen has made four features. He was able to secure a visa for Mwanza and bring her to the Oscars.

How did you hit upon the story?
I was hunting for good stories, and I just found this amazing story about Johnny Htu, who was a Burmese child soldier. Johnny was nine years old, and he woke up one day and said he was the reincarnation of God. He became a kind of half God. He was forbidden to walk on the soil, because they were afraid it would soil his visions, so he was carried around all day. And he would smoke cigars every day.

Also read: Somali Refugees From 'Asad,' Congolese Actress From 'War Witch' to Attend Oscars 

As a storyteller I thought his story had power and humanity and all the elements that make a good film. And slowly I got pulled into the child-soldier element.

Did you meet with child soldiers while writing the script?
I went to Burundi to meet ex-child soldiers. What I saw in Africa was this complete superimposition of these heavy, intense, war-ridden countries where the love stories are the same as here. You still have boyfriends and girlfriends, and the girlfriends that are jealous because the boyfriend came home late last night. It's very simple. I find that odd and beautiful at the same time, and I wanted to try and convey that.

The story has its supernatural elements – but did you feel pressure to accurately convey a world of child soldiers in which truly horrifying things have happened?
Absolutely. And for me, the way to get it right was not to try to make the characters symbols for any political point of view. In fact, for many drafts we were so worried that we wouldn’t give the right message that we weren’t telling a good story. In the end, that was the greatest gift that this film has given me: to accept brutal honesty and truth. 

In what way?
The best example is the rebels forcing children to kill their own parents. It’s not a generalized way of indoctrination, but it’s quite frequent. We kept trying to make it so maybe the [lead character] didn’t really kill her parents. Maybe she got slapped and lost consciousness, and the general put his finger on her finger, and we keep thinking that she did kill them but she didn’t. And it didn‘t work. In the end, we just had to say, “No, this is how it is.”

Where did you find your lead actress, Rachel Mwanza?
Well, I was really fearful that we weren’t going to find the right actress, because in this case I wouldn’t have a movie. One of the reasons we chose to shot in the Congo is because there was great amazing natural talent there. I guess it‘s from the heritage of verbal storytelling, you know?

And so we did an open call for actors. We already had the intuition that kids from the street could be pretty amazing, because of their rawness and their fearlessness. And it turned out to be pretty true. In the cases where these people could project their own personal lives onto the screen, it was just amazing. And Rachel was the best of them. She had this nonchalance. I guess when you live in the streets and you sleep on the side of the road, you don't care anymore about what people think. You're just there. And that's an amazing tool for an actor.

Was she living on the streets?
She was living on the streets. But as soon as we cast her we established a reinsertion program. She has a caretaker and she has a place to live, and she's back in school. But at the time she was still living on and off the streets.

Does she want to act more now?
She does. I'll have to be honest, there's a long way before she can work. She doesn’t know how to read yet. She’s learning, and she’s getting better. And she has her Facebook page so we can contact her. But she’s still a long way from understanding the subtleties of dialogue. I thinking there’s at least five to 10 years of work.

So Uncle Kim, which is what I am, tells her that she should learn another trade. But she hates me for doing that. She’s a teenager. [laughs] We bought Rachel a phone, and she said, “Kim, I can't put music on this.” There wasn't an MP3 reader and she couldn't take pictures, so she wanted a better phone.

How could she act in your film if she couldn’t read?
Because we work in such a different way. The actors never read the script, and we filmed in continuity. Every day it was like directed improvisations. All of the script and the dialogue was written, but the idea was to direct the improvisation in such a way that the dialogue would appear even though they never read it. And what's strange is that it did. Maybe 85 percent of what is on the page is there on the screen, and the rest is better.

How did you hit upon that process?
I had seen “Fish Tank,” and Andrea Arnold's work method was a huge inspiration. It blew me away in regards to performances. For me, that's my mantra: everything for authentic performances. You don't have a film, for me, if you don't have those performances.

I think Andrea Arnold is really influenced by Cassavetes, and their approach really echoes what I want to do from now on: organize everything so the actors are projecting their own selves on the screen. It makes it really real and raw.

It it hard to get financing when the process is that unconventional?
It was for a while. But Canada has a funding system that is quite organized and specific, and we were fortunate that the script had the strength to convince script analysts that it should be done.

The hardest part was convincing people that there shouldn‘t be Caucasian actors in the film. I’ve seen a lot of films where Africa gets saved, symbolically, by North America. And I wanted to give a voice to the real heroes in the stories.

You’ve made several other films, but “War Witch” was your first to get an Oscar nomination and receive this kind of attention. What was different this time around?
I do feel that “War Witch” was a breakthrough for me, where I was rediscovering my initial impulses to do film. The first three films, they’re my babies and I love all of them. But I did feel that when I did the one before this, “City of Shadows,” I had reached a kind of wall where the pressures of funding institutions, producers, co-production deals and all of that put a kind of varnish over the film that. It wasn’t raw and I didn’t feel that my hand was at the heart of the actors, in a way. I let down the actors because I didn’t push them to where they should have gone.

But in a way, I guess you have to do these films and scrape your knees and stand up.

So what did you do differently?
The big thing was not overpreparing, oddly enough. You prepare in a different way. You prepare in the way of understanding the characters, understanding the people, getting drunk with people in Kinsasha and understanding their lives. It’s not storyboarded anymore. It’s more like, we look at what’s happening and where the actors want to go and we bend our method to what they’re doing on the set. Very different from the previous films.

Related stories from TheWrap:

10 Moments to Remember From a Long, Strange Awards Season

Somali Refugees From 'Asad,' Congolese Actress From 'War Witch' to Attend Oscars

Tribeca Films Acquires U.S. Rights to Child Soldier Drama 'War Witch'

Drafthouse Film Acquires Punk Documentary ‘A Band Called Death’

Drafthouse Films has acquired North American distribution rights to “A Band Called Death,” Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino’s documentary about the titular proto-punk band. Formed in 1971 by a trio of teenage brothers in Detroit, Death was one of the first punk bands, predating the likes of the Clash and The Ramones.

It disbanded after years of struggling to make a living, only to experience a revival as people rediscovered the band’s music 30 years later.

The film, which premiered last year at the Los Angeles Film Festival, will screen at March’s South by Southwest Film Festival. Drafthouse, the film distribution arm of the Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain, will release it in theaters and on VOD this summer. 

“Howlett and Covino’s film rewrites punk history and also transforms a better-than-fiction music story into a moving, emotional story,” Evan Husney, Drafthouse's creative director, said in a statement. “We are thrilled to be introducing the legacy of Death to audiences around the country.”

Haven Entertainment’s Matthew Perniciaro and Kevin Mann produced, with Jerry Ferrara and OGB Inc.’s Scott Mosier. Cinetic Media’s Linzee Troubh negotiated the deal on behalf of the producers with Drafthouse’s James Emanuel Shapiro.

Related stories from TheWrap:

The Eagles Talk and Dave Grohl Rocks as Sundance Gets Musical

SXSW Film Festival: More Commercial, More Comedy, (A Little) Less Music

Jennifer Lawrence Wins Best Actress Oscar for ‘Silver Linings Playbook’

Jennifer Lawrence has won the Oscar as Best Actress of 2012 for her portrayal as a young widow in “Silver Linings Playbook.” The 22-year-old actress won in her second nomination; her first came two years ago for “Winter’s Bone.&...

‘Amour,’ ‘Argo’ Win at Cesar Awards

Michael Haneke's drama "Amour" cleaned up at the Cesar Awards in Paris on Friday, taking home numerous top honors including Best Movie, while Ben Affleck's "Argo" took home Best Foreign Language Film.

In all, "Amour" took five awards -- Best Movie; Best Director and Best Original Screenplay honors for Haneke, and Best Actress and Best Actor awards for Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, respectively.

Jacques Audiard's "Rust and Bone" also racked up a number of awards, including Best Male Newcomer for Matthias Schoenaerts, Best Adapted Screenplay for Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, Best Original Soundtrack for Alexandre Desplat, and Best Editing for Juliette Welfling.

"Waterworld" star Kevin Costner took home the Honorary Cesar award.

 

Related stories from TheWrap:

'Amour' Breaks the 'Zero Dark Thirty' Streak, Wins L.A. Critics' Award

Cannes 2012: Michael Haneke's 'Amour' Wins Palme d'Or

'Amour' Sweeps 2012 European Film Awards

Somali Refugees From ‘Asad,’ Congolese Actress From ‘War Witch’ to Attend Oscars

Sure, Jennifer Lawrence, Steven Spielberg and George Clooney will be attending the Oscars on Sunday. But how about this for an inspirational trio: Somali refugees Harun and Ali Mohamed from "Asad" and Congolese actress Rachel Mwanza from "War Witch."

Mwanza, the 16-year-old star of Kim Nguyen’s Foreign Language Oscar nominee “War Witch,” has just been granted a visa to travel from the Congo to attend awards shows in North America. The film is a nominee at both the Independent Spirit Awards and the Academy Awards this weekend and is nominated for multiple awards at a pair of Canadian events in March.

Mwanza was living on the streets of Kinshasa, the capital of Congo, when the filmmakers cast her in the film to play a young girl captured by rebels and forced to become a child soldier.

Meanwhile, Harun and Ali Mohamed, who fled Somalia for Cape Town, South Africa, will attend the Oscars on behalf of “Asad.” The brothers, ages 14 and 12 respectively, star in Bryan Buckley’s film, nominated for Best Live Action Short.

Inspired by a United Nations documentary short, Buckley's film follows a young boy in a wartorn Somali fishing village who must decide between piracy and an honest life.

“South Africa is a relatively young democracy only recently emerged from the shackles of tyranny and prejudice," Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in a statement. "We have much to learn and we also have much to teach. 'Asad' is at once a painful reminder of the xenophobia that shamefully still exists in South Africa and a heart-warming tribute to our special ability as members of the human family to heal ourselves.”

Related stories from TheWrap:

Inside 'War Witch's' Unexpected Love Story - Amidst Congo Brutality

Tribeca Films Acquires U.S. Rights to Child Soldier Drama 'War Witch'

It’s Indie Vets Vs. Upstarts at a Varied Independent Spirit Awards

After finding the Oscars encroaching on their territory for a number of years, have the Film Independent Spirit Awards finally gotten a little space from their bigger, flashier weekend neighbor?

You’d think so, given that six of the Oscars’ nine Best Picture nominees have grossed more than $100 million, and the roster of represented companies includes Warner Bros., Universal, 20th Century Fox, DreamWorks, Disney and Sony.

But one of those $100 million films, David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” will be competing for five Indie Spirit Awards on Saturday, the day before it takes its eight nominations to the Oscars.

Also read: With 6 $100 Million Nominees, Oscar’s Slate Is One of the Richest Ever

Another Oscar Best Picture nominee, Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” will also be in the running for the top Spirit Award at the ceremony, which as usual takes place in a tent on Santa Monica beach.

Oscar best-pic nominee “Amour,” meanwhile, is nominated in the foreign-film category at the Spirits, while Wes Anderson’s best-film Spirit Awards contender “Moonrise Kingdom” is up for an Oscar for its screenplay.

The Oscars are still honoring independent film, even in a year of unexpectedly big box office and surprising participation by the major studios. And the Spirit Awards’ definition of indie is still broad enough to encompass a wide range of movies, from the small-budgeted “Keep the Lights On” to the Weinstein Company release “Silver Linings Playbook.” That film skirted the $20 million budget limit to qualify for the Spirit Awards but was let in on a judgment call by the jury, which is always given the leeway to decide borderline cases by by Film Independent,

“The Spirit Awards are a celebration of independent film, and one of the things I love is that there’s a lot of diversity in there this year,” said Josh Welsh, co-president of Film Independent with Sean McManus. (McManus, left, and Welsh)

“We have first-time directors and new filmmaking talent like Benh Zeitlin [“Beasts of the Southern Wild”], but we also have directors that we go way back with, like Wes Anderson and David O. Russell. This year is a combination of discovery and bringing back people who are a part of what we’ve been doing for years.”

Russell first came to the Spirit Awards in 1995 with “Spanking the Monkey,” for which he won the Best First Feature award; he returned two years later as a Best Director nominee for “Flirting With Disaster.” Anderson won the Spirit Award as Best Director for “Rushmore” in 2000.

Their two films, “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Moonrise Kingdom,” lead the pack with five nominations each. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” has four -- and, crucially, the Spirit Awards jury opted to nominate it and its director in the Best Feature and Best Director categories rather than putting them in the Best First Feature category, where they would almost unquestionably have won.

"Keep the Lights On" and "Middle of Nowhere" also received four nominations each, though the latter film did not crack the Best Feature category

Despite the presence of “Bernie” and “Keep the Lights On” in the top category, this year’s awards do seem to be a shootout between “Silver Linings,” “Beasts” and “Moonrise,” perhaps with a slight edge to the first two -- the first a crowd-pleasing film with real awards momentum, the second the clear indie breakout of the year.

Last year’s winner, “The Artist,” was the second film to win both the Spirit Award and the Best Picture Oscar, and the first since 1986's "Platoon."

Of the 21 Spirit acting nominees, the only ones to also be in the running at the Oscars are Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from “Silver Linings,” Quvenzhane Wallis from “Beasts” and Helen Hunt from “The Sessions.” Chances are that Cooper and Lawrence have the edge, with more than 80 percent of Spirit Awards winners since 2000 coming from the ranks of Oscar nominees.

The awards are voted on by the 4,000 members of Film Independent, which is made up of professionals in the indie world but also of film fans who pay the yearly dues. Voting is done online, and Film Independent holds free member screenings in Los Angeles and New York to allow voters to see the films.

MacManus told TheWrap that Film Independent also made a deal with iTunes this year to make some of the nominated films available online, while members also received a 14-film DVD collection containing all the nominees that had chosen to participate. (Members had to sign restrictive use agreements to receive the package, added Welsh.)

This year’s show will be hosted by comic and actor Andy Samberg, whose film “Celeste and Jesse Forever” is in the running  in the Best First Screenplay category.

“He brings a very new vibe and personality to the show,” MacManus said. “We wanted to look at this year’s show with fresh eyes. There’s a new look to the room, we’re doing something different with the food -- everything is a new take.”

Last year’s host was Seth Rogen, who took the stage and immediately labeled the show “inconsequential.”

“Winning one will get you absolutely nothing,” he said, drawing a big laugh. “It won’t even raise your price, because it proves that you’ll work for nothing.”

If Samberg takes similar shots at the show, both MacManus and Welsh said they won’t mind.

“The awards are incredibly meaningful,” MacManus said. “We believe in independent film and we take it seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously. We are okay with poking fun at ourselves.”

Added Welsh, “We’re not all puffed up or self-important. But all joking aside, these awards are significant. It’s a genuine act of honoring the independent film of the last 12 months.”

Related stories from TheWrap:

Benh Zeitlin on 'Beasts of the Southern Wild': 'We Want to Create New Myths'

How David O. Russell 'Grew Up' to Become the Ultimate Actors' Director

'Moonrise Kingdom' - Finding the Voice of a Dark-Horse Writing Contender

'Moonrise Kingdom,' 'Beasts of the Southern Wild,' 'Silver Linings Playbook' Top Indie Spirit Awards Nominations

Recent Posts