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Restarted negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that could mean an end to the actors strike have raised hopes for this year’s American Film Market, which runs Oct. 31-Nov, 5 in Santa Monica. What everyone is hoping for is, in the words of one leading indie producer, that “we can all get back to business.”
Even without a new SAG-AFTRA deal, there is a healthy batch of new titles on offer — a mix of international features and U.S. indie films that have secured interim agreements from the union to begin production. “In the last few days we’ve seen a waterfall of lineups,” says Nadiia Zaionchkovska, CCO of newly-founded Ukraine distributor Green Light Films, which will be making its market debut at this year’s AFM. “Lots of theatrical films, lots either in post or in pre-production, ready to shoot in the first quarter of 2024. It’s looking very positive.”
The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual hot list of the top AFM projects includes new sci-fi features from Brad Anderson and Alex Garland, dramas with Olivia Colman, Dev Patel, Halle Berry and Geena Davis, and plenty of movies with those tried-and-true AFM staples: Sharks, demons and zombies. Here is a closer look.
Beast of War
DIRECTOR Kiah Roache-Turner
BUZZ WWII. With Sharks. Cornerstone’s latest, from the director of the Wyrmwood franchise of cult Aussie zombie actioners, promises a most AFM-friendly mash-up of period war drama with survivalist horror in a story of a band of soldiers stranded in the open ocean-facing assault from above and attacks from a great white below.
DIRECTOR Alex Garland
STARS Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Stephen Henderson, Cailee Spaeny
BUZZ The new sci-fi action film from Ex Machina director Garland is certain to trigger bidding from global buyers. The almost too-topical plotline is set in a near-future United States on the brink of collapse with embedded journalists racing to tell the biggest story of their lives: The end of America as we know it.
DIRECTOR Camille Griffin
STAR Keira Knightley
BUZZ Oscar nominee Keira Knightley re-teams with her Silent Night director Griffin on this Black Mirror-esque dystopian thriller, set in a future Britain where the government has taken control over parenting. Knightley plays a loyal civil servant accustomed to upholding the system, who becomes a victim of it when events endanger her own parental status.
SALES Fortitude, CAA, Range Media Partners
Cowgirl’s Last Ride
DIRECTOR Leena Yadav
STARS Geena Davis, Scoot McNairy, Julia Sweeney, Jill Scott
BUZZ Thelma and Louise star Davis hits the road for one last adventure in this golden agers comedy, playing an unorthodox retired Texas cowgirl who escapes her Dallas nursing home and heads cross-country to her old homestead in East Texas in an effort to stop her son Randall (McNairy) from selling the family home. All actors were attached before the SAG strike and shooting is planned for the first half of 2024.
SALES HanWay Films
DIRECTOR Potsy Ponciroli
STARS Lily James, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Himesh Patel, Tim Blake Nelson, Uzo Aduba, Jim Gaffigan
BUZZ Waking Ned Devine meets A Simple Plan in this darkly comic thriller about a group of eccentric residents of a small, picturesque island town who find a murdered man with a million dollars and make all the wrong choices.
SALES Mister Smith Entertainment, Verve Ventures
High in the Clouds
DIRECTOR Toby Genkel
STAR Paul McCartney
BUZZ Family-friendly 3D animation remains one of the few dependable genres on the independent market, and this British effort, from The Amazing Maurice director Genkel, boasts original music from ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, who will compose the soundtrack, as well as produce, the adaptation of his 2005 children’s book (co-written by Philip Ardagh and illustrated by Geoff Dunbar). The adventure tale follows a rebellious teenage squirrel who faces off against a dictatorial owl who has banned all music from his town.
DIRECTOR Chad Stahelski
STARS Henry Cavill
BUZZ It’s Highlander! Lionsgate’s hotly-anticipated reboot of the 1980s swords-and-immortals franchise has been in development for years but with John Wick helmer Stahelski and Superman Henry Cavill officially attached, the project will finally go on sale at AFM this year. By far the biggest movie at the 2023 market — the only $100 million-plus project out there — this is guaranteed to trigger bidding wars in virtually every territory.
Late Night With The Devil
DIRECTORS Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes
STARS David Dastmalchian
BUZZ Suicide Squad and Oppenheimer actor Dastmalchian plays a 1970s Johnny Carson rival whose Halloween sweeps-week special goes horribly wrong in this found-footage period shocker ho which took best screenplay honors at the Sitges horror festival this year for Australian directors Colin and Cameron Cairnes.
SALES AGC International, Cinetic Media
DIRECTOR David Ayer
STARS Jason Statham
BUZZ Another potential franchise starter, this adaptation of the first of Chuck Dixon’s Levon Cade vengeance thrillers arrives at AFM with the A-list action pedigree of Statham, Suicide Squad director Ayer and a Sylvester Stallone-penned screenplay. (Stallone had previously been developing Levon Cade as a TV series). Ex-Miramax boss Bill Block will produce under his new BlockFilm label.
SALES Black Bear International
DIRECTOR Romola Garai
STARS Bella Ramsey, Dominic West, Ruth Negga, Fiona Shaw
BUZZ This period drama — featuring Game of Thrones and The Last of Us star Ramsey as an aspiring 17th-century playwright born with a rare condition that means her body is entirely covered in hair — first pitched to buyers at Cannes this year but with the cast now complete and production ready to start, AFM should see international sales really kick off.
SALES Hanway Films
DIRECTOR Colum Eastwood
STARS Saffron Burrows, James Cosmo, Toby Stephens
BUZZ This Irish horror tale, featuring You actress Burrows as an archaeologist who excavates a cursed tomb, unleashing a vengeful pagan war goddess who threatens to possess her teenage daughter. The Morrigan has secured an interim agreement to begin shooting on Nov. 6, news that should delight buyers who can be certain the supernatural genre film will actually get made.
Night of the Zoopocalypse
DIRECTORS Ricardo Curtis, Rodrigo Perez-Castro
STARS David Harbour, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee
BUZZ Stranger Things star David Harbour and The Mandalorian‘s Paul Sun-Hyung Lee head up the voice cast for this international animation effort from veteran animators and story artists Ricardo Curtis (The Incredibles) and Rodrigo Perez-Castro (Ferdinand). The family-friendly comedy follows a group of animals who transform into zombies after their zoo is hit by a meteor. The film is the first joint sales collaboration between London-based Anton and French outfit Charades.
SALES Anton, Charades
DIRECTORS Dan Berk, Robert Olsen
STARS Jack Quaid
BUZZ The Boys star Jack Quaid heads up his own potential action franchise in this high-octane thriller from FilmNation’s production startup Infrared, playing a mild-mannered introvert born with a rare genetic disorder that makes him impervious to physical pain. When his new beau is taken hostage in a bank robbery, his affliction becomes his superpower. With a SAG-AFTRA interim agreement in place, Novocaine is set to begin shooting in the first quarter of 2024.
SALES FilmNation Entertainment, CAA Media Finance, UTA Independent Film Group
DIRECTOR Tara Miele
STARS Halle Berry
BUZZ Berry’s directorial debut, Bruised, was a big seller at TIFF 2020, netting a $20 million Netflix deal. This psychological thriller, which Berry will also produce, sees the Monster Ball Oscar winner playing a woman fighting to save her marriage and keep her sanity when she finds herself trapped in a weekend self-help seminar run by a dangerous cult-like leader.
SALES FilmNation Entertainment, Verve Ventures, WME Independent
DIRECTOR Bryn Chainey
STARS Dev Patel, Rosy McEwen
BUZZ Patel and McEwen star as married musicians who relocate to an isolated cabin in Wales to record their new record in this 1970s-set atmospheric horror tale. An accidental field recording of a mystical sound attracts the fury of ancient spirits. Elijah Wood is producing the feature, which will have a promo reel ready for AFM.
SALES Bankside, CAA Media Finance
Walk With Me
DIRECTOR Jonny Blair
STARS Emily Carey, Claes Bang, Suki Waterhouse
BUZZ House of the Dragon star Carey plays a woman haunted by a creature from Celtic mythology in this genre-friendly psychological thriller that, thanks to its European cast and co-production status, won’t need a SAG interim agreement to begin shooting early next year.
DIRECTOR Corin Hardy
STARS Nick Frost, Dafne Keen, Sophie Nélisse, Sky Yang, Percy Hynes White
BUZZ High-quality horror sells itself at AFM and this high school chiller, from The Nun director Hardy, features Shaun of the Dead star Frost alongside an impressive list of young talents, playing unwitting teens who stumble upon the accursed Aztec Death Whistle. Principal photography is set to start in Canada this week, with the film shooting under an ACTRA rather than SAG contract. After a soft launch in Toronto, Black Bear will be making the full sales pitch for Whistle at AFM.
SALES Black Bear International
DIRECTORS Alex Huston Fischer, Eleanor Wilson
STARS Olivia Colman, Dev Patel
BUZZ This offbeat British rom-com offers up a very different kind of wicker man, with Oscar winner Colman playing a curmudgeonly fisherwoman who shocks the conservative seaside town where she lives when she orders herself a husband built from wicker (Patel). The film is due to start production next year.
SALES Black Bear International, UTA Independent Film Group, CAA Media Finance
DIRECTOR Nick Hamm
STARS Claes Bang, Golshifteh Farahani, Emily Beecham, Jonathan Pryce, Ben Kingsley
BUZZ Danish star Claes Bang (The Square, Bad Sisters) plays the crossbow-wielding freedom fighter in this action-thriller take on the Swiss legend. The film has wrapped production — as a European feature with an international cast, it did not need a SAG-AFTRA interim agreement to shoot — making it one of the few high-profile finished titles on offer at AFM.
SALES Beta Cinema
DIRECTOR Brad Anderson
BUZZ The new sci-fi actioner from the director of The Machinist and Session 9 puts a climate change spin on the survivalist genre, positing a near-future earth where extreme weather poses a threat to all humanity. The story follows a father and daughter hiding out on an island as they prepare for the world to break.
SALES The Exchange