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Zombies and B-movies still big draw at American Film Market

Zombies may not have actually descended on the annual American Film Market (AFM) gathering of the global film industry at the idyllic setting of Santa Monica, but producer P. Frank Williams found an ingenious way to promote the presale of his “Miami Zombie” film.

Scores of young people, dressed like “newsies” from the heyday of print journalism around the turn of the 20th century, stormed the lobby of the Santa Monica Loews Hotel, shouted news alerts and handed out bulletins to herald the upcoming “Miami Zombie.”

Given the global appetite for zombie films, it was refreshing, if not surprising, that no one costumed as the walking dead roamed the halls of the hotel, where buyers and sellers from around the world congregate for a week-long indulgence of deal-making on films in all stages of development and production.

Unlike many films offered for sale in various territories of the global market, “Miami Zombie,” as Mr. Williams explained, does not yet have a cast, let alone a shooting schedule.

The film is being presold on the strength of it being based on the shockingly true story of a crazed Miami petty criminal who wantonly attacked a homeless man and bit off most of his face.

In today’s cinematic world, gimmicks are not just useful, but increasingly necessary in an environment where the good old days of selling a variety of film genres, from horror and splatter to high-octane action and B-movies, simply involved just having product available.

Even the shark attack movies, most effectively realized in the “Sharknado” franchise, may have run their course.

What seems to be an ongoing ritual in the global film market is the disparity of an American Film Market continuing to draw record numbers of participants, exhibitors, and buying companies while the small and medium-sized independent film companies that lack the deep pockets of major studios are shrinking in numbers.

As an example, AFM announced that this year’s market welcomed over 70 new exhibiting companies. Jonathan Wolf, managing director of the AFM, commented that “the evolving marketplace is creating opportunities for new distributors and entrepreneurs in Asia and around the world. We look forward to welcoming this diverse group of first-time participants.”

Left unsaid is that there could be a nearly equal number of exhibitors that did not return from last year.

A conversation with one exhibitor, whose identity needs to be concealed, revealed that his frustration causes him to question his continued participation in the AFM since he sells most of his product before even setting up shop at this event.

Part of the fun of the AFM is to marvel at the creativity of poster art. Last year, it was hard to top “FDR American Badass,” which portrayed the 32nd president of the United States in a wheelchair outfitted with blazing rocket launchers.

Getting into the spirit of paying tribute to the most amusing and over-the-top promotional materials is the venerable industry trade publication “The Hollywood Reporter,” which selected for honorable mention the film “Cowboys vs. Zombies,” serving to validate that the zombie craze is still a potent cinematic force.

The best poster identified by “The Hollywood Reporter” may belong to “Treasures of Lake Kaban,” where the tag line of “no time to explain” still leaves one wondering how the images that evoke James Bond, Lara Croft and Leeloo from “The Fifth Element” haven’t stirred copyright infringement legal action.

The notion that the fascination with predatory sharks may have exhausted its welcome at the cinema seems to be contradicted by plenty of films on offer.

“Raiders of the Lost Shark” is a horror film about a weaponized shark that escapes a top secret military lab and terrorizes tourists on a private, remote island.

Where has Dolph Lundgren been hiding? AFM provides the answer with the announcement of his anticipated 2015 film “Shark Lake,” in which an old black market exotic species dealer has let loose a family of sharks that hunt down swimmers and land-lovers alike in a quiet town on Lake Tahoe.

Best of all could be the teaming of Traci Lords and Dominique Swain in the action adventure film “Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre.”

Giant prehistoric sharks find their way to the heart of the Arkansas Bayou where a group of female prisoners on a work detail in the swamp are attacked without warning and stranded in a deserted cabin in the heart of the wetlands.

On the subject of horror, the Nazis always remain good fodder.

“Soldiers of the Damned” finds the war-weary commander of an elite troop of German soldiers ordered to escort a female scientist behind enemy lines on the Eastern Front to retrieve an ancient relic.

As his men begin to disappear, the commander discovers something in the forest is far more deadly than the Russians.

An uplifting World War II story is “Walking with the Enemy,” inspired by a true story.

With Ben Kingsley in a starring role, this could be something more than the usual Nazi-era fare.

Set in Budapest in 1944, a young university student brazenly steals a uniform and poses as a Gestapo officer to save his family and countrymen from the concentration camps.

HBO’s wildly successful “Game of Thrones” may rub off on Myriad Pictures’ push to sell “In the Lost Lands,” based on three fantasy stories by bestselling author George R.R. Martin, the creator of “Game of Thrones.” The George R.R. Martin connection may be all that is needed to get this film off the ground.

The exhibitors at AFM often look to hype a certain angle.

The horror film “Rage” is being touted as Steven Spielberg’s “Duel” meets “Halloween.”

I am more intrigued by “Kill the Dictator,” based on a true story, which leaves one guessing about the dictator in question, though the setting appears to be Central or Latin America.

After more than three decades, the American Film Market remains an interesting place to get the full flavor of films in the global marketplace.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

 

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