Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
Like last week, a number of Specialty offerings are seemingly undeterred to go up against some of the biggest Summer juggernauts. Narratives and features will open in limited release going up against World War Z and Monsters University. The Weinstein Company will debut its Terence Stamp/Vanessa Redgrave starrer Unfinished Song, while Monterey Media will open Between Us from Slamdance co-founder Dan Mirvish. Magnolia will release Danish-produced drama/thriller A Hijacking, while fellow foreign release The Attack from Cohen Media Group will also begin its run Friday. Joining the fray are two docs. Samuel Goldwyn Films is organizing wine tastings and more along with its new roll out, Somm. And Abramorama will open Downloaded featuring heavy-hitters from the music biz.
TWC came on board Paul Andrew Williams’ Unfinished Song while it was still completing production. The comedy/drama revolves around a grumpy pensioner who honors his recently deceased wife’s passion for performing by joining the unconventional local choir to which she used to belong, a process that helps him build bridges with his estranged son, James. “It has an older audience but it plays to a younger one if we can get them in,” noted TWC’s president of Theatrical Distribution, Erik Lomis. “The picture plays really well and is counter programming against the bubble gum fare out there now.” Films that play to an older audience have had notable success, with The Weinstein Company’s Quartet cashing in with an $18.3 million-plus domestically and, of course Fox Searchlight cashed in last year with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (over $46.4 million in the U.S.). “It’s a life lesson film and you’re never too old to change. It’s very moving,” added Lomis. “Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp are terrific. It’s worth watching and I hope we can make it work.”
TWC will open Unfinished Song at the Paris Theater in New York and at the Landmark in Los Angeles this weekend. It will roll out selectively in top markets from there.
Director-writer: Dan Mirvish
Writers: Joe Hortua (screenplay, play)
Cast: Julia Stiles, Melissa George, Taye Diggs, David Harbour, Mara New, Annika Pampel, Julia Cho
Distributor: Monterey Media
Filmmaker (and Slamdance Film Festival co-founder) had been on the search for an adaptation, sifting through a number of possibilities before coming across Between Us, which had originated as a play. The story revolves around two couples who reunite over two incendiary evenings. “I got together with Joe Hortua and we co-wrote the adaptation together,” said Mirvish. “We thought we would make it in 2008 with several million dollars and we had good luck casting, but the economy fell through.” After tackling a number of other projects including a book in the interim, Mirvish returned to Between Us two years later. The filmmaking team decided to forgo the multi-million dollars and pursue the project with a micro-budget level. “We raised $10K on Kickstarter and more from other sources. [A producer] found corn farmers in Nebraska who gave us some money. The script never changed — it was never re-written for low budget,” said Mirvish. Taye Diggs and Julia Stiles came on board the project, and David Harbour, who had been in the stage version of Between Us, joined the screen cast. ” It was the longest three-week shoot I’d ever done,” said Mirvish. “We did rehearsals in my kitchen, then three weeks of principal photography in L.A. followed by exteriors in Nebraska and then to New York for another day-and-a-half. For me it was a long shoot. I was lucky to have [cinematographer] Nancy Schreiber who did the shoot. It looks great.”
After doing post for over a year (“We took our time with it,” said Mirvish), the film premiered at the Oldenburg Film Festival in Germany followed by its North American debut at the Hamptons International Film Festival last fall. The film won a prize at the Bahamas International Film Festival in December and screened out of competition at Slamdance. Monterey Media came on board after seeing it last fall and signed a deal shortly after Slamdance. The company will open the film this weekend in L.A. with New York coming afterward. We have dates set in several other cities, with New York and others to be confirmed shortly,” said Monterey Media’s Scott Mansfield. “Presently, we see Between Us rolling out to between 25-35 cities, including New York, Los Angeles and several other top 20 markets. We may go wider depending on critical reaction and box office as we often play even more cities. We will play theatrically all the way through July.”
Headlines around the world recalled frightening accounts of Somali pirates attacking and taking over tankers, cruise ships and pleasure craft in the Indian Ocean, holding hostages and demanding great sums in ransom. It was bound to be a Hollywood movie, but the Danish beat them to the big screen. A Hijacking, by Tobias Lindholm debuted last year at the Venice and Toronto film festivals. Magnolia caught the film at its North American premiere where it picked it up. “It’s a modern, sophisticated movie,” said Magnolia’s Matt Cowal. “It’s realism and an exciting thriller without depending on cheap tricks.” The film draws on a number of incidences that have occurred off the Horn of Africa. “The guy who plays a hostage negotiator was a hostage negotiator. It makes it really riveting,” said Cowal. “It’s still happening and is very very real and there’s a Hollywood version of this film coming up.”
Cowal praised Lindholm as a major talent who would be ripe for the Hollywood picking except he’s happy to remain in Denmark. He also wrote The Hunt, which Magnolia will release next month. A Hijacking debuted at New Directors/New Films in March, which Cowal said greatly helped its U.S. exposure in the run-up to its theatrical release and the company has followed that up with a number of word-of-mouth screenings. The feature will open at Film Forum and Lincoln Plaza in New York in addition to locations in L.A., Irvine, Pasadena and San Francisco this weekend. It will expand to ten more markets next week and build on its roll out throughout July.
Samuel Goldwyn’s Peter Goldwyn had been on the hunt for a food wine-related film and came across Somm, which he pursued for a couple of months. The documentary follows four sommeliers who attempt to pass the prestigious Master Sommelier exam.”It’s statistically the hardest test to pass,” said Goldwyn. “The amount of information is so mind blowingly extensive. I thought it was just knowing the wine list but so much more than that.” Goldwyn said that the key to what he believes will be Somm‘s success is that the film combines the human story with food, giving the audience something beyond just the hook of tasty morsels. “The problems I find with food and wine films is that they’re about the food and wine, but it’s not personal. That’s why Jiro Dreams Of Sushi was successful because of the people around the food. And this works on the same level.” Jiro, which Magnolia released in March, 2012, opened in two theaters, grossing over $42K. The doc went on to gross over $2.55 million in the U.S.
Goldwyn is also combining its weekend screenings with tailored events in each city. Showings in San Francisco and Los Angeles will be followed by wine tastings, while New York moviegoers will be treated to a tasting at nearby Cork Buzz. “We wanted to find a chain that wanted to work with us and Sundance cinemas really came up and wanted to work with us and make it an event,” said Goldwyn. “The [SF] Kabuki and Sundance Sunset, I think, will be a real nice evening out for anyone.” The film will also open in Napa and Seattle, which will also feature post-screening events and sommeliers will also attend screenings. In addition to its theatrical release, the film will also be available via iTunes beginning Friday.
Director-writer: Ziad Doueiri
Writers: Yasmina Khadra (novel), Joelle Touma (screenplay)
Cast: ali Suliman, Evgenia Dodena, Reymond Amsalem, Dvir Benedek, Uri Gavriel
Distributor: Cohen Media Group
The Attack producer Rachid Bouchareb directed the 2010 feature Outside The Law, which received an Oscar nomination and established a relationship with distributor Cohen Media Group. “We took it on as our first film for distribution and it received an Oscar nomination,” the company’s Charles Cohen said. “We are also producing their first American film, Just Like A Woman. Through our relationship, they brought to my attention The Attack.” Cohen described the Tel Aviv-set feature as “powerful” and “timely.” The drama centers on an Arab surgeon who discovers a dark secret about his wife in the aftermath of a suicide bombing. ” It stays with you for a long time,” said Cohen. “It resonated with us and through that we decided to distribute the film.”
The New York Times Magazine did a feature on the film, raising its profile. Its director, Ziad Doueiri received criticism for filming in Israel using Israeli actors and has been banned in Lebanon. Cohen Media Group will open The Attack in two New York theaters Friday as well as one location in Washington, D.C. It will head to 30-plus theaters the following week. “We’re fully behind the film,” noted Cohen. “It’s prestigious and the director is a fabulous talent.”
Director-writer: Alex Winter
Subjects: Henry Rollins, Noel Gallagher, Mike D, Sean Parker, Shawn Fanning, Chris Blackwell, Hilary Rosen
Documentary Downloaded recalls the downloading revolution including the key people who played a major role in popularizing it and the bands and businesses that were affected by it. “It’s a really fascinating story,” noted Abramorama chief Richard Abramowitz. “Those of us who were paying attention and mindful of when it was happening…It’s almost action packed, but not in the sense of like a car chase.” VH1 came on board to help spread the word for Downloaded as it did with 2008 doc Anvil: The Story Of Anvil. “VH1 has a terrific promotional machine,” added Abramowitz. “They have a pretty far reach and it’s great to see the work they do when accessing their outlets and they’re doing it here. They’re so omnipresent.”
FilmBuff will handle digital distribution, though the film will open theatrically initially. Downloaded will bow in New York this weekend, followed by L.A. next weekend and it will be in 15 markets in the next six to eight weeks with more expected to be added. ” It’s about the Seans [Shawns], Parker and Fanning. It’s about the two guys who founded [Napster] and the impact that it’s had and looking at the way music transactions take place now. And I watch it from the perspective as a movie guy today.”