Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
2014 is kicking into gear with a number of new Specialty titles hitting theaters, though heavy-weight titles in the caliber of August: Osage County and Inside Llewyn Davis, for instance, have yet to make their debuts in the New Year. Kino Lorber will roll out its Tribeca winner The Rocket in limited runs with an explosive story set in Southeast Asia, while IFC Midnight will bow its genre title Raze. Distribution (somewhat) newcomer Big World Pictures will bring Georgia’s foreign-language Oscar entry In Bloom to a pair of New York theaters, while Icarus will open documentary The Great Flood at one downtown Manhattan location. And the director (and a star) of SXSW’s Loves Her Gun will open day and date with a unique DIY strategy for the film’s limited theatrical run beginning this Friday.
Writer/director Kim Mordaunt penned The Rocket over 2009 – ’10. The drama centers on a boy who is thought to bring bad luck to everyone around him and leads his family and two new friends through Laos to find a new home. After a disaster-filled journey, he proves he’s not bad luck by building a giant rocket to enter the year’s most exciting and dangerous event, the Rocket Festival. Mordaunt’s previous documentary effort, Bomb Harvest, looked at the legacy of war in Laos and provided a good amount of background in the form of history as well as the mythology from the Southeast Asian country that formed the backbone of The Rocket. “[Producer Sylvia Wilczynski and I] collaborated with Australian Lao Associate Producer Pauline Phoumindr whom we had also worked with on the documentary,” said Mordaunt. “Pauline was the cultural consultant and translator for the screenplay and also onset and post-production translator so very involved in scripting from beginning to end.” After a year-and-a-half of raising financing, location scouting, casting and other prep, the film shot in Laos and at times in Thailand to avoid strife in the country. Filming the Rocket Festival (an actual event) was also a challenge because it was dangerous to handle the cast (which included a number of children) and crew. “As wonderful as they are they are totally unpredictable and hugely dangerous at times – rockets can turn on their sides and go into crowds or explode on the platform burning, maiming or killing people,” said Mordaunt. “So the only way to do this was that the terrific DOP Andrew Commis and I went to a real rocket festival and shot high-end documentary material on the Arri-Alexa. I then took that away and I chose the best parts of this footage and then scripted and storyboarded key moments of the narrative around this with a little VFX in mind. We then returned to that location 6 months later, rebuilt the rocket launching towers and with the cast and crew and some extras we re-staged key moments of the festival safely – even with safe explosives and rockets from Thailand.”
Mordaunt also had one particularly peculiar challenge with a primate that was set to appear in the film. The monkey, however, had other ideas and made his intentions known on set. “It was leaping onto people’s heads, beating its chest and masturbating like mad,” said Mordaunt. “We were all terrified and we tried putting the kids and the monkey in separate trees but in the end I had to fire King Kong and his permanent hard-on and wait for a delicate little monkey who, to all our relief, arrived later.” The Rocket premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival (winning Best Debut Film), followed by Tribeca, Seattle, Hamptons and AFI Fest (winning an audience prize). Kino Lorber will open the film at IFC Center and Lincoln Center exclusively Friday followed by the NuArt in L.A. January 17. It will expand further in those markets and will head to Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Seattle and Atlanta in February and March.
Director: Josh C. Waller
Writers: Robert Beaucage, Kenny Gage, Josh C. Waller
Cast: Zoe Bell, Rachel Nichols, Tracie Thoms, Sherilyn Fenn, Doug Jones, Rosario Dawson, Rebecca Marshall
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Producer-writer Kenny Gage came up with the concept for action-horror Raze and approached director Josh C. Waller about the story in early 2012. The feature follows two abducted women as well as 50 others who are forced to fight each other using their bare hands. “I told [Gage] that if I’m a part of something like this, I didn’t want it to be quite as exploitative as is common in this sub-genre,” said Waller. After asking Beaucage to refine the script, the filmmaking team began shooting in summer 2012. Initially, the idea was to assemble the story via short webisodes to later be edited into a full-length feature. “We got money together for a short, but then we started getting inquiries from foreign buyers about rights, so we decided to go ahead and do a feature,” said Waller. “The money was pieced together, though I had a deadline to do this before going to make my next film McCanick.” The production’s shooting schedule was fixed before Waller had to leave for McCanick (which stars Rachel Nichols and Cory Monteith and had its premiere in Toronto last fall) or risk having to finish in 2013. Casting was easy since the team tapped friends who were already veteran actors. “Word had gotten out because Zoe Bell and Rachel Nichols were in it and the inquiries just started coming in. Kenny Gage and I had already flushed out the episodes, so the template for the feature was there,” added Waller. The tight shoot included 19 action sequences that had to be completed in 30 days and editor Brett W. Bachman worked as production continued. “It was not sane in any way and everyone went beyond, completely beyond the call of duty, but we were very happy with the product we were getting,” said Waller. Raze played Tribeca last spring as well as the Chicago International Film Festival. IFC Midnight came on board at Tribeca. The genre label of IFC Films will open Raze in 9 theaters between this weekend and mid-February. Waller and star Zoe Bell will take part in Q&As in Los Angeles this weekend.
Georgia’s entry for Foreign Language Oscar consideration, Big World Pictures first expressed interest in In Bloom last year at the Berlin International Film Festival, soon after the distributor announced its formation. Set in the Georgian capital Tbilisi in 1992, the drama centers on friends Eka and Natia who ignore societal customs and work as they mature from childhood. “I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of the film being available to us,” said Jonathan Howell, president of Big World Pictures who added that the company prefers films with subtitles. “In fact, we showed our continuing interest in Cannes, and ultimately made the deal in Locarno. From there on, we were simply prepping for the US premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival, which the sales agent had already lined up.” Howell added that there are plenty of American indies, but also plenty of distributors “willing to service them”, so Big World is concentrating on “overlooked gems” from around the world to bring Stateside. “In Bloom is an ideal film to launch Big World Pictures, as it epitomizes all the things we love about world cinema,” added Howell. “And so far, it’s flying under the radar of a lot of critics, not to mention audiences. But that’s about to change.” Howell said that audiences that have gravitated toward recent foreign pics The Great Beauty and The Past or even Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine will be natural for In Bloom as well as Georgians living in NYC. “We’re doing both ‘traditional’ in-theater, print and online outreach to the art house audience and a good deal of grassroots marketing to the Georgian community,” said Howell.
In Bloom will open at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center uptown and the Angelika Film Center downtown in NYC this Friday and will expand from there gradually. It will open in L.A. in early February followed by several other markets in March. “We don’t want to move too quickly with a film that’s, as already noted, not yet widely known to audiences,” said Howell. “We want to nurture the film and allow time to develop the audience in each market, and we’re holding back VOD until after the theatrical run.”
Loves Her Gun
Director-writer: Geoff Marslett
Writer: Lauren Modery
Cast: Trieste Kelly Dunn, Ashley Spillers, Heather Kafka. Framcoscp Barreiro, Melissa Bisagni, Miranda Childs
Self distributed (Devolver handling digital/VOD)
An award-winner at last year’s SXSW Film Festival, Geoff Marslett’s Loves Her Gun is a romantic tragedy about a young woman who flees violence in New York for central Texas, but once she settles into Austin, she falls into the local gun culture and some of the problems she originally fled. Trieste Kelly Dunn, who stars in the film went beyond the role of cast member to help with the film’s theatrical release. The title secured a digital/VOD deal with Austin-based Devolver, but decided to help spearhead a limited theatrical run “This needed a bit more effort than other projects I’ve been involved with,” said Dunn who also appears in TV’s Banshee, which also begins its new season this Friday. “I didn’t feel done with it because we had put so much into making it. We made it in 28 days and I felt if I didn’t instigate that it may not happen.” Dunn worked with NYC-based publicist Adam Kersh (Brigade) in finding a run at Cinema Village in New York and she extended funds (along with writer-director Geoff Marslett) to secure the theatrical release. “It’s not a four-wall situation,” said Kersh. “It’s a standard thing they do with day and date titles.” Dunn first became involved with the film after meeting Marslett on the festival circuit with earlier projects. “He sent me an outline and said he didn’t have a lot of money,” said Dunn. “The outline was specific but didn’t have exact dialog, so that was the exciting part of it. It was a quick process. We shot in the summer of 2011 and it premiered at SXSW last year.” Loves Her Gun will head to Austin and L.A. in the coming weeks.
Icarus has worked with filmmaker Bill Morrison on previous projects and took on documentary The Great Flood a year before its completion. The film recalls the Mississippi River flood of 1927, the most destructive in American history, breaking out of its banks in 145 locations, flooding 27,000 square miles of land in up to 30 feet of water, affecting the migration of southern blacks to Northern cities and influencing the evolution of Blues music. “The Great Flood appeals to many different audiences — including music lovers; viewers interested in U.S. History and African American Studies; viewers concerned with the environmental or ecology; as well as cinephiles who have been following Bill Morrison’s work for years and avidly await his new creations,” said Icarus’ Colin Beckett, who noted that the filmmaker’s work Decasia was recently selected as the most contemporary film added to the National Film registry at the Library of Congress. Icarus opened The Great Flood Wednesday at IFC Center in New York exclusively. It will head to Boston, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and other cities in the coming weeks ahead of its home video and VOD roll out in spring/summer.