German distributor Prokino's marketing campaign for Buffalo Soldiers has selected both a provocative poster image as well as an arresting new title for the German market: Army Go Home
The story of GIs stationed in West Germany during the 1980s uses an image of Joaquin Phoenix as a drug-dealing GI lounging against the Stars and Stripes, dollar bills fluttering around him.
Prokino's release next week will mark Buffalo Soldiers' first foray into cinemas - more than a year after its ill-fated world premiere at the Toronto International Film festival on the eve of September 11. In an industry where distributors traditionally take their lead from the US, New York-based Miramax Films has since stalled on releasing sensitive films such as Buffalo Soldiers or Phillip Noyce's The Quiet American and the Al Pacino thriller People I Know.
While the rest of Buffalo Soldiers' distributors are expected to wait until Miramax's release next year, a successful campaign from Prokino and its partner Odeon Film will at least raise the question as to whether the German zeitgeist is a special case. Germany has been one of the most outspoken opponents in the West to any American-led attack on Iraq, a climate which Prokino chief Stephan Hutter says he is responding to.
"We are making use of the political events a year after September 11 and the present atmosphere to draw the most benefit for our marketing campaign," he says. " This is the kind of thing the American distributors do on a regular basis for their films."
In Germany's competitive autumn arena, Prokino aims for 300,000 admissions from 120-150 prints, positioning the would-be sleeper hit as a smart, very dark comedy with multiplex and art-house appeal. The distributor, which is using Twentieth Century Fox for physical distribution, changed the title as a play on AMI go home, the slogan daubed on West German walls in the 1980s in protest to the US army presence.
"The question was how could we get the black comedy element into the title," says Hutter. "The title is an ideal comment on the current situation and mood in Germany about the US plans of war against Iraq and other territories."
Germany may well be exceptional, but Buffalo Soldiers has triggered significant interest from UK buyers after majority financier FilmFour was forced to retrench.
International buyers including the UK's Artificial Eye and Germany's Movienet were also willing to pick up September 11 portmanteau film 11 09 01, which was savaged in the US for its critical take on its overseas policy. In Italy, distributor CDI has taken $1.4m with Myriad Pictures' People I Know after three weeks, a surprisingly good result for an independent and a lacklustre campaign. The political thriller paints a dark picture of a New York run by corrupt political cabals and an unnamed right wing mayor.
Miramax declined comment on when it will open People I Know in the US, but it has softened its stance on other titles. Head of worldwide distribution Rick Sands confirmed that The Quiet American, Phillip Noyce's adaptation of Graham Green's critique of US policy in Indochina, will have an Oscar qualifier next month before being released in January. Buffalo Soldiers, directed by Gregor Jordan, is to go out in March in New York and Los Angeles before rolling out.
Buffalo Soldiers' release will however play down political elements. David Linde, co-president of New York-based Focus Features, aims to "emphasise Joaquin's character and the film's black comedy aspects."
"The film has been politicised to some extent," Linde says. "But we have always considered it to be about a young hot shot who gets into trouble and then comes through."
Some critics argue that it is a fine line between responding to public mood and censorship. Screen International's Lee Marshall wrote that the lack of a US release smacked of "self-regulatory censorship" and a "don't rock-the-boat coma".
But cutting scenes on People I Know was no easy decision for director Dan Algrant and Michael Nozik, producer and head of Robert Redford's SouthFork Films. The film was rumoured to originally have had a dream-like sequence of the World Trade Centre spinning round.
"It was a big discussion for us what to include and what to take out," says Nozik. "Our editing suite was downtown, Dan's apartment was close to the destroyed buildings, and he had to move out temporarily. We left some in images in and some were too painful because they were so prominent. Shooting in downtown Manhattan, it's hard not to get them in there and they would distract you from watching the film."