Archive for January 19th, 2009

Humpday Sells for Mid Six Figures!

January 19, 2009


From Variety

Sundance | Magnolia gets “Humpday”

Magnolia Pictures has spent mid-six figures for worldwide rights to Lynn Shelton‘s “Humpday.” The lo-fi buddy comedy attracted six offers and a protracted bidding war.

Film stars Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard as two straight best friends who decide to film themselves having sex for an art project. Pic preemed Friday in the Sundance Film Festival‘s competition section.

An unorthodox release plan will see Magnolia launch the pic on VOD before an August theatrical opening, much like their release of the crime pic “Flawless” starring Demi Moore.

The company plans to sell international rights.

The deal was negotiated by Josh Braun and Kevin Iwashina of Submarine on behalf of the filmmakers with Tom Quinn and Eamonn Bowles from Magnolia Pictures.

Sundance II: Seattle Party

January 19, 2009

The temperature was dropping as I left my room to go to the Seattle party. Walking downtown at 9 you could see the stars out and smell the smoke from wood-burning fire-places. Ski lifts were moving across the streets. The Seattle party was a half hour walk away, on Main Street, at a downstairs club called The Star Bar which, if you are following on your map, is up past the Egyptian.  At one point, in a dense cluster of people on the sidewalk, I was sure I saw Harvey Weinstein walk past talking to another man. No big deal: Harvey Weinstein. Seconds later I heard one preteen say to another, “Are you frickin’ kidding me? That was Jude frickin’ Law?” (I didn’t see him.) At the Star Bar the place was overflowing with people from the Seattle film scene – James Keblas, from the Mayor’s Office, Amy Dee, from Washington Film Works, the director David Russo along with cast and crew from “The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle,” and Lynn Shelton with a large, happy contingent from “Humpday.”  But there were people from New York there, too, and L.A., and people who maybe just wondered what the party was about and decided to come. “Little Dizzle”’s premiere is Monday, late afternoon, but this first Seattle film was greeted at the large Eccles Theater, with waves of laughter at the variations the film works on the premise (it’s about two straight friends who dare each other to make a porn movie starring themselves).

I had an 8:30 a.m. movie, “Sin Nombre,” a Latin-American film made by an American with a Japanese last name, so I headed back home to get some sleep along about the time other people were starting to talk about dancing or going to other parties elsewhere. Tomorrow is the Little Dizzle premiere.


January 19, 2009



 One of the first things I see off the shuttle in downtown Park City – it has one main street, called Main Street – is a line of people wearing fur coats and carrying signs that say “ONLY ZOMBIES KILL ANIMALS AND WEAR THEM.” I pan from their coats to their faces and see that they are made up as zombies, with ashen skin, bruises for eyes and hot red lines around their mouths to show that they have been eating something that was once alive and had blood flowing through its veins. It’s a bright, cheery day, mid-afternoon, and they look like they have come up from the grave, starved for blood, and would be freezing if it weren’t for their fur coats.  A crowd has formed around them because in addition to the screaming signs they are shouting imprecations at people passing them on the narrow sidewalk, some of whom (but not many) are headed next door to a store that sells fur coats.

If it were the first scene in a film I guess it would be of the apocalyptic “Bladerunner” or “12 Monkeys” kind, the rabid people shouting about killing meaning to encourage passersby to think about their actions, life and death on the line, and so on.  I watch for a minute, then turn with the crowd because someone has seen, or thinks he or she has seen, Cameron Diaz. I am not so sure I want to see Cameron Diaz after the anti-zombies, so I keep walking in search of food. Something simple, I think, which to me almost always means “hamburger,” which I am even more ravenous for after watching the zombies. I walk into the first place that has the word “grill” on its sign, and though it is 3 p.m. the place, called The Hideout, is packed upstairs. The hostess invites me to go down into the basement bar and I do, finding a giant taxidermied moose head mounted on the wall at the head of the stairs. Down in the bar, in the dark, groups of people who may or may not be movie people are watching the Arkansas-Philadelphia semi-final. I take a seat at the bar, order a bacon burger, and a young man named Andrew introduces himself immediately. He tells me he is a make-up artist from Mississippi and he is in town with a film at Slamdance, the film festival that sprang up in the shadow of Sundance (and that Lynn Shelton won three years ago with her first feature film, “We Go Way Back”). Philadelphia scores a touchdown while Andrew tells me he is really proud of working out really cheap and easy-to-film effect of a throat being cut. It involves a substance like molasses and food-coloring and, he says, “a dull knife.” 

I still have a ticket to only one film: “The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle,” which is the film Northwest Film Forum’s Start-to-Finish program nurtured and helped to produce (my predecessor, Michael Seiwerath, has the Executive Producer credit on the film). Tickets for almost everything are hard to get. They are, actually, nearly impossible to come by. As I finish my hamburger and Arkansas starts a come-back, I wonder if the screaming, animal-loving anti-zombies outside have any spares for, say, “Johnny Mad Dog,” a film about some brutal murders that is getting almost as much buzz as the film Lynn Shelton has brought, “Humpday,” a film everyone with a Seattle zip code must now know is in competition here and which is getting loved up pretty well. The Humpday condo, where I will be staying the next couple of nights, will be wired up, I think.  “When you come tomorrow,” one of the film’s producers tells me, I’ll probably have been up all night.” He will be looking at conversations they are having with buyers, and he will probably be a little ashen, he says. In the good sense,though, not the strange, animal-activist sense.

Sandy Cioffi and Sweet Crude in the NY Times

January 19, 2009

Did you catch this article in the Sunday Times about Seattle-based director Sandy Cioffi?

January 18, 2009
Two Shots at One Target: Oil Polluters

TWO movies. Same subject. Almost identical titles. Made independently by two filmmakers who have known each other since 1982. Yet two very different films (and filmmakers).

How could that be?

“Crude,” by Joe Berlinger (“Brother’s Keeper”), and “Sweet Crude,” by Sandy Cioffi, are new documentaries about the despoiling of the third world by multinational oil companies (Ecuador in “Crude,” Nigeria in “Sweet Crude”). Focusing on similar subjects isn’t that odd in the nonfiction film world; there have been two recent movies about jumping rope and three just last year about beauty contests in prisons. But the Berlinger-Cioffi coincidences border on the uncanny. Both directors graduated from Colgate University in the early 1980s, took the first film course offered at the college and left their decidedly non-cinema-centric school to pursue careers in documentaries.

But Mr. Berlinger and Ms. Cioffi represent two sides of the documentary coin. For some practitioners the medium is cinema based in reality. For others it is a tool to promote social and political change. Like many first-rate nonfiction filmmakers, Errol Morris being a prime example, Mr. Berlinger, 47, has used commercial work to bankroll his artistic agenda. For Ms. Cioffi, 46, a tenured professor of film and video at Seattle Central Community College, film has been more about politics than about making a living (although she’d like that to change). Her experience in Nigeria became a personal journey reflected on film.

Originally intending to make a movie about the building of a library in the Niger Delta, she became involved in the political struggle there, making efforts to get the message of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta into the global conversation. In the process, she was arrested by the Nigerian military.

“I’ve always been a believer in the idea that if you simply put a light on in a corner it changes the situation,” said Ms. Cioffi, who in 1998 was part of team recording the aftermath of the Good Friday peace accord and became firmly convinced that the presence of cameras affected the course of Northern Irish history.

Mr. Berlinger, in contrast, has made a film aiming at journalistic objectivity, a return to the vérité world he and Bruce Sinofsky (his sometime artistic partner and co-director) explored in the 1992 documentary “Brother’s Keeper,” about a family of hermit brothers, the death of one and the murder trial of another.

While chronicling three years in what is now a 13-year battle against Texaco (now ChevronTexaco), filed by 30,000 indigenous Ecuadoreans whose way of life has been decimated by water pollution, Mr. Berlinger said he was moved by the poverty and degradation he saw but determined that “Crude” not be agitprop, or even activist. The film includes interviews and arguments from the accused polluters. “Some people will come away thinking the oil companies are right,” he said.

“As a storyteller, I want to present arguments and then let people dig a little deeper. But if it felt like plaintiffs’ propaganda, it would be ghettoized. I’d be preaching to the converted and not to a wider, more critical audience.”

Mr. Berlinger’s career trajectory, which began in advertising and was followed by a tenure with the documentary-making Maysles brothers, has included the 2004 rock documentary “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster,” made with Mr. Sinofsky. For the last eight years he has had a deal with Radical Media, a commercial-making concern in Manhattan and his base of operations for producing the Sundance Channel series “Iconoclasts” and the Emmy-winning History Channel series “10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America.”

“I don’t want to overstate the case, but for a documentarian I’m doing O.K.,” he said. But since “Metallica,” “I was drifting from my roots, and this was a story I wanted to tell — not caring about money, not caring about cost, not caring about the reception. Just wanting to make a film. That’s what this Ecuador project was.”

Ms. Cioffi, on the other hand, has investors (“investors is a loose word; they’re really donors”) and raised $10,000 through the sale of silk-screen versions of the text messages she and her crew managed to send while under arrest in Nigeria. Her film is not just low-budget, she said; “it’s low low-budget.”

What Mr. Berlinger and Ms. Cioffi do share is a desire for a slot at the Sundance Film Festival, now under way. His “Crude” got in; her “Sweet Crude” did not. With the limited number of slots at this Park City, Utah, festival, there was little likelihood that two films on such a similar topic would accepted, however dissimilar their styles. It’s a yearly problem for the festival, which each year receives about 1,000 documentary submissions from the United States and about 700 from overseas, according to Caroline Libresco, a Sundance senior programmer.

Ms. Cioffi and Mr. Berlinger understand the value of this festival. “One of the reasons Sundance could have been incredible is that when you get in, all of a sudden there’s coverage for your topic,” Ms. Cioffi said. “My concern is that the Niger Delta is such a huge untold story that if I get out with the film fast enough, I can help define the conversation.”

But Mr. Berlinger, who with “Crude” is having his fourth film at Sundance, knows a place in the festival can help only so much. “Are people going to really want to see a Spanish-language subtitled documentary about people dying of cancer because of the destruction of the Amazon?” he asked facetiously. “I’m not sure.” Which is why he’s fully prepared to undertake the same self-distribution tactics he and Mr. Sinofsky employed with “Brother’s Keeper,” and that Ms. Cioffi uses with all her documentaries: a grass-roots marketing strategy that will, again, get Mr. Berlinger back to his roots.