BY JOHN ERARDI | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
"Chasing 3000," a movie co-written by Cincinnati attorney Bill Mikita about two brothers' travels across the country on a quest to see Roberto Clemente get his 3,000th career hit, will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York April 29.
"This is a big break for us," said Mikita, a University of Cincinnati graduate.
"Tribeca is the most prestigious film festival on the East Coast, and it's right up there with Sundance and Toronto as a major film festival (in North America)."
The Tribeca Film Festival was co-founded in 2002 by star actor-director Robert De Niro, who wanted to help revitalize lower Manhattan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Among the missions of the festival is to assist filmmakers in reaching the widest possible audience.
It's against the odds that the movie, which Mikita co-wrote with Chris D'Annunzio, will be distributed nationally.
According to the industry trade magazine MovieMaker, only 40 of 1,000 independent narrative films made in the United States each year "will find theatrical distribution in markets other than Los Angeles and New York City."
"Chasing 3000" originally was set to premiere at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game last summer in Pittsburgh. Clemente, a native of Puerto Rico who died in a plane crash while on a humanitarian mission in 1972, was a Pirates star and arguably the greatest Latin American player in major-league history.
But the movie's makers decided not to chance such a premiere because they did not yet have a distribution deal in place for their film. A much ballyhooed premiere without a follow-up plan for the movie to be in theaters is not a good combination, they figured, so they decided to hold off.
Now they are close to reaching a distribution deal, and it could be announced even before the Tribeca Film Festival, one of the top events potential distributors attend to watch films and award contracts.
Typically, distribution of movies such as these start in a limited number of theaters. If a film catches on, its distribution is increased.
Sites for the "Chasing 3000" opening run figure to be Cincinnati (the investors are here), Pittsburgh, some other Midwestern cities and possibly places as far west as Utah, where Bill's sister, a TV news anchor, and his brother, who was the inspiration for the screenplay, live.
"Making a movie is like building a house," Mikita said. "You think you're done, but you're not. There's always something else to do. There's a line in an AC/DC song: 'I tell you folks, it's harder than it looks.' That definitely applies."
The average big-studio movie costs $60 million to make. "Chasing 3000" cost less than $3 million to complete.
But the work didn't stop there. Even when a movie is finished, the filmmaker then must sell it to a distributor to get it into theaters.
The tipping point for "Chasing 3000" came when independent producer Ryan Johnson got Mikita and D'Annunzio's script to the business agent of actor Ray Liotta, who's best known for his roles in "GoodFellas" and "Field of Dreams."
Liotta read the script and loved it. He grew up in New Jersey, and he told Mikita he could relate to the story line and wanted a part.
"When Ray got involved, it blew up on us," said Mikita.
Liotta's presence on the project attracted industry attention and brought aboard other actors.
"At first we were going to go straight to DVD (with the movie)," Mikita said. "But after Ray came in, we wanted a studio release."
Among the other actors in the film are Lauren Holly, Rory Culkin, Trevor Morgan, and Ricardo Chavira of TV's "Desperate Housewives."
Mikita, 52, began writing the screenplay in 1999. He injected Clemente's pursuit of his 3,000th hit into the plot because Bill and his brother Steve - who has muscular atrophy and, although in a wheelchair, works as an assistant attorney general in Utah - are huge Clemente fans.
"Chasing 3,000" is a coming-of-age tale. Two brothers bond, and one reconnects with his family.
Bill Mikita is a Steubenville native. He was a three-sport star in high school, and he earned his law degree from Ohio Northern. He has been practicing law in Cincinnati for more than 20 years.
He notes that Clemente's last major-league game came in a losing cause to the Cincinnati Reds at Riverfront Stadium in 1972, when the Reds came from behind to beat the Pirates in the fifth and final game of the National League Championship Series and advanced to the World Series.
Three months later, on Dec. 31, 1972, Clemente died in a plane crash while taking relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
Clemente remains a powerful presence in baseball, especially in Pittsburgh.
When Mikita was there to attend last year's All-Star Game, he wore a "Chasing 3000" T-shirt to the Home Run Derby contest the night before the matchup. The T-shirt was noticed by a friend of American League manager Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox, a native of Venezuela who idolized Clemente.
Guillen's friend asked Mikita for a T-shirt for Guillen, who wore it when he addressed the American League all-stars in the clubhouse on national TV before the game, and then wore it again on national TV several weeks later when the White Sox were playing the New York Yankees.
"That's what I mean when I say that doors keep opening up," Mikita said.
"Chasing 3000" will premiere at 6:15 p.m. on Sunday, April 29, at the AMC Loews 34th Street Theater. The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 25 to May 6. Former Vice President Al Gore will host the opening-night gala.