12 September, 2008
by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
Che, the 4 1/2 hour epic on the life of revolutionary Che Guevera, has been acquired for all North American rights by IFC Films. The film, directed by Steven Soderbergh, had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, where the film's lead Benicio del Toro won the Best Actor prize. It screened this past week at the Toronto International Film Festival and will be screening next at the New York Film Festival. The film is a co-production between Laura Bickford Productions (USA), Morena Films (Spain), Telecino (Spain) and Wild Bunch (France).
Che gives IFC Films a strong contender for end-of-the-year awards season, including possible Oscar nods for the film, the director and the star. Che will be released for one week awards qualifying runs in New York and Los Angeles in December, and then will re-open in January through the company's IFC In Theaters, its day-and-date distribution platform which makes independent films available to a national audience in theaters and on-demand, simultaneously. It will also be included in the company’s exclusive video rental deal with Blockbuster Video.
While critically praised, the film's length and the director's insistence on releasing the film in two parts, apparently scared off some studio or larger distribution firms. However, with the video-on-demand component that would allow viewers at home to watch the film at their leisure, taking breaks when needed or viewing the film in installments, it made IFC a logical place for the film to land.
Soderbergh has a long relationship with IFC. He sits on the advisory board of both the Independent Film Channel cable network and the IFC Center arthouse multiplex in downtown Manhattan. The company also financed his performance documentary, Gray's Anatomy, featuring the verbal artistry of legendary storyteller Spalding Gray.
The film was sold by Wild Bunch, the French-based international sales company. Vincent Maraval, one of the company's heads, commented that "this project is so important to us that we wanted to partner with someone sharing our same idea of distribution." “This is a unique distribution challenge", Maraval continued, "and we needed someone with creative passion and marketing skill to work with."
IFC Films has been a major presence at the Toronto International Film Festival with 7 films screening including Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale, Ole Christian Madsen's Flame and Citron, Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah, Kim Jee-Woon's The Good, The Bad, The Weird, Steve McQueen's Hunger, Barry Jenkins' Medicine for Melancholy and Olivier Assayas' Summer Hours. The company just announced the acquisition of Jan Troell’s Everlasting Moments, which was one of the standout hits of the Telluride Film Festival and is currently also screening in Toronto.
It will be interesting to see how IFC Films confronts the unique challenges of distributing this lengthy epic and if it can build interest beyond a core audience for a film on the life of a revolutionary who died more than 40 years ago. However, since Che himself is not only a historical figure but an immediate icon of revolutionary promise and sacrifice, the interest could be huge. And Golden Globe, Oscar and film critics nods at the end of the year could make this a major box office phenomenon.