In my September 3rd post about The Way Back’s world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, I indicated that Newmarket would likely be scheduling a December Oscar qualifying run before a wider release date on January 21st. It was never locked in stone — until today when it was confirmed that director Peter Weir’s epic story of a group of prisoners who escape a Siberian gulag and walk through five different countries to freedom will indeed platform in Los Angeles on December 29th. The film gets a wider release on 500 screens January 21st shortly before the Academy Awards nominations are announced. It will be the first joint venture of Newmarket/Wrekin Hill, the latter a new company formed by Newmarket founder Chris Ball. He and Exclusive Media Group CEO/co-chairman Nigel Sinclair firmed the plans.

The film debuted at Telluride where it was well received. Weir was also honored at the fest and told me then he hoped to get a shot at the Oscar race this year but “it all comes down to money. You have to pay for a campaign…” The film followed the singular strategy of only going to the Telluride Film Festival and rolling the dice on the reaction. Last year’s The Last Station followed a similar track, got picked up Sony Pictures Classics, and received acting nominations for Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer from its December qualifying run.

Finely crafted, The Way Back should have strong appeal for the Academy’s numerous “below the line” voters, particularly for Russell Boyd’s stunning cinematography.Saoirse Ronan in particular turns in a strong performance alongside Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, and Jim Sturgess, with Farrell and Harris standouts for possible supporting bids. Weir himself has been nominated 6 times, including 4 for Best Director for Witness, Dead Poet’s Society, The Truman Show, and Master And Commander. But he has never won.

I spoke today with co-producer Joni Levin who worked for a decade with her husband Keith Clarke, the writer and co-Executive Producer of The Way Back, to bring this project to the screen before Weir’s commitment made it real. “I’m thrilled we are getting [the Oscar qualifying run] because this was a labor of love for everyone involved,” Levin said. “The crew worked so hard for very little and really deserve this, from the cinematography, makeup, wardrobe, directing, actors, everyone. I’m thrilled these people will all have the chance now to shine a little bit.”