EXCLUSIVE: Federal judges are withdrawing from the gerrymandering debate, but Magnolia Pictures is jumping in. Magnolia has acquired North American rights to Slay the Dragon from Participant Media with an eye toward a spring 2020 theatrical release for the timely gerrymandering documentary.
The documentary directed by Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance could hardly have more urgency given the ruling Thursday by the U.S. Supreme Court that federal judges must stay out of gerrymandering disputes, a decision that effectively gives state legislatures unfettered authority to redraw electoral maps as a tactic for consolidating political power. The ruling split the court (5-4 for the conservative majority) and gives a major advantage to the incumbent party that is currently in power in each state’s legislature.
Of the 49 states with a bicameral system (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature with members elected on a nonpartisan basis), the GOP holds sway in 30 states, making the Thursday decision an opportunity for Republicans to fortify that advantage for next decade or more.
Slay the Dragon shines a bright light on this political dark art by following some outraged citizens who crusade for reforms in the face of pugnacious party operatives and the thicket of political barriers that keep the old systems in place. Among the citizens is Katie Fahey, a Michigander who formed Voters Not Politicians, which calls for the establishment of an independent non-partisan body to decide district boundaries.
“We were inspired to make this film because of the passion and courage of the people like Katie Fahey and the members of the Wisconsin legal team, who have dedicated their lives to creating a democracy in which every citizen’s vote counts,” Goodman and Durrance said in a joint statement. “We are thrilled that Magnolia has come on board, recognizing the impact a film like this can have at such an important time in the history of our country.”
Magnolia president Eamonn Bowles said the documentary illuminates a genuine menace that could undermine the political process in every corner of the country. “Gerrymandering is one of the biggest threats to our democracy and Slay the Dragon is a fantastic primer to what’s at stake, in addition to an incredibly cinematic, emotional film. Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance have done a marvelous job telling this story.”
Participant and Magnolia have successfully partnered on two recent Oscar-nominated documentaries: Food Inc. and RBG. The latter is is another politically informed film with gavel gravitas. RBG became a social media sensation on its way to $15 million in worldwide box office.
“Barak and Chris’s powerful film exposes one of the key threats to our democracy — gerrymandering,” said Diane Weyermann, President of Documentary Film and Television for Participant Media. “We could not be happier to reunite with our friends at Magnolia to share this vital film with audiences everywhere.”
Participant Media is also ramping up a social impact campaign (with screening events, curated discussions, and outreach to grassroots activists) timed to the theatrical release that beats the drum for gerrymandering awareness and reforms that lead to a fair and equitable electoral system.
Also produced by Goodman and Durrance, Slay the Dragon is a Participant Media presentation, in association with React Films, an Ark Media Production. The film is executive produced by Jeff Skoll, Weyermann, Coralie Charriol Paul and William von Mueffling. Grace McNally is co-producer. Co-executive producers are Daniel Simon and James Simon.
The deal was negotiated by Magnolia EVP Dori Begley and Magnolia SVP Acquisitions John Von Thaden with Cinetic Media Sales Group on behalf of the filmmakers, as well as Gabriel Brakin, Participant Media’s Chief Operating Officer, and Krista Wegener, EVP Sales and Distribution for Participant.