EXCLUSIVE: ICM has just signed Peter Weir, the Australian director of such classics as The Year Of Living Dangerously, Witness and Gallipoli. Weir, who had been repped forever by CAA, most recently directed the 2010 survival drama The Way Back, and before that the 2003 film Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World.
Here’s the story of an Oscar campaign aiming not to be first, but dead last: Academy members have begun receiving what is believed – and intentionally planned – to be the final screener of the season, Peter Weir’s independently produced and distributed adventure epic The Way Back. For those with short memories, the first screeners mailed this awards season were Sony Pictures Classics’ Mother And Child and Animal Kingdom on September 28th. The Way Back is one of four indie dramas making up the final quartet of 2010 contender releases in limited runs beginning today. The others, all in theatres more easily accessed on the Academy voter-centric Westside of Los Angeles are Roadside Attractions’ Biutiful, Sony Pictures Classics’ Another Year and The Weinstein Company’s Blue Valentine. But awards strategists for The Way Back‘s distributor, Newmarket, decided to hold back mailing the DVD screener to Oscar voters until Monday of this holiday week, the same day nominating ballots were also being mailed by the Academy. The thinking was that, rather than getting lost in the pile of hopeful discs, it would be fresh in mind just as members start thinking seriously about filling out their ballot. As one of the film’s strategists told me today, “We think voters will take notice of it coming at the tail end of the screener process and be curious to watch it, particularly since it is a film by Peter Weir who has been nominated …
In my September 3rd post about The Way Back’s world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, I indicated that Newmarket would likely be scheduling a December Oscar qualifying run before a wider release date on January 21st. It was never locked in stone – until today when it was confirmed that director Peter Weir’s epic story of a group of prisoners who escape a Siberian gulag and walk through five different countries to freedom will indeed platform in Los Angeles on December 29th. The film gets a wider release on 500 screens January 21st shortly before the Academy Awards nominations are announced.
TELLURIDE: Peter Weir’s The Way Back is about an epic journey of survival, an appropriate metaphor for the film’s own treacherous journey through the current wobbly state of the movie industry which just didn’t seem to know what to do with this stunning adventure, the kind of movie Hollywood used to make all the time. Finally yesterday, as many were arriving for the Telluride Film Festival, Newmarket announced it will handle the film for U.S. release just after the first of the year. It coincided with Telluride’s career tribute to Weir today and the World Premiere (the only fall festival slot for the film) tonight. My interview with Weir is below.
Produced under the Exclusive Films label (which owns Newmarket) and co-produced by National Geographic Entertainment and Imagenation Abu Dhabi, Weir’s The Way Back is currently planned for a fairly wide break on over 600 screens on January 21, according to Newmarket’s VP of acquisitions John Crye. It’s a particularly aggressive rollout for the indie company whose past distribution successes have included such award magnets as Memento, Monster, Whale Rider, and Mel Gibson’s controversial blockbuster The Passion Of The Christ. With this kind of DNA, it would seem natural that part of the master plan would also include a late December Oscar qualifying run. But both Crye and a PR rep for the film would only say that is a distinct possibility even though they acknowledge the film deserves one.
Perhaps Newmarket is waiting for reaction and reviews out of Telluride. But, c’mon, it’s unheard of to open a prestigious film like this from a 6-time Oscar nominee (4 in the directing category) with a cast including Ed Harris (here in Telluride for the premiere), Colin Farrell, Jim Sturgess, and Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, The Lovely Bones) in the middle of January without trying to get some of Oscar’s fairy dust sprinkled on it. At the very least, the breathtaking and challenging cinematography of longtime Weir collaborator Russell Boyd, already an Oscar winner for Weir’s most recent film, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (nominated for 10 Academy Awards in 2003) would seem a slam dunk. But the film has many other attributes as well, including those actors and Weir’s impeccable direction. Which is why Telluride Fest directors Gary Meyer and Tom Luddy said the film was an obvious choice the minute they saw it.
When I talked to Peter Weir earlier today in advance of his career tribute and the World Premiere tonight, he thought an Oscar run
The Way Back, Peter Weir’s first film since 2003′s Master and Commander, has come off the board as an acquisition title before it screens in Telluride. Newmarket acquired U.S. rights and will distribute the film next January. It doesn’t exactly count as a real acquisition, since Newmarket is owned by Exclusive Media Group, which financed a film that was shopped for a long time. The cast is strong but the subject matter grueling. Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess and Saoirse Ronan star in the fact-based tale of prisoners who escape from a Siberian gulag and walk all the way to Tibet, and freedom.
It will be very interesting to see such tough subject matter in the hands of an iconic filmmaker like Weir, who has shown mastery on tough subjects in films like Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously. Just as it will be interesting to see what Danny Boyle does with 127 Hours, where James Franco plays Aron Ralston, the hiker who was forced to cut off his arm after it was pinned for days under a boulder, and who then walked down the mountain and lived to tell about it.
Newmarket also acquired and will release through early next year prestige festival pickups Agora, Creation and Hesher. The indie community is hoping Newmarket can reestablish itself as a formidable distribution company–its past successes under other regimes include The Passion of the Christ, Memento and The Prestige–and those questions should be answered soon enough.