Coming Soon: The Backward Class

Robin Smith of Blue Ice Docs on his theatrical distribution strategy for The Backwards Class, winner of the 2014 Hot Docs Audience Award.
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Coming Soon, a new editorial feature from Playback, highlights the distribution strategies around soon-to-be released Canadian films. Here, we speak to Blue Ice Docs’ Robin Smith about the distribution strategy for the documentary The Backwards Class, which won the Audience Award at the 2014 Hot Docs festival. 

The film: The doc The Backward Class follows the stories of “untouchable” caste students who are enrolled in the 12th grade at the Shanti Bhavan School in India as they prepare for final exams and graduation. These “untouchable” caste students would be the first of their background to write the Indian School Certificate high school exams, and the doc explores the pressures placed on the students to succeed.

Distributor: Blue Ice Docs is handling the Canadian theatrical distribution of the documentary, as well as VOD windows. The Backward Class has a pre-buy deal with B.C.’s Knowledge Network, and will bow on the channel sometime this spring.

Production credits: The Backward Class was written and directed by Madeleine Grant, who also produced the doc along with Jessica Cheung. Murray Battle and Miranda de Pencier served as executive producers on The Backward Class.

Theatrical run: The Backward Class opens at the Bloor Hot Docs cinema on Feb. 6, where it has a week-long run. The film will have an additional screening at Hot Docs on Family Day (Feb. 16). Directly following the theatrical run in Toronto, the distributor is looking to set up private screenings in schools, said Robin Smith, CEO of Blue Ice Docs.

“This is about building awareness with the right audience, and also, hypothetically, generating some educational sales for the film down the road,” Smith said of the school screenings. Blue Ice will also release the doc theatrically in markets outside Toronto following its Hot Docs run, including Vancouver (where the filmmakers are from), Victoria, Ottawa and Calgary.

Additional windows: B.C.’s Knowledge Network closed a pre-buy deal for The Backward Class, meaning the doc cannot be released on any other platform outside theatrical until after it airs on the pubcaster, Smith said. Currently, Knowledge Network plans to air the documentary in the spring. After its broadcast premiere, the plan is to release The Backward Class on iTunes for a 30-day exclusive window. Smith said he will also be exploring broadcaster VOD sales for the documentary and will do a limited DVD run targeted at educators.

Target audience: The primary target audience of the film is educators, Smith said, although he thinks the documentary is also well-suited to a young adult demographic. He said the distributor also plans to reach out to the South Asian community to promote the film. The Backward Class’ target audience may also skew more female than male, but Smith noted this is true for most documentaries.

Marketing strategy: The target audience for the film mirrors another of Blue Ice’s docs, Sturla Gunnarson’s Monsoon, Smith notes. As such, Blue Ice will double up its promotional efforts by marketing the film to Canada’s South Asian communities via groups and associations for new immigrants. The distributor will also market the film directly to educational organizations, such as teachers unions. In Vancouver, Blue Ice will likely hire an outreach coordinator to reach niche communities.

Budget/financing: The low-budget documentary received financial support from the Knowledge Network via a pre-buy deal, the National Film Board and the B.C. Arts Council.