Focus Features is deploying a nationwide U.S. distribution strategy for “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word,” the Wim Wenders-directed documentary that launched in Cannes on Sunday as a special screening.
The film’s North American release May 18 has been set at roughly 300 screens thanks to a marketing strategy that largely relies on outreach to churches and religious groups. The strategy is similar to the one used by Newmarket Film Group in 2004 for Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which grossed $370 million in the U.S.
Wenders, the maker of “Wings of Desire” and documentaries such as “Buena Vista Social Club” and “Pina,” was given unprecedented access to Pope Francis over a two-year period for “A Man of His Word.” The film revolves around a long dialogue with the pontiff, who answers questions about the chief global challenges facing the world today.
“We got this very exclusive time with the pope speaking directly to the cameras,” said Lisa Bunnell, Focus Features’ president of distribution. “As soon as we had the film, we knew there was obviously [going to be] a lot of interest from religious groups. … We felt it was something that needed to go nationwide.”
Bunnell said that she worked on launching Gibson’s “Passion” in 2004 when she was with Loews Cineplex Entertainment and that her marketing approach for the Pope Francis documentary is “very similar.” Focus has been doing outreach in the U.S. for months, “giving access to the movie privately for group sales” and drawing a lot of interest from younger people, she said.
“Cannes is the icing on the cake” for the film in terms of marketing, Bunnell said.
Outside the U.S., Focus is planning to release “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” in Germany on June 14. Other international markets will follow later in the summer.