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TORONTO – Civil War chronicler Ron Maxwell last month screened his latest movie, Copperhead, over the Memorial Day weekend to a festival audience filled with warriors, many wounded, disabled or on home leave.
He was showing the Billy Campbell, Angus Macfadyen, and Peter Fonda-starring war drama at the GI Film Festival in Arlington, Va., near to battlefields whose names figure prominently in American history.
“A lot were veterans, and some wounded veterans. These are people who in the last 10 years have been to war zones,” Maxwell told The Hollywood Reporter about the returning and recovering service members.
The third in the director’s Civil War trilogy after Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, Copperhead is a drama about families on the home front split by the bloodshed of the American Civil War in 1862 Upstate New York.
The indie is based on the 19th century novel of the same name by Harold Frederic, adapted by Bill Kaufman.
Copperhead examines the price of dissent amid the hysteria of war, and takes its name from a derisive term used during the Civil War to insult Northerners who opposed the historical conflict.
And, judging by the festival response in Arlington, Maxwell insists Copperhead plays well before actual soldiers.
“That audience gave us a standing ovation. The film is about the copperhead, because they believe war is not the answer. He’s anti-slavery, he’s for the Union. He doesn’t think war is the solution,” the director said.
After a cast and crew screening Thursday night in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Maxwell is readying Copperhead for a U.S. release via The Film Collective and Brainstorm Media, starting in select U.S. theaters from June 28.
Brainstorm, the Los Angeles sales agent and distributor, will roll the film out on VOD, as The Film Collective handles theatrical.
Maxwell, who as a director is used to controlling a film set with hundreds of extras and Civil War re-enactors as they recreate complex battle scenes, will be hands-on with the distribution of Copperhead.
“This is not the kind of movie that you dump on 5,000 screens. It requires considerable handling and targeting of your primary audience,” the director explained.
And that targeted audience mostly will be found in Civil War country, east of the Mississippi.
Brainstorm and The Film Collective are also releasing Copperhead at the height of the summer tourist season, so families can visit and walk over battleground and historical sites by day, before seeing the film in a local cinema that evening.
“People who love American history, who love the Civil War, these are fans of my movies. This is our core audience,” Maxwell said.
The director is also betting filmgoers will see in his latest Civil War epic present-day parallels.
“How can they not think of their neighbors coming back with postbattle syndrome, wounded or not coming back at all? Those audiences will make their own connections,” Maxwell said.
Copperhead is banking on stand-out performances, including from Campbell, playing the patriarch, Abner Beech, a stubborn and righteous farmer who defies his neighbors and his government, while Macfadyen performs the role of Jee Hagadorn, a rival capable of deadly violence for his ideals. Also cast was Fonda, as Abner’s neighbor Avery.
Rounding out the cast are Casey Brown, Josh Cruddas, Lucy Boynton, Augustus Prew, Francois Arnaud, Genevieve Steele, Andrea Lee Norwood, Mary Fay Coady and Hugh Thompson.
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