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‘A Private War’ Goes Public With Aviron’s Word-of-Mouth Screenings

“A Private War” is expanding this month after its Nov. 2 launch in New York and L.A. The film, starring an excellent Rosamund Pike, is the perfect calling card for the new Aviron Pictures. The film embodies what Aviron is doing, but it’s also an exception to its rules.

“Most of our films are mid-budget feature films that we believe have the ability to be wide releases,” says Aviron president David Dinerstein. “But ‘A Private War’ is a little different.”

Aviron execs knew this film would depend on word-of-mouth. It is a complex, adult drama, centering on war correspondent Marie Colvin, who reported from war zones in Africa and the Middle East for Sunday Times of London; the film covers her work for a decade, concluding in 2012.

Reviewing the film out of Toronto, Variety’s Peter Debruge praised it as an “incredibly sophisticated, psychologically immersive” film, adding that director Matthew Heineman made an “astonishing narrative debut,” and Pike gave “a peak performance.”

The film began playing on the fest circuit following its Toronto debut, and, not surprisingly, critics and audiences fueled Oscar buzz. Aside from Heineman and Pike, there are many possible contenders, including Robert Richardson’s cinematography, Sophie Becher’s production design, Amash Amel’s script, Nick Fenton’s editing and Annie Lennox’s song.

Heineman had proven his directing skills with the Mideast docu “City of Ghosts” and the Oscar-nominated “Cartel Land” (he won DGA Awards for both), but he’d never done a narrative film. And the challenge of Marie Colvin was similar to the hurdle of all adult-themed movies: Trying to get the public to engage in serious issues instead of fluff.

“What attracted us was its topicality,” says Dinerstein. “Marie Colvin was fearless, rebellious, and took enormous risks trying to get stories from people who were in the middle of conflicts. That’s such an important attribute: people who are seeking the truth, even if it’s costly.”

Journalism is increasingly under attack, and the death of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi is a reminder of the physical dangers. The movie also makes the point that truth is complex and reporters can’t go for easy answers.

Dinerstein, a well-liked and respected veteran of the film biz, says the Aviron team is “working around the clock to make sure people see the film.” They will be sending out DVDs and holding series of screenings, “to make sure people can see it — hopefully in a theater.”

William Sadleir is chairman-CEO of Aviron, which is financed by BlackRock. The company says the Aviron exec team has worked on films resulting in 367 Oscar nominations, 76 wins and $47 billion in domestic B.O.

Upcoming in 2019 are “Serenity,” starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway; “Three Seconds,” directed by Andrea di Stefano, starring Joel Kinnaman; and “After,” helmed by Jenny Gage, based on a young adult novel.

“Technically, we’re not a production entity,” says Dinerstein. “We don’t develop or produce. But we do get involved in most projects at the script stage, help fill out casting, work collaboratively with the producers. For example, with ‘Private War,’ we got involved at the script stage.

“Our model is generally to acquire North American rights early on, and work with producers as well as foreign sales companies. With ‘Private War,’ we got U.K. rights as well.”

They’re developing their slate and of course a lot of their focus right now is on the release of “Private War.” “We believe in the film a lot,” says Dinerstein.

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