Iraq gets feature play

Docus use Web, DVDs to woo auds

For most Americans, the war in Iraq exists in an alternate universe, one accessed predominantly through television news. This fall, distribs will attempt to find out if auds will buy tickets to see war docs in theaters … or whether they’d rather watch them at church or while eating pizza.

TV coverage of the conflict is often simplistic, but distribs are concerned the subject could already be over-saturated even though feature docus offer much more insight into the situation.

“I think there’s a genuine sense that mainstream coverage has not served us completely well in giving us voices and visions of what’s happening to us over there,” says Focus Features CEO James Schamus. Focus releases Patricia Foulkrod’s “The Ground Truth,” which tracks Iraq vets postwar, Sept. 15, and will follow up with the DVD release just a month later.

Distribs are strategizing about the best ways to reach interested viewers. Several Iraq docus are already on theatrical tours. With a limited potential for theatrical box office, most are turning to the Internet, DVDs and grassroots screenings to help their message penetrate.

Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films will encourage viewers to screen “Iraq for Sale” in churches, schools, pizza parlors, synagogues and homes. Docu is not about the conflict per se, but delves into the profiteering and waste surrounding the war and Iraq’s country’s reconstruction.

“From ‘Outfoxed’ to ‘The Big Buy: Tom Delay’s Stolen Congress’ we’ve set up alternative distribution, in order to reach as many people as possible, with as varied points of view as possible,” says Greenwald.

Greenwald says the approach is not a model about making the most money but rather is focused on reaching the most people. “Our films are about social change and asking people to take action,” he says.

Also hitting the war doc circuit are:

  • “The War Tapes,” filmed by three New Hampshire National Guardsmen, currently touring both arthouse cinemas and cities with strong military connections, such as Killeen, Texas, close to the army’s sprawling Ft. Hood. With 20 prints in circulation via SenArt Films, the pic will play 100 cities by the end of its theatrical run.

  • New Jersey-based Lifesize Entertainment opened Andrew Berends “The Blood of My Brother” on June 30 in New York and will tour the pic until the DVD release in November. The docu examines the ripple-effect of one unarmed Iraqi man’s death accidentally killed by U.S. soldiers. Awareness has “to be built piece by piece,” explains Lifesize prexy Bruce Frigeri, who has used Web sites such as ifilm and Youtube to boost the pic, and buys ads on Web sites including Huffington Post and Salon.

  • Zeigeist opened “My Country, My Country” on Aug. 4 and has dates booked through October. Pic is a verite account of one Iraqi doctor and his family during the country’s election last year. “It’s a very different story from what’s on the front page of the paper,” says helmer Laura Poitras. “The news doesn’t penetrate. As a storyteller, I tried to make something that will penetrate with audiences on an emotional level.”

  • Sundance prizewinner “Iraq in Fragments” tracks three Iraqis’ stories in separate segments, and is skedded for release by Typecast in November.

For “The Ground Truth,” the highest-profile of the crop, Focus is counting on viewers participating in the online community as well as a speedy DVD release, just a month after theatrical opening, to maximize interest in the pic. “We feel that ‘The Ground Truth’ is the perfect film to get involved in the collapse of windows,” Schamus says. DVDs will be available at wholesale to veterans’ orgs as well as faith-based and community groups. Schamus says that with the DVD aimed to screen at thousands of community gatherings, “The box office will a minor part of the equation, as part of the process of outreach.”

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