Festival buzz gives a boost to ‘American’

Miramax slots pic in December for Oscar run

NEW YORK — Filmmakers have long been wary about festivals, mindful of the potential damage of a negative response. But there’s also the upside, as evidenced by Phillip Noyce’s experience in Toronto.

The well known Aussie director went into Toronto with two films and no release dates. A positive critical response at the festival delivered him his long-sought opening dates as well as renewed support from his distributor, Miramax.

Miramax will release “The Quiet American,” Noyce’s long-gestating adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel, in December so that it qualifies for an Oscar run. Distrib has also set Nov. 29 as the release date of Noyce’s Oz-set “Rabbit-Proof Fence.”

“Quiet’s” very enthusiastic Toronto reception led Miramax to its decision; “Rabbit-Proof Fence” also went down very well, just as it had at fests in Montreal and Telluride.

“What Toronto proved,” Mark Gill, president of Miramax/Los Angeles, told Daily Variety, “is that the movie has critical support, not only for Michael Caine’s performance but also for the film itself. That’s given us confidence to go into the most competitive time of the year.”

“Quiet,” which is set in the early ’50s and tells a cautionary tale about the very early stages of American involvement in Vietnam, tells a complex love story of competing desires between a older British journalist (Caine) and a young Yank “advisor” (Brendan Fraser) for the same Vietnamese woman. Like the novel, pic takes a critical, albeit not strident, view of American meddling overseas, which helps explain why Miramax has kept it in limbo for so long since 9/11.

Disaster strike

“Quiet” had its first test screening in New Jersey on the night of Sept. 10 last year. The next morning at 8:45 a.m., Noyce was standing outside the Miramax offices in downtown Manhattan awaiting a 9 a.m. meeting with Harvey Weinstein to discuss the results. Needless to say, that meeting never happened.

Given the national mood, Weinstein and Miramax put the film in a deep freeze, unsure what to do with it. But the Toronto fest screening resurrected the pic, which boasts the backing of some top tier producers, including Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella. Pollack and Caine were on the scene in Toronto for several days to give the film every boost they could.

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