‘O’ Looking for A Release Date

In these turbulent times, films dealing with high school violence are being shelved — presenting a serious problem for the film, “O,” a modern-day retelling of Shakespeare’s “Othello” that takes place in a high school.

Dimension Films and its Miramax parent completed the film in the summer of 1999. As in the play, the tragedy ends with four characters brutally killed, one wounded and the others left asking “Why?” The movie stars Julia Stiles, Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett and Martin Sheen.

When executives screened the film, it was a little more than a month after the Columbine High School shootings, and the violence depicted sent up warning flares. Unsure of what to do, Dimension postponed the film’s Oct. 17, 1999 release.

Even after more than a year, politicians’ anti-violence campaigns, especially those of former vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman and the Federal Trade Commission, clearly showed the nation’s feelings towards marketing violent films to teenagers. Dimension decided to hold off once again on scheduling a release date for “O.”

Miramax chairman, Bob Weinstein explained to the New York Observer in November, “‘O’ is a movie that deals with sensitive issues that are important in our country. Therefore, we felt the responsible thing was to postpone the release … due to the sensitive events occurring at that time. We are presently formulating the proper marketing plan for the film that deals with the social issues, and are looking for the proper release date in the calendar year 2001.” Dimension finally set a 10-city release date of April 27 this year, which would be one week after the anniversary of the Columbine shootings.

But after Monday’s tragedy in San Diego, where a 15-year old boy opened fire at his high school, killing two and wounding 13 classmates, “O’s” fate now seems extremely uncertain.

Julia Stiles, one of the film’s stars, told Hollywood.com in a previous interview, “It’s really good movie…. There’s some fear of it being controversial…. It’s easy for people to associate with [the] violence that’s happening recently.”

When Daily Variety asked about the release date of the film, Dimension publicist Elizabeth Clark said, “We are not commenting on the release of the film, given the unfortunate incident that occurred [Monday] in San Diego. What happened there is a very serious issue. The release of our movie is minor in comparison. We extend our sympathies to the families of all the children involved.”

When and if the film is ever released, Dimension will meticulously follow the FTC guidelines for R-rated films that Miramax submitted to Disney at the FTC.