‘Friedmans’ blooms for HBO, Magnolia

Pic drew critical acclaim, Grand Jury Prize at Sundance

NEW YORK — Magnolia Pictures acquired U.S. theatrical rights to director Andrew Jarecki’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning documentary “Capturing the Friedmans,” to be released in collaboration with HBO.

A compelling portrait of a dysfunctional upper middle-class Long Island Jewish clan embroiled in a decade-long child pornography and sex-crime investigation, “Friedmans” arguably drew more unanimous critical acclaim than any feature that premiered at Sundance this year.

Jarecki was chosen as one of Variety’s 2003 10 Directors to Watch at this year’s Sundance event.

Pic was produced by Jarecki and Marc Smerling through Jarecki’s Hit the Ground Running Films. John Sloss of Cinetic Media negotiated the sale with Magnolia president Eamon Bowles; a deal was done simultaneously with HBO for pay TV rights.

“I met with everybody after Sundance because, happily, there was a lot of interest in distributing the film,” Jarecki told Daily Variety. “Ultimately, I concluded that there was no traditional distributor that was going to give us the kind of flexibility or the kind of careful release we wanted.”

Magnolia is planning a May 30 release in New York, hitting the other top 10 markets two weeks later in an aggressive platform rollout. Pic will go out as an HBO Documentary Films presentation.

“I saw the film at Sundance, and to say I was wowed is a real understatement,” Bowles said. “You come out of this film and you have to talk about it. One thing that’s appealing to me is the complexity of this film, and yet it still has this incredible visceral pull. I think this is the film everyone is going to have to see and discuss, and it should be the cocktail party movie of the summer.”

In addition to “Friedmans,” HBO is co-presenting theatrical releases of two documentaries with ThinkFilm: “Bus 174,” Brazilian Jose Padilha’s chronicle of a tragic Rio bus hijacking, and “Spellbound,” Jeff Blitz’s Oscar-nominated closeup on contestants in the national spelling bee.

“For me, the HBO component was important because I wanted to make sure the film had a significant life in a television environment and not just be sold later in a random decision about TV rights,” Jarecki explained. “And second, I knew that the HBO machine is very good at thinking about the marketing of films and actively supporting the theatrical release.”

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