Fest premiere of Joffrey doc simulcasts to 40 theaters

Joffrey Ballet doc to screen in theaters

In a first-ever event of its kind, writer/director Bob Hercules’ documentary Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance will be simulcast to more than 40 theaters on the second night of its festival premiere run.

Joffrey debuts Jan. 27 as the opening night film of the Dance on Camera Film Festival at New York’s Lincoln Center and the Jan. 28 screening, plus live introduction and Q&A, will be simulcast Jan. 28 by New York-based Emerging Pictures.

Emerging Pictures is headed by independent film marketing and distribution pioneer Ira Deutchman who earlier had founded Fine Line Features.

“Emerging Pictures has developed a network of theaters and an audience for this kind of work” with theatrical simulcasts of live ballet and opera performances, says Jon Reiss, the doc’s producer for marketing and distribution. 

Dance on Camera is the premiere festival in the US for this kind of film. It made perfect sense for this.” 

Hercules began Arpino interviews in 2008

Writer/director Bob HerculesDance teacher Robert Joffrey and dancer/choreographer Gerald Arpino founded the Joffrey Ballet in New York in 1956, pioneering an innovative and often controversial combination of ballet and modern dance. 

Arpino continued to run the company after Joffrey died of complications from AIDS in 1988. Amid financial struggles, the Joffrey moved to Chicago in 1995, where it has thrived, unveiling its own Loop building in 2009.

Executive producers Harold Ramis, Erica Mann Ramis, Jay Alix and Una Jackman approached Hercules in 2008 to interview Arpino after hearing about Hercules’s work co-directing the documentary portrait of choreographer Bill T. Jones, A Good Man, with Kartemquin’s Gordon Quinn.

Joffrey and Arpino in the 1960s“We started to capture Gerry’s story before he passed,” Hercules says.  After interviewing Arpino, Hercules says he “got interested in the Joffrey, did research and discovered that nobody had made a film about the whole history.

“I went back to the producers and made a pitch that this would be a great film.  They eventually agreed to fund the whole film,” through their Lakeview Films, “which is a rare thing in our universe.”

They shot through 2010 and edited until the middle of last year, recording narration by Mandy Patinkin. Media Process Group, which Hercules owns with Keith Walker, was the production company. Michael Swanson and Walker shot. Melissa Sterne edited.

Indie distribution expert Jon ReissReiss plans doc will play in 100 theaters this year

Then the producers hired Reiss, first to develop a marketing and distribution plan for the film, and then, in a first for him, to fully implement the release through his Hybrid Cinema.  “I don’t normally do that, but they made a convincing argument to get involved,” Reiss says.

After the successful self-release of his 2007 graffiti documentary Bomb It, Reiss wrote the canonical self-distribution manual Think Outside the Box Office.  He has provided strategic consulting to filmmakers nationwide, including local documentarian Ruth Leitman (Tony & Janina’s American Wedding).

Reiss hopes the simulcast will allow Joffrey to translate the buzz of its debut into direct ticket sales, an opportunity that many indies miss.  “As far as I know this is the first time a film will be simulcast nationwide out of its festival premiere,” he says.

“A lot of filmmakers have had a big festival launch, and then the film comes out a year later and they’re trying to recreate that enthusiasm.”

Reiss plans to play in 100 cities by the end of the year.  The Chicago premiere is Feb. 18 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, with an encore screening Feb. 22.

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