Docs join this weekend’s new crop of Specialty releases, hoping to lure audiences in from the heat. Magnolia will open veteran filmmaker Joe Berlinger’s Sundance feature Whitey: United States Of America v. James J. Bulger in a case that shook the FBI and the criminal underworld while FilmBuff and Participant will team on fellow Sundance doc The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story Of Aaron Swartz. And Magic Mike actor Joe Manganiello returns to the male strip club world with his doc La Bare for Main Street Films. The Weinstein Company is rolling out two films Friday including Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo and Adam Levine starrer Begin Again, which it picked up out of Toronto and Yves Saint Laurent, the French-language film about the legendary and sometimes troubled designer. Zeitgeist Films is opening India-set Siddharth and China Lion will bow China’s The Breakup Guru in limited release. In addition to these films, Lionsgate will open America in three theaters before heading out to over 1,000 locations over the 4th of July weekend. And RADiUS-TWC opens Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s international sci-fi drama Snowpiercer stateside. Interestingly, the film had a unique event this past week in Austin where ticket buyers rode a train somewhat mirroring the film’s premise to a screening outside the city. The film also played BAMcinemaFest Wednesday night in addition to the Film Society of Lincoln Center Thursday night with Bong in attendance leading up to this weekend’s release.
Whitey: United States Of America V. James J. Bulger
Director: Joe Berlinger
Subjects: Stephen Rakes, James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, Tommy Donahue, David Beori, Steve Davis, Dick Lehr, Shelley Murphy
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures, CNN Films (for broadcast)
Filmmaker Joe Berlinger has spent a significant portion of his filmmaking career on stories in which the criminal justice system and/or policing goes awry, most notably with the Paradise Lost doc trilogy. He said he had long been fascinated by James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, who spent a long time as Number 2 on America’s Most Wanted List after Osama Bin Laden. Bulger had terrorized Boston for years, seemingly with impunity, despite being connected to multiple murders as well as other offenses that permeated various levels of government. “I had been interested in the [Bulger case] for a long time, but didn’t think I had anything to add, but when he was arrested in Santa Monica, the trial promised to be the biggest legal proceeding in Massachusetts history,” said Berlinger.
“It stoked my interest in finding more about who this guy was and the institutional corruption that allowed him to stay free until a new generation of FBI [officials] decided to get him. It’s fascinating that someone on top of the criminal heap didn’t even get so much as a traffic ticket.” Even as Bulger was arrested, Berlinger had been meeting with CNN Films to explore ways they could work together. “They said, ‘What about the Bulger trial?’ and I said, ‘Exactly what I was thinking.'” There was only a few months available for preparation before the trial would begin. Berlinger also wanted to give Sundance a rough cut in time for its submission period, so production would be tight. He decided to take the present-day trial as a hook in which to tell Bulger’s story and “separate the man from the myth,” as Berlinger described. “It was a mad dash,” said Berlinger who shot the trial between June 2013 and his conviction on August 12, 2013. Bulger was sentenced to two consecutive life terms plus five years November 14, 2013. “Thanksgiving to Christmas was the biggest push I’ve ever done to complete a film,” said Berlinger.
Whitey: United States Of America v. James J. Bulger debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January and Magnolia picked up U.S. theatrical, VOD rights in March. After its Sundance debut, which came in at 130 minutes, Berlinger spent a couple months tightening it, dropping its theatrical run-time to 107 minutes. The version that will be seen on CNN is 85 minutes in total with a format allowing for commercial breaks. CNN will broadcast Whitey beginning in October. Magnolia will open the feature day and date Friday with theatrical bows at New York’s IFC Center, Cambridge, MA’s Kendall Square Cinema 9 and Brookline, MA’s Coolidge Corner Theatre. It will head to the Royal in LA in addition to several other North American locations over the 4th of July weekend, adding additional markets throughout July and August.
Director-writer: John Carney
Cast: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, James Corden, Hailee Steinfeld, Mos Def
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
The Weinstein Company picked up rights for Begin Again (then called Can A Song Save Your Life) out of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival last September (reportedly for $7 million). Starring Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, the feature revolves around a chance encounter between a disgraced music biz exec and a young singer-songwriter new to New York. “We love Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, this film is really a crowd pleaser,” said TWC’s president of Theatrical Distribution and Home Entertainment Erik Lomis. “This is great counter-programming to the summer popcorn fare.” Lomis said TWC is targeting a generally “mature audience,” but said the film could appeal to some 18 year-olds. “Females just love it,” he added. “I suspect it will appeal to 25 and up [mostly].” Though this is the first feature Lomis has worked on with filmmaker-writer John Carney at TWC, he noted this week that it won’t be their last. The distributor has also picked up the Irish filmmaker’s next feature, semi-autobiographical Sing Street. Begin Again played a slew of festivals leading up to this Friday’s roll out including Tribeca, San Francisco, Seattle and last week’s Provincetown International Film Festival. It will also screen at the Nantucket Film Festival this weekend. TWC will open the feature exclusively in New York and L.A. this Friday and then will expand it to 45 runs next Wednesday. It will head out nationwide July 11.
Yves Saint Laurent
Director-writer: Jalil Lespert
Writers: Laurence Benaïm (book), Jacques Fieschi, Jérémie Guez, Marie-Pierre Huster
Cast: Pierre Niney, Guillaume Gallienne, Charlotte Le Bon, Laura Smet, Marie de Villepin, Nikolai Kinski
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
The Weinstein Company picked up biopic Yves Saint Laurent last March before filming began. The Wy Productions French-language feature begins when the budding fashion star was called upon to oversee the Paris fashion house founded by the recently deceased Christian Dior. It is there that he meets his lover and business partner, Pierre Berge. “The film gives insight into Yves Saint Laurent’s life that most people probably don’t know,” said TWC’s Erik Lomis. “It’s an interesting take on [the designer] who was this kid, who had this meteoric rise.” Like TWC’s other release this week, Begin Again, Lomis noted the counter-programming value of Yves Saint Laurent. “Harvey [Weinstein] loves French film, food and fashion,” added Lomis. “This isn’t ‘food,’ but it certainly has fashion.” He said the film will appeal to both “fashionistas,” the art-house crowd and gay audiences. The feature bowed in Berlin and had its U.S. premiere at the San Francisco International Film Festival before heading to Seattle and Provincetown last weekend. It screened again in SF for the Frameline Film Festival. “We’ve been running the trailer for awhile at upscale art-houses,” added Lomis. TWC opened Yves Saint Laurent at Film Forum in New York and the Landmark in Los Angeles Wednesday.
Director-writer: Richie Mehta
Writers: Maureen Dorey, Rajesh Tailang
Cast: Rajesh Tailang, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Anurag Arora, Shobha Sharma Jassi, Geeta Agrawal Sharma
Distributor: Zeitgeist Films
Zeitgeist co-head Emily Russo served on the jury at the 2013 South Asian International Film Festival last December and viewed Richie Mehta’s Indian-set drama Siddharth in the competition. The film centers on a man from Delhi who travels across India in search of his missing son, hoping that whoever took him will let him go free unharmed. “We picked Siddharth for best film and gave Richie [Mehta] the directing award,” said Russo. “I actually was the one who handed him the award and later that evening we had dinner.” Russo said that the title did not yet have a U.S. home and that Mehta seemed like a “Zeitgeist filmmaker.” “He’s a new talent and we shook hands on the acquisition at dinner,” added Russo, though she said the formal acquisition took a bit more time. The film came out of an experience Mehta had while visiting Delhi in 2010. He met a man on a street who asked him to find a place called “Dongri,” which is a place he thought he could locate his lost son. He had sent his 12-year-old to work there and never saw him again. “He’s a Canadian, but the film is shot entirely in India,” said Russo. “It deals with issues of child labor exploitation and played the [recent] Human Rights Watch Film Festival. But it’s also a wonderful art film with a spiritual side that captures Indian life.”
Since picking up the title, Zeitgeist has been working with Mehta’s company on a broad spectrum of promotional material. The company has been reaching out to the South Asian audience in the U.S. but is also expecting the art house crowd to come out for the film. Russo said that Zeitgeist isn’t in the business of “turning films around overnight” and the final weekend in June turned out to be a good fit for Siddharth. “We’re happy that Dan Talbot at Lincoln Plaza liked the film,” added Russo. Zeitgeist will play Siddharth exclusively at Lincoln Plaza beginning Friday and will open the film at the NuArt in L.A. July 11. It will continue into most major markets throughout July and August. It hopes it may be able to expand into some suburban areas, but will see how it performs first.
The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story Of Aaron Swartz
Director-writer: Brian Knappenberger
Subjects: Aaron Swartz, Tim Berners-Lee, Cory Doctorow, Peter Eckersley, Lawrence Lessig, David Segal
Distributors: FilmBuff and Participant
The Internet’s Own Boy bowed in Sundance’s documentary competition in January where FilmBuff first saw the title. They later teamed with Participant to acquire the title about programming prodigy and information activist Aaron Swartz, one of co-founders of Reddit, who became ensnared in a legal nightmare that ended with his suicide last year at age 26. “[We] were blown away by the story. Having worked with Brian on We Are Legion: The Story Of The Hacktivists, we knew how well he handles complex issues around technology, the internet, and freedom of information,” said FilmBuff exec Janet Brown. “In The Internet’s Own Boy, not only does Brian handle the technology subject matter deftly, but he captures how incredibly powerful and emotional Aaron’s story is on a human level. For us, and for Participant who shared our passion for the film from the start, this really warranted a theatrical experience alongside an on-demand one.” FilmBuff typically takes titles into the digital space, but has spearheaded limited theatrical on select titles including last year’s Broadway Idiot last October and more recently it picked up SXSW pirate doc Last Hijack with plans for a theatrical and on demand release this year. “We put a lot of thought into what the right distribution strategy is for each film, and truly customize the release rather than automatically doing things the same way each time,” said Brown. “Films that we are going to take on theatrically are ones we believe will benefit from the extra exposure, that have a heft to them that will attract audiences to the theaters…”
In the lead up to this weekend’s theatrical roll out of Boy, FilmBuff sees a multi-pronged core audience including those who know or were in Aaron Swartz’s sphere which is also a community that has become familiar with director Brian Knappenberger’s past two films. Boy‘s Kickstarter campaign has also mobilized the core which has been augmented by Participant’s social action campaigns, which have also tapped groups that Swartz was connected with including Demand Progress, Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology. “The natural extension of this dedicated core is the larger community of people that surround them — that is, people working in the technology space more generally,” added Brown. “And finally, the audience includes all of us that are adjacent to the technology space and/or are thoughtful users and consumers of technology.” The Internet’s Own Boy will open in 12 cities this weekend followed by 10 more cities in the coming weeks with further expansion from there. Said Brown: “We are releasing day-and-date with digital, which we felt was unquestionably the best way to stay true to what Aaron would have envisioned.”
Main Street Films went hard and fast for Joe Manganiello’s Slamdance Film Festival doc La Bare. The feature takes a look an insider’s look at the history, lives and culture of what is considered one of the world’s most popular male strip clubs, La Bare Dallas. “I was invited by [La Bare executive producer] Ray Mansfield to the screening,” said Main Street Films exec Craig Chang. “We had tried to do some business in the past. I loved the film. It’s a documentary, but it’s almost like a ‘reality movie.'” Chang said that after the film finished, he “chased down” Mansfield to say he wanted it and he had “5 minutes to decide.” Obviously successful in acquiring the title, Chang said the team at Main Street already had a vision for its natural audience including a diverse mix of Magic Mike fans, women in middle America, even strippers and some males. “There are ‘Don Jon‘ kind of guys who will want to see this,” said Chang referring to the movie Joseph Gordon-Levitt starred in and directed last year. “Some of them may not want to see it in a theater, but they will definitely see it digitally.” Though La Bare will have a limited theatrical release beginning this weekend, Chang said that he fully expects the title’s success will be in the digital/VOD space because most people will be lured into exploring La Bare in the “comfort of their own home,” adding, “We truly feel this can be an event release on VOD. It breaks taboos and we believe it will have great word of mouth.”
Sophie Nicolaou, Main Streets VP of Marketing and Communications said La Bare has already had a substantial amount of media attention including mentions on Today, Queen Latifah and Ellen. Joe Manganiello co-starred in Magic Mike and will also be in next year’s Magic Mike XXL. “Channing Tatum raved about Joe’s film from the red carpet,” added Chang. Main Street Films will open La Bare in New York, L.A., Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Dallas and Plano, TX this weekend. It will head to Washington, D.C. July 4th weekend and New Orleans July 12. It will begin its VOD/digital run August 19.
China Lion picked up The Breakup Guru out of Cannes from Enlight Media. In the comedy, Deng Chao plays Mei Yuangui, a professional “Breakup Guru”, who is hired by a client to end a relationship with Ye Xiaochun. But his penchant and skill at breaking up couples without complication and worry is put to the test when a battle of wits ensues, risking his reputation. “We love that Deng Chao is a huge television star in mainland China and we’re looking to capitalize on that fact,” said China Lion’s Robert Lundberg. “Additionally, we were happy Enlight was open to releasing day-and-date with their first worldwide release date — in the Mainland — so we’re able to continue that strategy.” Not surprisingly, China Lion is targeting its core Chinese-language audience in North America, targeting media buys for that audience. “We’ll also be looking towards positive English-language reviews to drive the film; we will be screening the film for Western critics and are looking towards a positive reaction,” he added. S will open in 12 runs including areas with concentrated Chinese-language populations including Monterey Park and Rowland Heights in the L.A. area as well as Daly City and Santa Clara in the Bay Area. Also on tap are New York, Chicago, Seattle, Vancouver, Toronto and Gaithersburg, MD.