The box office is lousy, inflation is up and with a recession looming, eco- nomic prospects look poor. But judging by the breadth and depth of offerings at this year’s American Film Market, the indie movie business is still in rude health. Strong sales in Cannes and decent business in Toronto are giving producers and sales companies hope that AFM 2022 could be the post-pandemic restart that the industry desperately needs.
Global buyers descending on Santa Monica this week certainly won’t be lacking for choice, with a selection of projects big and small, mainstream and niche, to entice them to pull out their checkbooks.
The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
STARS Henry Cavill, Eiza González
BUZZ The 800 lbs. gorilla among this year’s AFM packages, this WW2 action spy thriller, initially in development at Paramount, has fallen back to the indies and is likely to be snatched up early. Sherlock Holmes and The Gentlemen helmer Guy Ritchie will direct the parring of Superman star Cavill and Baby Driver’s González with Top Gun: Maverick’s Jerry Burckheimer producing. The film, loosely based on real events, with track the adventures of a clandestine squad set up by Winston Churchill’s and James Bond writer Ian Fleming that used unconventional and “ungentlemanly” methods to fight the Nazis and helped give birth to modern Black Ops units.
SALES Black Bear International
STARS Florence Pugh, Alexander Skarsgård
BUZZ A new project with the red-hot Don’t Worry Darling and Dune: Part Two star is certain to draw buyers worldwide. This psychological thriller, which Skarsgård will also direct in his feature debut, follows a group of filmmakers who travel to the wilds of Alaska to document a nearly extinct species of wolves. But when the crew is brought back together at a awards ceremony, a deadly truth threatens to unravel their work.
SALES The Veterans, CAA Media France, 30 West
STARS Bel Powley, Tracee Ellis Ross, Jacob Tremblay
BUZZ Buyers both domestic and interna- tional could go for this psychological thriller that features an indie-fave cast of Powley (The King of Staten Island) and Tremblay (Room) alongside Black-ish star Ross. The debut feature of Roxine Helberg follows a young broadcast journalism student (Powley) trying to win the approval of her influential mentor (Ross).
SALES 30West, UTA Independent Film Group
STAR Dave Bautista
BUZZ This by-the-book action thriller will fit easily into any mainstream distributor’s lineup — if it isn’t snatched up by a streamer or studio first. The always bankable Bautista stars as a South Beach bouncer, trying to reconcile with his estranged family, who is forced to undergo a 36-hour odyssey to retrieve a stolen, drug-filled safe. Drew Pearce (Hotel Artemis) will direct off his own script.
The Dead Don’t Hurt
STARS Viggo Mortensen, Vicky Krieps
BUZZ COVID-era cinema shutterings meant Mortensen’s directorial debut, Falling (2020) remained just a critical success, but art house buyers will be eager to see the Lord of the Rings star’s sophomore effort, in which he tries his hand at the Western genre. Corsage and Old actress Krieps stars as fiercely independent French Canadian Vivienne Le Coudy, whose relationship with Danish immigrant Holger Olsen (Mortensen) is put to the test after the pair are separated by the Civil War and Vivienne is left to fend for herself.
SALES HanWay Films
STAR Hilary Swank
BUZZ Another star-driven action title with strong international potential is this character-driven thriller from Transpecos helmer Greg Kwedar , which sees two-time Oscar winner Swank playing a pilot shot down deep in hostile territory in Latin America, who has to rely on the US Defense Department’s N.A.R. (Non-conventional Assisted Recovery) program to rescue her. Buyers will be comforted by the fact that action master Peter Berg (Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon) is among the producers.
SALES WME International
STARS Shailene Woodley, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Pete Davidson
BUZZ Indie buyers looking for the next Big Short might buy in to this drama, which also features an A-list ensemble cast and a Wall Street David vs. Goliath storyline. Based on the nonfiction book The Antisocial Network, the film traces the events of the GameStop short squeeze, the stock market drama that captivated the world in 2021 when a group of private investors and internet trolls took on the biggest hedge funds on Wall Street over an almost-forgotten video game chain.
SALES Black Bear International/UTA Independent Film Group
STARS Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara
BUZZ This based-on-real-events thriller from Pawel Pawlikowski, the director of Cold War, stars Phoenix and Mara as an attractive American couple in the 1930s who escape to their own private para- dise on a deserted island but find their plans spoiled when a self-styled countess appears with plans to build a luxury hotel. The cast, and Pawlikowski’s cred as an Oscar winner, should elevate this drama to must-have status.
SALES WME Independent, FilmNation
STAR Richard Gere
BUZZ An English-language remake of Savi Gabizon’s 2017 Venice Film Festival audience award winner, this drama is targeting those elusive adult art house audiences that indie distributors are so eager to woo back to theaters. Gere plays an middle-aged bachelor forced to evaluate his life choices when he discovers he is the father to an adult son he never knew he had.
SALES The Solution
STAR Angelina Jolie
BUZZ Specialty distributors worldwide will be clamoring after this new melodramatic biopic from Jackie and Spencer director Pablo Larraín — especially with Jolie set to play the legend- ary Greek opera singer and the script supplied by Spencer writer Steven Knight.
STARS Guy Pearce, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
BUZZ Directed by Pauline Chan, this Boston- set thriller, about a cop teaming up with his disgraced partner to track a serial killer, has ancillary revenues written all over it, particularly given the fan appeal of Pearce and Morgan in their first-ever collaboration.
SALES The Exchange
Now You See Me 3
STARS Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson
BUZZ The long-in-development third installment of the hit “magic heist” franchise, featuring Eisenberg and Harrelson as thieving illusionists, is officially moving forward with Venom and Uncharted director Ruben Fleischer taking the helm. The first two films — from 2013 and 2016 — grossed more than $680 million worldwide, so global distributors are eager to see if the magic is still there.
STAR Damian Lewis
BUZZ Lewis playing twin vampires (including one who’s “all swagger and sex appeal”) is the big draw for this dark comedy from Euros Lyn (Netflix’s Heartstoppers), based on Matt Haig’s novel about an ordinary family hiding a blood- thirsty secret and written by Brit comedy legend Jo Brand.
SALES Cornerstone Films
We Can Only Be Enemies
BUZZ The demand for films from or about Ukraine has soared since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion and the start of the ongoing war. This planned drama, an adaptation of Peter Pomerantsev’s article for The Atlantic about a Ukrainian family forced to cohabitate in a bomb shelter with Russian soldiers, boasts the award-winning combination of Ukrainian writer/director Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi (The Tribe) take and producer Alexander Rodnyansky (Leviathan, Beanpole).
SALES Anonymous Content, CAA Media Finance
Clown in a Cornfield
BUZZ Temple Hill Entertainment, producers of horror hit Smile, are certain to scare up sales for this YA slasher thriller, from Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil director Eli Craig based on Adam Cesare’s novel of the same name. The premise: Frendo the Clown, the mascot of a midwestern town, begins to kill off local “wayward youths” one by one, has franchise written all over it. Cesare has already published a sequel, Clown in A Cornfield II: Frendo Lives, and a third instalment is in the works.
SALES Protagonist Pictures
STAR Donnie Yen
BUZZ China might not be buying much, but it is still selling, and this big-budget actioner, directed by Yen and produced by Hong Kong hitmaker Wong Jing (Wo hu, Enter the Fat Dragon), looks like a sure-thing for buyers with a genre bent, given Yen’s built-in fan base and the promise of ancillary revenue on VOD and sell-through. The movie is an adaptation of the best-selling wuxia novel Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, considered a classic of martial arts fiction.
SALES Plus Entertainment Limited
The Silent Hour
STAR Joel Kinnaman
BUZZ A straight-up actioner to appeal to mainstream distributors and ancillary buyers galore, this Boston-set crime drama will see Kinnaman play a former police detective who is left hearing impaired after an accident. Now working as an interpreter for the police, he faces down a team of corrupt cops trying to eliminate a deaf murder witness.
SALES AGC Studios
Something in the Water
STARS Hiftu Quasem, Lauren Lyle, Natalie Mitson, Nicole Rieko Setsuko, Ellouise Shakespeare-Hart
BUZZ A female-focused take on a Open Water/47 Meters Down-style survival tale — five girl- friends go from dream wedding to open-sea nightmare when their vacation swim triggers a shark attack — the feature debut of Justice League and Star Wars: Episode VII art director Hayley Easton Street promises to deliver the kind of low-budget, high-concept horror that is the most consistent indie performer.
Spider & Jessie
STARS Mckenna Grace, Jojo Regina
BUZZ Grace and Regina anchor this drama as two scrappy sisters who try to cover up their mother’s fatal overdose to avoid being put into the foster care system. Domestic drama can be a tough sell, but the talent here — Grace is fresh off an Emmy-nom for The Handmaid’s Tale, and Regina dazzled in her debut in Sony’s summer sleeper Where the Crawdads Sing —should reassure buyers they have a winner.
SALES WME Independent
The Young King
STARS Michael Shannon, Kiersey Clemons, Barbie Ferreira
BUZZ In something of a rarity, this comedy drama will delve into the drag king world, following an aspiring star who comes to Las Vegas to reconnect with her father and make her debut performance. Grammy-nominated musician Justin Tranter will create original music for the project, directed by Larin Sullivan.
SALES Mister Smith, WME Independent
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter’s Nov. 1 daily issue at the American Film Market.