Thurman heads to Cannes with indie doc

While most pic purveyors who are headed for Cannes Market will be setting up poster-strewn booths in the exhibition halls or hotels, producer-director Tom Thurman will be floating office-free at the Riviera confab with his recently completed docu portrait “Nick Nolte: No Exit.”

“You can find me in the closest bar in greatest proximity to the Palais (des Festivals),” he says. “That’s where I’ll be doing business.”

Thurman, who is based in Lexington, Ky., and works as a producer for the local PBS affiliate, realizes the difficulties of competing with the massive promotional budgets and manpower of rival companies. “It’s like showing up on Kentucky Derby day with a mule,” he admits. But he believes the “weight and uniqueness of the project” and the presence of Nolte to promote it will help push the film to the front of the pack.

Thurman spent E312 ($499) on a Producers Network badge from Cannes Market, but estimates that his Cannes trip will cost him a minimum of $15,000. “Fortunately,” he says, “I was able to locate an investor in Lexington who shares my naivety to an extent that we’ve both decided to go down in flames together.”

While Thurman plays up his inexperience, the 46-year-old filmmaker has been to Cannes before: His Starz!-produced doc “Sam Peckinpah’s West: Legacy of a Hollywood Renegade” went to market in 2004. And with several other doc portraits under his belt (on Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, John Ford and Hunter S. Thompson), he’s not as green as he makes out to be.

He’s already sent DVD screeners to key critics and media outlets (this one included). David Thomson, author of “The Biographical Dictionary of Film,” gave Thurman a ready-to-use blurb. Referring to the film’s use of Nolte as both subject and interviewer, Thomson wrote, “The stale conventions of celebrity interview fall away and we realize that in any worthwhile actor’s mind there is always a running discourse like this — savage, scornful, funny, hopeful, and touching.”

Thurman’s also got producer’s reps and an attorney he “can consult with,” he says. “I am not going to be walking around the Palais with a sandwich board.” And yet, he’s betting on a mostly do-it-yourself approach because he believes larger agencies and reps “often overlook the financial potential” of indie docs. Still, it’s a challenging row to hoe, the former tobacco farmer admits. “But if you fully comprehend how tough the competition is, you’ll never make a film at all.”

“Nick Nolte: No Exit” screens at 8 p.m. on May 22 and at 2 p.m. on May 23 in the Palais des Festivals, Theater K.

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