Controversial Steve Bannon Doc Finally Scores Theatrical Release (Exclusive)

American Dharma Still 1- Venice Film Festival - Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of Venice International Film Festival

Upstart film label Utopia has acquired Errol Morris’ 'American Dharma' and plans to give it an awards-qualifying release.

A year after making its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and subsequently being snubbed by distributors, Errol Morris' Steve Bannon doc American Dharma finally will see the light of day.

Utopia, co-founded in February by musician and director Robert Schwartzman (nephew of Francis Ford Coppola), has acquired U.S. rights to the film from the Oscar winner behind The Fog of War.

After Venice, American Dharma screened at the Toronto and New York film festivals and picked up strong reviews. (THR said the film is "a perfectly frightening exchange of views" and “meant to leave its audience shaken, whatever side they're on.”) But the idea of Bannon getting a platform at all ignited a backlash (he was dropped from toplining the New Yorker Festival after Jim Carrey and Judd Apatow threatened to pull out) that made the film radioactive for buyers.

Morris is no stranger to training his lens on controversial figures, including Robert S. McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld. But given that Bannon is credited with helping propel Donald Trump to the White House, American Dharma courted detractors. In the film, Morris grapples with Bannon's ideology and methodology and suggests that ignoring the political strategist is more dangerous than engaging him.

"I wasn't surprised that there was criticism. There was certainly a backlash when I made The Fog of War and The Unknown Known. Both McNamara and Rumsfeld were incredibly controversial figures, but that was not a good reason not to make them," Morris tells THR. "[American Dharma] is one of my best films. That's what makes [the backlash] so hurtful."

But Utopia, the upstart behind the upstart behind the Cannes and SXSW film Mickey and the Bear and the international distribution of Lynn Shelton's Sword of Trust starring Marc Maron, was eager to land the film and will give it an awards-qualifying theatrical release (Endeavor Content handled the sale on behalf of the filmmakers).

Says Utopia distribution and acquisitions head David Betesh: "Errol has created an essential portrait of a man who, like it or not, has had a tremendous impact on global politics."

This story first appears in the Aug. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.