Distributor profile: First Run Features

New York-based First Run Features boasts a doc catalog that includes critically-acclaimed titles such as Crude, Bhutto and Kings of Pastry. Its VP of acquisitions and marketing, Marc Mauceri, talks to realscreen about recent acquisitions, and the company's support for Crude director Joe Berlinger during his legal battle with Chevron.
July 29, 2010

Last year, New York-based First Run Features celebrated its 30th anniversary. VP of acquisitions and marketing, Marc Mauceri, says the reason for its longevity is simple: ‘We haven’t overreached.’ The distributor carefully targets the audiences for its films.

Of course, there’s more to the story than a cautious approach to expansion. ‘When it comes to theatrical P&A budgets, we try not to overspend,’ he adds. First Run also has its own home video line, almost 400 titles strong, so there is a strong back catalog of films that the company continues to market and sell.

One of those titles is Joe Berlinger’s Crude, a critically-acclaimed doc that recently made the news due to a legal tussle between Berlinger and oil company Chevron. The film documents the legal battle between Chevron and groups of indigenous Ecuadorians who contend that an oil operation owned by Texaco (now part of Chevron) in Lago Agrio contaminated their water supply. A federal court recently ruled that Berlinger had to turn over unused footage to Chevron. ‘We’ve been entirely supportive of Joe,’ says Mauceri. ‘We’ve helped him raise money for the defense and we’ve been there to cover his back as much as possible. He’s really been in the driver’s seat for the entire response so we’re mostly enthusiastic cheerleaders for him.’

As for new acquisitions, Mauceri says he’s looking for films that they can release in most markets. The company is interested in acquiring films for a theatrical release that will go on to other platforms, as well as films that aren’t going out theatrically. ‘We have an extremely eclectic collection of films that range from social and political documentaries to special interest films,’ says Mauceri.

For example, First Run Features has recently acquired Bhutto, the story of Benazir Bhutto; Making the Boys, about the first ever gay play, and Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune, a tribute to the folk singing legend. In August, First Run will release Neshoba: The Price of Freedom in theaters, with theatrical releases also lined up for D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’ Kings of Pastry and A Mother’s Courage: Talking Back to Autism, narrated by Kate Winslet, and set for September. Other recent releases from the distributor include Mugabe and the White African, The Most Dangerous Man in America and Prodigal Sons.

For filmmakers interested in distributing their films through First Run, Mauceri says rather than sending in an unsolicited screener, filmmakers should just call or write to someone from First Run with a description of the film. ‘Make sure that we want to see a screener,’ he advises.

Otherwise, Mauceri and First Run can be found at Berlin, the New York fests and markets and, on a year-to-year basis, at fests in Toronto and Cannes.

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