Not surprisingly, Discovery Channel announced this morning it will roll out its documentary from the Naudet brothers, in which they interviewed every living White House Chiefs of Staff, on Sept. 11. The two hour special will air for one hour that night and one hour the next night, at 9 PM ET/PT. Gedeon and Jules Naudet, you’ll recall, are the young documentary filmmakers who happened to be at the right/wrong place at just the right/wrong time when Jules accompanied members of the Engine 7, Ladder 1 firehouse in Lower Manhattan to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 and shot footage of American Airlines Flight 11 hitting the north tower of the center and the complex’s collapse. (He and Gedeon were working on a docu about the firehouse at the time.) That footage became the 2002 documentary 9/11 which was aired to acclaim by CBS.
Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
Holdovers held sway in the specialty arena on an otherwise quiet Oscars weekend. Best Foreign Language contender No starring Gael García Bernal added two theaters in its second weekend, averaging a stellar $13,726. The Chilean entry is expected to Sony Pictures Classics’ competing nominee Amour, however which continues its momentum at the box office (and in the awards department after yesterday’s best foreign feature win at the Independent Spirit Awards). In its 10th weekend, SPC added 22 locations for Amour, averaging $2,489 and bringing its cume to just under $5.25 million. Sundance Selects’ second weekend holdover Like Someone In Love added 6 theaters, averaging $2,542. The film averaged $7,615 at its debut but its second weekend number out-shined Sundance Selects’ Oscar Weekend opener Inescapable, which grossed a paltry $721 in two theaters. Tribeca Film opened a double-billing of Alex Karpovsky’s Rubberneck and Red Flag at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center in New York, grossing $4,150.
When it comes to Oscar savvy we often hear Harvey Weinstein talked about as the kingpin of the game, but when you look at the success of Sony Pictures Classics you realize it rivals Weinstein, Searchlight, Focus and other comers in consistently, and annually, releasing and nurturing one contender after another in the quest for the elusive statuette of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Since the company was founded in December 1991, key to its success has been its co-Presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard who first worked together in similar specialty divisions at United Artists and Orion and now continue to run one of the most stable indie shops in the industry. But with a total of 25 Oscar wins and 109 nominations just at SPC they clearly have the Midas touch, and that includes a slew of Best Picture nominations for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (their biggest hit to date), Howard’s End, Capote, An Education, Midnight In Paris and this year’s Amour which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes and has amassed five Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film, only the fifth film in Academy history to be named in both categories. With writing and directing nods for Michael Haneke as well as a realistic Best Actress bid for star Emmanuelle Riva the film looks to be another strong contender for the pair who continue to be one of the few high profile companies that still champions foreign language films. SPC serves up a wide variety of specialty fare of all types and always seems to find a footing in the Oscar race which has become an important part of their business plan. With two contenders for Best Documentary and two for Best Foreign Language Film in addition to the Best Picture bid, the pair are fixtures at every major film festival and are once again making lots of noise in their high season. I spoke to both late last week about the upcoming Oscars and what it means to their bottom line.
Deadline: How important is this Oscar business to the actual business of Sony Pictures Classics?
Bernard: It’s part of the business for Sony Pictures Classics because we can get movies, or have movies, that won’t get the recognition that they deserve any other way. And if they get that recognition what we have found is that the boxoffice and ancillary and profits of these movies get much better. We can go all the way back to Camille Claudel when we had Isabelle Adjani and somebody close to her suggested that you should run a campaign for her for Best Actress and we said ‘it will never happen, no one will watch the movie. We can’t get them to the theatre. And the person said ‘well why don’t you send out VHS cassettes to the Academy’ so we did and sent them to the actors branch and lo and behold we got a nomination. And it took that movie to a level it would have never gotten if it didn’t happen.
Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
2013 has been blasé at best for specialty box office. Thank goodness for the likes of Amour and Quartet. Although the first six weeks of the year have been otherwise dismal, it’s been good for Sony Pictures Classics. This weekend SPC scored with its Chilean Oscar-nominated feature No with an $18,619 average from four theaters. Thedistrib has also fared well with multiple Academy Award nominee Amour, which undertook a major expansion going into its third month in release, and its holdover Oscar-nominated documentary The Gatekeepers has maintained momentum. The Weinstein Company’s Quartet added more venues in its sixth weekend, actually increasing its per screen average from the previous weekend. Newcomers this weekend included Sundance Selects’ (IFC Films) Like Someone In Love, which bowed in three cinemas, averaging $7,615. The distributor, which also rolled out The Jeffrey Dahmer Files, which is available on VOD and was a midnight screening at the IFC Theater in New York exclusively, declined to report figures.
Ari Karpel and David Mermelstein are AwardsLine contributors
From the homemade, unpolished qualities of 5 Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers to the journalism of How To Survive A Plague and the investigations of The Invisible War and Searching For Sugar Man, this year’s documentary feature nominees traverse challenging and rewarding territory. Here’s a look at the films from which voters must choose.
The homemade quality that permeates 5 Broken Cameras is its greatest strength. For what this plainspoken documentary lacks in polish, it makes up for in heartfelt emotion. The film centers on the life of its filmmaker, Emad Burnat, a Palestinian resident of Bil’in, a village in the occupied West Bank near the Israeli border. It opens with the birth of Burnat’s son Gibreel in 2005. Then, paralleling the first few years of Gibreel’s life, the film charts the hardships endured by the village as it copes with the erection of a barrier, built by Israel, that separates Bil’in from its olives groves.
“I just started to film and document my people’s nonviolent struggles in the village in 2005”, Burnat says, speaking recently by phone from Bil’in. “I decided to take part with my camera. I used it for many purposes. I was the only one in my village with a camera. I used it to …
Brian Brooks is Managing Editor of MovieLine.
Documentaries dominate this weekend’s new specialty offerings including Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl’s feature directorial debut Sound City, which premiered at the recent Sundance Film Festival. Grohl has partnered with various companies and groups for traditional and non-traditional rollouts for the film, which will also screen at SXSW in March. Sony Pictures Classics’ The Gatekeepers looks inside Israel’s intelligence agency, Shin Bet. The film gripped audiences at the Jerusalem International Film Festival where it debuted, followed by Telluride and the New York Film Festival last fall. And Hamptons International Film Festival premiere, Koch, will bow in New York — naturally. It’s about former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, who died early this morning in New York.
Director: Dror Moreh
Subjects: Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom, Avi Dichter, Yuval Diskin
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Realizing its potential, producer Philippa Kowarsky jumped on the Oscar-nominated The Gatekeepers from the outset. She was “taken by how candid” the former heads of Israel’s security agency, Shin Bet, were and “how their thoughts did not conform with the obvious.” Kowarsky added, “They were not predictable. It got me thinking. I was hoping we could get others to feel the same.” While the subjects seemed forthcoming, the project’s financial makeup posed challenges. It received a mixture of Israeli and European financing plus French-speaking Canadian television. Global partners, however, had agendas that did not always align with director Dror Moreh’s goals. “I think that one of Dror’s greatest achievements is his decision-making during the long editing process,” she added, suggesting Moreh didn’t let the financiers pressure him on the content.