By Ray Pride

Start-Up Acquires Errol Morris’ Steve Bannon Chat Film For Release A Year After Preem

[pr] August 7, 2019 – Utopia has acquired U.S. rights to Academy-Award winner (THE FOG OF WAR) Errol Morris’ AMERICAN DHARMA following debuts at Venice, Toronto and New York Film Festivals. Morris’ probing and urgent conversation with Stephen K. Bannon made waves on the festival circuit as a disturbing, intimate look at the man many consider to be the architect of the Trump presidency, as well as the resurgence of nationalism across Europe. AMERICAN DHARMA will be released on November 1, 2019 at the Film Forum in New York, with a national theatrical rollout to follow.
No stranger to sitting down with some of the most controversial figures of our time, including Robert S. McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld, Errol Morris trains his lens on Stephen K. Bannon. In their wide-ranging and contentious conversation spanning over 16 hours, Morris questions Bannon on his background, belief system, worldview, current feelings on President Trump, and how films such as Henry King’s TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH, John Ford’s THE SEARCHERS, and Orson Welles’ CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT became part of Bannon’s understanding of the world. Frank and unflinching, Morris grapples with Bannon’s ideology and methodology. With AMERICAN DHARMA, Morris proposes that even for those who disagree with Bannon, ignoring him is a dangerous course of action.
Said Morris: “I made this film because I wanted to learn about Stephen K. Bannon, to try to understand him, because he scares me. I thought if making a film could help me, and others, understand any of this then it would be a good thing. I’m delighted AMERICAN DHARMA will be reaching audiences and excited to partner with Utopia.”
Utopia’s David Betesh said, “Part of our mission as distributors is to support filmmakers with urgent voices, to champion important and timely work, no matter how controversial. Errol has created an essential portrait of a man, who like it or not, has had a tremendous impact on global politics. With his unparalleled skill at interviewing, Errol reveals facets of Bannon beyond what we see in the news. This is a film we believe will shake audiences to their cores, no matter what side of the aisle.”
The film was produced by Morris, Marie Savare of Maje Productions, P.J. van Sandwijk of Storyteller Productions, Robert Fernandez of Moxie Pictures, and Steven Hathaway of Fourth Floor Productions. Michael Lesslie of Storyteller Productions served as Executive Producer.
Endeavor Content handled the sale on behalf of the filmmakers with Betesh, Utopia’s Head of Sales and Acquisitions.
“SOARS. Delivers a suspenseful and upsetting showdown between one man confident of his cause and another mortified by it. AMERICAN DHARMA doesn’t just recap a dark chapter in the nation’s history. It sounds the alarm for the rest of the world.”
“Meant to leave its audience shaken, whatever side they’re on. While deceptively placid on the surface, their exchange of views is electrified and contradicted by a nervous deluge of headlines, photos, videos and Twitter feeds that reveal what kind of issues are really at stake behind the friendly façade. Though stylistically quite different from the director’s THE FOG OF WAR: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, it shows the same ability to engage the viewer in American politics through a strategy of detached passion…leaves the viewer with goose bumps.”
Utopia is a ‘filmmaker-first’ sales and distribution company based out of New York and Los Angeles. The inaugural slate also includes the Cannes and SXSW lauded feature, MICKEY AND THE BEAR from writer-director Annabelle Attanasio set for a November theatrical release and internationally, Lynn Shelton’s SWORD OF TRUST starring Marc Maron.
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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon