Canadian doc takes Manhattan for Oscar bid

Glenn Gould doc secured slot at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas

TORONTO – Some Oscar campaigns just take longer to launch than others.

Canadian filmmakers Peter Raymont and Michele Hozer debuted "Genius Within: The Inner Life Of Glenn Gould" at last year's Toronto International Film Festival, and are now taking a less-traveled road to Oscar consideration for their arthouse documentary: through Dan Talbot's Upper West Side Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

It's the difference for a U.S. theatrical release of a Canadian movie between one built on hope or on deliberate strategy.

U.S. distributor Kino Lorber Raymont premiered the film about the late Canadian classic pianist Glenn Gould at the taste-making Lincoln Plaza on Sept. 9 after securing impressive reviews from the New York Times and The New Yorker.

Kino Lorber topper Richard Lorber said the positive NYC reviews and Lincoln Plaza release puts the picture on the radar screen of national theatre bookers as a crossover art film, with DVD and VOD distribution to follow in early 2011.

"The goal for these kinds of the specialized arthouse films is to establish a curatorial pedigree for the film, not so much because Manhattan is the center of the universe, but it's the focal point for the press," Lorber explained this while attending the Toronto International Film Festival.

Kino Lorber even has the Glenn Gould doc opening simultaneously in the Quad Cinema, so it can snag a downtown arthouse audience.

Next, after Manhattan, "Genius Within" will open at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago and on Sept. 24 at the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles, before seven floating U.S. prints land at dates in October and November in St. Louis, Denver, Seattle, Philadelphia, Atlanta and elsewhere.

For director Raymont, whose 2007 film "A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman" was short-listed for an Oscar for best documentary, the aim is to repeat this year with "Genius Within."

Raymont insists getting the Canadian doc in more theaters across the country, and especially Los Angeles, is about laying the groundwork for a successful awards season campaign.

"Now we're doing the screenings that will attract an audience and buzz and reviews and the voters, who are part of the Academy Awards documentary branch," he said.

But getting the Canadian doc onto the Oscar ramp was no easy task.

International sales agent Film Transit International invited Dan Talbot to the Toronto debut last year, and the Lincoln Plaza boss immediately expressed interest in showing the film in his house, a rarity for arthouse documentaries.

But the Canadian doc had a big obstacle in its way: PBS WNET acquired the Glenn Gould biopic for its American Masters series, and didn't way to see national press and play for "Genius Within" focus round a theatrical release.

"It's free on television," Raymont said pointedly about the plum American Masters slot for his documentary on Dec. 27, mid-way through Christmas and New Years Eve.

And the recent New York Times feature and review of "Genius Within" could affect whether PBS gets similar treatment in the national newspaper for its American Masters airdate.

PBS had already granted a waiver to allow Canadian broadcaster Bravo to show a 60-minute version of the Glenn Gould documentary before its American airdate.

In effect, Canadian broadcasters, tax credits and other public subsidies have subsidized the U.S. viewership for "Genius Within," and it looks like PBS has leverage disproportionate to its license fee.

In the end, it took eight months of negotiations between Diana Holtzberg, vp of Films at Transit Films International, and PBS to get everyone comfortable with a U.S. broadcast and theatrical release.

"Even though Glenn Gould is an icon in the world, maybe 5% of Americans know who he is," Holtzberg explained.

"So in order to really get the general public to know about the artist, I insisted that a theatrical release, and good reviews, and people starting to buzz about the film would help the PBS broadcast," she added.

The problem was, as PBS got comfortable, the original U.S. distributor for "Genius Within" got cold feet and backed out, allowing Kino Lorber to jump on board last June.

Now Raymont is looking the shorten the Oscar odds for "Genius Within" with a planned reception in Los Angeles ahead of its Sept. 24 bow at the Leammle Royal in Santa Monica.

Sony, which has a Glenn Gould CD collection, is getting in on the campaign, as is the Canadian Consulate in Los Angeles.

"But the key was I got the film into Lincoln Plaza, right around the corner from Steinway, and where Gould stayed on Essex House, and where he walked and lived. That was cool," Raymont said.
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