Kartemquin’s new doc distribution strategies

Tim Horsburgh, Kartemquin’s director of communications and distribution is working on distribution of Kirsten Kelly and Anne de Mare’s The Homestretch, which begins its premiere Chicago theatrical run Sept. 12 at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

The documentary follows three homeless Chicago Public Schools students for five years. “We plan to play in the 15 cities that have the largest homeless youth populations in the U.S.” This bona fide theatrical self-release, a first for Kartemquin, is “something we hope to expand on,” he says.

Since adding distribution to his official duties in March, Horsburgh has worked to extend Kartemquin’s distribution focus beyond a traditional PBS broadcast.  For instance, Kickstarter supporters of Steve James’s Life Itself were able to view a stream of the film concurrently with its Sundance Film Festival premiere, through a partnership with electronic distribution platform VHX. 

Horsburgh is also working with VHX to begin streaming the company’s deep catalog on the Kartemquin website, most likely with a pay-what-you-want model.

Life Itself, adapted from Roger Ebert’s memoir and also capturing the final months of the iconic movie critic’s life, returns to Chicago for a run at the Gene Siskel Film Center starting Sept. 5.  Life Itself peaked at 100 screens and grossed $768,000 as of Aug. 24 in a release by Magnolia Pictures.  CNN will broadcast it next year.

Kartemquin is planning a 20th anniversary rerelease of Steve James’ Hoop Dreams, which the UCLA Film and TV Archive restored to its original 4:3 aspect ratio.  The restored version screened at Sundance, where, Horsburgh says, “you could see the stunning beauty of the amazing compositions Peter Gilbert came up with as DP.  It’s not thought of as such a beautiful film, but now it will be.”

The rerelease will include DCP theatrical screenings late this year and a likely Criterion Collection Blu-Ray next year.

Some of Kartemquins 15 projects-in-progress

Among Kartemquin’s 15 films-in-progress are Judith Helfand of Chicken & Egg Pictures’ Cooked, about Chicago’s deadly 1995 heat wave and ongoing efforts to build resilience in impoverished communities, received funding from the Sundance Institute for a companion mobile app for community organizations.

In July Kartemquin signed on to produce Brett Huffman’s in-progress MacArthur Foundation-supported Saving Mes Aynak, about the battle to protect the long-lost Buddhist city in Afghanistan from destruction at the hands of a Chinese copper mining company.

In August the company also took on Keep Talking, Karen Lynn Weinberg’s account of the effort to preserve the Kodiak Alutiiq language, which like many native languages was brutally repressed by government officials and is now down to 33 fluent native speakers in Alaska.

Later this year Passion River Films will release Usama Alshaibi’s personal exploration of complex dual identities, American Arab.

Footage from Kartemquin’s many works-in-progress will showcase at Friday’s Gala at Moonlight Studios, 1446 W. Kinzie at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $250, and include drinks, food, and a raffle for a trip to Miami.