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Warner Reaches Out to Japanese-American Community For 'American Pastime'

26 Apr, 2007 By: Thomas K. Arnold

As the home entertainment divisions of the major studios move more and more into acquiring and even producing their own direct-to-video movies, they also are ratcheting up their marketing and zeroing in on the target audience.

The latest case in point: Warner Home Video's campaign behind American Pastime, a critically hailed independent film — about a Japanese-American father and his two sons in a World War II internment camp — that will premiere on DVD May 22.

Since March, Warner has been reaching out to Asian Americans by screening the film at such festivals and organizations as the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival and the National Japanese American Citizens League. The National Japanese American Memorial Foundation and the Smithsonian are sponsoring a May 8 screening at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., followed by a May 18 showing at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

Warner also is playing up the sports angle, since the film's heroes rely largely on their love of baseball to keep up their spirits while interned. The film will be shown May 11 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and Warner has created an electronic press kit that includes interviews with five of the top Japanese players in Major League Baseball.

Warner's goal: To realize significantly higher sales than the 5,000 or so units that an independent direct-to-video release ordinarily sells on DVD.

“With the screening and sports campaign we're engineering, we hope to see a significant increase in sales beyond what most smaller indie films with no theatrical or television exhibition do,” said Jeff Baker, Warner Home Video's SVP and GM of theatrical catalog. “The film has been incredibly well received by the Japanese American community, whose lives have been personally affected by the events portrayed in the film, and we expect that word-of-mouth to carry over to mainstream audiences.”

Baker noted that earlier this month in Salt Lake City, Utah, near where the film was shot, “a cast and crew screening turned into a theatrical run at several multiplexes. Members of the school board saw it. They loved it and showed it to local teachers, who also loved it — and now, more 4,000 kids have already attended [screenings], with thousands more expected in coming weeks.”

Producer Barry Rosenbush, who also produced Disney's High School Musical, is pleased that his film is getting so much advance attention before its official debut on DVD.

“I knew about the internment camps, and I knew there were Japanese Americans who played baseball,” he said. “But I never really understood the historical connection between the two. When I discovered it, it just struck me that this was a movie that needed to be made.”

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