[Our thanks to Dan Tabor for the following interview.]
A few weeks ago there was a free screening of A Serbian Film in Philadelphia at the Prince Theater of the uncut festival print of the film being held by Invincible Pictures who recently licensed the film. So living in Philadelphia and being a fan of transgressive cinema, I had to check it out, this being my second time seeing the film theatrically.
I also took some time out beforehand to chat with Thomas Ashley one of the folks who works at US distributor Invincible Pictures. I spoke with him right around the time the Spanish controversy around the film - Sitges Film Festival director Angel Sala was hit with criminal charges for screening the film - had just hit and was all over the internet.
The conversation turned into an interesting look at licensing a film such as A Serbian Film and the decisions they have to make to release one of the most controversial films of all time both ethically and artistically.
So how did Invincible Pictures first find out about A Serbian Film and then go about licensing it?
We were at the Cannes film festival last year and we had heard about it through the grapevine. We were there looking for acquisitions for our domestic distribution and digital system. So after hearing about it, we met with their reps over at Jinga and we went to the screening of the film and it turned out to be a pretty crazy experience.
One of our associates got so freaked out, and if you google the A Serbian Film screening at Cannes you will see someone fainted halfway through the door and broke their nose. Well, they didn't break their nose but that was someone who works for our company. So they had to spend the whole day in the hospital, get stitches, the whole nine yards.
Besides just being so out there, I had never seen anything like it. Pushing boundaries is one thing and some say its being extreme for extreme sake; but I had never watched a movie that gave me that much of a reaction. Whether it was a good reaction or not, I was totally disgusted, but it was a reaction nonetheless.
I personally have never had a stronger reaction watching a movie than I did watching A Serbian Film.
So you weren't aware of the reputation the film had before Cannes?
I really didn't know anything, when we met with Jinga, they were like you really don't want to see that and we really thought it was part of the sales pitch at first. I was like come on, how bad could it be? I mean I have seen some crazy stuff and it can't be that bad.
But they were right. I had never seen anything like it.
So what are your plans to release the film in the United States?
We are still waiting to hear back from the MPAA what the rating is going to be we are hoping for an R but most likely it will be an NC-17. [It has since been assessed an NC-17] In which case we are going to be doing about 15-50 screens initially. Then depending on how well we do on those screens, we also might be taking it out much wider.
We will be making it available on our digital system FlixFling day and date with theatrical release. Then with Blu-ray and DVD depending on the theatrical run, if it does really well we might push the release date. But right now we are looking at about 60 days from theatrical release for home video.
That will be an edited version, correct?
The DVD and Blu-ray will be edited, but it won't be as edited as the theatrical version.
It really depends on what happens between now and then, what we end up doing. There are obviously some legal issues we have to look at.
What is it like for a independent distributor like yourself suddenly getting all of this attention?
We have been distributing low-budget independent films for about 6 years now. Not one of our films has garnered this amount of attention. We have also stepped up our acquisitions this year and we are working with higher quality films, A Serbian Film definitely falls into that category.
And finally, are you worried of any backlash from the charges in Spain against the film?
You know there is that saying that no publicity is bad publicity, I am not worried about it. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, just like when a film is very subjective and it is up to the viewer. If you don't like this movie you really don't have to watch it. But it deserves to be seen.
It's a very well crafted film and an ingenious piece whether you agree with the subject matter is beyond the point.
I am sure we will get backlash from some advocacy group and it's going to try and boycott the film. But that is not going to stop us from putting it out. If it weren't for the possible legal repercussions, we would release the film as the filmmakers intended. Which is the way all films should be released. I think it is a shame we find ourselves in this position that we are forced to edit someone else's work to bring it to the public.
Obviously the filmmakers didn't intend on breaking any laws and no one was put in danger while making this film, it's all fake and fictional. But if we don't edit it no one will see it.
I think it deserves to be out there and deserves to be seen.
Interview by Dan Tabor.
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