Financing wasn’t the overriding hurdle for at least two of this weekend’s specialty debuts. The crews from 96 Minutes and Bernie contended with other challenges beyond funding to bring their projects to the screen. Meanwhile, the writer/director for Restless City made his production a reality after financing frustration on another project lured him to his latest feature. And remember the good folks at the MPAA who received the righteous wrath of The Weinstein Company and its publicity prowess for the dreaded R rating for Bully? Fellow New York distributor Kino Lorber is making the MPAA’s prudishness its marketing ally, hoping to make a box office hit with its erotic Elles, which the company submitted for a rating (something it rarely does). And the result is an NC-17. Exactly what Kino Lorber expected.

96 Minutes
Director-writer: Aimee Lagos
Cast: Brittany Snow, Evan Ross, Sharon Morris
Distributor: ARC Entertainment/XLrator Media
Financed through equity investors in L.A. and Atlanta, writer-director Aimee Lagos’ 96 Minutes secured about $1 million and shot over 18 days. The feature revolves around four “lives slammed together in a shocking moment,” so the tagline goes. “We had a number of challenges that went far beyond the typical under-resourced/short-schedule issues,” Lagos told Deadline. “A large part of the movie takes place in a moving car. Rather than using a typical process trailer or a stage, we had a local auto shop create a custom designed SUV surrounded by a camera platform that was driven from the roof. The result was a fully functional moving stage that allowed us to shoot from all angles and also created a more life-like experience for the actors.”

Already available via VOD, which Lagos said it is “far exceeding our expectations,” 96 Minutes will open theatrically in L.A., New York, Atlanta and St. Louis. Its primary audience is the urban 18-24 year-old crowd.

jdk
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2 years
Great for all of these filmmakers that they keep the true spirit of the indie world alive!...

Bernie
Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater, Skip Hollandsworth
Cast: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey
Distributor: Millennium Entertainment

Little drama went into production on Richard Linklater’s latest, Bernie. The concept for Bernie had been around since the late ’90s. The fact-based movie centers on a local mortician who befriends a wealthy widow, then murders her and then creates an illusion she’s still alive. “Ultimately Richard [Linklater] had success and got Jack [Black] and Matthew [McConaughey] attached,” producer Judd Payne told Deadline about the project’s long trajectory. Bernie shot in fall 2010 over 22 days with principal cast as well as seven days with its “gossips.” “People couldn’t visualize what [Linklater and co-writer Skip Hollandsworth] were visualizing by stopping the story for these interviews and then going back,” Payne said when it came to putting financing together. Castle Rock had originally optioned the project, but ultimately it landed with Mandalay Vision and other individuals who stepped in with funds.

“You could talk to three different people on any production and get three different versions of how it all went, it’s never easy,” Payne said about financing generally. “When you deal with a number of investors, it can get complicated. But everyone over there has been incredible.” Still there were complications with cash flow, especially on the outset of production. “But compared to another [film] I did recently, this was like being on a studio project.” Bernie completed in spring last year, but missed its window to premiere at SXSW, which would have been a natural fit for Austin-based Linklater. Ultimately, the feature debuted as the opener at last June’s Los Angeles Film Festival. Payne said they had considered trying for a holiday season release, but decided not to compete with end-of-year Oscar contenders. The film opens this weekend in L.A., New York and Austin followed by more cities in Texas (where the real story took place) next week and Chicago and San Francisco soon after. “We’ll re-evaluate and expand further and go from there,” said Payne.

Elles
Director Malgorzata Szumowska
Writers: Malgorzata Szumowska, Tine Byrckel
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Anais Demoustier, Joanna Kulig
Distributor: Kino Lorber

Perhaps hoping to grab some press (apparently it worked) with an otherwise dreaded rating, the folks at Kino Lorber decided to embrace America’s puritanicalism for its benefit and decided to submit Elles to the good folks at the MPAA who typically condemn the erotic while embracing the violent. And they did not disappoint. Elles, which centers on a journalist who immerses herself in a prostitution ring run by university students, received the organization’s crowning title – an NC 17. “It’s a seriously intentioned art film, but there’s significant erotic content,” Kino Lorber VP of Theatrical Distribution Gary Palmucci told Deadline. “We’re hoping the rating will send a signal that this is something exceptional in the vein of other films like Lust, Caution and Henry and June.”

Before hitting America’s shores, Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska told Deadline that she had always hoped to get French actor Juliette Binoche for the starring role of the journalist when writing the screenplay. “She liked the script and found it brave and unpredictable,” Szumowska said Deadline. “She is a brave actor who likes the challenge of working with an unknown.” And the material itself was also a challenge for Binoche. “She was afraid of the masturbation scene, but was willing to try,” Szumowska added. “I wanted to make a film about women’s sexuality and when the producer came to me about prostitution at a university, I was particularly interested – but mostly about the idea of sexuality.” Kino Lorber will open Elles in New York at three locations and at the NuArt in LA for a two week engagement followed by a SoCal expansion. Other major markets will follow.

Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment
Director: Toby Perl Freilich
Distributor: First Run Features

Filmmaker Toby Perl Freilich turned the scourge of financing into an unlikely creative ally for her documentary project which takes a look at Israel’s kibbutz movement. The director faced periods where she was forced to put the film on hold, but the passing of time allowed for a broader view of the Israeli social movement that has been likened to an experiment in pure communism. “The fact that it took so long to raise funds ended up being a curse and a blessing,” Freilich said. “It shlept out the process to the point I couldn’t look at it. It’s hard to keep it going for seven years. But what it did inject to the doc is the element of time.” Freilich began her research in 2004. She said Israelis were bored at best about the idea of the film, but found enthusiasm from Americans. “[Americans] were thrilled by this. It’s a contrast to an age of unbridled capitalism.”

First Run opened the doc at the Quad Cinema in New York Wednesday. It will play the Toronto Jewish Film Festival next month and will open at the Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles in early June.

Restless City
Director: Andrew Dosunmu
Writer: Eugene M. Gussenhoven
Cast: Hervé Diese, Mohamed Dione, Ger Duany
Distributor: AFFRM
Dosunmu’s Restless City came about after frustration on another project lead him to take on a film that would require less resources. A professional photographer and music video director, Dosunmu drummed up private equity for this film through his professional connections. “I realized as an artist I should be chasing the creative and not the money, so out of that frustration, I wrote this script,” Dosunmu told Deadline. “The whole intention was to be able to write this film with less money. As a filmmaker I didn’t want to wait for years to make a film, and I wanted to be able to bang out this [project] with my collaborators.” At the end of the day, Dosunmu was able to have his cake and eat it too. He finished Restless City and is now in post-production on the earlier project that spawned it, Ma’ George.

Distributor AFFRM will open the feature in New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta this weekend, followed by Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C. and Seattle on May 4th.