The likes of Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Tilda Swinton, Nicolas Cage, Kristen Wiig, Guy Pearce and more have films joining the Specialties in theaters this weekend in what could possibly be a big draw at the box office — hopefully. TWC will bow The Railway Man, a period drama set against WWII, while SPC will open Jim Jarmusch’s vampire romance Only Lovers Left Alive. David Gordon Green returns to theaters with Joe from Roadside and Lionsgate, while IFC Films will bow Hateship Loveship. The distributor will also open doc Dancing In Jaffa. Also joining the pack in a fairly packed weekend is Entertainment One’s Cuban Fury, starring Nick Frost. Also opening is A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, And Jayson Blair At The New York Times, an ITVS backed doc that will have a self-distributed theatrical run ahead of its broadcast on PBS.
The Railway Man
Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Writers: Frank Cottrell Boyce, Andy Paterson, Eric Lomax
Cast: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgård, Jeremy Irvine, Michael MacKenzie, Jeffrey Daunton
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
With a high-profile cast, bio-drama The Railway Man centers on a former British Army officer who was tormented as a young prisoner of war at a Japanese labor camp during World War II. Later he discovers the man responsible for much of his treatment is still alive and sets out to confront him. “We’re big fans of Colin [Firth] and Nicole [Kidman],” said TWC president of Theatrical Distribution Erik Lomis. “Harvey saw it in Toronto and bought it for the U.S. and Canada.” The film has already shown box office prowess overseas, grossing nearly $6.3 million in Australia and about $8.5 million in the UK as well as one million in New Zealand. “The story talks about [post-traumatic stress disorder] when the condition was still relatively unknown,” added Lomis. “The trailer has been out there since Christmas. I think it will target a sophisticated older audience.” Lomis said Kidman and Firth are doing press in the run-up to this weekend’s initial release. Firth appeared on Jon Stewart Wednesday night, saying he had met the real-life Eric, whom he plays the older version of in the film. He died over a year ago, but continued to receive support from his wife. “If she would have withheld approval, I don’t know how we would have kept going,” he told Stewart. “It becomes very personal and it becomes not just a job at a certain point.” TWC will open The Railway Man in New York and LA in limited runs this weekend followed by the top ten markets on April 18 before going out nationally on April 25.
A competition title at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Jim Jarmusch’s thriller-romance first screened at NYFF Stateside after first playing this side of the Atlantic in Toronto. It later headed to Sundance and SXSW. The feature, which Sony Classics picked up out of Cannes, follows a depressed musician who reunites with her lover, though their centuries-old romance is disrupted by the arrival of an uncontrollable younger sister. “Jim Jarmusch is working at the peak of his form,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. “The response has been spectacular. Tom [Bernard] first worked with Jarmusch on the release of Mystery Train (1989) when we were at Orion.” SPC is leveraging Jarmusch’s loyal fan base into the following of the film’s cast as it heads into release this weekend. The distributor also is hoping to tap the ongoing public fascination with vampires on the big screen. The obvious example of this, of course, hails from the Twilight series, though this film clearly is different from that box office juggernaut. “We’re in an age when a large part of the public is into vampire movies,” noted Barker. “It’s a genre that is always welcome when you can have a fresh spin on it.” Star Tilda Swinton said last fall at NYFF: “It was a romantic risk that we were all willing to take and make an atmosphere we hadn’t seen before.” Said Jarmusch, “We didn’t play music on the set, but we did circulate a mixed tape to cast and crew.” The film’s soundtrack includes a song from Jarmusch’s band SQURL. The band played along with others at a soundtrack party last week in New York. SPC will open Only Lovers Left Alive in New York and L.A. this weekend, expanding to San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C. the following week before heading to the top 50 markets through spring.
Director: David Gordon Green
Writers: Larry Brown (novel), Gary Hawkins (screenplay)
Cast: Nicolas Cage, The Sheridan, Gary Poulter, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Adriene Mishler
Distributor: Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate
A premiere in Venice, Toronto and SXSW, David Gordon Green’s drama Joe follows an ex-con who is an unlikely role model. He meets a 15 year-old boy who is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin. Roadside and Lionsgate picked up the title out of Toronto. “I think people are very excited to see [Nicolas Cage] in a strong acting role,” said Roadside co-president Howard Cohen. “Journalists seem to be enthused about a ‘Cage comeback’ and [many] reviews have said this is his best performance in over a decade. We’re expecting it to do well.” The American Cinematheque hosted a tribute to Cage April 4 – 6 featuring some of the actor’s’ best work including Alan Parker’s Birdy, the Coens’ Raising Arizona, Spike Jonze’s Adaptation and Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant as well as an advance screening of Gordon Green’s Joe. At the event Cage said he took the role as a by-product of the “challenges” in his real life in recent years. L.A. aside, Cohen noted that Joe has played “a lot of festivals in the heartland,” including River Run, Dallas and Atlanta. Gordon Green also headed to BAM in Brooklyn this week for a Q&A. Joe will open in 48 theaters this weekend and will be Roadside/Lionsgate’s first day and date release since Arbitrage and Margin Call (the latter cumed over $5.35M in the U.S., Arbitrage, $7.9M). The film will hit over 100 locations in the next couple of weeks in a pattern similar to Margin Call, with a younger male audience expected to drive the bulk of the crowd.
Filmmaker Liza Johnson was editing her 2011 title Return when screenwriter Mark Poirier brought her the script for Hateship Loveship. “We’re friends and he [figured] I could help him get this project started,” said Johnson who added the project had originally been written for Warner Bros, but eventually took the specialty route. “[We] thought Kristen [Wiig] would be best for the main character. It seemed thematically she could relate to her. We could tell from Bridesmaids she could do dramatic acting.” Hateship Loveship revolves around a wild teenage girl who orchestrates a romance between her nanny and her father — a recovering addict. The project shot in the fall of 2012 in New Orleans. “We brought some key crew, but we used a lot of people already there,” said Johnson. “New Orleans has a developed crew base and they were fantastic.” The film had its world premiere at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Alice Munro, who wrote the short story of the same title is from Ontario, which made the festival a doubly perfect place to debut the feature, according to Johnson. “People really care about her and it felt right.” The Cinema Society, Andrew Saffir and Montblanc hosted a premiere at MoMA in New York Tuesday night with Wiig, Johnson, Poirier in attendance along with Christine Lahti, Sami Gayle, the film’s producers and a bevy of notable guests. Wiig and Pearce are on press duty this week, while Guy Pearce is away shooting in Australia. Hateship Loveship will open at IFC Center in New York this weekend as well as on VOD. It will head to the Sundance Sunset in L.A. the following week and will expand to other markets.
Entertainment One picked up rights to Cuban Fury from StudioCanal in a competitive situation following the American Film Market in November 2012. The comedy was still in production at the time via the UK’s Big Talk, the outfit behind Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz and Paul. It was co-developed and co-financed with Film4 with additional financing from the British Film Institute. “We wanted to work with Big Talk,” said eOne’s SVP and General Manager Dylan Wiley. “They’re producers of quality content and we were excited to work with them again — and we loved the script.” The film centers on Bruce Garrett (Nick Frost) who has the passion to be a salsa king, but his lack of confidence and hefty exterior are an obstacle. But one woman ignites his fire. “There’s a great mix of male-driven comedy elements but also some sweet romantic moments,” said Wiley. “When we test screened it, our thoughts were confirmed that females were drawn to the film because of its dance, but men also really took to it.” Wiley said that eOne is banking on women as the primary drivers going to see the feature, but that men will also find it entertaining and fuel word of mouth as it heads further into release. “We think once small groups adopt it, it will sell,” added Wiley. “One of the keys is the lovability of Nick Frost. Most know him as the sidekick/best friend in his films with Simon Pegg, but this gives him the chance to step up to male lead.” Frost just came off a two-week stint on the road promoting Cuban Fury, doing Q&As at word-of-mouth screenings and talking to local press. He is now in L.A. where he’ll take part in Q&As at the ArcLight Theater Friday and Saturday nights. eOne will open Cuban Fury in 79 theaters in six markets Friday and will head into additional markets the following week, expanding further into May. A VOD/digital release is slated for July.
In 2006, Diane Nabatoff produced Liz Friedlander’s Take The Lead , a narrative that spotlighted teaching ballroom dancing to kids in troubled New York neighborhoods. Years later, Pierre Dulaine, who was at the center of the earlier film, took his ballroom dancing diplomacy to Jaffa, a community where Jewish and Palestinian Israelis have lived as neighbors in an uneasy proximity. “Pierre called me and told me he was going to Jaffa in Israel and said he was going to fulfill his lifelong dream to teach ballroom dancing,” said Nabatoff. “The theory is if you change the children, you can change the future. Ballroom teaches etiquette, self-respect and respect for your partner. … Two people are moving as one.” Nabatoff said entrenched tension melts away through ballroom dancing and that Dulaine’s methods have been replicated in not only Jaffa but Belfast as well as psychiatric wards and other places. “Pierre is my hero who is an ordinary man with a gift,” said Nabatoff. “When Pierre said he’s going to do something, I’ll be there.” Before heading off to Jaffa in December 2010, Nabatoff had two months to raise funds. She hired Hilla Medalia, an Israeli director who knows Jaffa, and obtained financing in pieces beginning with friends and family. “I just prayed I’d be able to raise money to keep the process going,” she said. Further financing came in after creating a trailer, and the likes of LaToya Jackson and Morgan Spurlock came on as executive producers. Once in Jaffa, Dulaine had to persuade schools to adopt the program and make it mandatory. “There was one Arab dad who was very much against it, but because [Pierre] told him it would change the academic record of his daughter, he came on board,” said Nabatoff, who gave a litany of benefits the program has produced around the world. IFC Films picked up Dancing In Jaffa out of last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. It will open at IFC Center in New York as well as another location uptown. Screenings will include children coming in from Israel who will speak at the 7:20 showings at IFC Center on Friday and Saturday in addition to other events at its uptown screenings.
A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, And Jayson Blair At The New York Times
Director-writer: Samantha Grant
Writer: Richard Levien
Subject: Jayson Blair
Distributor: Self-distributed (ITVS for broadcast)
Samantha Grant began her directorial debut as a graduate student at UC Berkeley’s school of journalism. The project began as a graduate thesis focusing on Jayson Blair, who became infamous as modern times’ most well-known serial plagiarist. She began the project in 2006 and took to the internet to find a contact for Blair. “I found his email and said that I’d like him to be in [the movie], but he never responded,” said Grant. “I wrote about eight emails but they never bounced back, so I thought someone had to be getting them.” Eventually, Grant found his home address and sent word she wanted to at least meet with him to get his perspective. “He said, ‘Please don’t come’ and that it would be an invasion of his privacy and that he was not well,” said Grant. ” I told him I’d wait in this coffee shop and asked him to come. So he didn’t come, but he did sporadically communicate with me.” Grant said that she sent Blair weekly updates on the progress of the film, letting him know who she was interviewing and reinforcing that she wanted him to talk. “In the fall of 2007, he offered to do an interview and I flew across the country the next day,” said Grant. “It was a terrible time in my life, but I also knew not to wait. When someone opens the door, you go.” She said that after the on-camera interview, Blair asked her if she planned to ask why he agreed to the conversation. He said that he hoped the film would be able to answer questions about what happened that he himself hoped to understand. After Blair participated, financing was easier. Grant applied for ITVS’s open call initiative for the third time. Once funding came, Blair agreed to a limited exclusivity time. She interviewed him a second time in 2009 and again in 2011.
“[The final interview] was supposed to be a week-long set of intensive interviews…,” said Grant. “[But] he became much more reluctant to [cooperating]. It was so rehearsed [compared] to the first interview we did. It was the least rehearsed version.” The film will open in a limited theatrical run beginning at the Quad in New York for 14 showings over a week. It will head to San Francisco, San Rafael and Berkeley in the Bay Area soon after with other cities to follow. ” I’ve learned so much about distribution through this process,” said Grant. “It’s an insane amount of information and just trying to find my footing has been overwhelming. At the end of the day, I’m happy with how things have turned out and have negotiated pretty good deals. Being an independent documentary filmmaker is not for the faint of heart. It’s all about persistence.” Independent Lens will air the full 75 minutes of A Fragile Trust May 5.