October Buys Rights To Danish ‘Kingdom’

Perhaps the most unlikely of products, a Danish TV soap opera recut for the big screen, has been picked up for theatrical distribution in every major territory around the globe except Spain, marking one of the most bizarre and intriguing success stories of the last year.

October Films acquired North American theatrical and video distribution rights (excluding Quebec) to Lars von Trier’s quirky soap opera noir “The Kingdom” in a last-minute AFM deal, according to the film’s Berlin-based sales agent, Philippe Bober. An early fall release is planned.

Searchlight, Miramax and Fine Line all negotiated seriously for the rights to the five-part series, which runs 4 hours 39 minutes in theatrical release.

The $2 million film, which is possibly the first commercial film shot entirely indoors without artificial lighting by using super-sensitive film, is an offbeat look at the tangle of relationships in a Copenhagen hospital.

Japanese distributor Shochiku and Dutch distrib Argus picked up rights to the film at AFM, capping a six-month hot streak for a product never intended for theaters and for the pic’s enthusiastic young sales agent, who has been walking it from market to market.

The 31-year-old Bober, who opened a co-production office in Berlin in 1987, has had a catalog of some 20 arthouse films, none of which ever sold big. Last year he convinced von Trier, who hadn’t released anything since his “Zentropa” won the Jury Prize in Cannes in 1991, to release “The Kingdom” theatrically at the Venice fest.

With a strong buzz, though hardly ballyhooed in the press, the film found quick interest and Bober landed a dozen deals a month after Venice, at Mifed.

Having now sewn up deals for 21 major territories, Bober has turned over theatrical remake rights to former ICM agent Paul Schwarzman, while he finalizes a Paris-based joint-venture with von Trier and longtime associate Peter Aalbaek Jensen to co-produce von Trier’s next film, “Breaking the Waves.”

The TV rights in North America will be shared with October films, which will wait until 1997 to shop them together with the next eight episodes of “The Kingdom” due at that time.

What still remains a mystery, however, is how something of such improbable origin as “The Kingdom” came to excite auds and buyers around the world.

As it turns out, the only reason “The Kingdom” went to a top shelf arthouse distrib like October Films is the fact that all the crossover merchants – Miramax, Fine Line and Searchlight – were adamant about packages including television rights for 15-20 years.

Since von Trier has new episodes planned and wants to bundle tube rights at a later date, Bober couldn’t negotiate that point, and went with October Films after all else failed.

But that doesn’t answer why big indie buyers thought an unusually long Danish soap opera had significant commercial prospects in the U.S.

“It’s a brilliantly executed piece,” explained Fine Line’s Bob Aaronson. “Writing, directing, acting – all the elements you look for in a finished film. From an acquisitions point of view, to sit through five hours of a screening is extremely unusual, but everyone stayed. And they came back after the break for part two.”

October Films’ Bingham Ray championed the film in-house after an 11 p.m. Berlin screening left him riveted and awake despite having seen have a dozen films that day. The film’s potential crossover appeal, he said, had something to do with its being “‘Twin Peaks’ meets ‘MASH.'”

Competing acquisition execs hailed the film as outstanding and original, but there was also consensus that it would be no easy task positioning the film in North America.

“The believing is in the seeing,” Aaronson added. “That’s what buzz can do.”

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