In the first announcement resulting from the deal between newly formed FilmDistrict and Sony Pictures, the two companies have announced that they will release Sean McNamara's "Soul Surfer" next April. Based on the true story of competitive teen surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack and then overcame all odds to become a champion again, the film stars Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, AnnaSophia Robb, and Carrie Underwood in her film debut. It will go out as a wide release via TriStar Pictures on April 15, 2011, with a broad-based and integrated marketing campaign managed by FilmDistrict.
The film was independently financed by Enticing Entertainment and Island Film Group, and is a production of Mandalay Vision, Brookwell McNamara Entertainment and Life's A Beach Entertainment. North American and substantial International rights were acquired prior to the commencement of production by the Affirm Films division of Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions. The screenplay was written by McNamara, Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz, and Deborah Bonann Schwartz, with additional writing by Ron Bass, Jen Smolka and Kara Holden, and is based on Bethany Hamilton's memoir "Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family and Fighting to Get Back on the Board."
"Steve Bersch and I immediately responded to the honesty of Bethany's story and its universal message of courage and perseverance," said Peter Schlessel, CEO of FilmDistrict, who initiated and approved the production with Bersch while at Sony, and then forged the partnership between Sony and the newly formed FilmDistrict for release of the film.
"This movie, with its winning story and cast, is a real audience pleaser," said Bob Berney, President, Theatrical Distribution, FilmDistrict, in a statement. "It's the perfect family film for the spring break season."
In late September, FilmDistrict was launched when Oscar-winning producer Graham King ("The Departed") and Tim Headington of GK Films, partnered with Peter Schlessel, President of GK Films, to form the acquisition, distribution, production and financing company. Marketing and distribution veteran Bob Berney came on board with the new company as their President of Theatrical Distribution.
"It has always been a goal of mine to be involved in all aspects of filmmaking and distribution," said King at the time. "I've known and worked with Peter for a long time and there is no one else I would rather take this step with. Bob Berney has a fantastic ability to connect with filmmakers and he orchestrates very creative marketing campaigns. We're thrilled to be working with Amy Pascal, Michael Lynton, Jeff Blake and everyone at Sony Pictures in this new venture."
The company plans to theatrically distribute between four and eight wide release commercial pictures per year, some of which will go through Sony Pictures Entertainment's TriStar and Triumph labels, like "Soul Surfer."