Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
Even as attention turns to the next slate of films on the horizon at the Toronto International Film Festival, the coming weekend’s theatrical debuts are beyond plentiful. Magnolia Pictures bows Lynn Shelton’s Touchy Feely, starring Rosemarie DeWitt who starred in Shelton’s previous effort. The weekend also boasts two films with very different stories that center on older woman/ younger man sexual relationships in Adore by Anne Fontaine and Hannah Fidell’s A Teacher. The Weinstein Company is releasing two films, including doc Salinger (which played Telluride and is at TIFF) and French comedy Populaire by Régis Roinsard. Newcomer Active Fox Productions also has a duo with family pic Tio Papi and thriller 36 Saints. And Participant’s 99% – The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film join the weekend’s documentary titles along with FilmBuff’s Red Obsession. And crime-thriller Mission Park joins the fray after screening a number of Latino film festivals earlier this year.
Director-writer: Lynn Shelton
Cast: Rosemarie DeWitt, Ellen Page, Josh Pais, Scoot McNairy
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Writer-director Lynn Shelton’s Touchy Feely came out of the filmmaker’s work with Rosemarie DeWitt in Shelton’s previous film Your Sister’s Sister. The drama, which also stars Ellen Page and Josh Pais centers on a massage therapist who is unable to do her job when stricken with a sudden aversion to bodily contact. At the same time, her uptight brother’s unsuccessful dentist practice finds a renaissance when clients seek out his healing touch. “[Shelton] often develops stories working with actors,” said producer Steven Schardt who has worked with Shelton on a number of projects. “We had been talking to [DeWitt] for sometime.” Production had to move forward a month due to DeWitt’s schedule, which meant kicking the production into gear. It was also one of the “biggest” projects Shelton and Schardt had undertaken, though they still worked with a core of crew from previous shoots. “It was one of the longest shoots by far that we’ve done,” added Schardt. “It was 20 days as opposed to 12 days for Your Sister’s Sister.” They also worked with investors who helped fund Your Sister’s Sister.
“Overall Lynn’s sets tend to be fairly intimate,” said Schardt. “And one thing we learned is that we can get those performances even with a larger crew. She edited it herself because it was such a personal film for her and wanted that kind of control and her.” Touchy Feely is currently available On Demand and opens Cinema Village in New York and Hollywood Theatre in Portland, OR this weekend. It will expand to Seattle and LA’s Sundance Sunset Cinemas next week.
Director-writer: Anne Fontaine
Writers: Doris Lessing (novel), Christopher Hampton (screenplay)
Cast: Robin Wright, Naomi Watts, Xavier Samuel, Ben Bendelsohn, James Frecheville
Distributor: Exclusive Releasing
When Adore debuted at Sundance earlier this year, some festival-goers were enthralled by the idea of a cougar story. Based on the novella The Grandmothers by Doris Lessing, Robin Wright and Naomi Watts star as moms who secretly begin a sexual relationship with each other’s sons and then the story, of course, gets more complicated. “It’s gorgeous looking and has great actors with a great pedigree from director Anne Fontaine and Oscar winner Christopher Hampton to Nobel prize winner Doris Lessing,” said Exclusive’s Matt Brodlie. “This will resonate with an art house audience. In terms of marketing and publicity we’re playing up the prestige element of the film and actors.” Adding that the film has a “fantasy” quality, Exclusive is apparently not playing up the potentially salacious component of the story, instead focusing on the relationship between the two women as its biggest draw. “I think some people go into it thinking it might be prurient wall to wall sex, but I think [instead] they see a great depth of the female relationship and then there’s the complex thing about female desire,” said Brodlie. “You go into it thinking one thing, but it has emotional depth because of the writing and the performances. But it’s also a lot of fun.”
Brodlie expects a mostly “upscale, educated female audience” so they’re avoiding being too lascivious in its marketing. Adore will open in 40 theaters in 23 markets Friday and will expand to six further markets in two weeks. It will also be available via day & date/VOD. “We’ve had people call us to book this movie,” added Brodlie. “There’s a prestige and sexiness to it.”
Director-writer: Hannah Fidell
Cast: Lindsay Burdge, Will Brittain, Jennifer Prediger, Julie Dell Philips, Jonny Mars
Distributor: Oscilloscope Laboratories
Writer-director Hannah Fidell was working at a restaurant in Austin, TX when she saw a young man walk into the eatery. She found him attractive and – more importantly for her film career – spawned an idea for what would become A Teacher. The Sundance film revolves around a high school teacher who has an affair with one of her students and her life begins to unravel when it comes to an end. “I thought why am I attracted to this boy who is still in high school, but then I wasn’t that much older than him. And then had an internal conversation with him [in my mind], but I never actually talked to him.” Fidell’s roommate at the time was a teacher and headlines at the time happened to be filled with female teachers getting busted for affairs with their male students. “These ideas just came together,” said Fidell. “Then I was speaking with Lindsay [Burdge] and she said, ‘Don’t cast anyone else, I want to do the film.’ Hearing her say this made me think this is a film that should be made.” After writing a script, Fidell turned to friends and family for money. She also tapped crew she had worked with on her previous shorts. “It all came together pretty quickly with the friends and family money,” said Fidell. “I didn’t have to go through the same hurdles I’m currently facing on [a new project].” The filmmaker wrote the script in September and shot in February. After viewing a rough cut, she decided she needed a few more scenes. It debuted at Sundance in January.
“Oscilloscope bought the film right after Sundance,” said Fidell. “Honestly, between Lindsay me and other people who worked on the film, we expected it to be much more controversial. But instead of some people being ‘how dare you,’ we’ve had people coming up to us saying this has happened to a friend or a friend of a friend. It appears to be so common.” A Teacher appears to have found loads of friends on VOD. It has done “remarkably well” on demand, according to Fidell. Even “better than Oscilloscope or I had thought.” O-scope will open A Teacher theatrically at the Laemmle Royal in L.A. and the AMC 7 in New York this weekend. The title will add eight cities including Chicago, Denver, Houston and Portland, OR the following week before expanding to additional markets.
Similarly to the famed author of Catcher In The Rye, Shane Salerno’s Salinger documentary is a bit of an enigma. The film only recently screened at the Telluride Film Festival, so audiences will be going in without much of the festival commentary and hype that might have been more typical for a doc about one of America’s greatest authors and featuring a host of well-known stars (It’s also playing here in Toronto which starts tonight). “We took it off the table around Oscar time,” said TWC president of Theatrical Distribution Erik Lomis. “Shane Salerno showed it to us and we got an early beat on it.” Weinstein is timing the film’s release this weekend with Salerno and David Shields’ book The Private War Of JD Salinger. “The book came out September 3 and we wanted to have the film out right afterward,” added Lomis. “The film was late in getting done, but you want to get everything out at the same time. Ideally we’d go out a bit before the book but we couldn’t do it because it wasn’t ready.” Lomis said the doc, which will open in New York and L.A. this weekend in four theaters has “a lot of stuff that people haven’t seen or heard” about Salinger who lead a reclusive life for decades. “There’s a lot of stuff about Salinger people want to hear and it’s a unique film. It will get buzz and it’s worth the watch,” he added. Following this weekend’s limited roll out, it will head to 60 markets in 175 to 200 theaters the following week.
Director-writer: Régis Roinsard
Writers: Daniel Presley, Romain Compingt
Cast: Romain Duris, Féodor Atkine, Déborah Francois, Bérénice Bejo, Shaun Benson, Mélanie Bernier
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
TWC picked up French filmmaker Régis Roinsard’s 1950s set romantic comedy Populaire in March, 2012 after viewing footage of the film. The film boasts The Artist pedigree, including cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman and Oscar-winner Berenice Bejo. The story revolves around a terrible secretary and a “demon typist,” whose handsome boss vows to make her the fastest girl in the world. “We love the talent involved with the film,” said TWC’s Erik Lomis. “It is strictly art house. I think it will appeal to an older audience but it also has a unique style that might play to people over 35.” Lomis said the company has used its long experience in reaching fans of foreign-language films to get the word out about Populaire including a host of word of mouth screenings and tapping “groups and opinion makers” that are the film’s likely allies. “The film will open in New York and Los Angeles and then follow a slow roll out and we’ll evaluate each week [how to continue releasing] based on performance,” added Lomis.
Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites launched the film in October, 2011 as the Occupy movement was receiving national and worldwide attention. The doc is a portrait of the original Occupy Wall Street movement spanning personal stories to analysis of the issues that spawned the movement. “We weren’t (and still aren’t) part of the movement,” said Ewell. “In fact, no one who is part of the core filmmaking team was part of Occupy. But Aaron and I live in Brooklyn. And on October 1, 2011, I was struck by three things: One, thousands of marchers had taken over two lanes of traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. Two, the police had kettled them and were conducting one of the largest mass arrests in American history. And three: none of the mainstream news outlets was covering it.” So the pair borrowed a camera from an executive producer of their previous film, Tyler Brodie of Verisimilitude and headed down to Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan which served as ground zero for the movement. “People thanked us for filming,” said Ewell. “Of course, by the next day, everything had changed. It went from blackout to circus overnight. We felt that there needed to be a more objective voice recording whatever came out of this moment.” The filmmakers financed the project through crowd-funding, campaigns, equity investors and the New York film world which chipped in with in-kind donations, discounts and deferrals. Ewell and Aites had three rules for the project. Taking a cue from Occupy, they decided on a process of “collaborative filmmaking” getting others to span the country to capture the movement. “Our primary goal was to bring narrative and context to this sprawling and unwieldy story, but we also wanted to make a film that would capture this American experience in a visceral and authentic way,” said Aites. “Managing either would have been difficult, but to be at the center of managing both… the two of us didn’t get much sleep for a year.”
Ewell and Aites had interviewed Naomi Wolf earlier, but the sound had been corrupted. Wolf was crucial to the story because of her perspective and she had just released a book, according to the filmmakers. Scheduling proved challenging, but they finally saw a window on the day Hurricane Sandy hit. “We took two taxis from Brooklyn, Audrey and I in one car, and Lucian Read, a director who was acting as DP on this one, in another, and we did the interview,” said Aites. “Fastest interview I’ve ever conducted. Luckily we’d already edited her in with the temp interview footage, so we knew exactly what we were there to get.” Participant Media picked up 99% at the Sundance Film Festival where it premiered. It will open in limited release in New York and L.A. Friday. It will also begin airing on Participant’s cable network Pivot beginning September 17.
Filmmakers David Roach and Warwick Ross were on a flight from Sydney to London when they happened to see what they called “a master of wine” Andrew Caillard sitting nearby. They began talking about the changes in the Bordeaux market in which prices were skyrocketing, while traditional markets were falling off. “China was the new kid in town with pockets bulging and a voracious appetite for luxury goods,” said Ross. “Add to this the fact that the up-coming vintage was rumored to be the best in 100 years, and I could see a kind of ‘perfect storm’ scenario in the wine world shaping up: the rarest and most desirable wines in the world, the best vintage in 100 years and a massive cashed up new client.” Ross and Roach saw the potential story as a romance between the traditional and a clash between a “refined Western” tradition and a “voracious and unpredictable East.” “As a filmmaker, I felt it had the potential to develop into a powerful driving narrative with elements of romance, greed and arrogance all colliding with global market forces – I liked the potential dramatic arc,” said Ross. “Secondly, having been born and raised, until the age of 10, in Hong Kong, China had always held a fascination for me. And with China now flexing its economic muscle around the world, I saw this story as an exploration of the economic power shift from the West to the East through the prism of the world’s rarest and most coveted wines.” After two decades in film, this is Roach and Ross’ first documentary. Caillard told the duo that they would need to begin filming almost immediately in order to capture a crucial upcoming event, though financing wasn’t in place. The filmmakers decided to use their own resources for the first part of the project. Additionally, the owners of some wineries were reluctant to speak initially having been, what Ross described as “burnt by previous experiences with documentary filmmakers.” It took quite a while to gain their trust, which was built over 5 successive trips to Bordeaux,” said Ross. “Similarly, to find the extremely wealthy collectors in China was first a matter of developing relationships and then trust. This evolved over the 12 months of filming.”
After finding financing through executive producer Rob Coe who brought on investors, the production went into full swing, shooting in Bordeaux, France, London, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing as well as the Gobi Desert and Australia from March, 2011 to May, 2012. “I think the most intriguing interview was with the Sex Toy King in his factory in Shenzhen,” said Ross. “His wine collection is worth over US $60m and his home is attached to the factory…” After locking in an Australian distributor, the film headed to the Berlin International Film Festival where it was selected to screen at the Tribeca Film Festival. FilmBuff secured U.S. rights ahead of the festival. Red Obsession will open at New York’s Cinema Village and the Laemmle Music Hall in L.A. this weekend in addition to VOD. A national roll out will follow.
Director: Fro Rojas
Writers: Joey Dedio, Brian Herskowitz
Cast: Joey Dedio, Kelly McGillis, Frankie Faison, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Gabriella Fanuele, David Castro
Distributor: Active Fox Productions
A walk in an East L.A. park prompted Tio Papi. Writer-actor Joey Dedio was walking in the park and noticed kids with smiles yelling, “Tio, tio” [Uncle, uncle]. A friend’s off-cuff remark said that the uncle was “all smiles because they’re not his kids.” And an idea was born. The film centers on a carefree Miami man whose life of indulgence changes when he suddenly becomes the legal guardian of his sister’s six children. “I began writing immediately. I finished the script and then gave it to my co-writer Brian Herskowitz who then fleshed it out,” said Dedio. “For my new production/distribution company Active Fox Productions, I was in the process of picking three projects for a series of three films we were to shoot in New York in the coming months, and Tio Papi seemed to be a good fit.” The second of the three was 36 Saints (profiled below and also being released this weekend). Dedio met Fro Rojas who is a veteran commercial director in the Latin market. Dedio felt he knew the character Ray Ray (said uncle) “inside and out” so decided to take on the role. After securing financing through investors, the project shot over 18 days in suburban NJ and Washington Heights in upper Manhattan.
“Families are the core audience,” said Dedio. “We wanted to release the film as a ‘back to school’ story for families to go to together. The cast has traveled all over the country these past two months and wherever we go families have been showing up and enjoying the film. They tell us that this is the first family movie to come out in a long time that is not animated…” Tio Papi will open in New York, LA, south Florida, New Jersey, Chicago and other markets in limited release this weekend and will expand slowly in the coming weeks.
Also a writer and actor in 36 Saints, Joey Dedio’s interest in the Talmud morphed into a script for this feature, directed by Eddy Duran. The film is described as Seven meets The Da Vinci Code when the NYPD is confronted with a serial murderer loose in the streets of Manhattan and detectives are convinced that the killer is basing his crimes on the belief that every generation has 36 righteous individuals who live among us. “[I was] recently in Israel and surrounded by religious elements everywhere,” said Dedio. “The idea came into fruition by combining the ancient mysticisms of Catholicism with the ancient mysticisms of Judaism.” Along with Tio Papi (profiled above) the money came together via equity financing for three movies shot in NYC. While Tio Papi targets families, Dedio sees 36 Saints for the “Halloween crowd,” targeting young adults and teens. Dedio’s Active Fox Productions will open 36 Saints in New York, L.A., Chicago, south Florida and Tampa this weekend and will expand based on performance. Added Dedio: “Our distribution consultant, Rob Lynch at Eammon Films, worked with me to set up the theatrical releases on both films and we are now in the process of setting up our ancillary deals which includes DVD, VOD, TV and digital.”
Crime-drama Mission Park played a host of Latino festivals in the U.S. ahead of its release this weekend. The feature centers on four friends from the rough side of town who grow apart when two of them are consumed by a life of crime and the other two become FBI agents sent undercover to bring down their one-time friends. “Bryan [Ramirez] had asked me for almost two years to be involved in the project. One day on a flight to LA after much prodding by Bryan, I read the script,” said Armando Montelongo who is an executive producer of the film. “My emotions were all over the place during the reading. I was shocked, I cried, I laughed and the minute I got off the plane I called him and said, ‘We’re making this movie!’ It was that damn good!” And with that reaction, Montelongo financed the project which began shooting in late August, 2011 and finished a month later. One scene called for a shooting at a cemetery, but the production ran into a problem when a cemetery wouldn’t agree to allow the production on its grounds. “We wanted to film at a certain cemetery, [but] the owner of the cemetery wouldn’t allow us to film there for what in my show biz opinion were pathetic reasons,” noted Montelongo. “The movie was based around shooting at this cemetery and [it] would have brought business to his business. Hell, who doesn’t want to be buried somewhere famous? So our amazing production crew made last minute adjustments to the script and shooting schedule.”
Post-production lasted about a year. Mission Park is San Antonio-based Armando Montelongo Productions’ first theatrical release (Montelongo is a real estate mogul and a former star of A&E’s Flip This House). He’s expanded his holdings into film production. Mission Park will have a platform release in select AMC Theaters beginning in New York, Chicago and seven locations throughout Southern California in addition to four Santikos Theaters in San Antonio which began Thursday.