Peter Weir and ‘The Way Back’ set to enter the race

Posted by · 10:19 am · October 5th, 2010

Good news for Peter Weir fans.  I’m hearing a press release announcing that the Aussie director’s first film in seven years will be given a fighting chance in this year’s film awards season is imminent.

The film, of course, is “The Way Back.” Newmarket Films was announced as the distributor on opening day of this year’s Telluride Film Festival (where Weir was in attendance for a tribute and the film saw its world premiere). It was immediately slated for a January 21, 2011 wide release date, but there was no indication that it would have a presence in the Oscar season.

Just last week, Newmarket president and co-founder Chris Ball pulled back from the company to form a new shingle, Wrekin Hill Entertainment, and “The Way Back” was announced as one of the company’s first releases (jointly with Newmarket). And today it looks like the film will be slated for a one-week Oscar qualifying run in December.

I found Weir’s film to be best in show at Telluride this year. At the time I called it “quietly profound, epic, bold filmmaking at its very best…unconventional in its depiction of a long march by Siberian Gulag escapees out of Communist Russia. But rather than becoming repetitive or aimless, the film’s series of vignettes depicting the mundane particulars of survival (be it physical or psychological) is incredibly moving and consistently engaging.”

When I spoke with Weir at the fest, he was still unsure how things would play out and called a potential Oscar run an issue of money. And he seemed like a filmmaker very aware of a changing tide in the industry.

Interestingly enough, he happened to foreshadow the forming of Wrekin Hill in some way when he told me he was “disappointed that so far there doesn’t seem to be a young, Weinstein-type team coming through in the distribution area.” He also said he “thought this would be an opportunity for someone in this kind of panic and caution to take advantage of it and it’s a chance to build a new company that could put together…a very good program.” Given the films on Wrekin Hill’s plate (the Billy Joel documentary “The Last Play at Shea” and Sundance acquisition “Hesher”), it would seem Weir got his wish.

Meanwhile, a statement from Ball accompanying the Wrekin Hill announcement conveyed similar sentiments:

While there may be challenges in the independent theatrical world right now, it is also a time of great growth and opportunity as new methods of distribution are being tried and developed. Forming Wrekin Hill will give me and my partners the flexibility to work on a wide variety of films and craft distribution plans that are unique and appropriately scaled for each film we acquire.

Immediately leaping into the race, I should think, would be Colin Farrell’s magnetic performance as a Russian ruffian. Also noteworthy is Ed Harris’s performance as an American expatriate, Saoirse Ronan as a young tag-along and Jim Sturgess’s unfussy leading man portrayal.  Russell Boyd’s exquisite photography should also be a part of the conversation along with the rest of the film’s refined below-the-line aspects.

The film is inspired by the true story documented in Slavomir Rawicz’s book “The Long Walk,” covered in our Page to Screen series in June.

UPDATE (11:07am): And on cue, the press release lands.  Here it is in full:

Los Angeles, CA (October 1st 2010) – Nigel Sinclair, CEO and Co-Chairman of Exclusive Media Group (“Exclusive”) and Newmarket Films (“Newmarket”)and Chris Ball , President and CEO of newly formed Wrekin Hill Entertainment (“Wrekin Hill”) announced today that their first joint Newmarket / Wrekin Hill release will be to give, six-time Academy Award nominee Peter Weir’s THE WAY BACK , an Academy Award qualifying run from December 29, 2010 in Los Angeles, followed by a theatrical release of upwards of 500 screens on January 21, 2011.

The film stars Ed Harris (Pollack, Gone Baby Gone), Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe, The Other Boleyn Girl), Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, The Lovely Bones), Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes, Kick Ass) and Colin Farrell (In Bruges , Crazy Heart).

The Way Back is the first film produced under the Exclusive Films label to be distributed through Exclusive’s subsidiary, Newmarket in partnership with Wrekin Hill. National Geographic Entertainment and Imagenation Abu Dhabi co-produced the film as part of their joint production agreement.

The Way Back, which recently had its World Premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, is inspired by Slavomir Rawicz’s acclaimed novel The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom, as well as by other real life accounts. The film chronicles the escape of a small group of multi-national prisoners from a Siberian gulag in 1940 and their epic life affirming journey over thousands of miles across five hostile countries.

“After the positive reception and critical acclaim we received at Telluride, it was clear that THE WAY BACK should have an Oscar qualifying run. It was incredibly gratifying that audiences and critics responded so favorably to Peter Weir’s vision, the actors’ outstanding performances, and the stunning craftwork,” comment Sinclair and Daniel Battsek, president of National Geographic Entertainment.

Notes Ball: “As a new company, we are honored to have the Wrekin Hill name attached to such an acclaimed film as THE WAY BACK. We are extremely enthusiastic about bringing the film to audiences this winter.”

Producers are Joni Levin, Peter Weir, Duncan Henderson and Nigel Sinclair. Keith Clarke, John Ptak, Guy East, Simon Oakes, Tobin Armbrust, Jake Eberts, Edward Borgerding, Mohammed Khalaf, Adam Leipzig, Scott Rudin and Jonathan Schwartz are Executive Producers.

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27 responses so far

  • 1 10-05-2010 at 10:32 am

    JJ1 said...

    Yes! Kris, can you see an Ed Harris (who I think should have 2 Oscars by now) campaign, and sentimental win?

  • 2 10-05-2010 at 10:39 am

    Sean said...

    Great News!!! CANNOT WAIT to see the film.

  • 3 10-05-2010 at 10:41 am

    McAllister said...

    AWESOME. Can’t wait for Colin Farrell’s momentum to build back up.

  • 4 10-05-2010 at 10:52 am

    Graysmith said...

    Always nice to see another contender get in on the action. Even if it might not be a player for the biggest prizes, it’s good news nevertheless. If only we could’ve gotten Tree of Life in there as well.

  • 5 10-05-2010 at 10:53 am

    Hunter Tremayne said...

    Good. Good. Good!

  • 6 10-05-2010 at 10:59 am

    Drew said...

    Great news. How did the movie play with the festival audience by the way? I’ve only read two or three fairly positive reviews but I haven’t gathered a clear sense of how it was recieved overwhelmingly.

  • 7 10-05-2010 at 11:04 am

    Mr. Gittes said...

    Yes! But will it get “The New World” treatment? As in the Academy doesn’t see it?

  • 8 10-05-2010 at 11:07 am

    Hunter Tremayne said...

    The be fair, Mr. Gittes, that was a Malick movie. They didn’t see it on purpose.

  • 9 10-05-2010 at 11:25 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Updated with the press release now.

  • 10 10-05-2010 at 11:31 am

    RichardA said...

    Unless there’s a marketing and campaign already set up for the Oscars in January, I doubt this will do much.

  • 11 10-05-2010 at 12:17 pm

    Angry Shark said...

    yesssssssss. WEIR ftw.

  • 12 10-05-2010 at 12:39 pm

    Ella said...

    Nice! Very happy for Peter Weir, and good to see it will get a decent theatrical run as well. Kris, having seen the film, would you say Farrell and Harris would be campagined in the lead or the supporting categories?

  • 13 10-05-2010 at 2:42 pm

    Corran Horn said...

    Great news! Thanks so much for keeping us up to date on this, Kris.

    I suspect we’ll see a trailer sometime in November, or possibly this month with HEREAFTER.

  • 14 10-05-2010 at 2:49 pm

    Rashad said...

    Damn no NY?

  • 15 10-05-2010 at 3:07 pm

    matsunaga said...

    We need a trailer now… Can’t wait for this… I’m hoping for a supporting actor nod for Ed Harris or Jim Sturgess…

    And of course a timely Oscar win for Weir… It’s about time….

  • 16 10-05-2010 at 10:24 pm

    DB said...

    This concerns me. As a big Weir fan who has been eagerly awaiting this movie, I want it to have a strong chance at the gold (well…I want it to be great, first and foremost). But a late December one-week run makes me think the movie will get lost in the shuffle. They need to at least set up lots of Academy screenings in December. Here’s hoping…

  • 17 10-05-2010 at 10:48 pm

    j said...

    I only care about this b/c of Ronan who seems maybe unlikely for this year.

    Harris would theoretically be tied for most supp actor noms w/this, which could help his chances if nommed.

  • 18 10-05-2010 at 11:07 pm

    j said...

    Interesting to see studios’ multiple offerings on Tapley’s T15: disney toy/secretariat, sony social/another/dagenham, paramount grit/fighter/shutter, warner inception/hereafter.
    Weinsteins can concentrate a lot of effort on King’s Speech, & if they want a lead actress bid maybe these notorious campaigners can help Michelle Williams break into the 6-name field.

  • 19 10-06-2010 at 6:55 am

    Michael said...

    Lets hope The Way Back can spice things up in the Oscar race.

  • 20 10-09-2010 at 6:03 am

    tiger tim said...

    Looking WAY tooo GQ meets ‘Outward Bound’/Discovery Channel –and with that
    same lame and stale techno-scoring.

    MEANWHILE as Hollywood continues to
    reap BILLIONS catering to the franchise slum
    denial needs of, among others, history’s MOST
    awesomely genocidal regime ACROSS the
    Pacific —BOTH the 20th anniversary of
    the Tiennamen Massacre AND the urgently
    important 60th anniversary of the KOREAN
    WAR are, AGAIN, ‘mysteriously overlooked’…

  • 21 10-10-2010 at 5:30 am

    JP said...

    I don’t see it getting The New World treatment. It’s a WWII drama. It’s Peter Weir, the living director who is the most overdue of an Oscar win. And if it’s in… it can change this race.

  • 22 10-10-2010 at 7:29 am

    JJ1 said...

    I think, in aperfect world (sooooo early):

    pic – the king’s speech
    dir – peter weir
    actor – firth
    actress – bening
    sactress – hbc or richardson
    sactor – harris
    as – social network
    os – inception
    ed – social network
    cin – true grit
    ad – inception

    Hopefully a spreading of the wealth. Haha, I’m sure it’s WAY too much to ask for.