EXCLUSIVE: Patriots Day has just been named the closing-night film of the AFI Fest. The Peter Berg-directed Mark Wahlberg-starrer focuses on the Boston Marathon bombing, the five-day manhunt that followed, and the resilience the city showed in dealing with a diabolical terror attack. Considering the timely subject matter and the charmed awards-season launch pad the AFI closer has given to films including last year’s Adam McKay-directed The Big Short, CBS Films and Lionsgate might well emerge with a sleeper contender in the Oscar race.

The AFI selection follows a recent test screening in Las Vegas, where sources said the picture tested through the roof. Patriots Day also stars John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons and Michelle Monaghan and screens at the fest November 17 at the TCL Chinese Theatre.

Solidifying that priority status should be welcome news for Berg and Wahlberg, whose recent fact-based Lionsgate release Deepwater Horizon failed to find an audience despite high test screening scores and a Toronto premiere. Berg worked night and day to get Patriots Day ready for that test screening and one for the AFI Fest committee, and I’m told that it is locked and loaded for limited release December 21, broadening to wide release in January. It will also be handled the same way as the last CBS Films/Lionsgate collaboration that got strong critical recognition, Hell Or High Water. CBS Films oversaw the marketing and Lionsgate the distribution on a film that was skillfully handled and recently passed The Witch to become the year’s highest-grossing independent prestige film.

CBS Films recently released the first teaser trailer for Patriots Day, and Lionsgate will launch the trailer in theaters next Friday, preceding its glowingly reviewed WWII film Hacksaw Ridge. Here is that teaser trailer: