Johnny Depp gets another big screen turn, this time in a documentary. Sony Classics will open For No Good Reason in limited release this weekend. The title is among the Specialty newcomers that will bow the last weekend in April. Samuel Goldwyn Films will open Cannes 2013 feature The German Doctor, based on a novel written by the filmmaker. A 24 is opening Tom Hardy starrer Locke. The film was made under an unusual timetable. And Kino Lorber will launch Sundance doc-hybrid Who Is Dayani Cristal? which features Gael García Bernal in a true investigative story about one would-be émigré’s journey north.
Director Charlie Paul and his wife, producer Lucy Paul run a UK-based production company Itch Films, which primarily produces commercials. The pair began what would be For No Good Reason 15 years ago. In the bio-doc, Johnny Depp visits Ralph Steadman, the renowned artist and the last of the original Gonzo visionaries who worked alongside Hunter S. Thompson. “Charlie has always been interested in the process of art. He’s an ex-punk and is drawn to counter-culture,” said Lucy Paul. “Ralph holds the torch of that and is one of his artistic heroes.” Charlie Paul wrote Ralph Steadman asking if they could meet. Though he agreed, Steadman said that he didn’t think he could help. “Charlie went to his house in Kent [England]. I think there must’ve been a connection,” said Lucy Paul. “He gave Charlie a whole book of archive footage, so they must’ve just clicked. He kept going down there. The early pieces of film go back to 1998.” Charlie Paul installed a digital camera above Steadman’s art table 12 years ago, capturing his work process. “For Charlie, this was his creative outlet from all the commercial work,” added Lucy Paul. “Then it got to the point where I noticed all the phenomenal footage and we realized we had something.” Johnny Depp had met Steadman at various events. After viewing the footage, the filmmaking duo said they felt the project needed framing, so they reached out to Depp’s sister. “They could tell it was a labor of love and not a fluke project,” said Lucy Paul. “So then it was just a matter of scheduling. The thing about Ralph is you point him north and he’ll go south [but] Johnny had a lovely gentle way of navigating it all about.”
Charlie Paul crafted the film to reflect Steadman’s art and made sure the doc did not include a lot of talking heads. Editing took some time. This being the pair’s first feature, the distribution world loomed as a great unknown, but Lucy Paul zoomed in on what she wanted. “I did a lot of research,” she said. “Sony was my number one choice. Our editor knew someone who knew someone who knew Dylan Leiner and it all came together.” SPC picked up the title last January and will open the title in a platform release this weekend.
The feature film is based on writer-director Lucía Puenzo’s fifth novel Wakolda. It follows the story of Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death” German SS officer and physician at the Auschwitz concentration camp. After the war, he “hid” along with other Nazis in South America. The film follows his life in Argentina and the family who knew him without knowing his true identity. “It was the last movie I saw in Cannes and I absolutely loved it,” said Peter Goldwyn from Samuel Goldwyn Films. ” It’s a cool thriller keeps you on the edge of your seat. [Puenzo’s] ability to keep this creeping monster in the room is extraordinary.” Puenzo spent almost a year writing the script for the film. After completion, casting was another challenge. It was necessary for the part of Mengele to speak both German and Spanish and he had to resemble the war criminal. The German Doctor was shot in Bariloche and Patagonia in Argentina in addition to Buenos Aires over a six-week period. The Spanish-German-Hebrew title won 9 Sur Awards in 2013 (Argentina’s Oscar equivalent) including Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor. Goldwyn Films has worked with a number of Jewish organizations stateside leading up to this weekend’s theatrical release and it has received positive critical response. “I think it definitely has an audience here,” added Goldwyn. “It’s easy to depict these guys as one sided, but he’s scarily charming.” The film has already made $2.6 million abroad. Samuel Goldwyn Films will bow The German Doctor at Lincoln Plaza and IFC Center in New York as well as Landmark locations in L.A., San Francisco and Berkeley this weekend. It will expand the following week, with more markets added throughout May.
Guy Heeley served as a producer on Steven Knight’s 2013 action-drama Redemption. During that production they experimented with camera work from a moving car using an Alexa camera. “We were mesmerized by how the digital camera looked at night,” said Heeley. From those early experimentations, the idea for Locke came about. The thriller is set almost entirely in a car in which Ivan’s (Tom Hardy) face is the only one seen during a car trip from Birmingham to London in a trip that forever changes his life. Other characters are the voices at the other end of his angry, sometimes funny but often blistering phone calls. And the backdrop is a vista of highway lights. “Tom Hardy was the only actor we thought of for this role,” said Heeley. “But we could only have Tom for two weeks.” The first draft of Locke was done by January ’13. The team decided to rehearse for a week and shoot for a week. Hardy was shot in a car with no green screens as he traveled down a highway. “We shot the whole film each night, doing the whole thing again the next night. We were able to eventually get through it in five hours,” said Heeley, adding that three cameras were used to shoot at all times. The period from pre-production to post-production occurred in just a matter of weeks, though the production team amassed 56 hours of footage. “[Our editor] Justine Wright then went to work, eventually [creating] an eloquently edited [film],” said Heeley. The film was finished by June 1 and had its debut at the Venice Film Festival in September. before heading to the BFI London Film Festival in October. The film sold to virtually every major territory by AFM. The film opened in 118 theaters in the UK, averaging $3,575. A24, which picked up Locke at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, will open the feature in New York and L.A. in four theaters this weekend, followed by other markets.
Marc Silver launched a website five years ago centered on themes exploring rich vs poor from his base in London. One submission that caught his attention contained images of skulls in the deserts of Arizona. “From that point, we thought it would be a fantastic metaphor about what one skull in the desert has to do with the wider issue of immigration,” said Silver. “It was a starting point that [underscored] the divide between rich and poor.” Silver made several trips to Tucson, eventually asking various government agencies to allow him to be embedded in their patrols. He took trips in November 2009, April 2010 and August 2010. “August was the big trip when we came upon several bodies, said Silver. “Not to be crude, but one body was particularly fresh and he had a tattoo that said Dayani Cristal on his chest.” The remains were examined and identified within a few months, much shorter that usual. At the time, Silver said that there were 700 bodies that had yet to be identified. “We found out that he was from Honduras,” said Silver. “[The Honduran government] was very helpful in getting us into contact with his family. We needed their permission to do his story and they were fantastic because they also saw that the story spoke to the much bigger issue of immigration. It’s a very usual story about economics. They couldn’t make enough money at home.” Marc Silver met Mexican actor Gael García Bernal at the doc-centered Ambulante Film Festival, which he produces along with fellow actor/filmmaker Diego Luna. Silver and García Bernal worked on several short films for Amnesty International, which served as a resource on the topic of immigration. “We could get through Amnesty’s records the various migrant issues and Gael could get his head around the issue and understand the journey before reaching Arizona,” said Silver. “[In Who Is Dayani Cristal?] Gael retraces the footsteps from south to north and personifies these migrants.” Up until the discovery of Dayani Cristal’s body, Silver mostly financed the project, but more resources were secured afterward through private sources as well as help from the Ford Foundation, Sundance and Candescent Films.
Kino Lorber boarded as distributor after its Sundance premiere. The film has played in Mexico and it will have a Honduras premiere in a couple of weeks. A transmedia site whoisdayanicristal.com has also been launched to provide education and other information on the issue. Who Is Dayani Cristal? will open at Cinema Village in New York and Coral Gables Art Cinema in Miami this weekend. Los Angeles and other markets will be added. “We’ve been working closely with our partners at Documentales Univision and Fusion — both channels will broadcast the film later this year), as well as with Gathr and the teams at Pulse Films, Active Voice and Candescent Films,” a spokesperson added a Kino Lorber spokesperson. “In that sense, this is definitely a team effort.”