Plenty of independent films fail to hit the mark. But the indications are rarely as confusing as they are for “The Undefeated,” the much-ballyhooed Sarah Palin documentary-cum-advertisement.
The film was released today, to universally poor reviews, in 10 theaters across the country, none of which are in Los Angeles or New York. And in terms of how it’s doing? Depends who you ask.
Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic was the one of three ticket holders for a late screening of “The Undefeated” in Orange, CA, and the only audience member to stay for the entire film.
On the other hand, according to MotivationTruth, a prominent pro-Palin blog, theaters in Grapevine, Texas and Highlands Ranch, Colo. have reported sell outs.
A compilation of footage from the film’s Pella, Iowa premiere shows excited audience members praising the film enthusiastically.
And in terms of data, most indie films don’t have a release plan as eclectic as “The Undefeated.” ARC Entertainment and Cinedigm, the film’s distributors, have worked with AMC Theaters to present the film on ten screens in conservative cities and small towns: Grapevine, Texas; Indianapolis; Independence, Maryland; Kennesaw, Ga.; Houston; Orlando; Oklahoma City; Highlands Ranch, Colo.; Phoenix and Orange, California.
“We looked at a bunch of data on similar films, as well as Palin’s book sales and a lot of demographic information,” said Trevor Drinkwater, CEO at ARC. “We tried to find the cities with the best chance of success on opening weekend.”
According to Jill Calcaterra, chief marketing officer at Cinedigm, other favorable factors included “Tea Party states and areas where we knew Palin had a strong following.”
As to the chances for the film’s expansion, Drinkwater only says, “We want to expand. When we announced the film, we asked consumers to vote online so we could gather information about the number of places the film would do well, and the response was overwhelming.”
ARC Entertainment declined to share the specific figure they would need to hit over the weekend. Said Drinkwater, “We’ll make the decision on Monday.”
“The Undefeated” currently has a rare 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but the distributors made sure not to seem bothered by the bad reviews. “The demographic we see for this film isn’t likely to be listening to the critics,” said Drinkwater.
“The critics aren’t all that important for this movie,” said Calcaterra. “I’ve noticed that people who see the film with an open mind really appreciate it. Obviously, it’s targeted at Palin supporters, but it’s also for people who just have an interest in Palin and politics.”
Despite this, the film’s public relations staff appear to have a complicated relationship with the film’s critics. Kyle Smith, film critic for the New York Post, saw a rough cut of the film and gave it a scathing review, and he alleges that CRC Public Relations uninvited him from the official press screening.
However, the film’s official website has featured many of the film’s negative reviews in its news section. “We expected a mixed reaction,” says Drinkwater. “This is a film about anti-establishment and the media.”