Disturbing High School Drama "Zero Day" Finds a Home at Avatar
by Wendy Mitchell
Avatar Films has acquired the U.S. distribution rights to Ben Coccio's "Zero Day," which has won several awards on the recent regional festival circuit. "Zero Day" follows two disturbed high school students, Andre and Cal, as they plot a violent assault on their fellow students.
Avatar plans to open the film on September 3 at New York's Film Forum, followed by releases in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. Company co-presidents Keith Icove and Jason Leaf negotiated the deal with "Zero Day" executive producers Adam Brightman and Richard Abramowitz.
The unique construction of "Zero Day" -- starring mostly amateur actors in what appear to be self-filmed digital video diary episodes (although carefully scripted and shot) -- humanizes the killers, even presenting them as charming at times. Yet it clearly is a chilling, thought-provoking work. "Zero Day" will bow before Gus Van Sant's similarly themed "Elephant" which will hit theaters in late October.
Coccio found his lead actors Cal Robertson and Andre Keuck through scouting in Connecticut (they are real-life pals who had some stage experience). He originally cast actors to play their parents, but then persuaded the teens' real parents to play the roles. "Without the casting, this could have been unwatchable," Coccio told indieWIRE. The actors worked from a set script but the director encouraged them to speak naturally. While Coccio concedes that he "wrestled" with the film's disturbing subject matter, he says that he thought it was important to present an honest film about teen violence. He added that Avatar, which previously released such films as "Divine Intervention" and "Kandahar," "has the right attitude for how to deal with the film. Their enthusiasm is palpable."
Coccio's feature debut has captured several prizes on the festival circuit recently, including winning the best feature award in the national Had to Be Made Film Festival, the grand jury prizes at the Florida and Atlanta film festivals, as well as the jury prize at Slamdunk back in January. It will play at France's 29th Deauville American Film Festival in September.
Coccio, a 28-year-old upstate New York native and current Connecticut resident, studied film at the Rhode Island School of Design. His 35mm short "5:45 a.m." (completed in 2000) was picked up by the Independent Film Channel. His next project is a suburban comedy entitled "Round Robin."