Will 'The Hawk' fly?


Paul Giamatti and Rusty Schwimmer, stars in the movie "The Hawk Is Dying," discuss the film with the media this week at the Sundance Film Festival.

The Associated Press
Published: Saturday, January 28, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 10:18 p.m.
Park City, Utah The future of the new film "The Hawk Is Dying" may not yet be clear, but one thing everybody agrees on: Watching "Hawk" is an emotional experience.
To call it heavy would be an understatement.
The film, based on Gainesville writer Harry Crews' 1973 novel and shot in and around Gainesville, includes scenes of death, mourning, insanity, waterbed drowning, bird-on-corpse violence and more than its share of weeping. But nearly everyone who saw the film premiere here this week at the Sundance Film Festival agrees it has a singular vision and Oscar-caliber performances, especially from lead actor Paul Giamatti.
So where does it go from here?
Of the hundreds of independent films that premiered here this week, only a select few signed distribution deals. The majority will continue to hunt for and negotiate those deals in the coming weeks and months.
Mary Jane Skalski, one of the film's producers, said talks with a number of distribution companies began in Park City, and are ongoing.
"This week we spent time talking to distributors to get a sense of their take on the film. There's a business side to it, but there's also a real human side to it," Skalski said. "The distributor who picks up the film will be the company that eventually brings the film to audiences, so we want to know how they would see marketing, etc., and make a decision that's best for the movie."
Courting distributors Once a film premieres here at Sundance, filmmakers and publicists begin trying to gauge the reaction and put their films in the best light for the distribution market.
Craig Bankey, a publicist for PMK/HBH, which has five films premiering at Sundance this year, including "Hawk," said immediately after a premiere, he tries to contact the reviewers at major newspapers and industry magazines to get a feel for the response. Though some reviewers won't participate, many others often are willing to help a film's cause.
"What you're looking for is a champion for your movie," he said. "You want the distributor who picks it up to know they have at least a few people who will be behind the film and give it a positive review when it comes out."
Bankey would not say what he's learned about the reaction to "Hawk."
Skalski said the response she's heard has been positive.
"Overall, it was a really emotional reaction. The words I kept hearing were 'unique vision.' And not just unique for Sundance, but unique in a general sense," she said.
The festival circuit When "Hawk" will next be shown publicly is still up in the air. Skalski would not reveal any details of the negotiations, and said that once a deal is signed, the distributor will take over decision making for the movie's marketing and scheduling.
After Sundance, many filmmakers who have not yet secured distribution head to lesser festivals to increase the profile of their films.
But sometimes films will be shown at festivals even after they sign with a distributor, in order to increase awareness. Such was the case with "Friends With Money," a movie starring Jennifer Aniston that was already contracted with Sony Pictures Classics when it opened Sundance last Friday.
Another aspect of the negotiations is foreign distribution, where many independent films find a market. This is especially true for "Hawk," since Crews' literary work has been more popular outside of the United States than within.
Coming home Rusty Schwimmer, who plays a supporting role in the film, said some of the "Hawk" team have been discussing the possibilities of screening the film in Gainesville.
"We were talking last night, me, Paul Giamatti and Julian Goldberger, the director/writer, and we were talking about how we miss Gainesville, and how we want to go back and have a screening there," said Schwimmer. "We loved it so much. We loved Mom's Kitchen and Caribbean Queen. And we loved the people."
Skalski said a Gainesville screening is definitely a possibility, depending on the distributor.
"I think we would all love to screen 'Hawk' in Gainesville. How we do it, I don't know. We all have a desire to bring the movie home, so to speak," she said.
Finding an audience Ultimately, how widely the movie is seen, beyond Park City and Gainesville, will come down to how much faith a distributor is willing to put into the film, and how audiences take to it. Those who have seen it seem to think it can find a niche.
"I have a feeling that if this makes it, it will be more in art theaters, because, unfortunately, mainstream America wants big-name comedy, big name action, and generally this isn't the type of movie that will fill up theaters," said Steven Margolis of Bethlehem, Pa., who caught "Hawk" at a mid-week screening in Park City.
Author Crews, who watched the film for the first time on video this week, had a similar opinion.
"It may, and that's a big may, it may be a kind of a semi-successful cult movie, because there's so many people that follow (Giamatti's) work," Crews said. "Not many people know his name, but ask somebody who's seen all his work, and you'll get a reaction."

Gainesville on film

The independent film "The Hawk Is Dying," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this week, was filmed entirely in Gainesville and North Central Florida. But how many identifiable landmarks and lines of dialogue related to Gainesville actually made the final print? Here are the highlights:
  • At 13 minutes: Paul Giamatti's character, George Gatling, drives down SW 13th Street in the early morning, past the Days Inn and other 13th Street businesses.
  • 15 minutes: George and his mentally challenged nephew Fred try to trap a hawk at Paynes Prairie State Preserve. George: "All this used to be a lake. Indian chiefs lived on this lake."
  • 55 minutes: In response to a doctor who thinks he's gone crazy and doesn't know who he is, George says "I live in Gainesville, Florida, and I own L&M Auto Trim." (The film's only direct reference to Gainesville.)
  • 1 hour, 20 minutes: George makes a phone call and says he's at the corner of University and 3rd. He's picked up at a Shell station. A Gainesville Police vehicle drives by, causing George to duck down in his seat.
  • 1 hour, 30 minutes: George walks down University Avenue with a hawk on his arm, past the Silver Q sign, next to the old Florida Theatre.
  • 1 hour, 32 minutes: Michelle Williams' character Betty drives up to pick up George, and the Seagle Building is clearly visible in the background.
  • 1 hour, 35 minutes: George and Betty smoke joints and emote at Rainbow Springs State Park in Marion County.
  • 1 hour, 50 minutes: George goes back to Paynes Prairie, says "King Payne, the Seminole Indian Chief, lived here."
  • 1 hour, 55 minutes: Credits roll, including "Special thanks to the people of Gainesville, Florida."
    A timeline
  • 1973: University of Florida creative writing professor Harry Crews' novel "The Hawk is Dying" is published by Alfred A. Knopf. It's the story of a Gainesville upholstery dealer who confronts the death of his nephew by channelling his psychological energy into the training of a wild hawk.
  • 2001: Up-and-coming director Julian Goldberger, a fan of Crews, writes a screenplay for "The Hawk is Dying" and brings it to well-known independent film producer Ted Hope. Hope gets in touch with Antidote Films.
  • 2001: Antidote Films acquires the rights to Crews' book.
  • 2002: Location scouts from Antidote films come to Gainesville and begin choosing North Central Florida locales to be used during filming.
  • May 2004: Antidote films announces that Paul Giamatti will take the title role in "Hawk."
  • October 2004: Preliminary crew from "Hawk" arrives in Gainesville and sets up headquarters at Paramount Hotel and Resort on S.W. 13th Street.
  • November 2004: Cast and crew of "Hawk" begin scheduled 24-day shoot at Payne's Prairie, Rainbow Springs State Park, and residential and commercial buildings around Gainesville.
  • December 2004: Filming wraps.
  • December 2005: "The Hawk Is Dying" is accepted as one of 16 films in the Dramatic Competition at Robert Redford's prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
  • January 2006: "Hawk" premieres at Sundance.
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