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Showtime gets ‘Believer’

Roberts denies pic scared off distribbers

NEW YORK — Showtime has bought the North American premiere of “The Believer,” which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, but with an interesting wrinkle: The movie’s producers will be able to put it into U.S. theaters after its 45-day run on Showtime.

Chris Roberts, one of the producers of “Believer,” denied a story in the Los Angeles Times on April 15 that said negative reaction from officials of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in L.A. scared off Paramount Classics, Miramax and USA Films from making a deal to release the movie theatrically before any pay TV window.

Counting on support

“We chose Showtime because the network plans to give the movie a great deal of support in advertising and marketing,” Roberts said. “We think the Showtime run will give ‘The Believer’ a leg up in the theatrical marketplace.”

Roberts said he hopes to complete negotiations for a theatrical distributor over the next few months, to at least start the planning in advance of its Showtime exclusive premiere in September. Sources said Showtime is paying a high-six-figure license fee for the pay TV rights, which cover the 45-day premiere and a second 18-month exclusive window following the nine months for the movie’s theatrical run and its homevideo release.

Showtime describes “The Believer” as the story of “a Jewish Yeshiva student who transforms into the leader of a neo-Nazi group of skinheads.”

History of controversy

“The controversial subject matter fits in perfectly with the kind of movies we like to go after,” said Matthew Duda, executive VP of program acquisitions and planning for Showtime Networks. Among the highly charged movies Showtime scheduled for the first time were “Bastard Out of Carolina,” about child rape, and Adrian Lyne’s “Lolita,” with Jeremy Irons.

But “The Believer” is bucking a negative trend if it hopes to succeed in the theaters following a pay TV run. The only example industryites cited as a movie that had a reasonably strong impact in theaters after it premiered on pay TV (in this case HBO) was 1994’s “Last Seduction,” starring Linda Fiorentino.

“I don’t look on this experiment as bucking a trend,” Roberts said. “I prefer to see it as starting a new trend.”

Roberts’ co-producer on “The Believer” was Susan Hoffman; Eric Sandys was executive producer. Writer-director is Henry Bean (who wrote Richard Gere starrer “Internal Affairs”). “Believer” stars Ryan Gosling, Summer Phoenix, Theresa Russell and Billy Zane. It’s from Fireworks Pictures, Peter Hoffman and Fuller Films.

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