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Documentary Dispute Raises Questions About Distributor’s Solvency

Variety logo Variety 6/30/2017 Gene Maddaus
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Bond/360, a distributor of prestige documentaries, is facing doubts about its financial health following a legal dispute with the producers of the film “God Knows Where I Am.”

The film, which traces the final months of a homeless woman with mental illness, played at dozens of festivals and got rave reviews upon its release this spring.

But last week, producers Jedd and Todd Wider (“Taxi to the Dark Side,” “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer”) filed suit in New York, alleging that Bond/360 had botched the film’s distribution.

The suit alleged that Bond/360 was on the brink of insolvency and had laid off much of its staff. The producers also claimed that Bond/360 had failed to develop a detailed marketing budget for “God Knows Where I Am,” did not place print or radio ads, failed to hire two publicists, and had stopped paying the person responsible for booking the film in theaters. As a result, the lawsuit claimed, the film was released in just 35 theaters — seven fewer than required under the distribution agreement.

“In this business, if you do not support the Film’s theatrical release with appropriate marketing, the film will not do well,” Todd Wider stated in an affidavit.

The suit included a declaration from Elizabeth Sheldon, the former COO of Bond/360. Sheldon said that the company had been unable to pay its publicists and booking agents for several months, and that she herself was fired on June 9. She said the inability to pay people had hurt the release of all of Bond/360’s films.

“As of the end of last week (June 16), I understand that there was no longer any staff at Bond/360,” Sheldon wrote.

The film grossed $21,135 in theaters, according to Box Office Mojo.

Sara Schiller is the president of Bond/360. In his affidavit, Todd Wider states that her father-in-law, Lawrence Schiller, had taken over negotiations on the company’s behalf. Wider claimed that Lawrence Schiller was pressuring him to do a deal with a streaming service (a separate declaration indicated it was Netflix), but that Wider wanted to hold off and instead seek a broadcast TV deal, which he hoped would bring “a wider audience which is integral to the film’s mission to effect positive change in its subject area.”

The producers notified Bond/360 that they were terminating the distribution agreement on June 9. Wider alleged that Lawrence Schiller refused to accept the termination and would not turn over the digital copies of the film and its marketing materials.

Asked about the suit, Sara Schiller issued a statement indicating that the dispute had been resolved.

“Bond/360, a New York distribution company, is pleased to announce that it has amicably resolved all issues with Wider Films Projects and wishes it continued success with their film ‘God Knows Where I Am’ which Bond has placed to date in over 40 theatres and festivals and has received wide critical acclaim in the New York Times and around the country,” the statement read.

The statement also contradicted the claim that Bond/360 is on the brink of insolvency.

“Bond/360 represents over 40 of the top documentaries produced in recent years and looks forward to the continued success of its award-winning catalogue of films,” Schiller said.

On Tuesday, the parties submitted a joint stipulation dismissing the suit.

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