Indie Filmmakers Debate Post-Sundance: ‘Where Is Harvey?’ (Video)

Change continues to buffet the independent film industry, and about 100 writers, directors and producers got together on Thursday to talk about it, courtesy of Rick Rosenthal’s Whitewater Films. Over Mexican food and under Rosenthal’s white...

Sundance Selects Picks Up Alexandre Moors’ ‘Blue Caprice’

Sundance Selects has acquired the North American and Latin American rights to Alexandre Moors’ "Blue Caprice," the company announced on Tuesday.

Moors' directorial debut investigates the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks from the point of view of the two killers, John Allen Muhammad and 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo.

Isaiah Washington stars as Muhammad; Tequan Richmond plays Malvo.

Also read: Beltway Sniper Film ‘Blue Caprice’ at Sundance: ‘Killers Aren’t Born, They’re Made’

The drama, set to open Film Society of Lincoln Center and MOMA’s 2013 New Directors/New Films Festival later this month, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

April Yvette Thompson, who has a brief part as Malvo’s mother, summarized the film's hypothesis by telling the audience at Sundance that "killers aren’t born, they’re made."

R.F.I. Porto wrote the screenplay for the film; it was produced by Isen Robbins, Aimee Schoof, Ron Simons, Stephen Tedeschi, Brian O’Carroll, Kim Jackson and Will Rowbotham.

"Alexandre Moors has made one of the most distinct and haunting American independent films of the year featuring unforgettable performances by Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond," Jonathan Sehring, president of Sundance Selects/IFC Films, said in a statement. "We're thrilled to be able to release this and look forward to working with the producers and Cinetic to make this a big success.”

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James Franco Protests Australia’s ‘Really Silly’ Decision to Ban Gay-Themed Film (Video)

James Franco is asking the Australian Classification Board to reconsider its decision to ban "I Want Your Love," a feature film from Franco's "Interior. Leather Bar." co-director, Travis Matthews.

"This just is such a disappointment to me and just seems really silly," Franco says in a video uploaded to Matthews' YouTube channel on Monday. 

Also read: Who Is James Franco? Artist Marina Abramović Wants Her Film to Answer That

Matthews' film --'I Want Your Love" --exploring gay male relationships has been banned from screening at festivals in Australia due to scenes containing explicit sex that the censors don't believe have any narrative context.

Franco disagrees.

"Travis is making this film, including sex because he wants to explore story and character in the nuances that sex contains," the actor says. "Because films have been banned because of sex, sex in films hasn't had a chance to grow and become a sophisticated storytelling device."

"I Want Your Love" was scheduled to be screened twice at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival this month, but organizers have reluctantly replaced the programming and apologized to the audience.

"We're shocked that Classification Australia have taken this path. 'I Want Your Love' has screened to critical acclaim at dozens of festivals around the world. Australia is the first film festival to have it banned," a message on the MQFF's website reads. "We're sorry our audience won't be able to make up its own minds about adult content."

Franco, who returns to the box office this weekend in Sam Raimi's "Oz the Great and Powerful," agrees that adults should "be able to choose" their own viewing. 

"They're not going in blind. I don't know why, in this day and age, something like this -- a film that is using sex, not for titillation, but to talk about being human -- is being banned," he concludes. "It's just embarrassing."

Watch Franco's plea:

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Independent Box Office: ‘Stoker’ Debuts to $22K Average

“Stoker,” the psychological thriller from director Park Chan-wook, averaged an impressive $22,689 per theater in its specialty box-office debut this weekend.

Fox Searchlight released the film, starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, and Nicole Kidman, in seven theaters and its grossed $158,822 over the three days. In "Stoker," a mysterious and charming man comes to live with a young woman and her unstable mother after her father dies.

Also read: 'Jack the Giant Slayer' $28M Box Office Is Beans Compared to Budget

Also debuting was “Leviathan,” the documentary about the commercial fishing trade in the North Atlantic. It took in $10,018 on one screen at New York's IFC Center, distributor Cinema Guild reported.

Tribeca Films' “War Witch,” the Best Foreign Language Oscar-nominated tale of a 14-year-old African girl telling her unborn child the story of her life amid a war, opened to $10,260 on two theaters.

Also opening was "Hava Nagila," a documentary on the history, mystery, and meaning of the ubiquitous Jewish standard that follows the around-the-world journey of the song from Ukraine to Youtube. Harry Belafonte, Connie Francis and Leonard Nimoy appear in the film, which took in $9,521 from a single New York theater for International Film Circuit.

The Weinstein Company expanded “Quartet,” Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut set in a retirement home for musicians, from 356 theaters to 725. It took in $1.7 million, an average of $2,428 and raised its domestic total after eight weeks to $8.9 million.

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‘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...

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.

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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.

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‘Super Troopers 2’ May Shoot This Year

A sequel to the 2001 cult comedy hit “Super Troopers” could begin shooting as early as this year, according to Kevin Heffernan and Steve Lemme, two-fifths of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe. 

Broken Lizard, formed at New York's Colgate University in 1990, has written and starred in such films as “Super Troopers,” “Club Dread” and “Beerfest,” all of which member Jay Chandrasekhar directed.

“Super Troopers,” which stars the quintet as a group of lovable, degenerate cops working in Vermont near the Canadian border, grossed $23 million at the box office for Fox Searchlight. Made on a shoestring budget, it alienated many with its crude humor but endures among a young adult crowd.

There have been rumors and discussion of a sequel for years, but Heffernan and Lemme told the website GuySpeed.com this week that it may happen as soon as this year.

“We wrote the script and handed it in to Fox, and now we’re just negotiating the time and the place and hopefully shoot it some time this year. I have to start growing my mustache now,” Heffernan said.

Fox and representatives for various members of the group did not immediately respond to TheWrap's calls for comment.

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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.

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‘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.

 

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