Mike Fleming

There are plenty of fine films with strong casts vying for distribution at the Toronto International Film Festival. So if you can show buyers more than just 2 hours of footage, it might give a leg up. When Emilio Estevez this afternoon unveils the World Premiere of The Way and starts meeting with distributors, he is ready to offer research demonstrating the film plays to an audience, and especially to the faith-based crowd.

Estevez wrote and directed a film that is a showcase for his father, Martin Sheen who plays a career-obsessed doctor who learned his free-spirit son (played by Estevez) died while walking The Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James). The father decides to take his son’s ashes and finish the 490-mile walk through the Spanish countryside, teaming up with three quirky companions who are making the same trip for different reasons.

“We packed up the print in a car, screened it in Sacramento, Denver and then really took the show on the road in Detroit and Dallas,” Estevez told me. “By the time we ended up in New York, showed it to John Sloss and he asked if I’d tested it, I was able to say, ‘look at these numbers.’ I learned all this working with Harvey Weinstein, who said things like, ‘Make sure the film is the right length so people’s asses don’t fall asleep, and when you see them shifting in their seats, that’s when you’re losing them.’ Of course, I resisted all that when I was working with Harvey, but I have to say he reads an audience better than anybody. I cut 17 minutes out of the film, and found that  the  faith-based audience is under-served and hungry. I can look a distributor in the eye and say it plays with that audience. And I am glad to make a movie that isn’t based on violence, sex and coarse language.”

The film idea came from Sheen, who attempted the pilgrimage but had to cut it short because of a work obligation. I’ve seen the movie, it’s quite touching and easily the best film Estevez has made. It’s hard not to notice that the last time Sheen was on a road trip this extensive, it was in Apocalypse Now. “In a way, it’s not dissimilar,” Estevez said. “The road here is a metaphor for life, just like the river in Apocalypse Now. There, he made the trip with four people he didn’t like, and here, there are three. I wasn’t initially looking to do a film in Spain, or one where I worked with a family member, because that can go sideways. This fell into my lap at Martin’s urging, and I think he does the work of his life here.” He will know soon if distributors agree.

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