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Undiscovered Gems receive theatrical distribution in the US

While an astonishing number of American independent features and documentaries are receiving at least a token theatrical distribution in US theaters, there are many deserving films that are falling through the cracks. These films may have won a slew of awards at prestigious festivals, been invited all over the world to screen outside their home country, and even secured enthusiastic reviews in the trade press, but in the end, they go undistributed.

A group of six of these “Festival orphans” are receiving a national distribution this week via digital cinema distributor Emerging Pictures. The films have been culled from the annual list of the Best Undistributed Films produced by respected news service IndieWire each December. As a new list is being compiled for release in the next few weeks, a few distinguished films from the 2004 list are participating in the UNDISCOVERED GEMS series.

Emerging Pictures is one of a handful of companies that is leading the charge of creating a digital cinema network that will greatly reduce the costs of distribution by showing films in the “d cinema” format. The company, headed by indie veteran Ira Deutschman, formerly of Fine Line Features and Cinecom, is creating a network of participating cinemas that can serve as an alternative network for distribution of specialty films.

With more and more cinema chains making a commitment to add digital projection to their existing venues, and non-traditional venues (live theaters, university theaters, media centers) bypassing 35mm film projection equipment and investing in digital projection, a “film” receiving a digital video release will have an extensive outreach.

UNDISCOVERED GEMS will screen in nine cities, with a prominent launch at the newly renovated IFC Center in New York City. Other participating theaters include:
Boardman's Art Theater (Champaign, Illinois), Cinema Paradiso (Fort Lauderdale, Florida), Duncan Theater (Lake Worth, Florida), Mary Riepma Ross Theater (Lincoln, Nebraska), Count Basie Theater (Red Bank, New Jersey), Scranton Cultural Center (Scranton, Pennsylvania), Theater N (Wilmington, Delaware), and San Francisco’s Roxie Theater.

Participating filmmakers share in a percentage of the box office take, which will presumably be quite modest. The main goal will be national publicity for the eventual video/dvd release of the films, possible sales to cable television, and an opportunity to screen for paying audiences outside of a festival context. There is also the possibility that a film that performs well in these nine test markets may attract the attention of a specialized distributor who will expand the theatrical run for a specific title.

The six participating films have made a splash on the Festival circuit. AWFUL NORMAL, directed by Celesta Davis, is a bracing account of the director’s confrontation with the man who molested her as a child. DEAR PILLOW by Bryan Posner, is a striking debut film about a frustrated teenager who forms an unlikely friendship with an older man. The film was nominated last year for an Independent Spirit Award.

HOTEL by Austrian filmmaker Jessica Hausner is a supernatural tale about a receptionist at a hotel in the Alps who becomes convinced that her employers are responsible for the mysterious disappearance of her predecessor. HOUSE OF THE TIGER KING by David Flamholc is a culture clash comedy that mixes a group of eccentrics who search for a lost city of the Incas.

Jonathan Stack, an award-winning documentarian, presents his latest film LIBERIA: AN UNCIVIL WAR, an intimate look at the civil war struggle in Liberia between the oppressive dictator Charles Taylor and a rebel group of freedom fighters. NO REST FOR THE BRAVE by French director Alain Guiradie is a surrealistic tale of a teenager who believes that the next time he falls asleep he will die. SPEEDO, a cinema verite portrait of Ed “Speedo” Jager, a king of the demolition derby circuit, is the directorial debut of Jesse Moss.

With UNDISCOVERED GEMS, independent filmmakers have an opportunity to test the possibilities of digital cinema distribution, which will become a major development for specialty films and film festivals in the years to come.

Sandy Mandelberger
Industry Editor


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