The film takes viewers on a harrowing journey as one family risks everything to escape from North Korea. The pact comes after the film made its world premiere in the U.S. documentary competition section at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the doc audience award.
While the film attracted plenty of interest from distribution companies following its debut in Park City, the market slowdown has led to deals taking longer than usual to nail down.
Roadside acquired domestic rights to “Beyond Utopia” and will release the film theatrically in select markets later this fall, thereby qualifying the docu for Oscar consideration. Fathom Events will release the film in more than 600 theaters nationwide during a special two-night only event on Oct. 23-24.
Using hidden camera footage, Gavin tells the high-stakes journey that a handful of desperate souls make in order to defect from North Korea — a country with the most brutal regime on earth, led by a dictator, Kim Jong-un. The director got ahold of the forbidden footage after it was smuggled out of the country. In addition to capturing the harrowing escape, the footage also captures what it’s like inside North Korea. Citizens who have gotten in trouble with the regime are savagely beaten and tortured. The footage also shows citizens lining up to watch a public execution.
“The journey I have been on in the making of this film has been the most meaningful of my career and the friendships I have made will stay with me for a lifetime,” says Gavin. “An entire nation of people — 26 million individuals — have existed inside the shrouded borders of North Korea, and have not been heard by the outside world. I am incredibly grateful to Fathom and to Roadside for helping to bring these voices to audiences around the country. They deserve to be heard.”
The documentary’s central figure is Pastor Seungeun Kim, a South Korean Christian who himself defected from North Korea. In the last 10 years, he has helped 1,000 people to escape, risking his own safety.
In January Gavin told Variety that making “Beyond Utopia” was an opportunity to change the conversation around the North Korean repressive regime by moving the focus from its brutal leader Kim Jong-un and onto the ordinary citizens who have been abused and neglected by the country.
“As I researched this film, I became more and more outraged that nobody is talking about North Koreans themselves,” Gavin said. “I wanted to crack that world open to people. Too often, we focus on what North Korea’s leaders want us to focus on, which is their nukes. That’s their only leverage. Without them, they would not exist as a country. We hear about missile launches, parades and Kim Jong-un watching over everything, smiling and laughing.”
The sale of the film to a major theatrical distributor is a breath of fresh air given the fact that over the last two years several indie-made social issue docus have not been acquired.
“This film, documenting the sheer bravery of people risking everything to escape North Korea, is extremely moving and powerful,” says Ray Nutt, CEO of Fathom Events. “Audiences across the country need to see these true stories of incredible human courage and Fathom Events is honored to be the partner bringing these stories to the big screen.”
Howard Cohen, Roadside Attractions co-president calls “Beyond Utopia” “an exceptional film, which we are proud to be releasing for an academy-qualifying run in the fall. Madeleine Gavin and her team at Ideal Partners have created a gripping documentary, which offers an intimate and courageous first hand account of a multi-generational’s family perilous escape from the most oppressive regime we have been witness to. “
The deal was negotiated by Submarine Entertainment.