By Michael Nordine
MONDAY, JANUARY 19, 2015 | LOS ANGELES
The most exciting new presence in Los Angeles film culture doesn’t announce itself as such. Housed within a deceptively small-looking building on the 5700 block of Melrose, the newly launched Cinelicious Pics has already loosed an impressive slate of independent cinema upon the moviegoing world, with several others on the way. This is a boon for cinephiles everywhere, yes, but an especially heartening one for L.A. partisans tired of bemoaning the status of theatrical distribution and exhibition in the ostensible center of the film world.
For the record, “newly launched” is a somewhat misleading description: Cinelicious Pics is actually the distribution wing of post-production company Cinelicious, whose recent resume includes no less a film than Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Its first release was the exceptional Giuseppe Makes a Movie, a documentary that played the Nuart this past October. Next came the Double Decker, an unofficial nickname given to Butter on the Latch and Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, two stirring films by promising newcomer Josephine Decker; neither received a theatrical run in Los Angeles, though Mild and Lovely did screen at AFI Fest and both are now available on art-house streaming site Fandor.
Cinelicious then opted to skip December lest any potential titles get boxed out of a typically crowded award season, but returned to theaters on Friday with its most ambitious release yet: Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur.
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You may not have heard of the film, which is most easily (albeit reductively) described as the Indian answer to Goodfellas, but its release is no small thing. The two part, five-hour-long crime epic first made the festival rounds in 2012, acquiring a small-but-vocal following despite not landing a stateside distribution deal. Cinelicious acquired it at the end of the timeframe during which it could still be considered a “new” movie, as explained to me by three Cinelicious higher-ups before an in-house screening of Part 1 last month. That troika consists of Paul Korver (founder and CEO), Dennis Bartok (executive vice president, acquisitions & distribution) and David Marriott (acquisitions director).
The first part of Wasseypur is at the AMC Burbank 8 this week, with the second half following it this Friday. It’s easily Cinelicious’ most high-profile offering yet, and potentially its breakthrough.
Not that they necessarily need it to be. Cinelicious had already been involved in independent film and film restoration for years before Korver realized how much economic and creative sense it made to expand into distribution. “I knew I wanted someone who was more knowledgeable about film history than I was” in order to do so, Korver tells me during our meeting, and so he spent several months looking for such a candidate before being referred to Bartok in December of 2013.
“I had no idea you could know so much about film and film history,” Korver says of the former American Cinematheque programmer whose love of Indian cinema seems at least partially responsible for the decision to snatch up Wasseypur. The two later discovered Marriott, then a student at UCLA’s archival program, who started as an intern and came on full-time last summer. One of the many reasons the trio is optimistic is that their parent company allows them to create DCPs, DVDs, Blu-rays and all manner of other materials themselves rather than outsourcing to a third party.
Paul Korver (left) and Dennis Bartok (right)
As noted by Bartok, there’s also still a paucity of independent film distributors with genuinely bold programming strategies. L.A. has Strand Releasing, Austin has Drafthouse Films, Chicago has Music Box, and New York leads the way with the likes of Cinema Guild, Kino Lorber, A24 and others.
Cinelicious makes for a welcome addition to that group and has no plans to slow its momentum. The excellent Metalhead and a restoration/re-release of Japanese animated curio Belladonna of Sadness are two forthcoming titles to look forward to, with more to be announced in the coming months.
The trio can’t entirely answer the question on many L.A. cinephiles’ minds, however: Why is it so much harder to open an independent movie here than elsewhere? Marriott mentions that “New York is very well-served by its density, and Los Angeles obviously sprawls more,” while Bartok feels that, “in some ways, festivals have actually made it harder for films to get a theatrical run.” That’s a void Cinelicious is eager to fill, which should come as welcome news to underserved audiences in L.A. and beyond.