A new Oscar nominee is finally making its theatrical outing this weekend. Foreign-language contender Omar will open in over a few dozen locations, giving the director of this Palestinian feature his largest bow Stateside via Adopt Films. IFC Films will open Tribeca debut Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me in New York, capitalizing on the Tony and Emmy Award-winner’s long-time home before her recent move. Roadside Attractions will launch a pair of films, Barefoot and In Secret, though the two will have much different theatrical trajectories. Diginext will open doc The Standbys in NYC, capitalizing on its Broadway base, while Music Box Films’ genre label Doppelgänger Releasing will open Black Out in limited runs.
Combining elements of a thriller, intrigue and a love story, Oscar-nominated film (Foreign Language category) Omar had its premiere in Cannes and later screened in Toronto and at NYFF. The feature revolves around a young Palestinian fighter who agrees to work as an informant after he’s tricked into an admission of guilt by association after the killing of an Israeli soldier. “Omar showcases the human limitations of an occupied people where the collective paranoia invades the daily life of both the Israelis and Palestinians,” said Tim Grady, president of Distribution at Adopt Films, which also distributed Israeli film Bethlehem, also filmed in the West Bank. “We are emphasizing the Oscar Nomination in all print and online campaigns. We have had many successful word-of-mouth screenings over the last month.” Grady missed the film in Cannes, but stayed an extra day in Toronto to catch the public screening. He expects the film will generally appeal to an “older well-educated” audience. “We’re marketing to this audience, but we also have an aggressive online campaign underway, that with luck will help us find a younger audience for the film,” he said. “In addition, we are marketing Arab and Palestinian groups around the country and are spending more ad dollars in such locations as New Jersey, Detroit, San Diego, that have a higher concentration of Palestinians.” Adopt will also take advantage of its theatrical window as Oscar Sunday approaches in vying for potential audience attention. “We are emphasizing the Oscar Nomination in all print and online campaigns,” said Grady. “We have had many successful word-of-mouth screenings over the last month. In addition, we have a theatrical advantage over the other Foreign Language Nominees. Three of the nominees, The Hunt, The Broken Circle Breakdown, and The Great Beauty have already pretty much played out theatrically over the last six months.” Omar is one of two films that has not opened.
Omar is filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad’s second Foreign Language nominee, following Paradise Now (2005), which also tackles the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Omar will have a greater theatrical reach than Paradise Now, which opened in late October of that year in four theaters ($48K gross, $12K average). Its widest run was in 65 theaters, grossing nearly $1.46M in the U.S. for Warner Independent. “Our release strategy is more spirited, and Omar will premiere on  screens on February 21, and another 20 screens February 28,” said Grady. “And if the film wins an Oscar, we will expand even further, with perhaps another 40-50 screens. That said, the film will play in the top 20 markets by February 28.” Omar will have a 90-day theatrical window before being available On Demand the last week of May. “This is a fluid date and will depend on our success on February 21 and 28 and an Oscar will also dictate the VOD launch.”
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me
Director: Chiemi Karasawa
Subjects: Elaine Stritch, Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, James Gandolfini, Nathan Lane
Distributor: IFC Films
Emmy and Tony Award winning actress/performer Elaine Stritch and indie film producer Chiemi Karasawa had a mutual acquaintance who suggested the two meet and possibly collaborate. “Everyone has a relationship with their hairdresser, who knows all about your life and your love life, and he knew that I produced documentaries and he knew about my work,” said Karasawa. “So he said one day, ‘I think you should do a documentary on Elaine Stritch.’ I took it very much to heart. And I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is the most singular character and performer out there. Why doesn’t everybody know about her?’ And that was really the beginning.” The good luck didn’t stop there. At a subsequent brunch, she received an initial investment in what she described as a “fluke,” not knowing the investor was a Stritch fan. “She asked what I was up to and when I responded that my hairdresser suggested that I make a documentary about Elaine Stritch, she said: ‘How much do you need?’ She ended up writing a check for the initial 20% of financing, and a few months later another 20%,” said Karasawa. “We ended up shooting for a year and a half and completing the fundraising teaser and rough cut with those funds.” With financing and subject secure, she began production, which lasted over two years.
Though she is a veteran producer of a number of indie films, this was her first time as director. “I think the largest challenges were Elaine Stritch and being both director and producer at the same time,” said Karasawa. “Shoot Me still remains a big responsibility because I’m still overseeing the financial aspects for my investors and helping to promote the film as a director. When it’s your film, it’s literally like raising a kid. I’m in an obscene amount of personal and emotional debt, but I am thrilled there is a worthwhile film to show for it. At the end of the day, it was worth every ounce of trouble and aggravation, but my shrink could probably outline the rest!” Not surprisingly, Stritch is a feisty soul who told me last year during the Tribeca Film Festival where Shoot Me premiered that making a documentary is not easy. “It’s a lot of work and it’s straining on your nerves and your honesty…I want something up there forever that I’m proud of. I don’t know if I’m proud of it or not, but I know I did it as best I could. So therefore, I don’t think I held back anything….You don’t do a documentary about Elaine Stritch unless it’s going to be funny, though. I’m funny when I want to be. And I’m even funny when I don’t want to be.” Stritch made headlines Wednesday when she dropped the F-bomb on the Today show dressed in full fur and wide glasses, befuddling hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. The film had its theatrical premiere Wednesday night in Manhattan. IFC Films will open Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me in New York at Lincoln Plaza and IFC Center followed by a nationwide roll out. It will be available via VOD later this month.
Producers for Barefoot directly took the feature to Roadside who took on its release. It premiered at the recent Santa Barbara International Film Festival, its only festival outing. The film revolves around the “black sheep” son of a wealthy family who meets a young psychiatric patient who’s been raised in isolation her entire life. And he takes her home for his brother’s wedding. Roadside is releasing Barefoot along with Charlie Stratton’s In Secret (see below), though with Barefoot, the company will concentrate on a limited release with a day and date VOD roll out. “It’s a definitely a female driven audience,” said Roadside co-president Howard Cohen. “We felt like this was a great weekend. There isn’t a lot out there for both of them so it’s a great weekend to introduce films. The other big movies are not for them. It’s good programming.”
Director-writer: Charlie Stratton
Writers: Neal Bell, Émile Zola
Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Felton, Jessica Lange, Oscar Isaac, Tom Felton, Shirley Henderson
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Crime thriller In Secret is set in the lower echelons of 1860s Paris. Therese Raquin, a sexually repressed beautiful young woman, is trapped in a loveless marriage with her sickly cousin by her domineering aunt. But then she meets her husband’s attractive friend, Laurent, embarking on an illicit affair. Roadside acquired In Secret from LD Entertainment, which also produced the movie. Roadside had acquired Albert Nobbs from the company, which it released in January, 2012. That film made just over $3 million in domestic theaters. “We’re doing a mid-sized release, 266 theaters with a certain amount of media support [for In Secret],” said Roadside’s Howard Cohen. “We’re targeting an upscale female audience in the 35-plus range.” Cohen noted that the film was re-titled to make it clear that it is in English. French film star Audrey Tautou starred in its French-language brethren Thérèse in 2012. “This film demands the big screen,” said Cohen. “We liked the idea of a film noir set in period dress.” Roadside will open In Secret in 266 theaters beginning Friday.
Director: Stephanie Riggs
Subjects: Ben Crawford, Aléna Waters, Brian d’Arcy James, Ryan Duncan, Katie Finneran, Sutton Foster, Jonathan Groff, Daniel Radcliffe, John Leguizamo, Cheyenne Jackson
Filmmaker Stephanie Riggs has a background in theater, though she was not familiar with the lives of an under appreciated swath of a class of theater actors – standbys. Her film casts the spotlight on understudies and standbys through the lives of three undiscovered performers at various points in their careers. ” I was at a workshop series and I saw these standbys and they were so phenomenal,” said Riggs. “But they also had these horrible stories of people booing them because people were disappointed. They are very respected in the industry but under appreciated by audiences.” Riggs began her project in 2009 initially envisioning a narrative. She later decided that non-fiction was the way to go, but decided to “cast” her documentary through the lives of three people who could represent the various stages of a typical standby’s career including Aléna Waters as her “ingénue.” “Broadway is kind of like Fort Knox. There are 17 different unions and the houses that own the theaters,” said Riggs. “I tried to go in and film Ben [Crawford] and the Shubert Theater said no. They said you have to get permission from the union. I think they thought I wouldn’t go and beg every union and bother to go there for just a half-hour. But I pounded the phone for a half-hour and got their permission, but then the theater said no. There was a nine-month process [involved] to get people on board, which was a tremendous challenge. But I do have footage one would mostly not get.”
Riggs was mostly shut out of the already finite number of documentary financing mechanisms. “It has the ups and downs and great performances, but it’s not an issue-based documentary, so a lot of the usual financing wasn’t available,” she said. Morgan Spurlock gave his advice during a conversation, suggesting she create a teaser trailer to show potential investors her access. “I used my own money to shoot the fundraising trailer and then went out with that and a proposal to seek the money,” she said. Financing came through via some Broadway producers. The project finished in 2012 and includes interviews with celebrities who share their up-and-coming stories. The Standbys opened the Tony Awards film series. The film had initially been slated to open in the fall of 2012 in New York, but it was shut out because of Hurricane Sandy. It is getting its outing this weekend in New York exclusively at the Quad Cinemas.
Director Arne Toonen
Writers: Gerben Hellinga (novel), Melle Runderkamp, Luuk Frank van Meerde, Bert Nijdam, Maarten Kuit
Cast: Raymond Thiry, Kim van Kooten, Bas Keijzer, Renee Fokker, Edmond Classen, Katja Schuurman, Birgit Schuurman
Distributor: Music Box Films/Doppelgänger Releasing
Action-comedy Black Out played Fantastic Fest after a series of genre festivals in Europe. It centers on Jos, who wakes up to find a dead body nearby. He discovers that a group of gangsters have pinned him as the lone suspect in the theft of 20 kilos of cocaine and he has 24 hours to return it or his soon-to-be bride will be in danger. “The things that drew us to the film was that it was a fun, smart, meta take on this genre,” said Lisa Holmes of Music Box. “I think it’s great and appealing for both men and women without giving away too much. It’s a thriller but has elements of other genre that appeals across the board. Music Box has a history of putting out films that have a strong female lead and even though this is Doppelgänger, this is consistent.” Music Box and its genre label Doppelgänger are spearheading an online campaign and working with genre blogs who have been “very supportive,” according to Holmes. Black Out will open in limited release and via VOD day and date. Doppelgänger Releasing launched in 2013 and kicked off its slate with Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal, Slamdance award-winner 100 Bloody Acres and the hybrid documentary Smash & Grab: The Story Of The Pink Panthers.