The Edge Of Tomorrow and The Fault In Our Stars may reign supreme among new theatrical offerings this weekend, but a crowded pack of specialty newcomers will nip at their heels including documentaries, thrillers and more. Ti West’s The Sacrament will open, following up on 2011 feature The Innkeepers, while A24 bows its Sundance feature Obvious Child, Drafthouse Films opens Borgman and FilmBuff gets theatrical with Burt’s Buzz. Radius-TWC hopes to repeat its box office and award-winning triumph 20 Feet From Stardom with docu Supermensch: The Legend Of Shep Gordon. HBO Documentary will open its Sundance winner The Case Against 8 in theaters ahead of its small-screen debut later this month. Emerging Pictures is launching the weekend’s foreign-language newcomer Dormant Beauty and Well Go USA and MPI will bow Rigor Mortis and Willow Creek in limited runs beginning tomorrow.
Filmmaker Ti West was looking to do something different from his previous feature, The Innkeepers, which opened in 2011. The thriller follows a news team in pursuit of a man as he travels to an undisclosed location to find his missing sister. Upon entering Eden Parish and meeting the community’s leader, it becomes apparent to the newcomers that things are not quite as they appear. “I wanted to something much more confronting and horrific,” said West, speaking from New Mexico where he’s working on his next project, the Western A Valley Of Violence. “I wanted to use a real event as the framework of the story and media brand.” The real event West is referring to is Jonestown, the infamous People’s Temple in Guyana headed by Jim Jones in which more than 900 people committed mass suicide in 1978. “I think it’s misunderstood. People just think about the mass [deaths] at People’s Temple,” said West. “[But] I think the circumstances are relevant today, but we’re desensitized to the violence because of the media.” West put together financing quickly and went right to location in Georgia. “I got the movie made over a treatment really,” said West. “I wrote the script with people in mind and wrote it to their strengths. At the end of the day we didn’t do much improvisation, but we were making a movie that wasn’t easy.” West said the production had a lot of “moving parts” so collaboration on the 18-day shoot was prohibitive “[Producer Eli Roth] gave me final cut and the final decision on casting,” added West. The Sacrament premiered at Venice and Toronto and is the fifth title he’s released via Magnolia. “It’s cool to have a company I get along with very well,” he said. “I get the feeling sometimes that we’re in this together which is great to have as an independent filmmaker.” The company will open Sacrament at Cinema Village in New York and The Carlton in Toronto. It will head to Charlotte, NC on June 12 with cities including LA, Portland, OR, Denver, Atlanta and Cambridge, MA opening June 13, with additional markets added throughout the month.
Filmmakers Ryan White and Ben Cotner met at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival where White was showing his first film. After the festival, Cotner read that a case had been filed against California’s Proposition 8 which denied marriage rights to same sex couples.” I called Ryan and said, ‘Hey would you like to do this with me?’ ” recalled Cotner. “At the time we didn’t know it would be a big trial or go to the Supreme Court so we approached the American Foundation for Equal Rights about access to the case.” The organization introduced the two to lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies who were in opposing camps in the 2000 Bush v. Gore case which ultimately decided the U.S. Presidential election in Bush’s favor. On the legal challenge to Prop. 8, they were on the same side. They also met the four plaintiffs: a lesbian couple from Northern California and a male gay couple from the LA area. “So we told them what we were thinking about doing. It was early on in the case,” added Cotner. “They were a little hesitant. Lawyers are not comfortable people filming their confidential readings, but they did believe transparency was important in this case.” The filmmaking pair became embedded among the principal actors in the case. The plaintiffs were also hesitant not wanting to become public figures, but time melted barriers. White and Cotner filmed over five years as the case went to trial and appeal through the appeals process and ultimately the Supreme Court. “Financing wasn’t even a conversation initially,” said White. “It was really cheap in the beginning. We just used the equipment that I had from my previous film and it was just us shooting it ourselves. We were just there and that’s how we did it for four years until HBO got involved [around when] we needed money for post production.”
Kate Amend came on board to edit the project around the time HBO joined in in spring 2013. The filmmakers had amassed 600 hours of footage which they had not seen due to an agreement with the lawyers and plaintiffs. “We hadn’t watched the 600 hours of footage because once we had it, it went into a safety deposit boxes,” explained White. “We made an agreement that we wouldn’t edit the film until the case was closed.” The Case Against 8 debuted at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, winning the Directing Award for documentary and in March won the Audience Award for documentary at the SXSW Film Festival in addition to other festival prizes. “We’re incredibly lucky that HBO is putting some of its resources into promoting the film so we’re traveling around the country in the lead up to its release,” added Cotner, a former acquisitions exec at Open Road Films and Paramount Vantage. “They support the film and believe in the issues and want as many people to see it as they can.” The Case Against 8 will open with runs in New York and LA this weekend, expanding to eight other cities before bowing June 23 on HBO.
Radius is taking a page out of the successful run of its documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, the Oscar winner that it opened nearly a year ago and is still playing a theater or two and amassed nearly $5 million domestically. Similarly to Stardom, Supermensch: The Legend Of Shep Gordon brushes up against fame, though this time it spotlights one individual, Shep Gordon, a Hollywood insider who fell into artist management by chance after moving to LA straight out of college. “We absolutely fell in love [with the movie] in Toronto, it reminded us of 20 Feet From Stardom,” said Radius-TWC co-president Tom Quinn. “[Director Mike Myers] has made an amazing movie that includes both a golden epiphany and a life lesson. These docs that we do often trump the fiction movies we see out there.” Radius has spent the time since Supermensch‘s debut at TIFF building word-of-mouth screenings in addition to playing the festival circuit in addition to a publicity campaign that also emphasizes the directorial debut of Myers. “We’ve joked that this could be 40 Feet From Stardom,” said Quinn. “Shep [Gordon] managed Lisa Fischer, one of the women [featured] in 20 Feet From Stardom.” The distributor has also emphasized Gordon’s varied career, which has touched on music, film distribution and even a pioneer in a recent reality TV phenomenon, the rise of the celebrity chef. “He managed Emeril [Lagasse] and just about everyone at the Food Network,” added Quinn. “There’s a real soul to him with a spiritual side. He’s cooked with the Dalai Lama and he’s heavily involved in doing ‘compassionate business.’ He’s also funny as hell. The comedic timing of both Mike and Shep together is flawless.”
Supermensch will bow exclusively in New York and LA this weekend, expanding it to the top 10 markets soon afterward, which is a similar strategy to how it rolled out 20 Feet. Myers will do Q&As in New York, while Gordon will do the same in Los Angeles over the weekend. “The movies are different clearly but I believe there is a similar audience,” said Quinn. “Good movies always find an audience.”
Director-writer: Gillian Robespierre
Writers: Karen Maine, Elisabeth Holm, Anna Bean
Cast: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, Gabe Liedman, David Cross, Richard Kind, Polly Draper
Obvious Child is based off a 2009 short film by filmmaker Gillian Robespierre. The comedy centers on a twentysomething comedienne’s unplanned pregnancy which forces her to confront the realities of independent womanhood for the first time. “Gillian and I met at the IFP Labs,” said Elisabeth Holm, who came on as a producer. “She was working on the feature version of the story and we ended up getting along very well.” Jenny Slate, who had been in the short, also joined the feature in the main role. “After about a year-and-a-half, we went out for financing and got it together in early 2013,” said Holm. “We immediately went in production in February.” Obvious Child shot for 18 days in New York, utilizing friends’ apartments for locations. “The shoot was awesome,” said Holm. “It was an incredibly energetic with triumphs and some failures. We’d sleep for three hours and wake up and do it all over again.” Financing came courtesy of individuals who are executive producers on the project. Obvious Child also received resources from Tribeca Film Institute, San Francisco Film Society and Rooftop Films. “We did a Kickstarter campaign for finishing funds,” added Holm. “There was also New York State tax credit. Like all indies, it was an ‘all of the above’ scenario.”
The feature debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January where distributor A24 picked up rights. “It’s been an awesome experience,” said Holm. “They understand the film and Gillian and Jenny’s voices and are thoughtful with how we talk about this project and have allowed us to be hands on creatively. It’s been a nice marriage.” Part of that creative collaboration was in creating the film’s trailer. “I can still watch it and still laugh,” added Holm. A24 will open Obvious Child in three theaters in New York and LA this weekend and will head out nationwide over the following three weeks.
Jody Shapiro met Burt Shavitz through Isabella Rossellini (who executive produced Burt’s Buzz) while working on the Green Porno series, a compilation of eight short films dramatizing the sex lives of eight home and garden creatures. Shapiro served as producer in the series and was introduced by Rossellini to the beekeeper and photographer from Maine, co-founder of the Burt’s Bees line of natural products. “He was commissioned to do a piece about bees and Rossellini was playing the part for Green Porno,” said Shapiro. “I told him I was fascinated by his story.” The docu follows Shavitz both on his farm in Maine and on a promotional tour of Taiwan. Shapiro had been a photojournalist for Time/Life, taking iconic photos of John F. Kennedy and Malcolm X though he became more of a recluse in later life. “He was happy to talk about certain aspects of his life,” said Shapiro. “He said he’s an ‘evolutionary’ and not a ‘revolutionary’ which I think is a major statement. Shapiro shot in 2012 and edited the feature last year. “It was important to me to have his voice and pace,” added Shapiro. “I knew the land was an important part of his life so I wanted to shoot up at his home in Maine.” Shapiro self-financed the project and shot Burt’s Buzz himself. “I had a crew that was bare bones,” he said. FilmBuff, the digital distribution entity headed by John Sloss, took on the project after its Toronto Film Festival premiere. “I was happy to go with FilmBuff,” said Shapiro. “I knew that VOD would be a key component for this film.” Burt’s Buzz will have a theatrical rollout in seven cities, however, this weekend in addition to iTunes and other VOD/digital platforms.
Drafthouse Films received several texts and emails from peers at last year’s Cannes Film Festival that Borgman was such “a Drafthouse film,” after it premiered there. The thriller follows a vagrant who enters the lives of an arrogant upper-class family, turning their lives into a psychological nightmare. “We really had no choice, it’s the perfect mix for us [mixing] art house and off-center genre filmmaking that fits the sweet spot of our audience,” said James Shapiro, COO of Drafthouse Films. “With the film’s strong festival play, including Toronto and AFI Fest and positive critical response, we feel the prestige and anticipated strong reviews will appeal to [that] arthouse crowd while the more surreal and menacing undertones of the film connects with the genre audience,” added Sumyi Khong Antonson, the company’s VP Marketing & Distribution. In the lead-up to this weekend’s rollout, Drafthouse is targeting the traditional outlets frequented by the art house crowd while also partnering with genre-focused online sites for exclusive content. “Borgman is also an original take on the home invasion thriller, which is a familiar concept for audiences that we’ve highlighted in our materials,” added Antonson. “We’ve also made sure to showcase the wonderfully fantastical elements and smart, dark humor that elevates the film beyond that genre.” It will open exclusively in New York at Lincoln Plaza and IFC Center and expand June 20 into a dozen top markets including LA and San Francisco, rolling out further throughout the month and into July.
Director-writer Marco Bellocchio
Writers: Veronica Raimo, Stefano Rulli
Cast: Toni Servillo, Isabelle Huppert, Alba Rohrwacher, Michele Riondino, Maya Sansa
Distributor: Emerging Pictures with Cinema Made in Italy
Marco Bellocchio’s Dormant Beauty is the third film to be released via Ira Deutchman’s Emerging Pictures via the Cinema Made in Italy Program, which has funding from several Italian entities. Films participating in the initiative receive marketing and distribution support with the aim of broadening their stateside audiences and Emerging oversees the program in the U.S. “[The program] fits right into the Emerging Pictures business model, which is about ganging together films into thematic strands, so the we can market the strand, rather than the individual films,” said Emerging Pictures chief Ira Deutchman. “This model has been used by Emerging for a number of years now, starting with ‘Undiscovered Gems,’ which we did with indieWIRE, and several festivals that we syndicated from the Film Society of Lincoln Center, such as Rendezvous with French Cinema and Latin Beat.” Dormant Beauty intertwines several stories questioning the meaning of life, love and hope, set during the last six days in the life of Eluana Englaro, a young woman who spent 17 years in a vegetative state. “The idea remains that audiences will hopefully see some continuity from film to film, and that Italian cinema will have a much larger presence in the U.S.,” said Deutchman. “We are taking a combined approach with traditional art house marketing for each film, plus an on-line campaign that stresses the series and tries to take the audience for each film and whet their appetites for more Italian films. ” Each film in the initiative will be released in 30-40 cities. After Dormant Beauty, Bertolucci’s You And Me will bow followed by Intrepido: A Loney Hero from Gianni Amelio.
Rigor Mortis is a “love letter” to ’80s Chinese vampire cinema, notes Well Go USA’s Crystal Decker Orren. The directorial debut of Juno Mak reunites some original cast from the classic Mr. Vampire series. Rigor Mortis takes place in an unsavory Hong Kong public housing tower whose occupants range from the living to the dead, to undead in addition to fellow resident ghosts, vampires and zombies. Well Go is also hoping to get traction from its momentum in Hong Kong where it won awards and audience attention. “We [are marketing] to as broad an audience as possible including horror bloggers but also groups interested in martial arts and even the art house crowd,” said Orren. “It’s a compelling story.” Well Go has been debuting clips this week. The company is opening Rigor Mortis in 10 markets Friday. “We are [estimating] a $3K PTA,” added Orren. “We’ll expand it from there, hoping it will ‘catch fire.’ It’s summer, so of course the real estate is precious.”
Shot on location in Willow Creek, CA in the Trinity National Forest, the horror feature that clearly takes its title from the town its shot in is billed as “Making you think twice before going into the woods.” “I wrote a short outline for Willow Creek but the movie is mostly improvised. The interviews are with real locals from Willow Creek,” offered up Bobcat Goldthwait. “I believe in Bigfoot and thought if I frightened people they would be at least open to the possibility of Bigfoot’s existence.” Goldthwait financed the feature himself utilizing a small crew and roughing it. “I slept in tents,” he said. “I was so happy we were not eaten by bears. The cast, Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson, are good friends and have appeared in other movies of mine.” Goldthwait met the folks from MPI on the festival circuit. Willow Creek debuted at the Boston Independent Film Festival last year and also screened at other events including Fantasia Film Festival and Vancouver. The feature bows day and date, playing IFC Center in New York starting Friday and expanding to the Northwest (the home of Bigfoot, Goldthwait notes) at the end of the month. “MPI and I are already collaborating on my next picture — a documentary on political satirists Barry Crimmins.”