Only two months after HBO Films president Colin Callender publicly reconfirmed that all its movies would premiere on the HBO channel in North America, the company has announced that it will release crowd-pleasing festival favourite Real Women Have Curves in theatres this October. The film will be a joint distribution effort between HBO Films and Newmarket Capital Group's new theatrical distribution division which was officially launched last week with Bob Berney at the helm.
The road to theatrical for Real Women has been a long one. Directed by Patricia Cardoso, a student Academy Award winner for The Water Carrier, the film world premiered in dramatic competition at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Unlike HBO Films' other Sundance entries The Laramie Project and Hysterial Blindness, the critical response was fiercely positive and audiences went wild.
Set in a Mexican-American family in east Los Angeles, Real Women focuses on Ana (America Ferrara, making her film debut), a teenager struggling to strike a balance between her ambitions to go to college and the reactionary traditions of her mother (Lupe Ontiveros) who longs for her to lose some weight and find a husband. The film clearly hit a nerve and was the outright winner of the festival's audience award, while Ferrara and Ontiveros shared a special jury prize for acting.
Domestic distributors clamoured for theatrical rights to the film, but Callender roundly rebuffed them. Having financed the picture, he argued that HBO should naturally preserve its premiere for the channel ' especially since it could reach a Latino audience sector prized by the pay-TV giant in the US. In a press conference during the Cannes Film Festival, Callender again reiterated his refusal to give the film a theatrical platform.
But even Callender was stunned by the response to the picture from international buyers at the Cannes market. HBO Enterprises sold it to Mosaic Entertainment and Optimum Releasing in the UK, BIM Distribuzione in Italy, Gussi in Mexico, ABC Distribution in Benelux, Monopole Pathe in Swizterland, Noah Communications in Israel, Nu Metro in South Africa and Spentzos Film in Greece. Many of those buyers, despite their enthusiasm for the film itself, still said that a US theatrical release was needed to help their own prospects.
In at this point came Berney, the expert independent distributor then running fledgling domestic outfit IFC Films. Berney was coming off the huge success of Y Tu Mama Tambien ' a Mexican film which had cracked the US market for IFC to the tune of $13.6m. What's more, another ethnic-themed picture My Big Fat Greek Wedding from the stage play by Nia Vardalos about the US Greek community was starting to pick up speed for IFC. That film has of course now become a phenomenon, taking in over $35m at the box office and set for over $50m.
The combination of Berney and Real Women was suddenly a powerful one in the eyes of HBO, which then struck the deal with Newmarket, the financing and production outfit run by Will Tyrer and Chris Ball which was talking to Berney about partnering in a domestic distribution company. Berney had already released Memento and Donnie Darko on Newmarket's behalf last year. By partnering with Newmarket, Callender was able to keep a close handle on the distribution plans and rigorously maintain the HBO brand throughout the process.
"In the past, we resisted selling our films to distributors, but this provides us with a real opportunity to release the movie under the HBO Films banner, and thereby extend the HBO brand into the theatrical marketplace," said Callender in a statement.
HBO's documentary department also made its first foray into theatrical distribution this year, selling Amandla! A Revolution In Four Part Harmony to Artisan Entertainment which has specialised in making hits of documentaries such as Buena Vista Social Club and Startup.com.
The fact that Real Women is from a first-time director with a first-time actress in the lead role contrasts with other films produced by HBO Films with directors like Mike Nichols, Bruce Beresford and John Frankenheimer and stars such as Al Pacino, Emma Thompson, Meryl Streep, Michael Keaton, Maggie Smith, Jessica Lange and Albert Finney.
Real Women, which also opened the prestigious New Directors, New Films series at the Museum Of Modern Art in New York, was produced by George Lavoo (Getting To Know You) and Effie T Brown, and written by Lavoo and Josefina Lopez on whose play it is based.