So-so at Sundance
Published: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 10:34 p.m.
If you're a film distributor combing the Sundance Film Festival searching for a new film to spend your millions on, "The Hawk Is Dying" is a complicated prospect.
About 'The Hawk'
The film "The Hawk Is Dying," based on a Harry Crews novel and filmed in Gainesville, is getting a mixed reaction after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this week.
Industry experts and viewers say "Hawk" has Oscar-caliber performances by Paul Giamatti and others, but its slow pace and heavy subject matter may hamper its possibilities for widespread success.
On one hand, it stars two actors who everyone says are locks for Academy Award nominations next week: Paul Giamatti for "Cinderella Man" and Michelle Williams for "Brokeback Mountain."
On the other hand, it's a bleak, anguished, character-driven drama that starts slowly and takes a long time to unfold - not the kind of film that fills up the seats at your average multiplex.
That dichotomy is likely to blame for the muted reaction to the film here at Sundance. "Hawk," which was filmed entirely in Gainesville and North Central Florida in 2004 and is based on a novel by Gainesville writer and former University of Florida creative writing professor Harry Crews, has generated a mixed response since it was unveiled last weekend.
"It was extremely moving. I really enjoyed it. It had a great script and wonderful performances," said producer Hugh Hunter, whose film "Dreamland" is also screening at Sundance this week. "But it's going to be a tough film for a theater audience."
In director Julian Goldberger's version, which is extremely faithful to Crews' 1973 novel, a Gainesville auto upholstery dealer grapples with his own sanity after the sudden death of his mentally challenged nephew. He channels his angst into the training of a captured hawk, which becomes an obsession. Goldberger spins a Southern Gothic tale, filled with eccentric characters and inner torment, rooted firmly in the woods and wetlands of North Central Florida.
The film was selected by Sundance in December, one of 120 feature films out of 3,148 submissions. At the 10-day festival in this upscale ski town located 30 miles east of Salt Lake City, movies screen from 8 a.m. until well past midnight each day, and buyers from hundreds of film distribution companies negotiate with filmmakers for the rights to films they deem marketable. In recent years, films such as "Garden State," "Supersize Me" and "March of the Penguins" were discovered here and went on to profitable nationwide runs.
Thanks to a big-name cast, especially art-house favorite Giamatti, "Hawk" came to Sundance as one of the most anticipated films of the festival. USA Today had it No. 1 on its list of films to watch.
The first screening, held the second night of Sundance, generated a less-than-positive buzz, which seems to have filtered through the festival this week.
"At the first screening, the venue that we were in was not conducive to our movie," said veteran character actor Rusty Schwimmer, who plays a supporting role in "Hawk." "It was at The Raquetclub (one of the eight theaters in Park City), and it was too loud, and I think there were a lot of people who wanted to see 'Sideways 2.' So they wanted to be at the premiere so they could see Paul Giamatti, and maybe Michelle Williams, because they saw her in 'Dawson's Creek.' "
Schwimmer said the reaction came as a surprise to her.
"This was my most favorite film I've ever been in, the best experience I've ever had. It didn't transfer here to Sundance. I loved the film, but I think a lot of people are too impatient. . . . They wanted to be spoon-fed, and this does not spoon-feed you."
All the feature films at Sundance have multiple screenings throughout the week. At a mid-week screening at the Eccles Theater, which is the 1,270-seat performing arts center of Park City High School, reaction was more positive. The film was sold out beforehand, which is true for most showings of films with name recognition, but screened at about 85 percent capacity, possibly due to the early morning showtime.
Afterward, most viewer responses were similar: The film was slow in the beginning, but powerful performances brought it around to an emotionally satisfying conclusion.
"I liked it. It was slow-moving, but it was a good movie," said Alberta Hardison, who's at the festival from Nashville, Tenn., as a volunteer. "It had good acting. It was slow-paced, and you're like, 'OK, where is it going?' But if I had paid for it, I wouldn't ask for my money back."
Antoinette Peskoff, a festival attendee from Los Angeles, said "Hawk" is the type of film that should be lauded at Sundance.
"I loved this movie. I really did love it," she said. "I thought it had a lot of depth and a lot of character. I've been seeing a lot of really dark films which didn't work, and I think this is just dead center, just enough hopefulness so you don't go out of the theater and say 'Maybe I'll go kill myself today.' "
Distributors apparently put a lot of stock in how a movie plays here; the dark comedy "Little Miss Sunshine," starring Greg Kinnear and Steve Carell, was the talk of the festival on the opening weekend, receiving standing ovations at early screenings. It was quickly picked up by Fox Searchlight for a reported $10 million, a near record for Sundance.
But an immediate deal is not the only route to widespread distribution. By mid-week, only two deals had been announced, "Little Miss Sunshine" and the French film, "The Science of Sleep," (to Warner Independent Pictures for $6 million) out of 194 movies on the schedule.
According to Erik Jambor, director of the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in Birmingham, Ala., films that screen at Sundance often leave here without a deal, only to find a buyer further down the festival circuit. Jambor is at Sundance looking for those types of films, ones that resonate but will still be available for screening at his festival in September.
"Sundance is a completely frenzied atmosphere, and a lot of times films with distribution possibilities don't get picked up right away," Jambor said. "And sometimes they get offers they want to keep in their pockets, and they still want to shop their movie around for a while."
Jambor said because of the amount of films at Sundance, there are always many high quality movies that remain available for future festivals. He said he thinks "Hawk" may fall into that category.
"It was pretty intense. You didn't know what to expect," he said. "I think I'm going to go get me a bird."
Meet the 'Hawk' cast
Some of the actors featured in "The Hawk Is Dying" have been in some high-profile projects since the film wrapped in late 2004:
Best known for work in independent films "American Splendor" and "Sideways."
Expected to get Academy Award nomination for role in "Cinderella Man."
Best known for her role on the WB television drama "Dawson's Creek."
Expected to get Academy Award nomination for role in critical favorite "Brokeback Mountain."
Veteran character actor who had roles in disaster films "Twister" and "A Perfect Storm."
Starred in critically acclaimed drama "North Country" with Charlize Theron.
Comments are currently unavailable on this article