For years HBO and other television distributors, which play an instrumental role in every documentary’s shelf life, could rent a theater for a week — a tactic known as “four-walling”— and quietly qualify docs for Academy Award consideration, thereby saving the majority of press for a future television premiere. Not anymore.
AMPAS’ desire for a “legitimate theatrical release” and a rule requiring a film review in the New York Times or Los Angeles Times for a documentary to be eligible for consideration has forced HBO and fellow television distributors to narrow down their qualifying list of nonfiction features.
“The Case Against 8,” which won the Sundance Film Festival Directing Award in the U.S. documentary category for directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White, is one of only a handful of docus that the pay cabler decided to qualify this year. (Last year HBO qualified 13 docs.)
The film, which follows the successful fight to have California’s anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8 overturned as unconstitutional, will be released in theaters on June 6 in Los Angeles and New York, followed by an expansion on June 13. The documentary will then make its television debut on June 23.
According to Sheila Nevins, president of HBO Documentary Films, it’s a strategic distribution move.
“We wanted to create the kind of energy and groundswell to make this a very important film on HBO (to see), and this was the way to go after it,” Nevins said at an HBO party at the Time Warner Center on May 28 celebrating doc’s upcoming theatrical and television premiere. Guests included Bruce Cohen, Larry Kramer and plaintiffs featured in the film. Nevins is hoping that word of mouth will draw viewers to HBO come June 23.
“People who see (‘The Case Against 8’) in the theater know what they are buying a ticket for, but the people who (see that it’s) on HBO might not be that sure,” Nevins said. “But (after the theatrical premiere) they will have heard about it, so they will watch it.”
As for the film’s co-directors Cotner and White, the little gold man is something they are trying to keep far from their radar.
“(An Oscar nomination) is something we don’t even like to think or talk about,” White said.
(Pictured: Ben Cotner and Ryan White at the New York screening for “The Case Against 8”)