Coming on the heels of last weekend’s robust opening of Obvious Child, A24 is opening the first Cannes 2014 title The Rover, boasting an A-list cast including Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson and Scoot McNairy. Sundance Selects will bow the Aaron Paul-Juliette Lewis starrer Hellion exclusively in New York, while Music Box will also take A Coffee In Berlin to NYC for its initial launch. Samuel Goldwyn Films is partnering with Participant for Sundance doc Ivory Tower which asks whether higher education is worth the trillions in debt in the U.S. Adopt Films is countering this weekend’s 22 Jump Street and How To Train Your Dragon 2 studio releases with French film Violette while Gravitas Ventures opens I Am I.
Producer Liz Watts produced filmmaker David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom through her company Porchlight Films and was lured to the current project after reading the screenplay for The Rover. The crime drama takes place 10 years after a global economic collapse in which a hardened ex-soldier tracks down the men who stole his only possession, traveling through the lawless Australian outback and taking a damaged young man as his accomplice. “I was keen to work with David again,” said Watts. “As a director and collaborator he is brilliant, but I also loved his screenplay for The Rover. I read it around the time we were traveling for Animal Kingdom’s release in January 2010.” Though the film is Australian in tone it has an international cast and backing. David Linde’s Lava Bear Films also produced as did FilmNation during the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. “By the shoot we’d pre-sold around 75% of international territories,” said Watts. “A24 came on board in May 2013 for domestic.” Watts said that critically important was shooting in Australia meant the filmmakers were able to seek significant investment through Screen Australia, together with the Producer’s Offset, and with state bodies South Australian Film Corporation (for shooting in South Australia) and Screen NSW (for post-production in Sydney). Shooting took place in the remote Flinders Ranges in the state of South Australia during the height of summer. “Heat was a big factor as we were shooting in the height of summer — and flies — as our cast can tell you in particular,” she said. “But we had a brilliant first class crew and everyone came on board for the movie knowing the difficulties we may end up with.” Watts said that temperatures “only” hit about 46C (115F). “I think we may have shifted a little, but both Guy and Rob’s enthusiasm and commitment to the film was pretty clear,” said Watts about finding time to get the project’s cast together in the Australian outback.
Rover opened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival followed quickly by the Sydney Film Festival last weekend. “Both were important parts of the film’s launch and both have served different goals for the film,” Watts said. “Cannes was a truly international launch and was a great plus for all of our distribution partners on the film, whilst Sydney was a fantastic launchpad for the Australian release this week (June 12). For us, the dating of the film was about being inclusive of the premieres, but also very much about date and timing in the exhibition marketplace.” A24 will open Rover stateside in five theaters in New York and L.A. on Friday before going nationwide next weekend.
Producer Kelly Williams teamed with filmmaker Kat Candler on the short preceding Hellion which debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. The feature version opening this weekend follows a motocross and heavy metal-obsessed 13-year-old who is put in the care of his aunt. His older brother and their emotionally absent dad must then take responsibility for their actions in order to bring him home. “The short was never intended to be a feature,” said Williams, who had worked at the Austin Film Festival for a decade before producing the short. “The short got into Sundance in 2012 and that got the ball rolling.” Meanwhile, fellow producer Jonathan Duffy boarded the project after he and Williams produced short Pit Stop in 2013. The script for the feature version of Hellion was accepted into Sundance’s creative labs where it was fine-tuned. “The script was done by the spring of last year,” said Williams. “We sent it to Aaron Paul and that got the ball rolling.” In the meantime, Candler met Juliette Lewis and the two bonded over pancakes one day in the summer. “They have similar musical taste,” added Williams. Financing in the meantime came via various contacts with private investors. Executive producers including Suzanne Weinert and Sarah Green connected the project to resources and collaborators such as Austin-based Arts + Labor. They also received grants from the San Francisco Film Society and Austin Film Society. The project headed to southeastern Texas for the 26-day shoot in August. “It was tropical down there and potentially hurricane season,” added Duffy.
The project’s late shooting date also meant they had a relatively short period to finish in time for Sundance. Alan Canant was tapped by the team to head down to Texas to begin work even as production was in full swing. “We brought him in at end of week one and he started cutting then,” said Wiliams. “He buckled down and was in the hotel room 24/7 and was cutting away. I think it helped that he was there.” After finishing up at Skywalker Ranch, Duffy noted that a final version of the film came in-hand as the group headed to Sundance. Sundance Selects picked up the title at the end of February. It will open day and date Friday at IFC Center in New York and head to Los Angeles next week.
Sundance docu Ivory Tower takes on the value of higher education in an era in which the cost of college has risen 1,120% since 1978 and students graduate with huge loans. “Students are saddled with $1.2 trillion worth of debt and they’re postponing life decisions as a result,” said Chad Boettcher, Participant’s EVP of Social Action and Advocacy. “They’re moving back home and putting off marriage or buying a home.” Boettcher is coordinating the social action campaign behind Ivory Tower. Everything produced, released or financed by the group is accompanied by campaigns in which action (and awareness of the film) can be taken from their website. Participant is working with advocacy group Higher Ed Not Debt which is helping with outreach as the film heads into release this weekend. Filmmaker Andrew Rossi began working on Ivory Tower in the spring of 2012. His previous docu was Page One: Inside The New York Times which Magnolia released in June 2011 ($1.06M cume). Ivory Tower played played Miami, Montclair and the recent Seattle International Film Festival in addition to word-of-mouth screenings ahead of this weekend’s rollout. “The social action campaign also includes information that has been sent to all U.S. senators by the coalition in addition to 300K signatures demanding action,” added Boettcher. Ivory Tower will open at the Landmark in L.A. and the Angelika in NYC. It will head to Sacramento on Monday (part of the social action’s state by state lobbying efforts in various capitals) and to Cambridge, MA, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Berkeley on June 20. It will head to St. Louis, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Atlanta and Seattle June 27 with more cities added for the July 4 weekend.
Filmmaker Jan Ole Gerster took a cue from his own emotional upheaval at film school and turned it into a film. Not exactly a parallel, A Coffee In Berlin is a tragicomedy about a young man who drops out of university and ends up wandering the streets of Berlin. He’s lost but wants to find his place in life. “In film school I suffered a bit of depression like the main character does,” said Gerster. I was obsessed with becoming a director but I wasn’t satisfied with the work I had been doing.” He put his other work aside and began writing a script loosely around his own experience at school “I had this character in mind — he’s an anti-hero…I had the first draft in 2008.” Gerster kept the script to himself for a time, but eventually showed “a few people,” including producer Marcos Kantis (Good Bye Lenin) who took to the story and put together initial financing. Gerster had interned at Kantis’ production company. He was also not without some connections. He knew actor Tom Schilling and showed him the script and agreed to join the project. A Coffee In Berlin shot in 2010 after additional financing through television sales added financing. “It’s still low budget,” said Gerster. “I thought the shoot would be the biggest challenge in the whole journey. I was working with well-known German actors and I was a young filmmaker doing my first film. I was intimidated at first, but I had a great crew.” Editing proved to be the biggest challenge. Additionally, after the film was completed some people inadvertently related it to another black and white feature that had been recently released in Germany. “It took about a year to edit,” said Gerter. “There’s a subtext about a generation of kids who don’t know where to go. Frances Ha has a similar subtext and people asked if I was inspired by that film, but I had no clue Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig were making that film.”
A Coffee In Berlin bowed at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in 2012. Gerster met with Music Box Films at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and soon they had a deal. The film opens this weekend at the Sunshine in New York followed by San Francisco, San Jose, Berkeley, Philadelphia and Chicago next week. It will continue to several more cities including Los Angeles on June 27 with further markets added throughout July.
The folks at Adopt Films caught bio-drama Violette at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. Set in France at the beginning of the last century, Violette Leduc meets Simone de Beauvoir and begins an intense relationship that will last throughout the lives of the two women. “We saw Violette at TIFF and were bowled over,” said Adopt Films’ Tim Grady. “Led by an award-caliber performance by one of the elite actresses in France today, its takes the audience on an emotional roller-coaster ride as it visualizes the life of one of the seminal, feminist writers of the 20th century.” Grady added that the title perfectly fits their “‘Four quadrant film': a film of sheer greatness that we strongly feel will be review-driven — great reviews still move our primary audience to action — a film that embraces the arts, a film with strong female appeal, and one with just a dollop of sensuality.” Baby boomers and art film audiences are the core audience Adopt hopes will be lured to theaters this weekend in addition to fans of “good literature.” “Being a Francophile helps too. I describe Violette as the intellectual version of Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris, but with less comedy and more tragedy,” noted Grady. “[It's] the real lives of artists and writers told in an honest way. It should appeal to book clubs, and women. It’s the story of the very courageous writer.” The company has used a print and online campaign leading in NYC and L.A. in addition to social media. Violette will bow at New York’s Lincoln Plaza this weekend followed by 8-10 additional locations throughout the New York, Connecticut, New Jersey areas next Friday. A dozen additional markets will be added June 27. Adopt hopes to play up to 50 theaters by early July.
Gravitas’ Melanie Miller caught first-time feature filmmaker Jocelyn Towne’s I Am I at a screening at the Newport Beach Film Festival where it debuted in April 2013. The drama follows a young woman who meets the father she never knew at her mother’s funeral. Her dad is delusional, however, but his retrograde amnesia takes their relationship into an inconceivable place. “I had been tracking it since it began its innovative Kickstarter campaign in 2010,” said Miller. “Jocelyn [Towne] put together this amazing campaign with a creative video. She took advantage of Kickstarter and this was before it was what it is today. She raised $100K. I think I even gave money.” Soon after the Newport Beach screening, Miller discovered there were only a few degrees of separation between her and Towne. She had previously worked with the producers of the film during her previous position at the Jackson Hole Film Festival and she had inadvertently sat strategically in the theater. “I was a crying mess as the credits were rolling and this man turned to me and said that he was happy that I was moved because it was his daughter’s movie,” said Miller. “I was sitting next to her parents. I said I needed this film and have to talk to Jocelyn. That was how it all started.” Producers Cora Olson and Jennifer Dubin cemented the relationship. Their previous project Good Dick (2008) played Jackson Hole.
I Am I had an exclusive window on Vimeo ahead of this weekend’s theatrical rollout, which Miller said went “OK.” It will open at the Sundance Sunset in L.A. and Village East in New York. It will also be on standard VOD beginning Friday. “I’m feeling positive about its L.A. release this weekend,” she added. “The director and cast members will be there for Q&A.”