Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
The theatrical rollout of the Sundance Film Festival‘s Grand Jury Prize winner is an anticipated and likely nerve-racking occasion for insiders. This year, newcomer Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station holds the mantle. The film won the festival’s top jury prize in addition to the Audience Award. Last year’s big winner Beasts Of The Southern Wild – also from a newcomer, Benh Zeitlin – opened in the summer, going on to rack up critical awards as well as Oscar nominations and solid but not explosive numbers at the box office. Fruitvale‘s debut will hopefully add shine to what has been a mixed to blasé bag in the Specialty arena of late. Also this weekend, fellow Sundance winner Crystal Fairy (a World Cinema prize winner) is also hitting the big screen via IFC Films. The film was a spontaneous undertaking while filmmaker Sebastián Silva and star Michael Cera awaited financing for another project. Cannes 2012 award winner The Hunt from veteran Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg also joins the newcomer list Friday. The dark but acclaimed film has been a hit at home and other territories, but how it will translate in the U.S. remains to be seen. The weekend’s largest Specialty rollout in terms of location count, though, comes from India. Reliance will open Bhaag Milkha Bhaag in over 100 theaters across the country. Comparatively more limited new arrivals this weekend come from Samuel Goldwyn Films (Still Mine) and Anchor Bay Films (Pawn Shop Chronicles).
Director-writer: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray, Ahna O’Reilly
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Fruitvale Station occupies a coveted place in the specialty/indie world, winning the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Feature as well as the Audience Award in the same category. Its wins also naturally carry expectations. Last year’s jury prize winner, Beasts Of The Southern Wild, bowed with a $42,426 PSA in four theaters and went on to cume nearly $12.8 million domestically. It also managed to accumulate a slew of year-end awards as well as multiple Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress in a Leading Role, not bad for a film with no known actors. Fruitvale Station, however, boasts known talent including Oscar winner Octavia Spencer and Friday Night Lights actor Michael B. Jordan. “We’re excited and have high hopes for Fruitvale Station,” said TWC president of Theatrical Distribution Erik Lomis. “Beasts is not a model for this, but it did prove that you don’t have to open at the end of year to receive acknowledgment. There needs to be an alternative [to the summer blockbusters]. It’s a powerful film and we’re going to take it out nationally.”
At an event Thursday evening at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, writer-director Ryan Coogler acknowledged the crucial role the actors played in telling this story, saying they “drive the film,” especially for Jordan, who plays Oscar Grant in the film. The bio-drama centers on the true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family and strangers on the last day of 2008. “We believe this will play to an art house crowd and be a crossover to commercial audiences,” said Lomis. “There are great performances and if [awards] happen it will be icing on the cake.” The Weinstein Company will open the film in select theaters in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco this weekend before heading to six additional markets the following week. Fruitvale Station will go out nationally July 26th.
Director-writer: Sebastián Silva
Cast: Michael Cera, Gaby Hoffman, Juan Andrés Silva, José Miguel Silva, Agustín Silva
Distributor: IFC Films
Michael Cera headed down to Chile in anticipation of starring in The Maid director Sebastián Silva’s Magic Magic, which subsequently had been stalled because of funding issues. That film was eventually made, but in the meantime, Silva recruited Cera along with Gaby Hoffman (the two had worked to gather on Silva’s HBO digital series The Boring Life Of Jacqueline) for a 12-day low budget project based on a memory of a road trip Silva took in his native Chile in which he inadvertently invited a girl after a night of partying who referred to herself as Crystal Fairy. “I told Michael we could do this in 12 days and there’s little risk,” said Silva. “It was pretty easy and it came out spontaneously. I met Gaby when she auditioned for this HBO web series. We needed someone who spoke French and she lied. This was a very different experience because we didn’t have a screenplay for it. We only had a 12 page outline for it.” Along with Cera and Hoffman, Silva’s brothers played the three Chilean road trippers who set out to find the San Pedro cactus in the Atacama Desert.
“The shoot basically followed a guerrilla filming style, stopping at various locations and if the time seemed right, they’d break out the equipment,” said Cera. “Basically we were kind of always working. We’d drive in the car and shoot something as we were getting to where we were going. Every scene was fun and the dynamics were fun. There was a five person cast and we were a family. We shot on the beach and used two cabins with about 15 people all sleeping near each other.” Crystal Fairy, along with the comparatively higher budget Magic Magic, premiered at Sundance in January. The film won the Best Director Award in World Cinema at the festival and IFC Films picked up North American rights soon after the festival concluded. The distributor will open the feature at one theater each in New York and Los Angeles and will be available via VOD. It will head to the top 20 markets within the first couple of weeks in release.
Director – co-writer: Thomas Vinterberg
Co-writer: Tobias Lindholm
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
This is a poster child for summertime counter programming. Veteran Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s dark The Hunt had initially been conceived as his first American movie, but once the realities of America’s funding resources set in (or lack thereof) production headed back to Denmark where such funding is more generous, especially for someone like Vinterberg who is a longtime presence on the Danish film scene, going back to the much ballyhooed Dogma period of the ’90s. “I worked with [Lars von Trier's] Zentropa and put together financing with groups there including the Danish Film Institute,” said Vinterberg. “This gave us the possibility to pursue the story for its artistic value. This is the success of Danish cinema and television right now, which has gone on to receive success in the U.K. and other countries.” Despite the financial flexibility, the shoot time was tight. Vinterberg had to work around actor Mads Mikkelsen’s schedule and he wanted to finish in time for Cannes. “I wanted both Mads and Cannes,” said Vinterberg. “It was doable for this story, but I don’t think it would be for every shoot.” Vinterberg said that the film only had seven weeks in the edit room and the production also had to contend with Denmark’s stringent labor laws. “We did fight against time and had a short shooting days because of union regulations enforcing eight-hour days including lunch so you have to be fast,” said Vinterberg. “But having said that it was a joy ride. We had fantastic actors and animals.”
The film debuted in Cannes 2012 receiving what Vinterberg called “explosive applause” for the film about a lonely teacher who is struggling over custody of his son, but finds love and then his luck runs thin. “I’ve also been through the opposite experience so I’ve learned to be thankful for that. I was very proud and won an award,” he added. Magnolia, which has released Lars von Trier’s most recent movies Stateside, boarded the film during last year’s Cannes. “At home, it was an explosion even with a dark story like this,” said Vinterberg. “It was the number three film over the past 15 years.” Vinterberg is in the U.S. doing promotion in the lead-up to the film’s release, including an invite-only screening last night at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Magnolia will open The Hunt at New York’s Lincoln Plaza and Angelika theaters as well as the Royal and Pasadena Playhouse in the L.A. area this weekend. It will expand to six more markets July 19th.
Distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films acknowledges that the key to releasing a film like Still Mine is not an obvious one, but that the film itself should serve as its biggest asset. Starring James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold, the drama centers on an elderly couple who are in a fight with local authorities in rural New Brunswick to build their final home. “We really fell in love with Still Mine,” said Samuel Goldwyn’s Peter Goldwyn. “It’s James Cromwell’s first leading role. We are fans of his and think he’s a phenomenal actor who hasn’t had a chance to shine. It’s emotional and definitely for people who want to be moved by a story. This is something Goldwyn Films has been doing its entire existence. We look for something that has more substance than someone running around in capes.” Goldwyn has been working with various groups to raise awareness of the titles theatrical launch. The company picked up the title out of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. “We’ve been doing a lot of press with Cromwell. It’s a gem that needs to be supported and is being supported by critics and through outreach,” said Goldwyn “There’s no silver bullet for this type of movie.”
Samuel Goldwyn Films will open Still Mine at the Landmark in Los Angeles in addition to limited select locations and will expand from there.
Mumbai-based Reliance Entertainment and the Indian wing of Viacom are collaborating worldwide on this historical drama about one of India’s greatest athletes. Called “The Flying Sikh,” the feature tells the story of world champion runner and Olympian Milkha Singh who overcame the massacre of his family and homelessness against the backdrop of civil war which lead to the partition of India and Pakistan to become one of India’s most celebrated athletes. “Reliance’s marketing and distribution reach globally in both diaspora and non-traditional markets was an ideal vehicle to popularize Milkha Singh’s fight against all odds to his crowning moment-being christened a Flying Sikh by a Pakistani Army General just two years before India and Pakistan fought their second war,” said Reliance COO Mahesh Ramanathan. “[The director's] passion inspired India-Reliance and Viacom to collaborate in international markets – a first for any Hindi film.” Ramanathan said the company is targeting young adults 25-plus, which it sees as the feature’s core. “The marketing challenge is to disseminate the legend of Milkha’s achievements to this segment,” acknowledged Ramanathan. “We have used an aggressive internet campaign for this purpose.”
Ramanathan noted that “big star extravaganzas” in the Hindi language, most widely known as Bollywood, have had some competition from regional films in the Tamil and Telugu languages of late. Experimental films with smaller or relatively unknown casts are also on the rise. Stateside, Reliance will have the largest debut among the specialties this weekend, opening in 140 theaters across the U.S. “That’s pretty much saturation coverage for the non-resident South Asian community,” said Ramanathan.
Anchor Bay made an offer for the action-comedy after seeing Pawn Shop Chronicles at a screening toward the end of 2012. “It has a great star studded cast,” said the company’s SVP Theatrical Marketing and Distribution Bill Lewis. “It’s a very smart film that has three twisted tales that are connected by items in a Southern pawn shop. It’s ‘Pulp Fictiony’ in that there’s a connection that brings things together.” Lewis said the film will likely be most appealing to the 18 – 35 crowd and is reaching out to that audience via an online campaign and cable television. The feature centers on a missing wedding ring that leads to a wild goose chase involving meth addicts, skinheads and an Elvis impersonator.
“Everyone delivers a great job and Brendan Fraser does the Elvis impersonation,” noted Lewis. Anchor Bay will open Pawn Shop Chronicles in 15 theaters in 15 markets this Friday. It is also available this weekend via VOD.