Unlike most weekends through the fall, specialty-film box offices for this second weekend of January are adding few newcomers here in the heart of awards-voting season. Among the very few openers this weekend is coming-of-age thriller The World Made Straight, which marks the directorial debut of David Burris, best known for producing reality-TV titan Survivor. The feature will bow in limited release for Millennium Entertainment and on VOD.
Two foreign-language films, Beloved Sisters and It’s All So Quiet, also debut, dodging the awards-season crush this weekend after 2013 festival premieres.
Meanwhile, two specialty holdovers from the back end of 2014, Inherent Vice and Selma, are expanding substantially after a first couple of very limited weeks. Vice will be in more than 600 locations Friday, after opening in 5 theaters Dec. 12. The Paul Thomas Anderson film, based on a Thomas Pynchon “noir comedy,” has grossed $1.55M so far.
Selma will go very wide, adding more than 2,000 theaters this weekend after playing fewer than two dozen locations in its first two weeks. The Martin Luther King Jr.-focused feature about the civil rights march between Selma and Montgomery, Ala., debuted in 19 theaters Christmas day, and has since marched to more than $2.23M in cumulative box office.
Also opening this weekend is Cinema Guild’s When Evening Falls On Bucharest Or Metabolism, which premiered in the Locarno and Toronto film festivals, also in 2013.
Producer Todd Labarowski (The Kids Are All Right, What Maisie Knew) first encountered The World Made Straight after receiving a script. The coming-of-age thriller is set in 1970s Appalachian North Carolina, where a young man stumbles on a marijuana patch and believes it’s his chance to make some cash. Things quickly go bad when he steps into a bear trap. A ruthless farmer, who set the trap to protect his illegal crop, discovers the trapped young man, who becomes embroiled in the community’s longtime evils.
Soon after, he moves out of his parents home to live with a former schoolteacher in a trailer outside of town, peddling drugs and studying Civil War-era journals. As the community’s horrific past and unsettled present collide, a violent reckoning comes with the pot farmer and a Civil War massacre that continues to divide the town.
“I’m a North Carolina filmmaker at heart and [WME] figured I’d be drawn to the script,” said Labarowski, CEO and founder of Dreambridge Films. “It is at the heart and soul of Appalachia.”
Labarowski read the Ron Rash novel the script is based on to familiarize himself further and met with Carolina-born David Burris, a Survivor producer. The World Made Straight would become Burris’ feature debut.
“I was impressed by [Burris’] heart-felt passion and he had a great vision,” said Labarowski. “He wanted the talent trained in the local dialect and researched dozens of novels that took place [in the area]…I knew immediately after talking to him I’d execute the project.”
Labarowski worked with casting directors, including John Papsidera (Inception, The Dark Knight), to find the film’s onscreen talent. Initially, Jeffrey Dean Morgan had been cast for the lead role as Leonard, but exited after his father became ill. Wyle signed on and had to quickly learn his part.
“[He] was fantastic,” said Labarowski. “He jumped on a plane and in very little time knew his lines and the script. I was very impressed.”
Financing came via Dreambridge, Myriad Pictures and other partners. Shooting began 2013 in Asheville, NC over 25 days. Labarowski said principal photography went “smoothly,” aside from Appalachia’s wintery mix of weather patterns.
“The scenery and weather is important, we needed the snow,” Labarowski said. “It wasn’t easy – we had to push equipment through in knee-high snow – but we marched right on through. We had crew from The Hunger Games and Homeland, so we were in good hands.”
Post took place at Light Iron in NYC though initial editing began as the film was shot.
“I can’t say enough great things about them,” said Labarowski. “David wanted to stay as close to the novel as possible.”
Labarowski had worked with Millennium previously, including Bernie ($9.2M) and What Maisie Knew ($1.06M). Millennium picked up Straight last August. It will open Straight at the Quad Cinema in New York and the Laemmle Noho 7 in Los Angeles this weekend along with locations in Chicago, Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Miami, Denver, San Francisco and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. It will add screens in Phoenix and Philadelphia later.
Director-writer: Dominik Graf
Cast: Hannah Herzsprung, Florian Stetter, Henriette Confurius, Claudia Messner, Ronald Zehrfeld, Maja Maranow, Andreas Pietschmann
Distributor: Music Box Films
Older, predominantly female audiences will be the main target for German-language film Beloved Sisters, which centers on the unconventional romance between two aristocratic sisters and a rebellious poet in the late 18th century.
Caroline von Beulwitz (Hannah Herszsprung) finds herself in an unhappy marriage that nevertheless provides for her mother and shy younger sister Charlotte von Lengefeld (Henriette Confurius). When both sisters fall for outspoken writer Friedrich Schiller (Florian Stetter), their desire ignites a journey of shared passion and creativity. Charlotte and Schiller marry so they may continue to discreetly pursue their ménage à trois. When Caroline emerges as a talented author in her own right, the trio’s fragile equilibrium is threatened and the sisters’ once unbreakable connection is irrevocably changed.
“It was a good fit because it’s a fine work of cinema from a brilliant director that has a novelistic depth and intelligence,” said Arentz. “The basic story of two aristocratic but impoverished sisters pressed to make a financially ‘good’ marriage but both falling in love with an artist beneath their station suggests a Germanic version of a Jane Austen novel. [It] is that unusual period romantic drama that is both actually smart and believable about historic figures and madly romantic.”
Music Box is using mostly print advertising to target groups drawn to “romantic dramas and romance novels,” said Arentz. The company also hopes to capitalize on what Arentz sees as a dearth of new specialty offerings typical of this weekend.
“The week before MLK (holiday), is often devoid of new openings and overall January and February can often be underrepresented with art-house releases because of the presence of more mainstream Oscar nominees,” he added. “We were also aware that foreign-language films that fell short of their nomination hopes can still find traction in the first part of the year with strong reviews and good word of mouth.”
The film opens in New York, L.A., San Francisco and Miami on nine screens, Arentz said, so the distributors “aren’t particularly concerned about per-screen average for the first weekend. Expansion to the rest of the top 25 markets comes through early February.”
It’s All So Quiet
Director-writer: Nanouk Leopold
Writer: Gerbrand Bakker (novel)
Cast: Jeroen Willems, Henri Garcin, Wim Opbrouck, Martijn Lakemeier, Lies Visschedijk, Job Steenman, Xander Steenman
Distributor: Big World Pictures
It’s All So Quiet originally premiered in 2013 at the Berlin International Film Festival’s Panorama section.
The feature, which also screened at Outfest, Frameline and the Palms Springs International Film Festival, centers on Helmer, a single farmer in his 50s who lives with his father in the Dutch countryside.
Johan, the local milk collector, is Helmer’s secret fascination. Then one day, Helmer decides to renovate the house, buying himself a new bed and moving his father upstairs. And things really go up tempo once a young farmhand, Henk, comes to help him out.
The feature, starring the late Jeroen Willems in one of his final roles, is based on the novel Boven is het Still by Dutch author Gerbrand Bakker, which won awards in the Netherlands and abroad.
“A friend had recommended it to me, and in spite of my jet lag, and the film’s rather deliberate pace, I found it utterly absorbing,” said Big World’s Howell. “It’s a very subtle drama, but powerful ― great performances all around, but especially from Jeroen Willems. It really got the festival started off on a high note.”
Big World will tap art-house audiences and those open to the idea of a middle-aged man coming to terms with his sexuality as it heads to limited release Friday.
“It’s not a story that you see depicted on the big screen very often – hint, it’s not The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” said Howell. “As for outreach, we’re on a tight budget, due to contractual obligations. We’re primarily using social media and targeted e-mail blasts to alert our potential audience.”
Big World picked this weekend to capitalize on “awards-season fatigue.” The company opened its first title, In Bloom, the same weekend a year ago to good success.
“Thanks to precisely because of that factor, we got both better press and better viewership than we would have by opening in the fall,” said Howell.
Quiet will open exclusively at Anthology Film Archives in New York with expansion pending on performance and budgetary constraints.
“I’m hoping we’ll at least be able to hit the top five markets, and possibly more,” said Howell. “The film won some key prizes in LA (Outfest) and Chicago (CIFF), and sold out screenings at Palm Springs, so we know there’s an audience for it.”