Controversial pic inks distrib deals
TORONTO — Big buzz has turned into big bucks for controversial film “Death of a President,” as Newmarket inked a deal Monday in Toronto to release in U.S. theaters the pic about the fictional assassination of President Bush.
Also inked Monday were deals to release the pic in Canada by Maple Pictures and in five European territories by consortium Indie Circle.
While purely coincidental — negotiations started latenight after the pic preemed Sunday at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival — deal was struck as the real Bush observed a moment of silence in Gotham to mourn the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
No one involved in the deals would discuss price, but the total value of the three pacts is said to be close to $3 million.
While no U.S. release date has been set, Newmarket is said to be mulling a fall release to take advantage of the controversy surrounding its Toronto preem.
Helmed by Gabriel Range, “Death” is a British production lensed mostly in Chicago. Blighty broadcaster Channel 4 financed the pic’s budget of around $4 million and its Film 4 unit is repping worldwide rights. Pic is slated to air on its More 4 satcaster on Oct. 9 and then be broadcast on Channel 4 on Oct. 17.
The most successful pic Newmarket has distribbed is Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which grossed $370 million. Most of its ticket buyers were evangelical Christians, many of whom are the political conservatives who have objected vociferously to the fictional depiction of Bush’s murder.
“I, like everyone else, came with a preconceived notion of what this film would be about and was shocked to discover that ‘Death of a President’ is first and foremost a riveting and commercial political thriller that in no way sensationalizes anything or advocates violence,” said Newmarket co-founder Chris Ball.
Indie Circle is a consortium of theatrical distribs Haut et Court in France, Lucky Red in Italy, A-Film in Holland, Cineart in Belgium and Frenetic Switzerland.
Andrea Occhipinti, owner of Lucky Red, which will release the pic in Italy, said, “It’s very today. It’s very provocative and controversial, and we like those kind of films.” He added, though, that “Death” does not advocate assassination. “It’s not a film suggesting this should happen.”
Styled as a look back at Bush’s murder on Oct. 19, 2007, pic is similar in style to that of the many docs aired on cable in recent weeks examining the Sept. 11 attacks, with actors posing as interview subjects narrating over archival news footage, some doctored, such as the swearing in of Dick Cheney as the 44th president of the United States.
Pic traces the hunt for the assassin and explains how the fictional President Cheney attempts to use the murder to invade Syria, ultimately settling for an expansion of law enforcement powers under the Patriot Act.
High-profile deal comes at the mid-way point of the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, a sprawling event that is part celebrity frenzy as studios market their upcoming releases with red carpet galas, part industry confab with distribs on the hunt for acquisitions, and part tourist attraction for film lovers who line up for hours for the chance to see pics that often won’t come back to Canada for months if ever at all.
Unlike other major fests like Cannes or Sundance, in which festgoers are densely packed together, it is easy for an office-tower worker to walk through the streets of downtown Toronto — think Gotham with far less trash and traffic — without even knowing that a fest was taking place. Theater venues are spread across about four square miles in the city.
And while industry gossip spreads like wildfire via BlackBerry, other events can go unnoticed. Early on Monday, a triple homicide was discovered on the 19th floor of the Delta Chelsea, a downtown hotel favored by festivalgoers and which once served as the fest’s press center.
Three people were found dead with stab wounds, though it wasn’t clear if they are connected to the fest.
There were only 658 homicides in all of Canada last year — there can be that many homicides in a single year in Los Angeles alone. So the triple slaying was big news in town. Still, it was slow to penetrate the fest-bubble that attendees sometimes find themselves in.
“I hope you’re talking about the name of a film,” said one publicist when told of the news. Even at the festival’s center — the Four Seasons, Park Hyatt and the Intercontinental hotels, within blocks of one another, where execs and agents in from L.A. pack the bars — media and industry festgoers have been outnumbered at times by packs of first-year college students starting classes at nearby U. of Toronto.
Distribs and publicists fully take over the second and third floors of the Intercontinental, outfitting makeshift offices for the 10-day duration of the fest. At the Weinstein Co.’s digs, teams of publicists sat amid stacks of releases for Toronto preems like “Bobby” and “Shut Up and Sing” while phones were managed and reporters massaged.
Down the hall and up the stairs, a similar scene played out for Miramax and big PR shops like the Dart Group and mPRm. In the other hotels, behind closed-door suites, execs from specialty divisions like Fox Searchlight and Focus Features held meetings and plotted out media and acquisition strategies.
While pushy paparazzi are a rare sight, the hotspots attract groups of teenage girls armed with digital cameras who wait for hours behind barricades for a glimpse of stars like Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz, who attend the fest. The public interest in the fest — be it for celeb sightings or the steady diet of sophisticated films — sometimes makes it difficult for the pros who come to town to kick the tires of prospective properties.
On the local Craigslist service, tix for hot screenings like “Borat” or “Death of a President” can fetch $100 or more. And even pics that have been panned by critics in early reviews are often oversubscribed. Dozens were turned away from a midday Monday screening of Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain.”
On Saturday, a red-carpet blowout for early award-season contender “Babel” attracted a crowd of thousands, and the squeals of Pitt’s teen fans could be heard more than two blocks away.
At the same time, and giving the fest a schizophrenic feel, inside helmer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu talked loftily about the “journey” of his filmmaking process.
At fest midpoint, the acquisitions marketplace is still expected to produce more deals. Two pics that preemed Monday night are still up for grabs: Sarah Polley’s helming debut, “Away From Her” and “Bonneville,” which stars Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Joan Allen.
In other deal news Monday, the Weinstein Co. announced it will handle international sales on the first two films from Anthony Mosawi’s the Mayhem Project, horror pic “Clock Tower,” based on the Japanese vidgame of the same name, and “Make It Happen,” about an aspiring dancer who leaves her small town for Chicago.
(Tamsen Tillson in Toronto and Pamela McClintock in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)