Weinsteins Tap Lions Gate and IFC for "Fahrenheit 9/11"; Film to Open June 25th in 1,000 Theaters
by Eugene Hernandez
In just three weeks, on June 25th, Lions Gate Films will release Michael Moore's 2004 Palme d'Or winner "Fahrenheit 9/11" in the United States, partnering with IFC Films and Bob & Harvey Weinstein's Fellowship Adventure Group. Notably, the movie will debut in at least 1,000 theaters. Getting a jump on the Independence Day weekend release of "Spider-Man 2" on June 30th, Moore's controversial film about President George W. Bush, the current administration, and the war in Iraq, will only face the nationwide releases of Nick Cassavetes's "The Notebook" from New Line and Jean-Jacque Annaud's "Two Brothers." Showtime is on tap to handle the Pay TV release of the movie, via its deal with Lions Gate.
Harvey and Bob Weinstein, stopped by Disney from distributing the movie through Miramax Films, have brought together a distinctive group of companies and executives to release "Fahrenheit." They are clearly anxious to trumpet the range of groups (and corporate entities) backing the movie. The deal unites independent Canadian company Lions Gate, cable player Cablevision (owner of IFC), and Viacom (owner of Showtime). Yet to be locked down is an expected October DVD/video deal that could bring Universal Studios into the self-described coalition, according to one insider.
"There is no time like the present," Lions Gate Releasing president Tom Ortenberg told indieWIRE yesterday, when asked about the timing of the release. He added that it is important to cash in on the recent attention received by the film, free publicity that has made the film a hot topic, capped by an ovation in Cannes and subsequent Palme d'Or. Ortenberg, whose company will serve as the lead theatrical distributor, added that the film would attract male, female, young, and old viewers. "We can get the MTV and Comedy Central crowd and the CNN crowd," he said. Lions Gate previously rescued Miramax after Disney wouldn't allow the Weinsteins to release "Dogma" and "O."
The Weinsteins will personally finance and control distribution and marketing of the movie through their new company, Fellowship Adventure Group (pardon us if we don't refer to it by its acronym). Moore worked closely with Lions Gate chief John Feltheimer on his "TV Nation" series, and the filmmaker's relationship with IFC dates back to "The Awful Truth" TV series that aired on IFC's former parent network, Bravo. The Weinstein's have tapped consultant Matthew Cohen as marketing director for their special purpose company, with Ken Sunshine Consultants on board to mange PR for the new outfit and the movie.
"With Frodo (Harvey) and Sam (Bob) now in charge of the Fellowship, I welcome the addition of Lions Gate and IFC to our quest in bringing good family entertainment to the viewing public," said Moore in a statement issued Tuesday. "Not only am I in good hands, I am grateful to them now that everyone who wants to see it will now have the chance to do so -- thanks to the record number of screens on which they plan to open it. On behalf of my stellar cast - GW, Dick, Rummy, Condi and Wolfie - we thank this incredible coalition of the willing for bringing 'Fahrenheit 9/11' to the people."
"This is a true coalition," echoed Harvey and Bob Weinstein in their statement. "The passion that Lions Gate, IFC Films and Showtime have demonstrated reflects our desire to enable Michael Moore's extraordinary work to be viewed by as many filmgoers as possible as soon as possible."
"This one's unique," IFC Entertainment president Jonathan Sehring told indieWIRE, when asked about the distinctiveness of this particular distribution arrangement. "The longer we're in this business it seems that every deal is unique. The rules, in terms of distribution, are being re-written on a daily basis -- for us every deal this year has been different." (In July, IFC will release the acclaimed doc "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" in partnership with the band and filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky.)
The inclusion of IFC in the mix came as a surprise to some yesterday. All eyes had been on former IFC distribution head Bob Berney's Newmarket Films as a potential partner in the release of "Fahrenheit." In fact, insiders mentioned Newmarket as a contender but never singled out IFC Films as a potential collaborator. Yet, the Weinsteins have shown ongoing interest in IFC, with persistent rumors of a partnership between Miramax and Cablevision popping up in recent years.
"This is already one of the must see movies of the summer, if not the year, and exhibitors will find room for it," emphasized IFC Entertainment president Jonathan Sehring. "We have a good distribution team in place, we feel our (IFC) strength is in the grass roots level, developing strong word of mouth. We are strong in the New York marketplace and have a national network."
"Michael, along with Harvey and Bob Weinstein, have invested tremendous passion in this powerful and riveting film, and we are confident that we can match their passion and ingenuity in distributing it to a national audience," noted Lions Gate CEO Feltheimer in a statement. "We are delighted to join with IFC to maximize the theatrical potential of 'Fahrenheit 9/11', which promises to be one of this year's seminal cinematic events."
Tuesday's announcement emphasized the growing collection of companies that will bring the movie to U.S. theaters. "The Weinsteins have initiated an alliance with several key industry players," noted the announcement. "It is anticipated that other names will shortly be added to the coalition as partnerships on other distribution avenues are announced."
Wild Bunch in Paris remains on board to negotiate international distribution deals for the film.