Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
Thrillers and docs populate the Specialty newcomers this weekend with genre (and genre-esque) fare ranging from a gang of highway killers who kidnap a couple to a soft-spoken couple who go on a road trip and find themselves embarking on a killing spree among the limited release titles opening in theaters. Anchor Bay Films will follow up its Rob Zombie rollout in April with No One Lives, while IFC Films will bow its British twisted comedy Sightseers. Paladin is hoping to capitalize on its North American opening of And Now A Word From Our Sponsor to shore up its international rollout, while Gravitas Ventures is banking on the story of an aspiring actress who steals a script to make a movie, in He’s Way More Famous Than You, to charm audiences. Magnolia Pictures will open Toronto doc Venus And Serena as the French Open makes its way to sports fans and Zeitgeist’s doc One Track Heart: The Story Of Krishna Das makes its way to the spiritually inclined this weekend.
Anchor Bay Films picked up No One Lives out of the Toronto International Film Festival last year. The thriller centers on a gang of highway killers who kidnap a wealthy couple traveling across the country, but then things aren’t exactly what they seem. “It has one of the best scenes with one of the top 10 scenes in a horror film ever,” boasted Bill Lewis, SVP Theatrical Marketing and Distribution at Anchor Bay. “We [released] the clip of the scene Wednesday. It’s such a great shot.” The company partnered with WWE Studios, the production subsidiary of World Wrestling Entertainment, which produced the film. “Their biggest fan base is also where we decided to target theatrical locations,” said Lewis. “They’re a tremendous partner with great assets and they’re behind their film 100% and lucky they have the assets to push it.”
Lewis said the company also has spread the word through a “great online campaign” via Fanboy sites and has played the trailer ahead of their Lords Of Salem showings, the Zombie-directed thriller it released a few weeks ago. He also touted Luke Evans’ starring role as another plus for the feature. No One Lives will open in about 53 locations in 34 cities and will expand from there though numbers are still TBD based on performance.
And Now A Word From Our Sponsor
Director: Zack Bernbaum
Writer: Michael Hamilton-Wright
Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Parker Posey, Callum Blue, Allie MacDonald, Rhys Ward
The release of comedy-drama And Now A Word From Our Sponsor in North America is part of an overall strategy to bring the title to other territories around the world. Paladin picked up the title from Toronto-based business partners 108 Media, which came on board with the film before it was completed. It centers on an advertising CEO who wakes up in hospital speaking only in ad slogans. “The U.S.[release] is to fortify its international sales profile,” said Paladin chief Mark Urman. “On films that we share, it matters to the international buyer base what happens to these films back home.” Urman said a proper release in North America “inspires confidence, so it’s a longer view strategy.” He noted that the performances are strong particularly from Parker Posey and Callum Blue and that the film is “particularly accessible, but yet not an art film.” Its theatrical release in North America will also give the cast an opportunity to do publicity and for media to give it coverage. “It speaks in a commercial idiom and a relatable cast, so why not make it available to everyone?” added Urman. “It’s also about media and what we see on television the screen especially commercials — though not a Mad Men kind of way.”
Paladin will open And Now A Word From Our Sponsor in New York and L.A. in one theater each this weekend. “Will see how it fares with box office and critical reception. It’s not the most important piece of the pie, but the most important part of putting the pie on the table. We find if we don’t do those two markets, the film won’t get the attention. It has gotten a lot of attention with great presence on internet with its trailer, exclusive clips etc.”
Comedians Alice Lowe and Steve Oram began what would morph into the big screen version of Sightseers through comedy sketches, drawing from their mutual Midlands, England background to create characters who go on the road for a caravan holiday. Unlike their upbringing though, their characters in Sightseers take on a much darker tone. “We began creating these characters together taking from personalities we saw in the Midlands,” said Lowe. “We originally intended Sightseers for television, but networks in the U.K. said it was too dark.” So, the pair worked with director Ben Wheatley and made Sightseers for the big screen where they found more freedom. IFC Films saw the film at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and were drawn to Wheatley’s work on Down Terrace (2009). “We were dying to work with Ben and producer Andy [Starke],” said Sundance Selects and IFC Films president Jonathan Sehring. “They’re talented and a bit twisted in the best sense of the word. It’s British, but in many of the ways that American like about British eccentricity and this movie reminded me of early British comedies, but it’s also very dark.”
IFC Films will take Sightseers to the art house circuit. Sehring said that reviewers have compared the film to Shaun Of The Dead. “I get it, but I don’t really see it exactly like that,” said Sehring who added that the company decided that Sightseers would not be released under its genre IFC Midnight label because, while the film has thriller elements, it’s “not a midnight release”. “We think it played to a broader audience than something like Kill List and it’s funny.” The company will open Sightseers at IFC Center in New York and at the NuArt in Los Angeles this weekend before expanding out in the coming weeks. It will be available on VOD May 13th.
Venus And Serena
Directors: Maiken Baird, Michelle Major
Subjects: Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Billie Jean King, John McEnroe, Anna Wintour
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Magnolia Pictures “fell in love” with Venus And Serena after seeing the documentary at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival where it premiered. The feature takes an inside look at the superstar tennis siblings, following the athletes over the course of 2011 in which the pair both battled health issues. “We aren’t all tennis enthusiasts but their stories are a unique American story,” said Magnolia exec Matt Cowal. Rumors swirled that the Williams sisters dropped out supporting the film, but Cowal said they have since worked to support the film. “There was press that they didn’t like the film because they weren’t able to do some [promotion], but they have since taken part,” he said. “The sisters let the filmmakers into their lives in what was supposed to be a triumphant year for them, but they [subsequently] suffered injuries and it became a much more intimate story. They like the film, and it’s favorable but I’m sure it was jarring for them to see it on the screen and maybe they’re a bit shy.”
They have since spoken to Sports Illustrated and USA Today and other publications about the film. Magnolia will open it in New York, L.A. and Washington, D.C. in a combined four theaters It will expand throughout May heading to most major markets and it’s currently available via VOD.
“She’s just a train wreck you can’t walk away from. It’s a raunchy comedy that’s going to grab people’s attention,” said Melanie Miller, VP Acquisitions at Gravitas Ventures about He’s Way More Famous Than You. The film, which the distributor picked up out of this year’s Slamdance Film Festival revolves around an aspiring actress who loses her support system and in one fell swoop, sets out with a stolen script, her brother and his boyfriend to make a movie. “It’s polarizing and people will either think it’s hysterical or will be just like, ‘What was that?'” said Miller. “I think from a theatrical standpoint it’s interesting to see how the audience reacts to it. There are belly laughs and then there are the absolute gasps. The core audience is going to be people who gravitate toward independent film because it’s about a woman who is making an independent film.” The film is already available via Ultra-VOD in which subscribers pay a premium price to catch a title early. “This is a marketing strategy that expects people who rent at this price point are also people who will talk about it,” added Miller. Halley Feiffer, who both co-wrote and stars in the film with Ryan Spahn, has been on the publicity trail, speaking with the NY Times, E.T. Entertainment Weekly etc.
Gravitas will open the film in 10-plus theaters this weekend including the Chinese 6 in Los Angeles and AMC Village in New York in addition to playmates in San Diego, Ft. Lauderdale, Eugene, OR, Santa Fe, NM, Miami and more. Said Miller: “We tried to tap into places where it’s screened or someone from the film is associated to the area and which is amenable to day and date releases.”
Filmmaker Jeremy Frindel had an in with spiritual leader Neem Karoli Baba. The two are friends and the filmmaker had the impetus to make a film about the figure who struggled through drug addiction and depression to eventually emerge as a world-famous Kirtan singer. “I was surprised no film existed,” Frindel said. After securing some funding through another friend, shooting began quickly, but the film’s journey spread out over three years with more time spent on editing. “I went to India twice which was incredible. He travels 10 months out of the year. I shot everything myself and didn’t have a crew, which allowed me to become part of the family giving me great access.” In between shooting, Frindel opened a yoga studio in Brooklyn’s Park Slope area to augment his financing and to allow him to “clear eyes” as he put it for re-tackling his shoots.
One Track Heart: The Story Of Krishna Das had its debut at the Maui Film Festival last June. Frindel explained that Ram Dass, born Richard Alpert, who is a figure in the film, requested the festival because it is a “healthy environment.” Ram Dass, who was a Harvard professor who worked with Timothy Leary exploring the psychological effects of LSD and later traveled to India where he met the guru Maharaji, suffered a stroke in 1997 that left him in a wheelchair. The film eventually screened in about a dozen festivals and distributor Zeitgeist came on board in the fall. The film opened at IFC Center in New York Wednesday with planned showings through May 16. Ram Dass will appear via Skype at screenings along with other special guests. Added Zeitgeist’s Nancy Gerstman: “Krishna Das has a large following throughout the U. S., so we’re working on dates in dozens of cities. Right now we’re booked throughout California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas and Washington.”