Docs

When We Were Kings: From big screen to the video store

Pleased with the home video results of its first theatrical documentary release, When We Were Kings, PolyGram Video is looking to achieve the same success with its next project, Mandela, which looks as if it will hit the market with similar...
October 1, 1997

Pleased with the home video results of its first theatrical documentary release, When We Were Kings, PolyGram Video is looking to achieve the same success with its next project, Mandela, which looks as if it will hit the market with similar timeliness.

‘We are very happy with the units we received on the final sell,’ says Charles Weir, director of theatrical marketing at PolyGram Video, of Leon Gast’s critically acclaimed documentary about boxing star Mohammed Ali. (However, Weir would not release a figure.)

Kings, released theatrically by Gramercy Pictures, grossed $2.5 million at the box office in the U.S. and won the Oscar for Best Documentary at the 1997 Academy Awards. The home-video release of Kings was boosted by a number of factors, among them the positive press recognition of the theatrical release, as well as Ali’s poignant appearance at the 1996 Olympics. ‘As an icon of his generation, Mohammed Ali really helped the awareness of the film,’ notes Weir. ‘The timing was perfect. This is the kind of thing that makes the difference…

‘It’s extremely difficult unless there are specific anniversaries or moments in history coming up again that will rekindle interest or curiousity about a certain time.

‘If you have an icon or event film about to be released, and there is reaction or concern about its message, consumer awareness and anticipation of the title plays a critical role in whether a title is going to make money.’

PolyGram is expecting a huge sell-through base for the documentary, due to the film’s sports nature and Ali’s immense popularity. ‘People building their video libraries do purchase more meaningful films, so documentaries usually have a very strong appeal for sell-through. Many documentaries when they are released have a limited run – not much beyond 30 to 40 markets – and don’t have a lot of exposure,’ says Weir.

He goes on to explain that there is great opportunity, however, when the documentary goes to video. ‘They regain their awareness and get a whole new audience that normally would not be able to see the film if they weren’t in those parts of the country.’

Kings will be available in sell-through toward the Christmas holidays. ‘Once exposed to the documentary, the target audience that likes these types of films want to own them. They have a dedication and a likeness for the genre or the person involved in the film.’

PolyGram is hoping to mirror the success of Kings with the release of Mandela, a historical look at South African President Nelson Mandela’s life and his career.

With F.W. de Klerk resigning from his post in South Africa, Weir is again happy with the timing. They plan to help the film by launching a companion teacher’s guide, which will facilitate the use of the film in the classroom as an educational tool.

‘Not only will it have its mass appeal to consumers who want to learn about the man as well as see a great film, but it will also open up new avenues for us.’

And, like Kings, the gift-giving factor will also support Mandela when it goes to sell-through for Black History Month in February.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.

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