Nearly a year after its premiere in Cannes, James Gray’s The Immigrant is headed for its theatrical release via TWC. Starring Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard and Oscar-nominee Joaquin Phoenix, the New York-set feature is the highest profile Specialty feature to hit theaters this weekend. A bit under the radar, but still boasting named talent, Half Of A Yellow Sun will bow in theaters in the U.S. from Monterey Media. The film, set in Nigeria, has been effectively banned in the West African country after receiving an initial thumbs up. International Film Circuit’s doc Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case comes on the heels of another doc on the famed Chinese artist this weekend, while Cohen Media Group’s Chinese Puzzle completes a trilogy by Cédric Klapisch and stars Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou. And Justin Schwarz’s The Discoverers will bow in limited locations. The road trip movie, starring Griffin Dunne, raised P&A via Kickstarter for its DIY release.
Director-writer: James Gray
Writer: Ric Menello
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner, Dagmara Dominczyk, Jicky Schnee, Elena Solovey, Angela Sarafyan
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Filmmaker James Gray had an uncle that died in 2010. The event would lay the seeds for The Immigrant. After he passed away, he left behind a treasure-trove of family history that Gray had previously never seen. “There was paperwork from my grandparents going through Ellis Island, which I was fascinated by,” said Gray at a recent event at Film Society of Lincoln Center, which will be among the first locations that will open The Immigrant this weekend. “My grandfather basically sat [my brother and me down] and begrudgingly told us the family history — much of which ended up in the movie.” In the drama set in New York, Ewa (Cotillard) falls pretty to Bruno (Phoenix) a charming but unsavory character who takes her in and exploits her. “We’re fans of James Gray, Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix and we’re excited to get this out there,” said Erik Lomis, The Weinstein Company’s president of Theatrical Distribution. “We’ll open in New York and LA this weekend and then will expand over the holiday next week.” Gray’s last film, Two Lovers (which also featured Joaquin Phoenix), grossed nearly $3.15 million domestically. The Magnolia release had a $13,569 average in 7 theaters when it opened in February 2009. His highest grossing pic remains the studio release We Own The Night in 2007 via Sony/Columbia. That feature racked up over $28.56 million in the U.S. In addition to Lincoln Center, The Immigrant will bow at the Angelika in downtown Manhattan and the Royal in Los Angeles.
Half Of A Yellow Sun
Director-writer: Biyi Bandele
Writer: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (novel)
Cast: Chiwetel Ejofor, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Joseph Mawle, John Boyega
Distributor: Monterey Media
Playwright/author/filmmaker Biyi Bandele met author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at the British Library in London in 2005. At the time he was working on a WWII-set novel and Adichie was writing Half Of A Yellow Sun. “I told her I was looking forward to reading it,” said Bandele. Set in Nigeria during the late ’60s following its independence and the onset of internal strife known as the Biafran War, the drama centers on sister Olanna and Kainene who go out into the war pursuing their romantic partners as war and tumult break out. “After it was done I read it and I completely fell in love with it and immediately saw the possibility of the film,” said Bandele. “I sent a copy of the book to [producer] Andrea Calderwood who did The Last King Of Scotland. She read it and also loved it and then optioned the book. I told her I wanted to direct it and she said, ‘OK.’ Bandele had directed a number of theater pieces and short films. He and Calderwoood thought the project would take a few years, but it ended up taking many more years then that. “We finally ended up going into production in 2012. It has been a long journey,” he said. After securing cast the project shot in Nigeria. Adichie and Bandele had insisted the production shoot in the West African country where it’s set though a number of producers had pushed for South Africa. “I love South Africa, I’ve been there many times, but it’s not Nigeria. It’s not West Africa,” said Bandele. “Working with Chiwetel, Thandie, Anika and all the Nollywood stars was great. I was careful in casting and was lucky. It’s a combination of science in a way and subjectivity. I was very hands on when it comes to casting. I don’t understand directors who leave it to the casting director, I have to absolutely be there in the room.” A portion of the shoot took the cast and crew into remote areas where a number of them caught typhoid including Bandele and star Thandie Newton. Despite being very ill, the team persevered noted Bandele. “It was quite extraordinary though that not one member of my cast and crew left the shoot. I had a team made up of people from UK, South Africa, U.S., India, New Zealand, Australia, Israel and Poland. For every non-Nigerian member of my crew, we had three Nigerians, but everyone stayed. I’m really grateful.”
Half Of A Yellow Sun premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Bandele said that the head of Nigeria’s censorship board had attended and praised the film, even saying that his film was a “harbinger for Nollywood” — as the country’s extensive domestic film biz is referred to — though the film’s debut in Nigeria slated for late last month never came. It never received a certificate which is required to show any film there, effectively banning it. “So I don’t know what changed in the last seven months,” said Bandele. “I haven’t added a single frame since then or removed a single frame.” Half Of A Yellow Sun played at the recent New York African Film Festival and will open in limited release in New York via Monterey Media this weekend and will expand to three L.A. Laemmle theaters in L.A. May 23 followed by additional cities. It will have a digital/VOD release July 29.
Just under two years after another doc (Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry) bowed in theaters profiling China’s best known artist and free speech advocate Ai Weiwei, Andreas Johnsen picks up the thread in Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case. Set roughly after being freed from incarceration (though still limited from traveling abroad), the current doc chronicles his preparation for a series of exhibitions even as he continues to clash with the Chinese government. “It’s an interesting dilemma to have an unintentional documentary sequel,” said International Film Circuit’s Wendy Lidell. “This picks up where that left off and this is more politically incisive. Ai is more sharply outspoken and we have a deeper more intimate look into the artist and how his struggle has affected him personally. It could cut both ways and we will find out.” IFC Films opened Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry in July 2012, grossing a total of $534K at the box office stateside. “We risk people thinking they already know the story,” admitted Lidell. “I did have some trepidation but the response from the theaters has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s interesting to follow the trajectory of a prior documentary. [Because of that film] we know where the audience is.” International Film Circuit is reaching out to the art world and human rights group sin the lead up to this weekend’s release. The Brooklyn Museum also has a show featuring Ai (called Ai Weiwei: According To What? through August), which has installations depicting his incarceration. “This is why we rushed to market to create a critical mass of interest in NY of Ai Weiwei. We’re doing a co- promotion on publicity and promotion with the museum,” added Lidell. Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case will have a slow platform release, opening in New York exclusively (and in Toronto via KinoSmith) Friday before heading to the Bay Area on May 23. It will then open in L.A., Denver and other markets June 6 and then continue to major markets. It will be available on VOD in August.
Styled as a metaphorical Lewis and Clark re-enactment, The Discoverers is a present-day road movie about a dysfunctional family who head out on a cross-country trek and discover themselves in the process. “I got the idea six years ago and wrote a script quickly, but then it all became a long process,” said first-time feature writer-director Justin Schwarz. “The economy tanked. I was attached to direct another project I had written, but then that fell by the wayside.” . Though The Discoverers still had yet to ‘discover’ its own financing, one helpful sign came when veteran Casting Director Patricia Kerrigan DiCerto showed interest in the project, giving it momentum. Bob Gosse, who had heard an inspirational story from John Sayles, also joined as executive producer. “He told me about how [Sayles] talked about taking the bus to the top of the hill and just releasing the brakes,” said Schwarz. In the meantime, Schwarz had made an audio doc on Lewis and Clark, and Schwarz participated in IFP’s No Borders and the Hamptons International Film Festival’s scriptwriting lab. He also moved back to New York from California, roughly trekking over the same path as the explorers in reverse order. Cast including Griffin Dunne joined, which helped secure financing from private equity investors and shot in 2011. “It went well. It was a tight schedule, but I had prepared well and had story-boarded everything,” said Schwarz. “The first day of the shoot, we realized we could eliminate some shots.” The Discoverers shot in Oregon, Illinois and Philadelphia where the production took advantage of tax incentives. “I wanted to show geographic depth and natural environments shifting, but those moves did eat into shooting time,” said Schwarz who added that the cast and crew pitched in with the limited budget with actors making due with any available space to change. “There was a camaraderie behind the project,” he added.
The Discoverers had debuts at Hamptons, RiverRun, Newport Beach and Provincetown film festivals and Schwarz said that the film had some acquisition offers, but he ultimately decided to take his own route for release. The production raised $100K on Kickstarter for P&A and they set out to promote its big screen run, though they received “valuable advice” from a veteran distribution exec “on the side.” We had theatrical guarantees from some distributors, but most companies are just dumping films in up to ten cities and using the theatrical release to advertise VOD/digital platforms,” said Schwarz. “We felt strongly about the theatrical aspect of this film. We were bold in its aesthetic and it needs to be seen on the big screen to be appreciated.” Schwarz acknowledged that he likely “won’t have this kind of freedom” going forward. “I do now understand what an enormous project [distribution] is,” he added. “It’s a human story, which is what I like, but I realize that is a harder sell.” Some cast and crew will join select weekend Q&As at the Village East in New York where it opens Friday. The Discoverers will head to the Arclight Hollywood on May 30 in addition to a location in Orange County. Other cities will follow.
Chinese Puzzle completes a trilogy of films by filmmaker Cédric Klapisch beginning with L’Auberge Espagnole in 2002, followed by Russian Dolls in 2005. Romain Duris stars in all three. In Chinese Puzzle he’s a 40 year-old father whose life is complicated by the fact the mother of his two children moves to New York. Not able to bear that they will grow up overseas, he decides to move there. Klapisch decided that he needed to wait nearly ten years in order to have “something to say” for Chinese Puzzle, completing the series. He also wanted to wait for the actors who appeared in the previous installments to have the possibility of having children themselves. Shooting in New York coincided with Hurricane Sandy. As a result, Kaplisch narrowed the scope of the production, returning to a size comparable with L’Auberge Espagnole, including a small truck and a crew of ten as opposed to the planned 20 trucks and 120-strong crew. Chinese Puzzle did have some fortune. The city had dozens of planned shoots that were arranged prior to the storm and had to be altered, though, Chinese Puzzle went ahead. Distributor Cohen Media Group noted the film has had “great reactions” in word of mouth screenings prior to this weekend’s roll out. The two previous installments had varying degrees of theatrical box office grosses. Espagnole grossed over $2.8 million in the U.S., while Russian Dolls took in $326K. Chinese Puzzle will open the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza in NYC. It will then continue to select markets around the country in the coming weeks.