Cable TV's HBO on Thursday launched a new division under its HBO Films label to leverage the group's reputation for high-quality series and movies and expand into the world of independent film distribution. The new division, HBO Films Domestic Theatrical Releasing, will be headed by out film exec Dennis O'Connor, who as marketing chief for United Artists films spearheaded the release for Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine. In addition, HBO Films is banding with sister company New Line Cinema and its Fine Line specialty film label to distribute films theatrically. The companies are all owned by media conglomerate AOL Time Warner.
"We feel we can bring HBO's unique marketing and promotional skills to help some of these [specialty] movies...find an audience in the theatrical marketplace," Colin Callendar, president of HBO Films, said in a statement. First up is American Splendor, a movie that blends nonfiction and fiction filmmaking in a story about comic book writer Harvey Pekar. Splendor won the Grand Jury Prize for the best drama at 2003's Sundance Film Festival and hits theaters in August. It will be followed in October by gay director Gus Van Sant's Elephant, a dark look inside American high schools that won the coveted Palme d'Or and earned Van Sant a Best Director award at May's Cannes Film Festival in France.
Because they lack the multimillion-dollar marketing budgets of major Hollywood studio movies, art-house films thrive or dive on word-of-mouth publicity. HBO believes its clout as a maker of award-winning TV shows like The Sopranos and made-for-TV movies such as Band of Brothers can help boost the fortunes of specialty films.
The deal with New Line-Fine Line gives them an immediate foot in the door in art-house theaters around the world. HBO first got its feet wet in the market with last year's Real Women Have Curves, a drama about Hispanic women that was an audience favorite at Sundance and went on to earn $6 million in theaters, which is a success by indie standards. Callendar said HBO's big-budget event movies like Band of Brothers would remain a staple of the cable TV channel.