The Star-Studded Casualties of Film Festivals

Take a moment and remember these catastrophes.

September often signals the end of summer, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, and film festival season. Right now we are right in the thick of film festival season with the Venice Film Festival, the Telluride Film Festival, and the Toronto International Film Festival. These events showcase the films audiences will be viewing throughout the rest of 2016 and beyond.

Often films will come out of these festivals with a wave of positive reactions, helping their commercial and critical appeal. There is another side though. Films fall through the cracks and are deemed too difficult to make a profit on, killing the future of the film and the size of its audience. Sometimes a film gets harshly reviewed and release plans are quickly re-evaluated. The film in question is given the designation known as TBD or tossed aside until a salvageable strategy can be made regarding its future.

One of more recent examples of this is 2014’s Cannes Film Festival’s opening picture, a biopic about Grace Kelly’s Hollywood career and life in Monaco, Grace of Monaco. The film seemed like a sure bet; the script was on the 2011 blacklist for the most liked un-produced screenplays of the year and it had international superstar Nicole Kidman to play Kelly.

Grace of Monaco was a disaster of epic proportions. Stephen Dalton of The Hollywood Reporter said, “it is almost perversely impressive how [director] Dahan misses almost every target and squanders almost every opportunity.” Instead of rapturous applause and what should’ve been one of the crowning acting achievements of Kidman’s career was met with laughter. What on paper looked like a film capable of winning plenty of awards, became fodder for the Lifetime channel. Yes, a star-studded affair at the Cannes Film Festival was relegated to a premier on Lifetime.

Grace of Monaco wouldn’t be the only film whose fate was decided in France. Similarly Gus Van Sant’s Sea of Trees and Sean Penn’s The Last Face, saw their own profiles destroyed near the Croisette. Van Sant’s Sea of Trees had Matthew McConaughey, right after “The McConaissance” one-two punch of Dallas Buyers Club and True Detective. The film also featured performances from Naomi Watts and Ken Watanabe. Van Sant directed the successful features Good Will Hunting and Milk, so it was shocking to see it destroyed by critics. Sea of Trees would become a casualty of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and wasn’t seen elsewhere until production studio A24 recently bought the rights and distributed it.

Penn’s The Last Face is the latest high profile film to be relegated to disaster status right out of the gate. Penn hadn’t directed a feature since 2007’s Into the Wild and he had assembled a formidable cast for his new feature. Fresh from her widely acclaimed performance in Mad Max: Fury Road, Charlize Theron starred in the picture with Javier Bardem, but most critics agreed that it was abhorrent. Eric Kohn of Indiewire said, “The Last Face sets itself up for failure with its premise, and Penn’s apparent inability to recognize it as such. It’s his worst movie.” The Last Face is currently without U.S. distribution, although it will likely find a home on VOD someday.

Cannes is certainly not the only festival that can kill a feature film. While it has yet to be determined whether it was mixed reviews or controversial content that killed The Weinstein Company’s About Ray, it has not been seen since premiering at TIFF 2015. After a standing ovation at the Princess of Whales theater, it was thought the film would be released as planned in September 2015 and go on toward possible critic awards. About Ray starring Naomi Watts, Elle Fanning and Susan Sarandon, about a family coming to terms with teenage Ray’s (Fanning) decision to transition from female to male, was hastily removed from the schedule. It was initially thought by Deadline that the move was to “ maximize its box office potential”, but there’s been no word of it since. This isn’t the first movie The Weinstein Company has pulled from its schedule and Tulip Fever continues to prove they will adjust release dates as needed.

Audiences in Venice, Telluride, and Toronto will be sizing up the features the will be hitting the multiplexes over the next few months. A lot of great features look to be coming our way if initial impressions are to be believed. All that noise for the spectacular will quickly overshadow the poorly received features. In a sense, these festival audiences will decide the fate of many of these films and whether or not we will be seeing them.