Why Americans Don’t Watch Foreign FilmNovember 11th, 2009 by Ami
This week Pirate Radio is releasing to US cinemas.
It’s a cool new movie about a group of rebellious DJs playing pop and rock music (god forbid!) on an illegal radio station on a boat, back in 60s Britain… In fact, it sounds very similar to a movie I saw four month ago in Europe called The Boat That Rocked. Same actors too (check the interesting interviews with Talulah Riley and Tom Sturridge over on Gordon and the Whale). Yes, it’s the same movie!
Americans dictate world politics, influence global economics, put the first man on the moon, and even have a dream named after them. So why, when it comes to non-studio releases, and especially foreign titles, are American cinemas so very unfashionably late? And why do these movies only ever make it to select major cities (compared to thousands of screens for any bad studio flick)?
The Boat That Rocked was released on April 1st in the UK, then all over Europe. Even the people of Kazakhstan saw it at the end of April (where most people weren’t even familiar with its music until recent decades…). It’s been in Australia and New Zealand, and Argentineans can already rent it on DVD.
So, dear American distributors: First, changing the name is a cheap trick that doesn’t cover the shame of the late release. Second, have you heard of the Internet? Torrents? The Global Village? People are connected and up-to-date, from the arctic wilderness to a rundown tourist bus in the middle of Peru, where I saw Crash the same week it was released to US cinemas.
Why do distributors do this? I think it’s a mistaken belief that Americans don’t appreciate global film and dislike subtitles. As a result, distributors lose money and American moviegoers miss out.
Here is an expose of 10 more atrocities committed this year by American movie distributors. See for yourself if you think the lack of confidence really reflects American audience’s tastes.
10. Broken Embraces - March 18 vs. Nov 20, 2009
30 countries have already enjoyed the new movie by Spanish genius Pedro Almodovar, who brought us Talk to Her and All About My Mother. But apparently two international hits and buckets of awards, including an Oscar, are not enough to justify more than a limited release. The movie will roll out in one (!) city, and two weeks later, in a bold move, in one additional one. Sorry Salt Lake City and Chicago residents, you’ll have to settle for X-Men.
9. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans - Sep 11 vs. Nov 20, 2009
Okay, September 11 might not be a good release date for a movie about a corrupt, drug-addicted police detective in post-Katrina New Orleans. But why wait more than two months? If you thought only subtitled, so-called “arthouse” movies suffer late releases, think again. Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Jennifer Coolidge and Michael Shannon – if they were the cast of a new Hollywood thriller, they would have stormed thousands of screens. But directed by the acclaimed Werner Herzog – forget it. So this Venice Festival winner will see the light of day (or of a film projector) in just 5 cities. Well, the cast and English language help, so aside from NY and LA, Chicago, D.C. and San Francisco residents will get it first. A week later, six more cities will join.
8. City Island - Aug 20 vs. ???
A loveable cast headed by Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies (ER), and an audience award won back in April at the Tribeca Film Festival, is apparently not enough to justify even a limited release, not even in NYC. Meanwhile, the people of Israel, Brazil, Slovenia, Spain and many others already had the chance to enjoy this indie crowd-pleaser, dealing with a dysfunctional family’s secrets and lies in City Island, in the Bronx.
7. The Private Lives of Pippa Lee - July 10 vs. Nov 27
Premiered at the Berlin Film Festival back in February and released to UK cinemas in July, Rebecca Miller’s new film has already screened in Greece, the Netherlands, Israel, Hungary, Russia, Belgium, France and recently at the Toronto Film Festival. True, this talented director and writer hasn’t proved herself at the box office, but she doesn’t get much chance. Critical acclaim (82% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and a stellar cast (Robin Wright, Julianne Moore, Winona Ryder, Alan Arkin - the charm of every second indie production - Monica Bellucci, Maria Bello and Keanu Reeves) still didn’t get her a vote of confidence from American distributors.
6. Hachiko: A Dog’s Story - Aug 8 vs. Nov 18
Richard Gere has lost his box office charm since Chicago. Maybe getting role advice from the Dalai Lama isn’t such a good idea. Director Lasse Hallstrom, has also seen better days (Chocolat and The Cider House Rules). Still, both have enormous cinematic credit. Jason Alexander and Joan Allen join in a Harry and Tonto type story about friendship between a man and a dog. Based on true story, it’s a remake of a successful Japanese movie. And although it was first screened back in June at the Seattle Film Festival, still Japan, Spain, Russia, Austria, Germany, Singapore and Sweden will all enjoy this touching movie first. If it was a Disney movie with the same plot and cast, I’m sure we’d already be expecting the DVD.
5. Red Cliff - June 2008 vs. Nov 20 2009
I think this one breaks all the lateness records! John Woo’s $80 million Chinese production is armed with awards from major Asian events and is another contribution to the recent slew of popular historical combat epics (following on 300 and The Warrior). But all this is not enough. Neither is Woo’s contemporary Hollywood resume. So long after dozens of countries in Asia, Europe and even Egypt, the US release finally arrives. Red Cliff II was already released in East Asia back in January 2009!
4. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus - Oct 16 vs. Dec 25
Terry Gilliam is the genius behind both amazing cinematic challenges like Brazil and 12 Monkeys, and unbearable cinematic challenges like Tideland. So yes, his movies are like casino gambling. He teamed again with Heath Ledger (hoping for the latter’s magical box office appeal, that even helped the critically grim former collaboration between them). He sure didn’t count on the later bailing out while still shooting, and so we gained 3 aces standing in to play the same character: Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. The critical reaction is much better than for his last works. But hey, just ask the Bulgarians or the Vietnamese, they can already say if the movie is good or not, and so can film buffs in several other countries.
3. The White Ribbon - Sep 17 vs. Dec 30
Directed by Michael Haneke, the controversial German director responsible for Caché (Hidden) and Funny Games (original and US remake), this movie swept the Cannes Film Festival this year, winning 3 of its awards, including The Golden Palm. It also won a major prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival, and has a remarkable 100% fresh rate on Rotten Tomatoes. It was already released in parts of Europe, soon in Scandinavia, but only at the end of the year in the U.S. And of course, in a limited release. (To be frank, this is the only title in the list that might indeed be too hard for some audiences, judging by the director’s former works…)
2. Gigante - May 22 vs. Jan 1, 2010
Like The White Ribbon, Gigante also swept a film festival this year, winning three of the major prizes in Berlin, followed by a win in San Sebastian. Gigante even won a prize in the Chicago Film Festival, and recently participated in the Toronto Film Festival and LA Latino Film Festival. You’d think after all this, and with Spanish being so widely spoken in the US, that an acclaimed Spanish-language movie would have strong appeal for American moviegoers and gain an up-to-date release. Think again. Maybe when it comes to Horror. But when it comes to a good psychological drama (shhh don’t say “arthouse”), then countries with “large” Latin population like Scandinavia and Poland get to see Gigante first.
1. The Young Victoria – Mar 6 vs. Dec 18
Another acclaimed late arrival: Produced by Martin Scorsese and Graham King, written by the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Gosford Park, and with talented cast including Emily Blunt, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent and Thomas Kretschmann. This one left the British port way back in March on its journey to discover America. On its way, it visited more than 15 countries worldwide, including Finland, the Philippines, Israel and Singapore. UK film buffs have been able to enjoy the DVD since July! The scheduled limited release makes sense when you consider that interested American audiences have no problem watching the movie in both legal and illegal ways now.
And 3 fashionable late arriving animation flicks as a bonus:
Luc Besson’s Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard (sequel to the rather successful Arthur and the Invisibles) will roll out in Europe 3 weeks before the American premiere (Dec 18); Wes Anderson’s all-star and highly acclaimed stop-motion flick Fantastic Mr. Fox is rolling out in limited release now, three weeks after the UK, before expanding on the 25th; and A Town Called Panic, a relatively anonymous French movie, also in stop-motion technique, will start Dec 16, after several European territories and a nice festivals tour.
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