How Many Festivals Does a Film Have to Win to Land Distribution, Asks Chief Film Critic Kirk Honeycutt

The Hollywood Reporter, 4 September 2001

One year ago, the Toronto Film Festival premiered "How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog" as its prestigious closing night film. A rambunctious, Woody Allen-esque comedy, the movie brims with perceptive insights into the creative process, the cult of celebrity, social mores, the differing viewpoints of children and adults and, yes, how to keep your sanity when a neighbor's dog refuses to shut up.

Mind you, this was no "film festival film," made with unknown actors, financed by credit cards and loved only by film critics. The movie, written and directed by Michael Kalesniko, stars Kenneth Branagh, Robin Wright Penn, Jared Harris, Jonathon Schaech, Peter Riegert and Lynn Redgrave. Its executive producer is Robert Redford. Since Toronto, it has won festival prizes in Avignon, New York, Philadelphia and Newport. Additionally, festival directors in Munich, Brussels and Dublin have jumped at the chance to program the film.

"Why is this film without distribution?" asks its understandably puzzled producer Michael Nozik. "All the actors are willing to promote the movie, and it has played well to audiences."Getting to the bottom of that question is no easy task. The film was financed as part of an $87 million, five-film deal between Germany's Cinerenta Film Investment Fund and Avi Lerner's Millennium Films. The completed film was shown at the Cannes 2000 market, where several distributors including Lions Gate expressed interest.

Lerner says he never got an offer that included "real support" in terms of P&A. "When a movie costs $10 million and someone wants to give you a half million advance and not enough P&A, you have no chance to see money," he says.

"Tell that to the people behind 'Memento,' a popular, award-winning film like ours with a stellar cast," counters producer Nancy Ruff. "Do your TV ads, and the stars will take care of the publicity."

A spokesman for Cinerenta said that after "How to Kill" began collecting prizes, the sales agent wanted to use the film to sell five films. But no one bit. However, Lerner insists each of the five films in the package has a different financing structure, and he was always able to sell the films individually.

According to Lerner, Starz Encore is negotiating to buy "How to Kill" for a cable debut. Yet, clearly, the best possible scenario for any film is a theatrical release that will then increase the film's profile for cable, video and DVD.

"Unlike wine, unreleased films do not age well," Ruff says.

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