“Trapped,” a look at how restrictive state laws are forcing abortion clinics to close in parts of the country, didn’t come to Sundance looking to score a rich distribution deal.
The makers of the non-fiction film already had a release strategy in place that would ensure that the picture will reach a wider audience just as the Supreme Court prepares to hear its first major abortion case in nearly a decade. The film will open in New York and Washington D.C. on March 4, which coincides with opening arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case that looks at Texas state regulations that abortion rights advocates claim limit access to the procedure, and could leave the state with dramatically fewer clinics.
The film will then air on Independent Lens in June around the time the Supreme Court will make its decision on these abortion laws. Ro*co Films will be handling educational and community screenings, and Abramorama is handling theatrical bookings during the spring.
“We want the film to be seen anywhere and everywhere by as many people as want to see it,” said “Trapped” producer Marilyn Ness.
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Ro*co Films believes that there is an opportunity with “Trapped” and other social advocacy films to reconfigure their distribution strategies. Following festival premieres, films that tap into hot button issues often struggle to capitalize on the buzz surrounding their debuts because they have to arrange for distribution. The fact that many distributors want an exclusive theatrical window also limits the ability of advocacy groups to host community screenings, and schools to use these types of films as educational tools.
“We’re completely committed to a theatrical experience, but the definition of a theatrical release is changing over time,” said Richard Abramowitz, president of Abramorama. “This film needs to get out there when the issue is the most visible.”
The “Trapped” producers have branded their new approach “market windowing.” It essentially compresses the film’s theatrical, grassroots, and broadcast rollouts, so that “Trapped” can play a role in the debate surrounding the higher court’s decision. Instead of waiting up to a year for to hit television like most releases do, “Trapped” will hit airwaves five months after its festival premiere.
Even at Sundance, “Trapped’s” commitment to advocacy was clear. Four abortion providers were secretly flown into the premiere to tell the audience about how they risk their health and welfare to provide access to care in states where these laws are limiting access to abortions.
The audience gave the doctors a standing ovation.