Two U.S. documentaries and two European-set narratives are among this weekend’s roster of new specialty offerings. Of the latter, there’s Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love, for which Sony Pictures Classics anticipates a warm reception following the success of Allen’s last movie, Midnight In Paris. His latest turns to the eternal city with an all-star cast. Veteran documentarian Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War debuts following festival screenings at Sundance and Provincetown. The other doc, Kumaré, which opened Wednesday, has been compared to Catfish (2010) in terms of controversy. Tribeca Film is rolling out in limited release the other narrative feature Stella Days starring Martin Sheen.
Documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick has an Oscar nomination under his belt (Twist Of Faith) plus a number of films beyond that. Still, Dick and his producing partner Amy Ziering face challenges getting financing and their latest film, about sexual assaults in the military, was no exception. “We started with very little money, but I can work very minimally if I have to,” Dick told Deadline recently when he was at the Provincetown International Film Festival. “But I was surprised we weren’t getting any money. I knew the power of this film.” Their fortunes began to change when Ziering and Dick took their project to the Good Pitch in San Francisco, which brings together filmmakers with NGOs, foundations, philanthropists and other groups to raise production funds.
“It was like a watershed moment,” said Dick. “There were two survivors who we brought to the event and they had never spoken before and it was like a show stopper.” The two subjects spoke about their experience as sexual assault victims in the U.S. military, a phenomenon The Invisible War contends is rampant throughout the ranks and is virtually ignored. “For forty you could hear a pin drop in the room,” he added. A number of people came in to offer support, including Jennifer Siebel Newsome, wife of California’s current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsome. “ITVS came in previously and stepped in further after that,” he said. The film, which won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival in January, has a limited rollout beginning this weekend.
Sony Pictures Classics distributed the last several of Woody Allen’s films, including Midnight In Paris, which became the filmmaker’s most successful film in terms of box office to date last year (nearly $57 million domestically). “We like working with him and his sister Letty Aronson and the whole team,” SPC co-president Michael Barker said. “After seeing the first cut of the film, we expressed interest. This is how he and his sister like to sell their films in North America: They like assurance that [distributors] like them very much.”
SPC will open the movie Friday in New York and Los Angeles, but the distributor plans to roll out To Rome With Love more quickly than it did Midnight In Paris. “We think it will be great light entertainment for audiences here. It’s tonic for the summer studio films,” he added. The distributor will go “much wider” July 6th and then go from there. “We don’t know exact number, but we feel the movie is incredibly entertaining and we can do a bigger rollout than the slow one we had for Midnight.”
This documentary may prove controversial for some audiences. The filmmaker investigates people’s willingness to follow a spiritual leader by creating a persona as a wise Indian Guru and builds a following in Arizona. “This was a movie or character we’ve been playing with for years,” producer Brendan Colthurst said. “It seemed like a crazy idea, but then we decided to do a test shoot in New Jersey and people connected with the character.” After a series of treatments, the project found two “Angel Investors”. They also reached out to Dana O’Keefe of Cinetic Media who gave it a further push. “He was a great ally for the project,” Colthurst noted. “Legally we knew we had to be very careful. Our lawyer said two things not to do: ‘Don’t sleep with anyone and don’t take anyone’s money’.”
With that advice in mind, the crew headed to Arizona. “It’s a place where nobody really knew us and a place that represented America, but at the same time open to new ideas,” said Colthurst. “It’s a Republican place, but at the same time it has [spiritually unique] towns like Sedona.” The crew set up a spiritual retreat outside Phoenix and filmed for three and a half months, building a small following. The project headed back to New York for a time but then returned to Arizona for what became the climax of the film. Kumaré opened at IFC Center in New York Wednesday and it will be followed by other cities through July including Los Angeles toward the end of the month.
Martin Sheen came on board to play a priest in rural 1950s Ireland in this film that its director Thaddeus O’Sullivan readily conceded “wasn’t attractive to investors.” The film typifies village life in the country at a time when attitudes moved very slowly away from entrenched traditionalism, which O’Sullivan said attracted him to the project. “We shot in a village very close to where Martin Sheen’s mother was born. He’s very attached to Ireland and he heard about this story and called the producer,” said Sullivan. “His connection with Ireland is quite well-known there.” O’Sullivan worked with the writers on many drafts of the film before they headed to investors, which delayed the start of shooting. “There were many drafts. We had a challenge finding a shape to the story. He writes great characters, but there was a long process to get the shape and I didn’t want to turn to the financing until this happened.”
O’Sullivan liked the conflict between church and state. But originally slated for a summer shoot, the project had to face an unusually harsh winter. “The film was delayed and we had to shoot in one of Ireland’s worst winters in history,” he said. All of our equipment and sets we wanted were wiped out. We had to get diggers in” to clear the snow “and this is hard in Ireland when they’re not used to that. This was December 2010.” The film became available via VOD on Wednesday and will open at the Quad in New York Friday with additional markets later.