ESPN to test ‘Fire’ power

Sports pic skedded to start prod'n on Feb. 10

ESPN has for the first time landed a theatrical release for one of its properties — full-length sports documentary “Through the Fire,” about prep basketball sensation Sebastian Telfair — in advance of its TV premiere on the network.

Arthouse distributor Cinema Libre has signed to platform the movie beginning in New York on Feb. 10, rolling it out to selective urban markets.

If “Through the Fire” captures an audience, Ron Wechsler, senior VP of development for ESPN Original Prods., said the movie could stay in these theaters beyond March 12, when it will premiere on the net. On March 14, ESPN sister company Buena Vista Home Entertainment will release it on DVD and videocassette, with extras including a “Making of…” film and archival footage from ESPN.

New York is the first city on Cinema Libre’s distribution list because the movie focuses on Brooklyn-born Telfair during his final year of high school. Pic builds up to his decision to forgo college in favor of making himself eligible for the National Basketball Assn. draft despite the fact he’s considered small for the NBA at 5′ 11″.

“Through the Fire” director Jonathan Hock did Imax’s “Michael Jordan to the Max” and has worked for ESPN on such shows as “Streetball.”

Wechsler said ESPN is on the prowl for more docus, and is open to putting them into theaters before they kick off on the net. “Fire” snared the 2005 audience-favorite award at the American Film Institute Film Festival, as well as the docu nod at the ninth annual Urbanworld Film Festival. It was the 2005 spotlight film at the Tribeca Film Festival.

ESPN owns all rights to the movies, including high definition, video-on-demand, streaming video on the Internet and mobile-phone usage.

The Portland Trail Blazers ended up drafting Telfair in the first round; he’s now the team’s starting point guard.

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