Bleecker Street this weekend will begin making its footprint in the specialty space with the Al Pacino starrer Danny Collins. The company, founded by former Focus Features co-CEO Andrew Karpen, had picked up the title early in its formation. Danny Collins boasts some heavyweight stars, but less clear is whether the film will drive its targeted 35-and-over audience to theaters. Danny Collins is not the only first release for a new company this weekend. The distribution division of Vega Baby will bow Czech thriller Ghoul in two locations outside NYC and L.A. The film has been a hit since its release back home three weeks ago. Amplify Releasing is opening Oscar-nominated Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi’s Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter in three NYC and L.A. locations, while Monument Releasing will take Berlinale ’14 feature She’s Lost Control to one exclusive NYC theater. Casting the lead for the title had been a challenge due to the amount of nudity required. And China Lion is taking on a film that is outside its typical offerings with Andy Lau starrer, Lost And Love (Shi Gu). Also opening this weekend in limited release are Freestyle’s Zombeavers, Kino Lorber’s La Sapienza, eOne’s Growing Up And Other Likes, Drafthouse Films’ Spring and IFC Midnight’s Backcountry.

Danny Collins
Director-writer: Dan Fogelman
Cast: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, Christopher Plummer, Bobby Cannavale, Josh Peck, Melissa Benoist
Distributor: Bleecker Street Media

danny collins posterDanny Collins is the first full-fledged rollout for Bleecker Street, the New York-based film distributor founded last summer by former Focus Features co-CEO Andrew Karpen. The feature joined Bleecker Street’s initial slate and is the directorial debut of veteran screenwriter and producer Dan Fogelman (Crazy Stupid Love, Cars). A few years back, writer-director Fogelman heard a story about folk musician Steve Tilston, who had given an interview back in 1971 with small music publication called Zig Zag. His comments at the time about the effects of wealth and songwriting had solicited a letter from John Lennon. The letter never made it to Tilston until it was discovered in 2005. This forms the backbone for Danny Collins, which stars Al Pacino.

Pacino stars as aging 1970s rocker Danny Collins, who can’t give up his hard-living ways. But when his manager (Christopher Plummer) uncovers a 40-year-old undelivered letter written to him by Lennon, he decides to change course and embark on a heartfelt journey to rediscover his family, find love and begin his second act.

“It’s very exciting to do what we’re all about — putting film in the marketplace,” said Bleecker Street’s President of Distribution Jack Foley, who had served in the same role at Focus Features. “[The film] has been with us since the beginning back in September and is a signature of what the company is about: entertainment that targets adult audiences.” Foley noted that Danny Collins will sit most naturally with crowds 35 and above but added, “It can certainly play to younger people.” Bleecker Street’s marketing has targeted the 35-plus audience in the lead-up to this weekend’s release. “Al Pacino is an icon among that crowd,” said Foley.

Bleecker Street will open Danny Collins in New York at the Angelika and Lincoln Square as well as Los Angeles at the ArcLight, Landmark and AMC Century City. The film will expand from there, reaching a nationwide presence by April 10.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
Director-writer: David Zellner
Writer: Nathan Zellner
Cast: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, Shirley Venard, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Kanako Higashi
Distributor: Amplify Releasing

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter movieAmplify’s Dylan Marchetti offered up that Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter looks and feels like a film with much bigger budget. It is a darkly comedic odyssey that stars Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi as a frustrated office worker whose imagination transcends the confines of her mundane life. Kumiko becomes obsessed with a mysterious, battered VHS tape of a popular film she’s mistaken for a documentary, fixating on a scene where a suitcase of stolen cash is buried in the desolate, frozen landscape of North Dakota. Believing this treasure to be real, she leaves Tokyo and her beloved rabbit to recover it – and finds herself on a dangerous adventure unlike anything she’s seen in the movies.

“It’s one of the best films I’ve ever had to work on, and we wanted it in our initial slate,” said Marchetti about Amplify, which formed in 2014 with the merger between GoDigital and Variance Films. “People say the bottom has fallen out of the $5M movie, but this one has the quality and look of a $25M film, and it holds an emotional wallop.” Kumiko won a Special Jury prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and Kikuchi and director David Zellner received Spirit Award nominations this year. The Zellner brothers (Kid-Thing, Goliath) developed Kumiko after becoming aware of a story that circulated about a Japanese woman who left her Tokyo home for the frozen countryside of Minnesota in search of the fictional buried money from the movie Fargo.

“Rinko came for the Spirits and has been doing anything and everything for the movie,” said Marchetti. “Her work ethic is incredible. She’s been [coming to the U.S.] frequently even though she’s in the middle of doing a television show back in Japan.” Amplify will open Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter at IFC Center and BAM in New York as well as the Nuart in L.A. It is booked in about 100 locations around the country through May.

Lost And Love (Shi Gu)
Director-writer: Peng Sanyuan
Cast: Jing Boran, Andy Lau
Distributor: China Lion

Lost And Love posterDistributor China Lion is going outside its typical Chinese romantic-comedy wheelhouse with drama Lost And Love (Shi Gu), riding on the appeal of star Andy Lau. The film is based on true events. In 1998, Lei Zekuan (Lau) lost his son Lei Da to traffickers and began a search for him that lasted 14 years. He encountered hardship throughout his travels but found a kindred spirit in Ceng Shuai (Jing Boran), an auto mechanic who was kidnapped at age 4. The two take a trip together to find their lost relatives, forming a father-son friendship. Zekuan helps Shuai track down his relatives, leaving Zekuan to continue his journey.

“Two words: Andy Lau,” said China Lion’s Robert Lundberg about why the company decided to release Lost And Love on this side of the Pacific though its genre is outside the company’s typical fare. “He is a Hong Kong acting legend who is known throughout the Asia-Pacific region and is also known in North America as a well-respected actor. Having just made news being cast in The Great Wall alongside Matt Damon, we think his name has enough weight for us to move outside our core releasing genre.” China Lion still will target its core Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking audience in North America, though Lundberg said the company has received interest from art houses including Laemmle. Lundberg noted that Lau’s 2012 release A Simple Life made Roger Ebert’s last annual top 10 list.

“Given the topic and the heavy drama, as well as the presence of singer-actor co-star Jing Boran, we’ll still be skewing more female than male, with a mix of ages given Lau’s relevance among older audiences and Jing Boran’s relevance among younger audiences,” added Lundberg. “East West Bank came on as our exclusive sponsor, allowing us to expand the release to more theaters as well as market directly at their branches.” China Lion will open Lost And Love in 24 theaters this weekend with likely expansion to art house venues in the coming weeks.

She’s Lost Control
Director-writer: Anja Marquardt
Cast: Brooke Bloom, Marc Menchaca, Dennis Boutsikaris, Laila Robins, Tobias Segal, Robert Longstreet, Roxanne Day
Distributor: Monument Releasing

Shes Lost Control posterFilmmaker Anja Marquardt needed to find a strong female lead who could handle the demands of the role, which made the casting process challenging. She’s Lost Control centers on fiercely independent Ronah, who works as a sexual surrogate in New York City. She teaches her clients the very thing they fear the most: to be intimate. Her life unravels when she starts working with a volatile new client blurring the thin line between professional and personal intimacy in the modern world.

“It’s one of those little machines that could, come hell or high water,” said writer-director Marquardt. “I initially had another lead actress [to play Ronah], but then Brooke [Bloom] took the role.” The part of Ronah inherently involves a fair amount of nudity throughout the feature, and she is in virtually every scene. Marquardt noted that actors’ management will typically limit or forbid their clients from being nude on camera. “My casting director [Allison Twardziak] and I met with a lot of up-and-coming actresses in New York because she needed to be mature enough to carry the role yet independent and brave enough to be on set nude. There’s this thing called a ‘nudity rider’ that’s an important part of [an actor’s] contract. I had to convince people that it wasn’t my intention to make porn or be gratuitous.”

Casting Brooke did pose one challenge, however. The actress was committed to a play in NYC, so the shoot had to be pushed by six months. “We were originally going to shoot in January, but we ended up shooting in summer,” said Marquardt. “We were lucky we had that flexibility. We shot with an Alexa camera, which allowed us to shoot [guerrilla-style] on the streets of New York. It’s legal as long as you don’t use [artificial] lighting and don’t clog the street with trailers.” She’s Lost Control shot over 18 days.

Financing came via a combination of a Kickstarter campaign and private money. The title’s executive producers include Time Out Of Mind writer-director Oren Moverman. Marquardt said that the team began working with Monument Releasing around the time of Cannes last year. She’s Lost Control will open at IFP’s Made in NY Media Center exclusively this weekend and hit L.A. the following week.

Director-writer: Petr Jákl
Writer: Petr Bok
Cast: Jeremy Isabella, Jennifer Armour, Paul S. Tracey, Debra Garza, Alina Golovlyova
Distributor: Vega Baby Releasing

GhoulGhoul is the first “full run” release for Vega Baby Releasing, following a very small release for documentary The Magic Of Heineken last year. The Czech thriller follows three Americans who travel to Ukraine to investigate how cannibalism swept through the country during the notorious famine of 1932. After being led deep into the vast forest for an interview with the last known survivor of the cannibalism epidemic, they are plagued with a series of unexplainable supernatural encounters and come face to face with the evil spirit of Andrei Chikatilo, the most violent serial killer and cannibal of all time.

“I first saw Ghoul around the time we launched the distribution division [of Vega Baby] in June when Petr Jákl screened the film,” said the company’s head of distribution, Sheldon Brigman. “We made a deal at AFM with the promise that we’d get it out quickly.” Ghoul opened to solid numbers in the Czech Republic despite going up against Hollywood big hitters. Unlike the U.S., genre fare and thrillers are not popular in the country, according to Brigman. “It opened No. 2 against Fifty Shades of Grey,” he added. “In its second week, Ghoul was actually No. 1, and then the following week it was second.” Vega Baby said the feature had cumed nearly $500,000 in three weeks in the Czech Republic as of last weekend.

For the film’s U.S. bow this weekend, Vega Baby is targeting areas in Southern California and New Jersey on the periphery of New York City and Los Angeles with a high concentration of college students. Ghoul will open at the AMC 20 Theatre in Puente Hills, within driving distance to Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State Fullerton. The title also will bow at the AMC Jersey Gardens 20 within the vicinity of other colleges in the area. “We’ve run a lot of ads on genre sites and recently had an exclusive clip on Fandango,” said Brigman, adding that the company also has touted the film’s executive producer, genre veteran Rob Cohen (The Fast And The Furious) in its marketing material. “We’ll see how it goes and expand from there.” Vega Baby plans to release eight to 10 titles per year, though not all will have a theatrical component.