Moviemakers often turn to gimmicks to generate some buzz, but sometimes it’s done the old-fashioned way. Predawn darkness and freezing temperatures at the Sundance Film Festival didn’t stop a group of Washington filmmakers from making the rounds with their posters declaring LEN BIAS: THE LEGEND YOU KNOW, THE STORY YOU DIDN'T.
The film wasn’t opening at Sundance—it wasn’t even finished. But director Kirk Fraser and producers Sammy Steward and Kali McIver, along with their writer, cameraman, friends, and lawyer (“to make the deals or get us out of jail”) blitzed the snowy Utah village full of film executives and distributors with posters and DVDs. It worked. They’re now talking to major distributors about making their Len Bias movie widely available.
Fraser used similar guerilla-marketing tactics to distribute his DVD about the life of DC drug lord Rayful Edmond two years ago and has greater expectations for this documentary about the legendary University of Maryland basketball star who died from a cocaine overdose just 48 hours after being drafted in the first round by the Boston Celtics in June 1986. The shock waves created by Bias’s death were deep and long-lasting—because of not only an outpouring of grief in DC and Boston but the resulting changes in college athletic policies. Bias’s death also spurred legislation for more severe mandatory sentencing guidelines for first-time drug users.
The film promises to provide new accounts from witnesses to Bias’s actions that fatal night as well as lengthy interviews with friends, family, and fans who help present a fuller picture of a young athlete destined for stardom.
“We’re trying to tell an honest story and paint a true picture,” says Steward. “It wasn’t a secret what happened; it’s known all over the world.” Director Fraser is quick to add that there’s more to Bias’s story than drugs. One motivation for making the film was Fraser’s realization that many young people today don’t know who Len Bias was. “It’s important to educate,” he says, explaining that being a father himself helps to keep him focused on the lessons of Bias’s life.
A dramatic feature film is slated to follow the documentary, and Kirk has shown the first drafts to Bias’s mother, Lonise, a public advocate for drug awareness. “Her blessing is on this project,” he says. “His death is still affecting people’s lives today.”