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The Week Ahead

Neither fast nor furious: 'Rider'

June 02, 2003|Lorenza Munoz

What may seem an unlikely summer film -- about a 12-year-old girl who battles her tradition-minded grandfather and beached whales -- opens Friday in the thick of the blockbuster movie season.

"Whale Rider," a mystical tale about a Maori girl in New Zealand who tries to convince her grandfather she has the ability to lead their tribe, stars newcomer Keisha Castle-Hughes and is directed by Niki Caro.

Independent distributor Newmarket Films hopes the movie's uplifting themes of a young girl proving her worth will work as counter-programming for audiences looking for something outside the blockbuster mainstream.

Having successfully marketed offbeat movies such as "Memento" and "Real Women Have Curves," Newmarket is again using a grass-roots campaign that will initially target women and more discriminating upscale moviegoers -- people who are not likely to be in any rush to see, say, "2 Fast 2 Furious," the car racing film that also arrives in theaters Friday.

"This sure isn't cars flipping over and exploding," said Bob Berney, head of Newmarket Films. "I think we do have an alternative to the action-explosion feel of the first part of the summer."

Berney says he hopes the film will eventually cross over to include young girls who might relate to "Whale Rider's" theme of girl empowerment. To build positive word-of-mouth, they have screened the movie at colleges and film schools. Berney and his team also organized a screening at the Magic Johnson Theatres for junior high school kids from Compton.

Initially, the film will be released in only six theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Eventually, if it performs well, its release will be expanded to additional theaters and cities.

"Whale Rider" is one of only two major releases about Maori culture to be distributed outside New Zealand. The previous film, "Once Were Warriors," dealt with the rougher side of Maoris living in urban conditions. "Whale Rider," which is rated PG-13, is based on a novel by Maori writer and diplomat Witi Ihimaera.

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