Imagine Entertainment’s Pelé biopic, which will be titled "Pelé: Birth of a Legend," finally has an official release date: it opens in theaters on May 6th and on VOD on May 13th via distributor IFC Films.
The film initially struggled to find a distributor thanks in part to reshoots and a lengthy post-production phase that caused delays (despite principal photography happening in 2013, the film was only completed just last year); also the sales company that was repping the film – Exclusive Media – imploded.
The finished product was shopped at Cannes in 2015, but there were no takers, and one can only wonder why, given that it’s a film about, arguably, the greatest footballer of all time, Pelé (born Edison Arantes do Nascimento) – a man very well known internationally (even if there may not be as much awareness of him and his accomplishments here in the USA). Add to that, the fact that the film is backed by super producer Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment.
I’d guess that the film may have lost some of its luster, since it was originally supposed to premiere prior to the 2014 World Cup, to take advantage of what could’ve been free advertising, as well as the overall spirit of that summer, which was exciting for sports fans worldwide. But that obviously didn’t happen.
“Without the World Cup hype as a marketing tool, soccer movies can be very difficult to sell to audiences,” said one European buyer to The Hollywood Reporter last year – a buyer who was initially interested in the film, but, after screening it, felt it was "too art house for mainstream audiences and not mainstream enough to play multiplexes in Europe," as it’s a film that I’m sure would likely earn the bulk of its box office outside the USA.
And the recent FIFA corruption scandal probably didn’t help much either.
IFC Films eventually acquired North American rights to the film last September and has now set a May 6 theatrical premiere, followed by a May 13th VOD release.
Jeff and Michael Zimbalist are co-writers and co-directors of the film which, according to Imagine Entertainment, is more of a coming-of-age story that traces Pelé’s childhood until he won his first World Cup in Sweden at the age of 17. Leonardo Lima Carvalho plays Pelé at age 10 years old, and Kevin de Paula, plays Pelé from ages 13 to 17, when he won his first World Cup, in 1958.
Vincent D’Onofrio, Rodrigo Santoro, Diego Boneta, Colm Meaney and Seu Jorge all round out the cast of the film. D’Onofrio plays the Brazilian team’s coach, Vicente Feola (when they won the 1958 World Cup), while Boneta plays Jose, Pelé’s main competition, who also gave him the nickname "Pelé" when they were both kids. Seu Jorge plays Pelé’s father, Dondinho. And Meaney is the British coach of the Swedish nation team that lost to Brazil in the 1958 World Cup final – George Raynor.
The cast also includes several Brazilian actors in Marianna Nunes, Milton Goncales, Rafael Henrique, Marcus Vinicius, Julio Levy, Thelmo Fernandes, Felipe Simas, and Charles Myara.
The initial 2013 eight-week shoot (Matthew Libatique shot it) took place entirely on Pelé’s home turf, in Brazil.
"Pelé" is produced by Imagine Entertainment and Seine Pictures, who successfully acquired the rights to Pelé’s life story. The film is executive produced by Pelé himself, alongside Paul Kemsley for SLI/Legend 10 and Exclusive Media.
The film will make its World Premiere screening at the Tribeca Film Festival next month for which Pelé himself will be present.
IFC Films has released a first trailer: