One of the hotter sales at this year's Sundance Film Festival was a documentary called Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (check out our review here). The doc, which chronicles the director's controversial rape case throughout the years, was sold to HBO Documentary Films for $1 million following the fest. Okay, so one sees that HBO picked it up -- figuring it's a documentary, they'd probably go straight to cable and DVD with it, right? Yes. Right. HBO is premiering the film on June 9. Ah, but they'd also like the film to qualify for an Oscar, which means it needs to play in a theater for a minimum of seven days in Los Angeles county and Manhattan. The problem with this rule is that it can play ANYWHERE and HBO is certainly taking advantage of that.

Defamer points out, via some random newspaper ad they were sent (see above), that Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired is currently playing in one Manhattan theater on West 181st street. Yeah, that was 181st street, not 18th street. No typo. Two afternoon screenings per day. Bet you didn't know about that one, huh? I don't blame you -- who the f*ck in their right mind WOULD know about that!? I don't know much about Los Angeles County, but apparently the same crap is being pulled there (two afternoon screenings at a theater called Laemmle's One Pasadena).

So why does HBO do this? If they have to screen it theatrically in order for it to be in the running for an Oscar, why don't they screen it at a reputable indie-centric theater in NYC, like Film Forum or the IFC Center. Sh*t, screen it at my apartment -- I bet more people would see it at my crib than on West 181st street.

[photo via Defamer]
Part of the reason HBO might be doing this, as Defamer points out, is that they want to protect their audience from seeing it in the theaters in order to retain as many viewers for the film's television premiere. I don't know about that one; it's a good doc (I dug it and the reviews were good), so I don't think they'd be exposing it to a nasty critical response by opening at a better theater. (If anything, it would create more buzz for the TV premiere.) And, also, we're talking two theaters in the entire country. Surely, those two theaters don't make up HBO's entire audience.

As AJ Schnack points out on his blog, the Academy should ignore this type of behavior. He says they're "a bunch of suckers if they shortlist any HBO film when HBO won't even do the minimal work to allow that film to be a true theatrical release. Give them a raft of Emmys. Give them Peabodys. Give Sheila the Academy membership that she so deserves. But don't let them anywhere near the Kodak unless the films get reviewed, get publicized and get seen by paying audiences."

I completely agree. West 181st street. Shame on you HBO.