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Cinema Libre Seeks ‘Pay' Day With Soldier Doc

1 Oct, 2004 By: Erik Gruenwedel

One studio's political hot potato is another's raison d'etre, as Cinema Libre Studio's nascent documentary division Oct. 19 will release Soldiers Pay, the controversial documentary Warner Home Video nixed as bonus material to its special edition DVD re-release of Three Kings.

Kings' director, David O. Russell, had been commissioned by Warner to create a $180,000 budget special companion vignette to the scheduled first-quarter 2005 release of his critically acclaimed 1999 film that starred George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube as three U.S. soldiers caught up in the search for gold during the Gulf War.

In production notes, Russell said he and co-filmmakers Tricia Regan and Juan Carlos Zaldivar based Pay on a group of real U.S. soldiers in Baghdad who had found $300 million in cash and in the process shed light on a host of troubling questions, including allegations that troops stole property from Iraqi communities and were ill-equipped for day-to-day operations while private Halliburton contractors earned huge salaries and perks and had superior equipment.

Warner, which was expecting a feature that explored what happened to several Iraqi nationals who had appeared in or consulted on the original film, got spooked when an account of the material appeared in The New York Times that outlined a treatment that was not only anti-war, but was “anti-a-lot-of-things,” according to a source familiar with the situation.

Enter Arik Ben Treston, VP of home entertainment for Los Angeles-based Cinema Libre, who likened the 35-minute film to prime theatrical and DVD collateral to its anti-war documentary Uncovered: The War on Iraq from filmmaker Robert Greenwald.

Both films, which are double-billing in limited release theatrically, will be part of an October political DVD triumvirate that includes Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment's Fahrenheit 9/11 (Oct. 5) and Tartan/TLA's Bush's Brain (Oct. 12).

“It was the perfect … combination for the kinds of films we just acquired documentarywise,” said Ben Treston, who said the division is booming due to a plethora of DVD documentaries surrounding the pending presidential election — and its polarizing effect on the electorate — and the ongoing conflict in Iraq. “Even though a lot of our fare is left-leaning [politically], we are not adverse to looking at anything if it is from a different side of the aisle as long as it is well done.

“[The election] has obviously divided the country, and it's caused the artistic bent to create these documentaries.”

Ben Treston said outbidding rival distributors for Pay was a business coup in light of the press surrounding Russell's weekend theatrical release of the existential comedy I Heart Huckabees, starring Jason Schwartzman, Isabelle Huppert, Dustin Hoffman, Wahlberg and Jude Law.

“For a small company like us to say we have a David O. Russell film is a wonderful thing,” Ben Treston said.

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