Friday, October 9, 2009 @ 4:03 PM
'Anvil' becomes first screener sent to Academy members
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Courtesy of Pete Hammond (LA Times)by Permission
The first official 2009 Academy viewing screener was mailed Thursday to the nearly 6,000-person membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and should be in their hands this weekend. The film?
"Anvil! The Story of Anvil."
That's right. The little, virtually self-distributed underdog documentary, about a couple of underdog fiftysomething heavy-metal rockers forced to work at menial day jobs while never giving up on their longshot musical dreams, is now a(way) underdog contender for Oscars.
Being the first screener sent out is a nice distinction, and giving voters plenty of time to see it has resulted in good nomination luck for the likes of "Little Miss Sunshine," "Junebug" and last year's "Frozen River," among others.
But "Anvil"? When the film debuted at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, they couldn't get arrested, so the filmmakers and the band initially released it themselves (with the key help of Richard Abramowitz's distribution company, Abramorama). Now look at them.
On Monday, Anvil was featured on ABC's "Nightline." On Tuesday the official DVD of their movie was released and they made an appearance on "The Tonight Show" where Conan O'Brien raved about the film. Wednesday they made their movie debut on the set of fan and director Michel Gondry's big-budget flick "The Green Hornet," filming a cameo where they (literally) explode playing in a rock club. Thursday night they appeared at a screening/Q&A at the WGA Theatre in Beverly Hills moderated by Oscar-winning screenwriter Steven Zaillian and "hosted" by such academy members as Gondry, Tilda Swinton and Catherine Keener (who hosted a party for them as well earlier in the week). Now on Friday, their little-movie-that-could should be in most Academy voters' mailboxes.
Perhaps the drive to get the film out now to every Oscar voter is partially due to the film's overwhelming critical support. It currently stands at 98% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, easily of the highest ratings of the year.
VH1, which aired the film over the summer, paid for the manufacturing and shipping of the specially made screeners for the Academy and other key awards groups. The network could not send out the commercial DVD because Academy rules are very strict about packaging on screeners sent to their membership, and all contenders must produce special versions with no frills if they want to get them to the voters. The publicity firm 42West is working on the awards campaign, which is being shepherded in part by Cynthia Swartz, a veteran of the golden years at Oscar-savvy Miramax.
So how did this all start?
Filmmaker Sacha Gervasi worked with Anvil when he was 16, lost touch and then reconnected with the guys, Lips and Robb Reiner (not that Rob Reiner) 20 years later. That's when he first saw the possibilities for a documentary chronicling the re-emergence of the once-promising aging heavy metal band and their faded dream of still making it big. He thinks the idea of getting the movie screener to the Academy is just another notch on the list of Anvil dream To Do list.
"Anvil has always been a wild card as a band and now, a movie. We have gotten such amazing support from people like (Times critic) Kenny Turan and (New Yorker critic) Anthony Lane and from so many filmmakers," he told me Thursday. "Our point I think is just to get the movie out to as many people as possible. Obviously we're a wild card. The Anvil story is about being the underdog."
If that's how they choose to define themselves in this year's race they won't get much argument from awards pundits. Just about the only categories the film could compete in are Best Feature Documentary and Best Picture. Since a rather small group of documentarians whittles down entries in the former and have demonstrated strong aversion to most rock-oriented films, it's an uphill climb there. The odds get even steeper for a movie like "Anvil" in Best Picture, even with 10 nominees. Or 20. Or 30. Even doc superstar Michael Moore couldn't crack that code with "Fahrenheit 9/11." What documentary ever has?
What Gervasi is counting on is the emotional core of the film and a growing cult of voting members who are moved by the film's inherent message of hanging on to a dream. He's hoping this trumps the imposing odds. He may be right. Even the predominant older membership of the Academy may find something to relate to here. After all like most of them, these guys are over 50 too.
"Any artist can relate to the struggle of not giving up. It's come to represent something much bigger than heavy metal. It's a resolve to do something you believe in no matter what," he says."Realistically we only just hope people see the film and respond to it. We want as many artists as possible to see it because so many are relating to it."
Who would have guessed an AARP card-carrying band that couldn't fill a small-town bar a couple of years ago would have been playing to a crowd of 55,000 at Giant Stadium opening for AC/DC just two months ago? Now their dream is to play the Kodak as a nominee March 7th 2010.