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Outsider Pictures Prepares U.S. Release for Dominican Republic Oscar Entry ‘Woodpeckers’ (EXCLUSIVE)

The prison drama-thriller and festival favorite snags submission for this year’s Academy Awards foreign-language film category, readies for U.S. release

Paul Hudson’s Outsider Pictures has acquired U.S. rights to José María Cabral’s “Woodpeckers,” which was chosen this week as the Dominican Republic’s candidate for the foreign-language category at the 90th Academy Awards.

The deal was inked between Hudson and Film Factory founder Vicente Canales way before the Academy Award entry choice. Outsider Pictures will now release the film in American theaters starting Sept. 15 at the AMC Empire in New York and then expand the film across the country, including Miami, San Diego, Chicago as well as touring the main male lead Jean Jean across the U.S., Hudson said.

AZ Films has acquired distribution rights to Canada.

Unveiling “WoodPeckers” as its choice, the Dominican Republic looks like the first Latin American country to announce its foreign-language submission. It has chosen a title which always liked like one of its frontrunners.

A buzzed-up title at Ventana Sur’s Primer Corte, where Film Factory Ent. swooped on world sales rights, winning out in a bidding war, “Woodpeckers” world premiered at January’s Sundance Festival, then

cleaned up at Mexico’s Guadalajara Festival, where it won jury and actor prizes. The film has been making the international festival rounds, screening at Seattle, Miami, IFF Panama, Toulouse Latino Film Festival, Lima, New York Havana Film Festival, Off Camera Polonia, Red Carpet in Lefko Greece, Trinidad Tobago and Santander Colombia.

Originally financed with help from incentives resulting from new film laws instituted in the Dominican Republic in 2011. The Dominican Film Commission, the body responsible for selecting its country’s Academy Awards submissions, wasted no time in getting on board the bandwagon created by the initial international success of “Woodpeckers.”

“Woodpeckers” traces its beginnings to the nine months that Cabral spent visiting the Dominican Republic’s Najayo penitentiary, where he first learned about the unique system of communication used between the inmates at the men’s and women’s facilities. The groups were separated by 150 meters, but through the use of sign-language formed intense, and often intimate, bonds.

In the film Julian, the newest male prisoner, and Yanelly, one of the most respected and feared female prisoners, are both incarcerated and “meet” from across the gap between facilities.

“Jose Maria Cabral’s ‘Woodpeckers’ sets a fictional love story against the real-life back drop of prison life in the Dominican Republic,” said Hudson.

He added: “It introduces us to ‘woodpecking’, the unique sign language that the male and female prisoners have developed to communicate with each other from their respective prisons. It is a truly original film.”

The film is part thriller, part love story and a sometimes brutally detailed account of life in a Dominican prison. In a YouTube video where he discusses the film and its inspirations, Cabral talks to current inmates, and revisits the very window where much of “Woodpeckers” takes place, and where similar stories continue to take place today.

Outsider releases six to eight films a year and has built its distribution and world sales slate through acquisitions, sometimes attaching to products as early as pre-production.

John Hopewell contributed to this article

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