High school ‘O’ takes another hit

Pic postponed in light of current climate

“Othello’s” problems keep magnifying. News of Monday’s high school shootings near San Diego have cast further doubt on the release of Dimension Films’ Tim Blake Nelson-helmed “O.”

The film, completed in summer 1999, is a high school-set adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Othello.” As in the play, the tragedy ends with four characters brutally killed, one wounded and others left standing around asking why.

The pic stars Julia Stiles, Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett and Martin Sheen.

Problems for the pic began when it was screened for Miramax and Dimension execs in June 1999, a little more than a month after the Columbine High School shootings.

Dimension, clearly unsure what to do with the film, postponed its Oct. 17, 1999, release. More than a year later, amid the anti-violence campaign launched by Al Gore and Joe Lieberman and the FTC hearings about marketing violent pics to teenagers, Dimension again pushed the pic back.

Once known for such controversial films as “Priest” and “Kids,” Dimension offered the film to other distributors, but there were no takers.

Dimension then skedded an April 27 launch for “O” in 10 cities,but sources close to the project say that date is unlikely, particularly with such incidents as Monday’s shooting on the public’s mind.

In a November interview with the New York Observer, Dimension topper Bob Weinstein explained the company’s decision to postpone the pic’s release: ” ‘O’ is a movie that deals with sensitive issues that are important in our country. Therefore, we felt the responsible thing was to postpone the release … due to the sensitive events occurring at that time. We are presently formulating the proper marketing plan for the film that deals with the social issues, and are looking for the proper release date in the calendar year 2001.”

Contacted Monday by Daily Variety, director Nelson and producer Eric Gitter declined to comment.

Dimension’s Elizabeth Clark, senior veep of publicity, said: “We are not commenting on the release of the film, given the unfortunate incident that occurred today in San Diego. What happened there is a very serious issue. The release of our movie is minor in comparison. We extend our sympathies to the families of all the children involved.”

A Dimension source noted that when the film is released, the company will meticulously follow the FTC guidelines for R-rated films that Miramax submitted to Disney at the FTC hearings. The source also noted that marketing the film to its target audience — high schoolers — will be especially tough in the current climate.

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