Pete Hammond

Radius-TWC, the specialty division of The Weinstein Company devoted to multi-platform strategies, has only been in business now a couple of years. But it is clearly setting out to make its mark in the Oscar race in a big way this year with four documentaries, all with a strong chance of making the Academy’s short list if industry buzz is any factor at all. Cutie And The Boxer, Inequality For All, Twenty Feet From Stardom and The Unknown Known are the titles Radius co-presidents Tom Quinn and Jason Janego highlighted when we met for coffee to discuss their awards strategy.

Oddly, though the company is known for day-and date VOD and theatrical releases — like the recent Ryan Gosling film Only God Forgives, Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut Man Of Tai Chi and Lovelace to name a few — all four of its docu contenders are traveling the more traditional route by hitting theatres before rolling out to other platforms. The pair have a definite strategy, not only for financial success but also hopefully at the Oscars. “We have I think approached this in a pretty transparent way. And we have put together our blueprint for what we think puts us into the race for each film — and the good news is they are all different”, Quinn said. “I feel like they each fit a very different mold in what could be a possible doc nominee. None of these have been released day and date.” He added that they don’t currently believe there is an audience for these movies on VOD, but there will be one day. “In order to build bigger value for these films in ancillary platforms we need to build them theatrically first,” he said.

And they look at all of these contenders as movies first. They pointed out that their first “traditional release” — the highly successful Twenty Feet From Stardom, the Morgan Neville-directed music docu about background singers — has grossed nearly $5 million (the year’s best for a docu) after successfully taking on non-docus in the specialty realm during its summer release including Frances Ha and Much Ado About Nothing. It’s also brought renewed heat in the music business to the careers of the veteran singers it chronicles. Music- and showbiz-centric documentaries have a tougher time with the Academy committee, which seems to gravitate toward heavier subject matter, but Quinn and Janego are hopeful about Twenty Feet, which I think transcends the genre in the same way as last year’s docu feature winner Searching For Sugar Man.

“For us the Radius philosophy is to do what makes sense for the movie”, Quinn said. “The first year we did this was about building a strong multi-platform business. So we did seven movies that were all released pretty much to video, and the second year was was about extending to a boutique label which we’ve never considered ourselves to be but which we have been called publicly. … I think Twenty Feet, our first traditional release, proved that we actually know how to release a film theatrically. Which if you are in the multi-platform  business you have to know how to release a movie from every link”.

As for the Robert Reich docu Inequality For All, which is sort of An Inconvenient Truth for the economy and a highly entertaining and informative showcase for the former Labor Secretary, Quinn is equally enthusiastic about its chances. “We always said ‘Bob, you’re a rock star. People need to have a rallying cry and this movie can be a beacon — you can be that’. He’s traveled all around and it grossed a million bucks which is f*cking huge for an issue-related movie”, he said.

Cutie And The Boxer has not had the same kind of box office success, but it did win critical acclaim with one of the year’s highest scores, 95% fresh, at review site Rotten Tomatoes. The film, chronicling the crazy 40-year love story between painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife Noriko, won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for director Zachary Heinzerling and has received the most Cinema Eye noms this year.

Radius-TWC’s final docu release this year — opening December 13 in theatres — is Oscar-winning Errol Morris’ latest personality portrait as he goes toe to toe with embattled former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in The Unknown Known. Morris was recently in town showing the film as part of the AFI Fest and he has been on the festival circuit in Telluride, New York, Toronto and Venice where it reportedly received a five-minute standing ovation. “I think the degree of difficulty with this film is the highest of any film he’s made”, Quinn said of Morris, who won the Oscar for The Fog Of War. “There’s no gotcha moment with Rumsfeld. He’s been through every major press conference but Errol, it’s like a snake who wraps himself around its prey. It’s not strangling the prey as they breathe in but with every breath, it’s tighter and tighter”. Janego cited some other recent docs of a similar stripe but says Morris’ approach and filmmaking skill stands apart ”Errol’s real unique talents as a filmmaker are really on display in this movie because it’s incredibly intellectual, but it’s also incredibly accessible”, he said. “This is a movie with repeat viewing”.

The executive team came from Magnolia where they also had great success with docus including the Oscar-winning Man On Wire. In fact they say they actually built half of Magnolia’s business on docus so they are following a familiar pattern, at least to them, with the Radius emphasis on the form. Three of the four Radius-TWC docus vying for Oscar recognition were bought out of Sundance this year.

And so Quinn and Janego remain ever-hopeful as initial voting concludes next Friday that will whittle 151 eligible docus this year to a short list of 15 semifinalists. The list should come out in early December, and the final five nominees will be chosen from that. Janego’s proud of his company’s track record. ”I would argue that Radius has had one of the most interesting years of any distributor in the business if you think about it form start to finish”, he said. “The types of movies that we’ve released, the way we released them, and the fact that we’re sitting here in November and are talking about four documentaries that have a realistic shot at being nominated — I mean, this is a really interesting and successful year for Radius”.

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