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New film reflects indie woes

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) - "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" was made in 2006 but will only reach U.S. theaters on Friday in what stars Sienna Miller and Peter Sarsgaard say is a sign of the impact of the financial crisis on independent filmmaking.

Based on Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon's novel of the same name, the film premiered at Sundance, the top U.S. independent film festival, in January 2008 but only found distribution through Peace Arch Entertainment a year later.

The film is a coming-of-age story in 1980s Pittsburgh. It tells the tale of college graduate Art Bechstein (Jon Foster) as he befriends Jane Bellweather (Miller) and Cleveland Arning (Sarsgaard) and the three try to find their way in the world.

Sarsgaard, who also stars in Nick Hornby's "An Education," which premiered at Sundance in January and is due for a U.S. release later this year, said he had noticed a slowdown in the independent film industry in the past couple of years.

"You think of who buys movies, well they are people losing their money right now," Sarsgaard told Reuters in an interview with Miller to promote their movie. "Nobody's got just an extra few million dollars they are willing to throw away."

"Before there was a class of people who enjoyed being a part of doing something interesting and original and they weren't doing it just for financial gain," he said. "They were doing it to be a part of the arts."

In 2008, Picturehouse, Warner Independent Pictures, Paramount Vantage and THINKFilm were among the "indie" film companies that either went out of business completely or drastically changed their business plans, leaving too many makers of art-house films chasing too few distributors.

LESS RISK-TAKING

Adding to indie market woes has been the economic meltdown which caused risk-averse investors to steer clear of pumping millions into art films with narrow audience appeal.

Instead, financiers have embraced comedies and other movies that attract broad audiences and have a greater likelihood of success.

"The financial crisis is very much prevalent in this industry as well. People aren't taking as many risks," said Miller. "People don't have the money to invest in the more artistic movies. ('The Mysteries of Pittsburgh') is not going to open at $80 million. This is an arthouse film."

"I don't think people are making as many films. People are only making films that are going to make money," said the star of films including "Alfie" and "The Edge of Love," who will make her Broadway debut in October in "After Miss Julie."

Reviews for "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" -- directed and adapted for the screen by Rawson Marshall Thurber and also starring Nick Nolte -- have so far been mixed at best.

"The full warmth and idiosyncrasy of Chabon's original is missed in an adaptation that feels more impersonally observed. But Lawson's pic ... is entertaining and involving enough on its own terms," wrote Variety.

The Hollywood Reporter said "undoubtedly, literal-minded readers of the novel will be disrupted by the film's shrewd condensation of characters, but select-site audiences will warm to the craftsmanship and storytelling."

The film opens in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and Minneapolis on Friday.

Warner Independent and Picturehouse were part of Time Warner Inc. Paramount Vantage is part of Viacom Inc, and THINKFilm is privately held.

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)

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