The Weinstein Company’s The Imitation Game is the big kid on the block among this holiday weekend’s batch of newcomers. The title is following in the footsteps of past TWC heavyweights The King’s Speech and The Artist, both of which opened to solid box office numbers and eventually scored Oscars for Best Picture. The distributor is expecting boxoffice-specialty__111212022432-200x150 (1)good numbers for Imitation Game over the Thanksgiving frame. IFC Films’ horror pic The Babadook has some good buzz heading into the weekend, though it might show its biggest heft via VOD with its day-and-date rollout. Remote Area Medical is one of those films one hopes everyone will see. Timed perfectly for this time of the year’s focus on thanks and giving, the documentary shows the underbelly of America’s healthcare crisis by way of people who provide free medical services to needy people in pop-up clinics around the country. Distributor China Lion again returns to its box office mainstay — the Chinese romantic comedy — with Women Who Flirt, which will open in select North American cities starting Wednesday. And Music Box Films’ docu Antarctica: A Year On Ice takes a fascinating look at the people who live year-round on the frozen continent. Other titles opening this holiday weekend include Big World Pictures’ Once Upon A Time Veronica, IFC Films’ Before I Disappear and self-distributed swimming docu Touch The Wall. Meanwhile, Focus Features’ The Theory Of Everything will expand to about 800 screens this weekend.

The Imitation Game
Director: Morten Tyldum
Writers: Andrew Hodges (book), Graham Moore (screenplay)
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Allen Leech
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

the-imitation-game-postermovie-posterTWC’s The Imitation Game should rule the specialty box office among this week’s newcomers. With a cast that includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode, the title is this week’s highest-profile limited release. It enters theaters after a slew of festival wins, including the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, which was a precursor to Best Picture Oscar winners The King’s Speech in 2010 (TWC) and Slumdog Millionaire in 2008 (Fox Searchlight).

Based on Graham Moore’s Black List script, the film is set in 1952 Britain. Authorities enter the home of mathematician, cryptanalyst and war hero Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) to investigate a reported robbery; instead they arrest Turing for “gross indecency,” which leads to his criminal conviction for homosexuality. Turing had led a group of scholars, linguists, chess champions and intelligence officers credited with cracking the codes of Germany’s WWII Enigma machine, helping to shorten the war. “We’re very excited about The Imitation Game,” said TWC President of Distribution Erik Lomis. It has done very well at festivals, and this is our lucky spot opening films.” The King’s Speech bowed in four theaters beginning November 26, 2010, racking up an $88,863 per-theater average en route to a $135.45M cume, while The Artist began its theatrical run in four theaters November 25, 2011, with a $51,220 PTA on its way to $44.67M.

The Weinstein Company picked up The Imitation Game at the Berlin International Film Festival in February after seeing footage. Black Bear Pictures financed the project, which sold for $7 million. Lomis noted The Imitation Game opened solidly November 14 at home in the UK, grossing nearly $4.3 million its opening weekend. “The tech-heads, fans of historical films, art house films and gay audiences are going to love this film. It crosses many areas,” said Lomis. “It has so many things going for it, and I think it will be a great opening. I’m about as excited for it as I can get on a release.”

The Babadook
Director-writer: Jennifer Kent
Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Tim Purcell, Tiffany Lyndall-Knight, Hayley McElhinney
Distributor: IFC Midnight

the-babadook-posterA veteran actress of Australian television and movies, Jennifer Kent has gone behind the camera for her first directorial effort. Sundance 2014 debut The Babadook centers on a single mother who is plagued by the violent death of her husband. She also battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house. A disturbing storybook called The Babadook turns up in the house, and the boy is convinced the book is the creature he’s been dreaming about. As his hallucinations become more out of control, he is increasingly more violent and Mom is genuinely frightened of her son’s behavior, forcing her to medicate him. But then she begins to see glimpses of the sinister presence. “I really wanted to explore darkness. That was the entry point along with [a story] coming from a woman’s perspective,” said writer director Kent. “The horror elements are there, but they’re more of a by-product.” Kent finished the first draft of The Babadook in 2010 and took her story to the Binger Filmlab in Amsterdam to further develop the script. The lab brings together writers, directors and producers worldwide to workshop their projects with fellow filmmakers and international advisers. “The Dutch are very helpful in nurturing a creative atmosphere, and I worked with a great group of European writers,” said Kent. “I came back to Australia with a strong script.”

Financing came together in 2011 with resources coming from Screen Australia, South Australian Film Corporation and a Kickstarter campaign. Kent attended acting school with Essie Davis, who stars in the film, and a casting agent scoured the countryside to play the part of the boy. “I wanted to get peculiar characters to play in the movie,” said Kent. “And I got some strange characters. They’re a bit off-kilter.” The project shot in South Australia’s capital Adelaide over six weeks, mostly in a studio, with some pickup work in Sydney. The feature opened at Sundance in January and screened at New Directors/New Films in New York. It won a slew of awards at Fantastic Fest in Austin, including acting prizes for Davis and young Noah Wiseman as well as Best Picture and Best Screenplay. The title had a small theatrical release in Australia but has had a long life on-demand at home, according to Kent. IFC Midnight will open the film in limited theatrical release Friday and day-and-date on VOD.

Remote Area Medical
Directors: Jeff Reichert, Farihah Zaman
Distributor: Cinedigm

remote_area_medical_posterAlthough the number Americans without health insurance has fallen somewhat in recent years, the fact remains that the United States is alone in the industrialized world with tens of millions of its citizens unable to access adequate healthcare. That fact made an impression to Tennessee-based Remote Area Medical, which was founded in 1985 as a nonprofit to provide healthcare to remote areas of the world where it is inaccessible. “A few years after it [began operations], Remote Area Medical saw that some of the same inaccessibility to healthcare people were facing [abroad] were similar to what was happening right here in the United States,” said filmmaker Jeff Reichert, who co-directed the documentary Remote Area Medical with Farihah Zaman. “My aunt, who is a retired nurse, had volunteered at a clinic in 2010 and afterward had said it was a highlight of her nursing career.” Intrigued, Reichert and Zaman volunteered at one of RAM’s pop-up clinics in Kentucky and had a similarly positive experience. The filmmaking duo had the idea of capturing a clinic on film, though getting the organization on board was something of a challenge. “We spent about a year convincing RAM about our ideas for the movie,” said Reichert, who directed 2010 docu Gerrymandering. “They were wary of what our intention was, so it all took time.”

Reichert and Zaman were ultimately successful in convincing RAM to let them film and set out with a 20-person crew to RAM’s clinic action at a NASCAR Speedway in Bristol, TN. Initial financing came via the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Fund. A short version of the film played via Cinelan, a docu initiative spearheaded in part by Morgan Spurlock. The short then premiered at LAFF, and the feature premiered at Full Frame in April. “It completely changed the way we think about America’s healthcare crisis,” said Reichert and Zaman. “The film isn’t about the statistics or about partisan sniping but about suffering and compassion. Seeing the way so many Americans live; watching them sleep in parking lots for several nights in a row for the ‘privilege’ of getting a mammogram or their blood pressure checked or witnessing their humor and bravery in the face of horrific odds in the wealthiest country in the world. We thought, “How can we continue to let people live this way?” In Bristol, the group of 20 was divided into seven crews, with six covering various areas including medical, dental and vision during the day and one crew covering the clinic at night. Zaman stayed in the reception area eyeing people who were there to be treated as potential spotlights. “There are some sad stories of people who had curable diseases or one person saying he lost his job because he broke his glasses and couldn’t afford to replace them. It really puts things in perspective.”

Cinedigm saw the movie at Toronto’s Hot Docs in the spring and signed on as distributor in September. Remote Area Medical will open at IFC Center in New York this weekend and will add 10 to 15 cities including Los Angeles and Knoxville where RAM is based on December 5. The film’s rollout this Thanksgiving had been planned to coincide with the inaugural NYC clinic at Javitz Center — which organizers said would have been the group’s largest such undertaking — but New York Governor Andrew Cuomo would not give a waiver to allow the hundreds of medical personnel to give care in the state. According to a release by RAM on the cancellation, the governor’s office said, “New Yorkers have all the healthcare they need.”

Women Who Flirt
Director: Pang Ho-Cheung
Writer: Luo Fu-man
Cast: Huang Xiaoming, Zhou Xun, Xie Yilin, Sui Tang

women-who-flirt-posterChina Lion has had success with romantic comedies from China, and it returns with another from the genre in Pang Ho-Cheung’s Mandarin-language Women Who Flirt, which begins its North American rollout on Wednesday. The film revolves around co-workers and longtime friends Angie (Zhou Xun) and Marco (Huang Xiao Ming). When Marco announces he’s seeing someone, it sends Angie on a mission to save him from his new and manipulative girlfriend Hailey (Tang Sui). With the help of a circle of friends led by May (Xie Yi Lin), Angie tries to convince him she’s the one for him. “We had picked this film up back in May from Huayi Bros as a package along with our December 24th film Love On The Cloud,” said China Lion’s Robert Lundberg. “We released a previous film starring male lead Huang Xiaoming called Love In The Buff, and it’s proven to be one of our most popular titles on our dedicated China Lion Hulu channel. Xiaoming always supports his films and is an extremely popular draw in China.” Xiaoming happened to be in L.A. filming his latest, Hollywood Adventures, and took time out to do interviews for Chinese-language press.

“[Women Who Flirt] hits our core audience of females who are first-language Chinese speakers,” added Lundberg. “We’ve had great success with these particular romantic titles throughout our four-year company history. 2014 releases But Always, Breakup Buddies, The Breakup Guru and Beijing Love Story were all firmly within the genre and leading to the biggest-grossing year ever for us.” Breakup Buddies (nearly $778K) and But Always (nearly $431K) were respectively the company’s No. 1 and 2 highest-grossing box office titles in North America this year.

Women Who Flirt opens here two days ahead of its mainland China release. The company typically rolls out titles roughly in tandem with their releases in the Chinese mainland and/or Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. “This will actually be a very, very big first for us,” added Lundberg. “Because of the holiday, we’re able to give North American audiences the first look. [In fact] we were able to arrange a Tuesday evening screening in Lansing, MI, three days ahead of the mainland.” Women Who Flirt will open in about two dozen cities with concentrations of Chinese populations as well as college towns.

Antarctica: A Year On Ice
Director-writer: Anthony Powell
Subjects: Anthony Powell, Genevieve Bachman, Michael Christiansen, Tom Hamann, George Lampman, Peter Lund, Keri Nelson
Distributor: Music Box Films

Antarctica A Year On Ice PosterAntarctica: A Year On Ice landed its U.S. distributor by way a freelancer who was doing editing work at the company. “It was one of those very rare cases of an unsolicited screener leading to a distribution deal,” said Music Box’s Ed Arentz. “We saw it and liked it and noticed its very impressive North American regional festival career, where it won numerous Best Documentary and Audience prizes.” The film chronicles the experience of living in Antarctica for a full year, including winters isolated from the rest of the world and the endless darkness in the coldest place on Earth.

“Antarctica hasn’t seen the ice loss that the northern areas have seen,” said Arentz. “It hasn’t been immune to climate change but not as dramatic. … [Anthony Powell] has spent a number of seasons down there filming. He devised technology that allowed him to shoot in extreme conditions.” The film’s human subjects include the small skeleton team of crew who stay on the continent year-round keeping things going for research crews who typically come in the comparatively more mild summers. Antarctica has 15 bases, and the docu focuses on the ones operated by New Zealand and the U.S., which are fairly close together. It’s a technically sophisticated old-fashioned travel log,” said Arentz. “It’s a bit naive in a way. It’s not looking to have an agenda.” Arentz added the title had a “very successful” release at home in New Zealand. Stateside, the feature will open in New York, L.A., San Francisco, Berkeley, Minneapolis and Seattle and will expand from there with 50-75 engagements altogether. It will be available on VOD in three months.

Once Upon A Time Veronica
Director-writer: Marcelo Gomes
Cast: Maeve Jinkings, Hermila Guedes, João Miguel, Júlio Rocha, W.J. Solha, Anthero Montenegro, Karina Buhr
Distributor: Big World Pictures

once-upon-a-time-veronica-posterBrazil’s Once Upon A Time Veronica is a fairy tale “in reverse.” The feature follows Veronica, who is fresh out of medical school. She faces tough career choices while contending with her intimate bond with her ailing father and an active but chaotic love life. She is forced to confront all of them as she tries to cope with the adult life that lies ahead. “It wasn’t immediately clear whether or not we would release the film theatrically, but as is often the case, once we had a New York run, other markets fell into place,” said Big World Pictures’ Jonathan Howell. “It’s not a film that falls into easy categories, and it requires of its viewers a willingness to discover and to take it on its own terms. It’s hard to do justice to the film in any description of its story line, as Veronica is so much about the music and cinematography. But it’s also an almost tactile evocation of a place — the scruffy but charming northeastern coastal city of Recife, where it was filmed.”

In Brazil, the film played in more than 100 theaters, selling 20K-plus tickets, according to Howell. The title had a limited one-week stay at MoMA in September but played mostly to members. It also had a week in Miami, grossing $1,032 on a split schedule. It will head to LA’s Laemmle Music Hall beginning Friday with Chicago on the horizon December 12. Added Howell: “It’s a gradual rollout with all exclusive dates. But we should cover ten to twelve major markets before we release the DVD in February.”