Women’s Stories Weekly

License to Pimp, San Francisco Documentary, Sheds Light on Strip Club Corruption (Her Film’s SPOTLIGHT feature this month!)
at The Huffington Post

The horror, the horror: women gather in LA for Viscera Film Festival
at The Guardian

Carol Morley’s Dreams of a Life doc picked up by Strand Releasing for U.S. distribution
at The Hollywood Reporter

Frances Lea, a filmmaker who puts women centre-stage
at The Guardian

Alice Rohrwacher’s Corpo Celeste Gets U.S. DVD Release on July 23
at Subtitled Online

Ethical Manhoods:  Interview with Professor and Filmmaker Celine Parreñas-Shimizu
at Hyphen Magazine

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SPOTLIGHT: License to Pimp

What would you do

if the strip club you worked at became a brothel?

Would you adapt to it, fight it, or quit?

LICENSE TO PIMP chronicles three strippers facing this dilemma.  Lola competes with club prostitutes to keep her job & support her family.  Daisy tried to get the city to enforce the laws & is up against strip club management & the strippers themselves who want to maintain the status quo.  Mariko quits working in the strip clubs & works independently of the club circuit so she can retain her earnings.  Ex-stripper & filmmaker Hima B. goes behind the scenes to reveal current workplace realities & show how the clubs operate by violating workers’ rights.

Pitch video:

 

Crowdfunding through: Kickstarter (as of this post, 22 days left to go on campaign)

Campaign goal: $30,000 (as of this post, $3,341 funded)

Courtesy of Hima B.

From filmmaker, Hima B.:

“I worked in half of San Francisco’s strip clubs during the 1990s and saw their transformation into brothels.  Now as a filmmaker, I uncover current working conditions & try to find out how strip clubs are able to operate outside the law.”

“As stripping increasingly gains acceptance within popular culture, more and more women & teenagers enter this industry and are unaware of their rights & workplace realities.  This documentary reveals the impact these illegal practices have on workers.  This is why License to Pimp needs to be made.”

Courtesy of Hima B.

The Characters:

Lola begins stripping as a 16 year old after learning her mother has cancer & needs treatment.

Daisy Anarchy goes public about how the strip clubs’ illegal fees have pushed many strippers to prostitute.

Mariko Passion quits stripping at her favorite club as the work becomes increasingly sexual and spills into her personal life.

Credits

Hima B. (Director/Producer/Camera)

Connect with this filmmaker and learn more about this new film:

Kickstarter:  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/himab/license-to-pimp-documentary

Facebook:  /LicenseToPimpMovie

Twitter: @LicenseToPimp

Website: http://licensetopimp.com/

Blog:  http://licensetopimp.wordpress.com/

Mailing List:  www.bit.ly/K6W4rl

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Do you have a film you are trying to finance that you would like to feature here?  Send us an email with a website and social media page(s) for your film.

From the archives: Rebecca Richman Cohen’s WAR DON DON

In light of this week’s conviction of ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor at The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity, I’m re-posting this interview from 2010 with Rebecca Richman Cohen.  She is the director of the HBO documentary film WAR DON DON and a former member of a criminal defense team at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.  Her documentary is about the trial of a former Sierra Leonean rebel leader charged with crimes against humanity.  Events in Liberia and Sierra Leone are tied; Charles Taylor was tried and convicted of crimes he committed during the civil war in Sierra Leone.  More on the Taylor conviction at Democracy Now! (video).

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WAR DON DON: Rebecca Richman Cohen. Photo credit: Courtesy HBO

BIO: Rebecca Richman Cohen is an award-winning filmmaker with experience in human rights.  During law school she worked at the Special Court for Sierra Leone on a legal defense team for the AFRC-accused case.  Later, she returned to begin production on WAR DON DON, which profiles the trial of a leader of a separate warring faction.  WAR DON DON won the Special Jury Prize at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.  Rebecca was profiled in Filmmaker Magazine‘s 25 New Faces in Independent Film as an “up-and-comer posed to shape the next generation of independent film.” Rebecca graduated from Brown University and Harvard Law School.  Between trips to Sierra Leone, she has been adjunct faculty at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and at American University’s Human Rights Institute.

[War Don Don premiered on HBO on Sept. 29, 2010.]

WAR DON DON: Issa Sesay. Photo credit: Courtesy HBO

Her Film: What was the impetus behind you making WAR DON DON?

Rebecca Richman Cohen: My background is actually in law – not film.  In law school I worked on a criminal defense team at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.  It’s the same court profiled in the film — but I worked on the trial of a different warring faction.  During that time I was exposed first hand to experience the inner-workings of the Court and I gained an intimate view of process in a way that would be difficult if I were just a journalist airdropped in to tell a specific story.

WAR DON DON: Justice Benjamin Itoe. Photo credit: Courtesy HBO

Working at the Special Court, I came to know lawyers on the prosecution and the defense of Issa Sesay’s trial.  Both sides had some of the brightest and most impassioned lawyers I’ve ever met and I was fascinated by the moral, political, and legal questions that their commitments evoked.  Combining my legal experience in criminal defense with my background as a filmmaker, I realized that a documentary film could capture the complexities of the issues in way that neither law review articles nor mainstream media could accurately represent.

HF: How do you define your role as a documentary filmmaker?

RRC: Being a filmmaker is more than just telling a non-fiction story.  It’s also about honoring perspectives.

I treat my subjects with respect and I try to honor their perspectives – even if I disagree with them.  I assume that audiences can sort through competing narratives and come to their own conclusions.  One of the greatest joys of documentary filmmaking is the impassioned debate that arises from having to sort through the tensions within and between conflicting stories.

We did a great many rough cut screenings with different audiences – Sierra Leoneans and Westerners, lawyers and lay people, filmmakers, film lovers, and even a few who were generally indifferent to the art of documentary film.

I knew we were done editing when different people took away different things from the film – when the film acted like a Rorschach test of sorts. Different audiences will come to their own conclusions – and one of the greatest joys of documentary filmmaking is the debate that arises from having to sort through the tensions within and between conflicting stories.  I hope audiences enjoy having some of their assumptions tested and come to examine their own reactions to controversial issues.  That’s my role as a filmmaker.

WAR DON DON: Issa Sesay, Wayne Jordash. Photo credit: Courtesy HBO


HF: You showed Wayne Jordash (defense for the main accused man on trial, Issa Sesay) reflecting on the trial process and his attempts to understand the human condition and its inherent contradictions — that people aren’t just good or evil, but can often be somewhere in between.  What is your perception or observation of how the Sierra Leonean people attempt to understand both sides of the issue, despite the unthinkable terror the war evoked?

RRC: It’s impossible to speak for an entire country.  People’s perspectives in Sierra Leone – and throughout the world – are inevitably colored by their experiences.  It’s a tall order to ask people who have suffered terrible losses in war to see both sides of the issue.  The crimes perpetrated in Sierra Leone cannot be justified.  But in order to address the root causes of the war – and to prevent crimes in the future – the motivations underlying the war must be understood.

The work of the Special Court is not to see both sides of the issue or to create empathy for perpetrators.  The work of the Special Court is to fairly judge the guilt or innocent of individuals.  Understanding the motivations of different actors in the conflict – that’s the domain of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“Being a filmmaker is… also about honoring perspectives.”

HF: Sierra Leone has experienced what is unfathomable horror for many people.  What did you learn in the process of making this film about how people (try to) heal from such atrocities?

RRC: When I was a law student [at Harvard], I read a book by Dean Martha Minow, called Between Vengeance and Forgiveness [subtitled Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence] — it’s a book that deeply influenced my understanding of transitional justice.    One of the points Dean Minow makes that is forgiveness or healing may just be too tall an order in the aftermath mass atrocities.  A more realistic objective is peaceful coexistence.

WAR DON DON: David Crane. Photo credit: Courtesy HBO

I think criminal prosecutions are one element necessary to promote peaceful coexistence, but one of many.   There’s consensus that it takes a holistic approach in order to address the root causes of the conflict:  rampant corruption, lack of access to justice, a sense of hopeless and inability to effect change without resorting to violence.  In order to move forward in the aftermath of war international transitional justice efforts need to work in concert with grassroots and civil society initiatives.

WAR DON DON: Wayne Jordash. Photo credit: Courtesy HBO

HF: Can you talk a bit about the crew you worked with to make this film and the conditions in Sierra Leone which surrounded your production?

RRC: We made the decision early on to shoot on high definition video to capture the vibrancy of daily life in West Africa.  Our cinematographer, Nadia Hallgren, has an uncanny ability to find beauty and meaning in the seemingly mundane quotidian aspects of life.  And our long production schedule allowed her sufficient time to develop the character of the city of Freetown (its vibrancy, its poverty, its movement, its soft light at sunset) – to the fullest.

Once we returned to the edit room, the film’s editor/producer, Francisco Bello, was struck by the texture of the archival footage that we were amassing.  Much of the war footage was archived on badly degraded VHS tapes – to the extent that it almost appeared painterly as edges softened and colors blurred.  So it was really satisfying to see the sharpness of our original HD footage contrasted against the fuzziness of the historical archives.  The juxtaposition of formats made a cinematic point about the decay of historical memory, and allowed us to play with structure, content and textures accordingly.

WAR DON DON: Stephen Rapp. Photo credit: Courtesy HBO

HF: What has been the reaction to WAR DON DON in Sierra Leone?

RRC: In May 2010 I returned to Sierra Leone to launch our outreach campaign.  We had a Freetown première screening with a panel discussion that included the Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Chairman of the Human Rights Commission, and the head of Outreach for the Special Court for Sierra Leone.  The screening and panel discussion generated a great of debate and interesting discussion.

In addition to targeting civil society and government leaders, we also did a number of screenings for former combatants and Issa Sesay’s family.  And we sent a DVD to Issa Sesay who is serving his sentence in Rwanda.  Issa said that he “appreciated the effort” we put in to telling his story.

Currently, we are partnered with civil society organizations in Sierra Leone to continue screenings and to use the film to support their ongoing efforts with regard to promoting the rule of law and access to justice initiatives.

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Visit the WAR DON DON website.

Become a fan on the WAR DON DON Facebook page.

Follow the film on twitter @wardondon.

Visit the HBO page for WAR DON DON.

See photos from the September 23 HBO screening of the film in New York City.

INTERVIEW: Therese Shechter, director of How to Lose Your Virginity

Director Therese Shechter (Photo courtesy of Trixie Films)

BIOGRAPHY

Therese Shechter deftly uses humor-spiked, personal narrative to chronicle feminism and sexuality, and is proud to have been labeled a “Brazen Advocate of Slut Culture” by conservative bloggers. Her first documentary I Was A Teenage Feminist has screened from Stockholm to Delhi to Rio and at Serbia’s first-ever Women’s Film Festival. Therese has created videos and written about virginity and feminism on the film’s blog and in the Chicago Tribune, the Bitch Magazine blog, Adios Barbie and Women & Hollywood. She was recently a featured panelist at Harvard University’s “Rethinking Virginity” Conference and at MomentumCon: Feminism, Sexuality and Relationships in Washington. Therese’s short documentary How I Learned to Speak Turkish has screened internationally and her production company Trixie Films is based in Brooklyn and sometimes at a little cafe in Istanbul.

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“I won’t tell you how to have sex for the first time, but I do want to know why we’re so obsessed with female virginity.”

The US government has spent 1.5 billion dollars promoting it. It has fetched tens of thousands of dollars at auction. And 50 years after the sexual revolution, it continues to define a young woman’s morality and self-worth. Using her own path out of ‘virginity’ to guide the narrative, filmmaker Therese Shechter creates a far-reaching and very personal dialogue with women along the sexuality spectrum, revealing the myths and misconceptions behind this so-called precious gift.

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Her Film:  You’ve been working on your documentary How to Lose Your Virginity for the past several years.  Can you update us on the film?

Therese Shechter: We’re almost done editing the film, which is very exciting. This is the most challenging part because this film’s subject is complicated, and there are a lot of moving pieces. I really like tackling big concepts like feminism and virginity by getting at them through very personal stories, both my subjects’ and mine. Then we’ll be working with our composer and animator to add the finishing touches. By the time we’re clearing footage and correcting color and mixing sound, I’ll be in heaven because the heavy lifting will be behind us. Frankly, I’m exhausted.

Needless to say, this all costs a lot of money, so this Kickstarter is really crucial. I’m so psyched to finish it and get it out in the world. We just did a great little sneak preview at the Momentum conference for many of the top folks in feminism and sexuality. I get contacted by distributors, film festivals and college professors all the time asking “Is it done? Is it done?” and I really can’t wait to say “Yes! Here it is!”

Courtesy of Trixie Films

HF:  How are you building your audience?

TS:  We’ve been building our audience almost from the very beginning through our blog. Some people do blogs to track their filmmaking process, but I was a lot more interested in the topic of virginity itself. I initially wrote posts that called out a lot of the sexism and bad science around abstinence-until-marriage programs, and the disturbing outbreak of virginity auctions all over the world.  Then I branched out into pop culture as well as creating a space for our audience to talk about their own personal experiences with virginity culture.

Plus there’s the constant back and forth of Facebook and Twitter posts, sharing little bits of video online, supporting other writers and filmmakers doing sexuality-related work, and writing for other publications on the topic. I recently did something about virginity loss myths for a great site called Adios Barbie, and did a breakdown of the virginity loss stereotypes in an episode of “Glee” for Women & Hollywood. I think you have to create a good balance between interesting information and dialogue with your audience if you want to build that anticipation and goodwill. We can see it with the response to our fundraising campaign, with so many people supporting a project they already feel invested in personally.

Courtesy of Trixie Films

HF:  I’ve taken a few looks at the blog you have to support the storytelling and sharing around the topic of virginity, and you include many first-person pieces.  It’s amazing and inspiring to see how many people are willing to share information about something so personal as their virginity and sexuality.  What inspired you to introduce this type of “confessional-style” blog post? 

TS: I love First Person, and since we launched it in 2009, it’s become the most popular thing on the blog. I was inspired by fellow virginity geek Kate Monro who writes a blog called The Virginity Project in the UK. Aside from her work, most everything else I found was very mainstream and almost nothing outside of religious sites addressed people who weren’t sexually active. I could tell from our blog comments I had a lot of folks out there whose experiences–and even definitions of virginity–didn’t conform to the black-and-white stereotypes of pop culture. So I started building this collection of what I like to call “sexual debuts and deferrals.”

We’ve run stories from a woman who lost her straight, gay and three-way virginity in one night (hey, it worked for her); a Mormon college student who first wrote about being a virgin and then did an update after she had forbidden pre-marital sex (verdict: meh); and we get quite a few submissions from guys in their 30s and 40s who talk about what it’s like to be an older male virgin (not good). We’ve also run several First Persons by women who had intercourse for the first time because of sexual assault, and they want to share their experiences and recovery with others. My favorites are the “update” First Persons that I get when a previous poster starts having sex. One woman said the first three people she told were her roommate, her best friend and me for the blog. I kind of love that.

There’s a lot of silence around how and why and if we become sexual and I think these stories really help us all feel less weird and alone. I really could have used this when I felt like the very last virgin in art school.

Courtesy of Trixie Films

HF: Are there differences in what you’ve learned through the actual filming of the documentary and the interactions you have with people online through your blog or twitter, for example?

TS:  When I started working on the film, I was really focusing on young women being shamed for being sexual and the value that’s place on virginity. It was in the zeitgeist and was getting all the attention. But when I started getting the First Persons, I was surprised at how many were coming from people in their 20’s who were ashamed of not being sexually active and that became a much bigger part of my film and the blog.

I think it goes without saying that it’s far, far easier to get candid stories from anonymous writers than getting people to talk about the same things on camera. I’m really grateful to the people agreed to be filmed. They’re very smart and thoughtful about their intimate lives, and they provide an antidote to the way we usually hear stories about sex: Reality TV and porn.

HF:  Can you talk about your current crowdfunding campaign and the phases of your financing for the film (where the money goes)?  In a message to me earlier this year on twitter, you said you’d “love to mention how much ‘low budget’ docs cost, because some backers don’t know why $13K didn’t cover all our costs.”  Any challenges in dealing with financial backers that you’d like to talk about?

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WATCH THE TRAILER FOR How To Lose Your Virginity

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TS: Since 2008, almost every independent documentary filmmaker has been struggling to find financing for their projects. Not that it was so easy before, but now foundations have even smaller endowments than ever and many TV networks are either only looking at finished films or have abandoned documentaries altogether in favor of reality shows.

We’re currently doing a Kickstarter to raise $35,000 to pay for the rest of our edit, our composer and our animator. If we don’t meet our goal I’m really not sure how we’re going to finish the film. We got through production thanks to an amazing group of DPs and producers who worked for free or lowered fees, lots of interns doing the research and one very small fundraiser. Then we had our first Kickstarter and raised $13,000 which paid for about five weeks of editing. For the rest of it I’ve had to beg, borrow and reach very deep into my own pockets to keep things going.

The average documentary you see on TV will cost half a million to a million dollars to complete, and that often means hundreds of thousands of dollars of free labor by the filmmakers. A lot of our non-filmmaker backers have no idea, and really why should they? We have to keep educating them on what things cost and the fact that you really do have to pay your full-time editor a salary for at least several months. And also about how it takes so incredibly long to finish something because you have to keep stopping to raise (or earn) more money.

I think that once people understand what goes into a documentary, they’re amazingly supportive. I’m been blown away by the support we’re getting for this campaign and the abundant generosity of complete strangers. We can’t relax until May 9th, though. If we don’t meet our $35,000 goal by then, we don’t get anything, so it’s going to be a little intense until then.

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Read a recent article at the Huffington Post on female sexuality which discusses Shechter’s new film:  “Virgins, Bondage and a Shameful Media Fail” by Soraya Chemaly.

To connect with this filmmaker, support her film and to learn more about her work, check out these links:

Crowdfunding: Kickstarter (15 days to go with $35,000 campaign goal.  As of this blog post, $16,682 has been raised)

Her Film Interview from June 21, 2010: Click here.

How to Lose Your Virginity Blog: www.virginitymovie.com

Trixie Films (production co.): www.TrixieFilms.com

Twitter: @trixiefilms

Facebook: /The-American-Virgin

Screening to Benefit BIG VOICE Musical Doc

The team behind the musical feature documentary Big Voice about the top-singing students of the Santa Monica High School Choir and its visionary choir director will be holding a special screening of the documentary First Position in Los Angeles.  Proceeds will help support the post-production phase of Big Voice, directed by award-winning filmmaker Varda Hardy.

See below for details and links, or click here to buy tickets.  To read more about this amazing film, click here.

What: Screening of First Position documentary to benefit Big Voice musical documentary

When: April 29, 2012 at 6:00 p.m.

Where: MiMoDa Studio, 5774 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90019

Tickets: Buy now through BrownPaperTickets.

SPOTLIGHT: Small Small Thing

Writer-director Jessica Vale, with producer Nika Offenbac, are making a powerful documentary film called Small Small Thing about the epidemic of rape in Liberia, focusing on the story of a mother working for justice after her young daughter is raped.  Today, rape is the #1 crime in Liberia.  Vale and Offenbac (with co-producer Barnie Jones) have spent the last three years making this film which is currently in post-production and raising funds through Kickstarter.  Together, Vale and Offenbac are founders of the Take My Picture LLC production company in New York City dedicated to the pursuit of long form non-fiction works.

Trailer and Pitch:

SMALLSMALL THING

Crowdfunding through: Kickstarter

Campaign goal: $25,000

Days left on campaign:  Less than a day (28 hours / deadline April 8)

Logline

Caught between tribalism and democracy, a Liberian mother is at odds with her country after the brutal rape of her six-year old daughter.

Olivia (Photo courtesy of J. Vale)

About Olivia:

“As we were there, we had to navigate the same channels that she and her mother were also trying to navigate to find out their own answers.”

– Jessica Vale, director

“If this were to happen here in the United States, maybe she could get therapy.  There’s no such thing as therapy in Liberia…. [S]he represents thousands of little girls behind her that we haven’t met; we haven’t heard their stories.”

– Barnie Jones, co-producer

Synopsis

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her work in women’s issues. Yet according to U.N. statistics in 2012, rape is still the #1 crime in Liberia, and the majority of the victims are children.  Médecins Sans Frontières in Liberia reports their youngest survivor at 21 months old.

Olivia (Photo courtesy of N. Offenbac)

Small Small Thing begins at JFK Hospital in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, and urban center of this West African country.  Olivia is 9 years old, severely malnourished and handicapped. Her condition is life threatening. Believing her injuries to be the result of witchcraft, Olivia’s mother had been hiding her for years.  The doctors conclude her condition is the result of a brutal rape that took place when Olivia was 7 years old. When pressured to reveal her rapist, Olivia names her cousin.

Olivia's mother Bendu (Photo courtesy of N. Offenbac)

This diagnosis has severe consequences. Originally from deep in the Liberian jungle, Olivia and her mother are shunned from their tribe for seeking outside help.  They are left stranded in Monrovia at the mercy of President Sirleaf’s government, facing the most difficult decision of all. What price are they willing to pay for justice?

Photo courtesy of J. Vale

Credits

Jessica Vale (Writer/Director)
Nika Offenbac and Jessica Vale (Producers)
Barnie Jones (Co-producer)

Connect with this filmmaker and learn more about this new film:

Facebook: /SmallSmallThing

Twitter: @Smallsmallfilm

Website:  www.smallsmallthing.com
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Do you have a film you are trying to finance that you would like to feature here?  Send us an email with a website and social media page(s) for your film.

SUNDANCE: days 9-11

The Sundance Film Festival officially ends today, and awards were given out last night.  I’m encouraged that so many women received such international recognition for their films — see below for the list of winning films by women (as directors and writers).

Days 9-11

SUNDANCE AWARDS

Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic & Excellence in Cinematography – U.S. Dramatic

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (co-writer Lucy Alibar)*

U.S. Directing Award: Documentary

THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (director Lauren Greenfield)*

U.S. Directing Award: Dramatic

MIDDLE OF NOWHERE (writer-director Ava DuVernay)*

World Cinema Screenwriting Award

YOUNG & WILD (director & co-writer Marialy Rivas)

U.S. Documentary Editing Award

DETROPIA (directors Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady)

World Cinema Documentary Editing Award

INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE (directors & editors Lisanne Pajot & James Swirsky)*

World Cinema: Documentary Special Jury Prize

AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY (director Alison Klayman)

World Cinema Cinematography Award: Dramatic

MY BROTHER THE DEVIL (writer-director Sally El Hosaini; cinematographer David Raedeker)

U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Excellence in Independent Film Producing

NOBODY WALKS (director & co-writer Ry Russo-Young; co-writer Lena Dunham; producers Jonathan Schwartz, Andrea Sperling, Alicia Van Couvering)*

World Cinema Cinematography Award: Documentary

PUTIN’S KISS (director Lise Birk Pedersen; cinematographer Lars Skree)*

U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Excellence in Independent Film Producing

SMASHED (co-writer Susan Burke; producers Jennifer Cochis, Jonathan Schwartz, Andrew Sperling)

See the slideshow of all winning titles on the Sundance Channel website.

*Films have been picked up during the festival for theatrical or VOD distribution, except Indie Game which will be adapted into a fictional half-hour series for HBO.

Acquisitions

Writer-director Julie Delpy’s film 2 Days in New York has been picked up by Magnolia Pictures.  Delpy also stars in the film opposite Chris Rock.  Magnolia will release the film via VOD (Video On Demand) as well as in theatres.  No word yet on which territories this covers (I’m assuming at least North America), or a firm release date.  Read the story over at Nikkie Finke’s Deadline Hollywood.

Magnolia has also picked up director & co-writer Ry Russo-Young’s feature film Nobody Walks which she co-wrote with Lena Dunham (most well-known for her film Tiny Furniture and her upcoming HBO series “Girls” which will premiere at SXSW in March, then on HBO in April).  Check out the story over at Reuters (incl. information on 2 Days in New York).

Check out all the distributors that picked up films at Sundance this year in this indieWIRE story.

I’m expecting more acquisitions to happen in the next few days and weeks and will try to update the Sundance film acquisitions list to include those titles.