With All Eyes on Summer Blockbusters, “Valentino” Quietly Prospers

May 8, 2009
New York Times

Brooks Barnes

As the movie capital chatters away about how much money “Star Trek” will mint over the weekend for Paramount, it’s worth remembering there is another tier of movies plugging away out there. One doing surprisingly well is the independent documentary “Valentino: The Last Emperor.”

Directed and produced by Matt Tyrnauer, a Vanity Fair correspondent, “Valentino” has been quietly selling out engagements in art houses across the country. After seven weeks of release, the film, now playing in 28 locations, has sold $736,755 in tickets – a very good showing for the embattled genre. Factor in DVD revenue and television deals and Mr. Tyrnauer’s $1.2 million look at the fashion icon should be nicely profitable.

The results are notable because Mr. Tyrnauer, a first-time filmmaker, turned down distribution offers from established companies – he’s not saying which ones – in favor of going it alone. The DIY-route in general is one that more filmmakers are pursuing as the specialty business shrinks.

Publishers have noticed and are releasing at least two new books on the subject: “The Reel Truth” by Reed Martin and the tentatively titled “A Practical Guide to the New World of DIY, Web and Hybrid Distribution for Filmmakers” by Jon Reiss.

“Valentino,” which had a celebrated run on the festival circuit, is a warts-and-all look at the Italian designer and his business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti. Hissy fits, fashionista excess, the design process, the history – it’s all there, including one hilarious scene where Mr. Giammetti tells the famously tanned Valentino he needs to, um, lay off the bronzer. “I definitely had to navigate through some confusion and rage when they saw it for the first time,” said Mr. Tyrnauer, who had final cut.