Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
The upcoming weekend will host a number of anticipated films from the recent festival circuit, some of which are likely eyeing an Oscar nomination or two. Robert Redford-starrer All Is Lost hits theaters after crowd-pleasing runs in Cannes and the recent New York Film Festival. Word of mouth helped propel the film when it debuted back in May in Cannes, despite its limited dialog. 12 Years A Slave has practically won the race according to some prognosticators. A debut at Telluride, Toronto and NYFF, the film should continue to see positive word of mouth, though may prove tough viewing for some. Daniel Radcliffe stars in Sundance and Venice debut Kill Your Darlings. The Harry Potter thespian breaks out from the franchise that made him huge in a leading role that launches him squarely into adulthood. Doc filmmaker Jehane Noujaim takes her latest onto the streets of Cairo during the country’s series of uprisings in The Square. The filmmaker and her team experienced arrest, interrogation and more creating the film which had standing ovations at TIFF and NYFF. The doc is part of a trio of non-fiction films utilizing various forms of DIY releases including Blood Brother and “Fantastical doc” Peaches Does Herself. And The Film Collective and Dada will bow drama Torn in a targeted roll out.
All Is Lost
Director-writer: J.C. Chandor
Cast: Robert Redford
Robert Redford won praises for his portrayal of a skipper aboard a pleasure craft sailing alone on the open sea. The film unfolds with little dialog, with Redford playing the only cast member “Our Man,” whose boat collides with a shipping container at sea, damaging his boat, forcing him to face mortality and the elements. “It’s a big weekend for us, it’s the first movie Roadside has been involved with as a production,” Roadside co-president Howard Cohen said. “J.C. handed us the script as [his previous film] Margin Call opened. We had released that film [with success] and liked the material.” They also liked Redford who was attached at that point. Margin Call had debuted at Sundance, but Chandor had already reached out to Redford for the “Our Man” part. The two met in Redford’s office in L.A. “When we met, I was already inclined. I just had to make sure he wasn’t nuts,” said Redford at the recent New York Film Festival. “When I first went into the office, I was prepared to give him a big spiel on why he should do this,” added Chandor. “He said, ‘For a guy who wrote a script with few words, you sure talk a lot…’ But I was prepared to tell him why he should do it. He looked at me and literally said, ‘I just want to make sure you’re not crazy, but looks like you thought it through,’ and then he patted his knee and said, ‘Let’s do this.'”
“There’s no question it’s risky because of [the lack of] dialog or the absence of a backstory,” said Cohen. “But we trust him and believed in his idea. He didn’t want flashbacks and the usual tricks that he could have used. It’s specific. It’s spare and the meaning comes from the performance and sound etc. and to a slight extent special effects. If it was just going to be another version of Castaway, then why do it? It’s meant to be a bit of an existential experience. [Chandor] lets the audience decide what the details are about his life.” All Is Lost will have a classic platform release, bowing in three theaters each in New York and Los Angeles. It will head to the top 75 markets the following week.
12 Years A Slave
Director: Steve McQueen
Writers: John Ridley (screenplay), Solomon Northup (original book)
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael K. Williams, Michael Fassbender, Scoot McNairy, Dwight Henry, Lupita Nyong’o
Distributor: Fox Searchlight (a New Regency production)
Steve McQueen and writer John Ridley had been working together on a fictional story about a free man who is kidnapped into slavery, but ran into difficulty. But his wife turned him onto a true-life story that mirrored the fictional one he had been attempting to write. ” I got together with John Ridley to write the script and things weren’t going as well as I wanted,” McQueen said at the recent New York Film Festival. “I was talking to my wife and she said, ‘Why don’t you do a true story,’ and then she put this book in my hand, Twelve Years A Slave, which is Solomon Northup’s autobiography. It was just remarkable. Each turn of the page was such revelation.” Based on Northup’s book, the film has caught early Oscar buzz in the story about Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man living in Upstate New York who travels to Washington, D.C. for a job. While there, he’s abducted and sold into slavery. The film screened at Telluride and Toronto where it won the People’s Choice Award. The prize has been a precursor to past Oscar winners including Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech. Searchlight will open 12 Years A Slave Friday in six cities including L.A., New York, Chicago, D.C., Chicago and Toronto in 19 locations.
Kill Your Darlings
Director-writer: John Krokidas
Writer: Austin Bunn
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Ben Foster, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Elizabeth Olsen
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
First time feature filmmaker John Krokidas started what would be Kill Your Darlings nearly a decade ago. His co-writer Austin Bunn had worked with producer Christine Vachon on a book and the pair decided to send her their script. After meeting and Vachon came on board, casting possibilities quickly followed for the film, which follows members of the Beat Generation in their early days, set in Columbia University and Greenwich Village. Krokidas had spoken to Daniel Radcliffe for the part of Allen Ginsberg, but he was not going to be available for two years while he finished the last two installments of the Harry Potter franchise. Then Jesse Eisenberg boarded the project. Financing came easily after the success of The Social Network, but then Eisenberg had to drop out of the film. “So, I did what you’re not supposed to do and emailed Dan [Radcliffe] and said, ‘I don’t know if you remember me, but…'” Radcliffe wrote back the next day and revived the project which had looked to be on its final leg. With Radcliffe on board, more financing and cast followed. “Once I got Daniel Radcliffe on board, I was meeting with producer Rose Ganguzza about a separate project, but used that as an excuse to have her read Kill Your Darlings. She asked if I had financing on board and I said, ‘No, do you have any?’ And she took it to Michael Benaroya, a financier she had worked with several times,” said Krokidas. “He came on board as we were assembling the cast. It wasn’t until about a month before we shot that the financing was in place. It was a nail biter until the end.”
After production began, the cast and crew at times had to skirt the rules at their various locales around New York, though the group created a system to get around authorities. “I’d have to steal scenes in the corners while having crew members distract the guards to keep them from carrying away equipment,” said Krokidas. “We also had a universal signal between Dan, Dane, me and the D.P. Reed [Morano]. We did a double wink which meant that we’d go run away from the production team and any guards and keep continuously filming. So double wink meant Dan and Dane would have to do each other’s hair and do each other’s wardrobe…There were plenty of times when the four of us were running around New York City and just trying to get the scenes done.” Kill Your Darlings premiered at Sundance in January, followed by Venice and Toronto. SPC picked the title up out of Sundance and will platform the film this weekend at the Walter Reade Theatre and Sunshine Cinemas in New York as well as the Arclight Hollywood and Landmark in Los Angeles. It will expand to Irvine and San Diego the following weekend before heading out to 16 additional locations including the Bay Area, Chicago, Cambridge, MA and Washington D.C. the following week. It will head to most major markets through November.
An Audience winner at both the 2013 Sundance and Toronto film festivals where it played to standing ovations, The Square gives a personal behind the scenes account of Egypt’s ongoing revolution through a group of passionate Egyptian activists over two years as they battle dictator Hosni Mubarak followed by the military and later Mohamed Morsi. The film gives a very close account of the drama as it unfolds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, exposing atrocities that missed the headlines on news services around the world. “Everybody on this filmmaking team either got run after by police, tortured, arrested, or shot at, [but] one of the most incredible parts about this filmmaking team was that we met in the square,” said Noujaim. Noujaim solicited the help of people in the square including someone who noticed she wasn’t using her Canon 5D camera correctly. Noujaim said she then solicited his help as the defacto D.P. “My camera had been confiscated by the time I arrived,” said Noujaim. “I was told to buy a Canon 5D because soldiers there still think that it’s solely a photography camera.” Some time into the shoot, Noujaim was stopped while driving and brought in for questioning for six or seven hours. She had copies of her previous film Egypt We’re Watching You (2007) and became nervous the authorities would find them.” I didn’t know how scared I should be and had never experienced this in Egypt before,” said Noujaim. “I had DVDs in the car and was scared they’d find them. I told them I was a filmmaker but not a political filmmaker. I went into the bathroom and broke up the DVDs and threw them in the hole in the bathroom. Then the guy came in who cleans the bathroom with chards of plastic, so I just let it go and told the truth. I think something broke at that moment, where I just lost the fear. I stopped denying and just gained an incredible strength. I was just completely frank and did that regardless of the consequences. I think that’s what people thought who went down to the square. They’re putting their lives on the line for something bigger than themselves.” After an hour, the police let her go.
The Square is opening at Film Forum in New York October 25 and will head to the Sundance Theater in Los Angeles November 1. Noujaim said they’re still working on a distribution situation that will allow it to get out to a wider and more diverse audience and she’s hoping to take the film to Cairo November 25, but it’s still working its way through the censorship board (which is currently under the control of a new interim government). If it gets approved, they’re hoping to partner on blow up screens throughout the capital.
Documentary American Promise is a personal story of two African-American families and their 12-year journey pursuing quality education for their sons. The filmmakers also happen to be the parents of the boys who are shown as they navigate their way through a rigorous prep school. “This has to be one of the longest planned-out projects I’ve worked on,” said theatrical consultant Michael Tuckman. “Joe and Michele have across all platforms been campaigning on this.” Self-distributed through their Rada label, the rollout dates will mostly allow for the filmmakers to appear at screenings. Tuckman noted that there is “an army of volunteers” working on the release. “American Promise is a multimedia campaign in which the documentary film serves as a point of entry into a larger conversation about how we can better understand and support African-American boys both academically, socially and emotionally,” said Picture Motion Senior Director of Strategy Darcy Heusel. “This is a conversation and a movement that is happening in communities nationwide and our campaign has been working in partnership with these groups for more than two years to use the film to encourage and support this dialogue. These actions range from planning community-wide summits, developing an educator professional development curricula, a national fundraising and mentorship drive call to action with Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America, a parenting support group initiative and more.”
American Promise will open at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and IFC Center in New York. It will open in Los Angeles next weekend, followed by Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. November 1. Dates in Chicago, Charlotte and other cites will follow. PBS will air the doc in early February.
Canadian-born electronic musician and performance artist Peaches decided to turn the camera on herself in her feature directorial debut. Not exactly a documentary, the film features Peaches herself as she morphs from aspiring musician to a rockstar in a mythical biography. “By its nature, it’s ‘Peaches Does Herself,’ so I’m naturally in it,” said Peaches. “I’m not against the idea of someone [playing me], but one of my superpowers is my performance.” A theater company reached out to Peaches, asking her to create a performance. She had lived in Berlin for 13 years and considered basing the performance on an array of ideas including the history of burlesque, but then realized that her own experience performing could form the core of a new work of art. “I decided forget all that. I had spent the last ten years creating my own theater language,” said Peaches. “I didn’t want it to be a doc, but a ‘Fantastical Doc’ with my own politics and [aesthetics]…” Initially a theater piece that was filmed over five days, Peaches and her team realized after seeing the footage that it could be edited into a feature. After a second run of the performances where the team caught different angles, they began to piece together what would form Peaches Does Herself. Color correction and extensive edits were needed for consistency. “[One of the characters] had changed his tattoos,” noted Peaches. After debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012, Peaches partnered with Ron Mann’s company FilmsWeLike for its Canadian release and with Distrify for the U.S. where it will open at the Quad in New York with four showings per day beginning this weekend. Distrify and filmswelike/new video will also handle upcoming its VOD/digital release December 18.
Director-writer: Jeremiah Birnbaum
Writers: Michael Richter, Marc Posner
Cast: Mahnoor Baloch, Faran Tahir, Dendrie Taylor, John Heard, Sharon Washington, Patrick S. Esprit
Distributor: The Film Collective and Dada Films
The Film Collective’s Ruth Vitale met filmmaker Jeremiah Birnbaum and writer Michael Richter in November 2010 just as they were finishing Torn. The drama centers on two families who bond when their teenage sons are killed in an explosion at a suburban mall, though one of them becomes the main suspect. “We stayed in touch with the thought that we’d put this out with them,” said Vitale. “About a year ago, I saw the final cut of the film and fell in love with it.” The film won the Grand Prize at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, but kept its festival run to a minimum. “We didn’t do the festival circuit,” said Dada Films’ MJ Peckos. “We wanted to take the film out in the fall, though we were too late for Toronto since we were just gearing up in August. Film Collective, Dada and PMK have worked to get the word out ahead of its weekend release through grassroots organizations targeting the Muslim community as one audience, but they’re also hoping to lure in the art house crowd. “The Muslim community has embraced it, but we’re also appealing to the art crowd because of its story and acting,” added Vitale. “It’s about pre-conceived notions that can lead you down the wrong road.” Torn will open at the Paris Theater in New York and will head to Los Angeles and San Francisco the following week in addition to locations in Santa Clara and Irvine. Detroit and Chicago and Texas [locations are also possibilities] if box office goes well,” aded Peckos.The filmmakers will also attend Q&As as the film rolls out.
Filmmaker Steve Hoover met Rocky Braat at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh where they both attended. The two later became friends and lived together, and when Hoover eventually got married, Braat moved to India. Blood Brother is an intimate portrait of Braat, who longed to find a family. He didn’t know it, but this desire would lead him to an AIDS hostel in India, a place of unspeakable hardship, where he would find almost more love and need than he could bear. “He kept me updated with his experiences, some tragic, others inspiring and even comical. He had been living there for a over a year when I finally decided to approach him about filming a doc,” said Hoover. “It was a combination of his experiences and my curiosity to see his life there.” After arriving, Hoover found the conditions were a challenge, both physical but also emotional. “The climate was incredibility humid, so it was difficult to stay motivated,” added Hoover. “Moving forward, it was challenging to film children suffering. At times it felt inhumane holding an expensive camera in front of a child that’s near death.” Social media/crowd sourcing group TUGG will help spearhead the film’s release, beginning this weekend in New York at the Sunshine and next week in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal. Through TUGG, movie-goers sign up and request a movie at a participating location at a specific time and then spread the word. “In the coming weeks we’ll collaborate with the Sundance Institute and the Art House Convergence network on a series of one-night only screenings complete with Skype Q&As with director Steve Hoover,” said TUGG’s Dan Parnes. “We also have screenings in over 50 other cities that have been launched through the Tugg platform, and this is just the beginning – this is a grassroots theatrical campaign that will continue to build over the coming months as we work to empower audiences to support Blood Brother‘s release.” Blood Brother will have a digital and broadcast release in early 2014.