American Film Company Pushes Historical ‘Conspirator’16 Aug, 2011 By: Billy Gil
Perhaps with the notion that a movie can be the best way to get across a complicated historical event such as the assassination of President Lincoln — high-school teachers must play movies in class for a reason — the American Film Company has dedicated itself to providing filmed versions of history and adaptations of iconic literature.
Its first release was The Conspirator, about the trials and aftermath of the Lincoln assassination, which made more than $10 million at the U.S. box office. Lionsgate will release the film, directed by film icon Robert Redford, in a two-DVD set ($29.95) and on Blu-ray Disc ($39.99) Aug. 16.
The company spent a couple of years digging through scripts before finding The Conspirator, which tells the story of Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), a woman charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination, and the young attorney (James McAvoy) who reluctantly defends her as the nation (and he) scorns her.
“We said ‘wow,’ this is one of the best unproduced scripts each of us had ever read,” explains producer Rob Stone, of The American Film Company. “Redford had always been in our top choices, but I don’t think any of us believed we could get the Sundance kid to direct our maiden film.”
But Robert Redford “apparently found it utterly mesmerizing,” according to Stone, and did agree to direct.
“Redford liked that it was a human story and background to a story a lot of people already knew,” Stone said.
Stone said the film and its portrayal of a rush to judgment and justice is relevant now, but perhaps not in the way in which some may think.
“Frankly I think the irony is, most people may think this is an allegory of how bad things are,” Stone said. “Interestingly, for me, it’s just the opposite. It is the rules of evidence, the rules of testimony, of how everything is run — even for Guantanamo detainees — is extraordinary compared to this trial, which was an utter kangaroo court. There was no due process of justice.”
The Blu-ray includes a video commentary with Redford, the feature-length documentary “The Conspirator: The Plot to Kill Lincoln,” an introduction to the American Film Company, a making-of featurette, a featurette introducing the history behind the film, nine more featurettes exploring the production and background of the film, and photo galleries. The DVD version includes the same featurettes, only with an audio commentary with Redford instead of a video one.
Stone says the film has been and will be pushed to such niche markets as museums and Civil War re-enactment groups, as well as schools. Teachers can find free supplemental material at www.theamericanfilmcompany.com.
The film also stars Alexis Bledel, Justin Long, Evan Rachel Wood, Kevin Kline and Tom Wilkinson.