Helen Hunt returns as both filmmaker and star in her latest project, Ride, co-starring Brenton Thwaites and Luke Wilson. The Screen Media Films surf comedy will open in L.A. and New York, both locales where the film shot, before going to well over a dozen theaters. The late Albert Maysles’ second-to-last film, Iris, begins its theatrical run via Magnolia Pictures. It follows flamboyant fashion guru Iris Apfel. Sean Bean, Kate Walsh, Eva Longoria, Shane Black and Tom Arnold star in Gravitas Ventures’ Any Day, which hits theaters following an ultra-VOD window that started at the beginning of the month. Tribeca Films’ Hyena also is hitting the big screen following a pre-theatrical on-demand bow, one of three titles that played at the recent Tribeca Film Festival released on VOD to coincide with the event. And Alchemy is launching talk show comedy Welcome To Me in New York and L.A. before an aggressive expansion next week.

Also opening this weekend is Fox Searchlight’s Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Vinterberg, starring Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts and Juno Temple. Searchlight will open the film, based on the literary title by Thomas Hardy, in 10 theaters in New York, L.A., San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Toronto. And Strand Releasing will open Bruce La Bruce’s comedy-romance, Gerontophilia in limited release.

Ride
Director-writer: Helen Hunt
Cast: Helen Hunt, Brenton Thwaites, Julie Dretzin, David Zayas, Jay Russell, Jordan Lane Price, Willie Carpenter, Luke Wilson, Richard Kind
Distributor: Screen Media Films

RideOscar winner Helen Hunt returns to the director’s chair for her second big-screen title, following 2007’s Then She Found Me. Like that film, she stars in Ride as well — and she gets very wet.

In Ride, she plays an editor for The New Yorker whose son (Brenton Thwaites) drops out of school and heads to Los Angeles to surf and find himself. Upset that her son is seemingly throwing his future away, she also heads west, but she too is thrust into a sea change of self-discovery. She befriends a limo driver (David Zayas), rediscovers her sexuality with a younger surf instructor (Luke Wilson), and begins to heal her fractured relationship with her son and herself.

CAA’s Peter Levine sent the script Hunt had written about three years ago to producer Lizzie Friedman, who also gave it to her partner at Sandbar Pictures. “There’s a void in the market of entertaining, family dramas that are also relatable,” said Friedman. “It’s one of the first scripts [my partners and I] ever read where we said [it was something] we’d want to go out and see on the first weekend.” Friedman and partners met with Hunt, and the project took on momentum.

Hunt already was in place for the main role, Jackie, but the role of her son Angelo ended up taking a different turn. “The role was originally [meant to be] a pasty New Yorker college student, but Brenton really wanted it and he campaigned for it, which Helen was quite taken by, so she decided to read with him,” said Friedman. “He was great with her and could [act like] her son, but could also go toe-to-toe with her. She plays a controlled and sharp-tongued person, and she needed someone who could handle that.”

Wilson, who plays her romantic counterpart, was one of Hunt’s top choices — and he surfs, which was naturally a plus. The shoot took place over 24 days, though with the ocean as a central setting, there was a fair amount of unpredictability in the production schedule. “The water dictated things. We had a schedule that was very strict, but we also had a B-plan or C-plan,” said Friedman. “The sky and the water can change and some days there wouldn’t be any waves, so we’d have to just shoot something else.” Most shooting took place in Venice, CA, which can also be quite crowded, so production had to contend with onlookers.

Screen Media picked up the film after seeing it at a CAA distributor screening. Hunt has done a round of press including appearing for a segment on making the film for CBS Sunday Morning. The film also has partnered with Clinique as well as charities the Surfrider Foundation and Surf Divas. “Helen has been super creative about getting the word out,” added Friedman. “We have all worked daily [leading up to] the release.” The film had its premiere this week at the ArcLight in Hollywood and will open in New York and L.A. this weekend with an expansion to 18 cities the following week.

Iris
Director: Albert Maysles
Subjects: Iris Apfel, Carl Apfel
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

IrisProducer Laura Coxson had been working at Maysles Films for six years before she began working on what would be Maysles second-to-last film. Fellow producer Jennifer Ash Rudick knew the subject, Iris Apfel, a quick-witted, flamboyantly dressed 93-year-old style maven who has had an outsized presence on the New York fashion scene for decades.

“We started the film in 2011,” said Coxson. “I talked to Albert about it and said we should meet them. Jennifer and Iris came in and there was a great chemistry between them — I was surprised that they hadn’t met for whatever reason. We thought it would be fun to just start shooting.”

The documentary is a story about creativity and how, even at Iris’ advanced age, she remains a soaring free spirit. Iris continues to display an enthusiasm for fashion, art and people, and despite the ample glamour in her present life, she continues to embrace the values and work ethic established during her middle-class upbringing in Queens during the Great Depression.

“The shoot began OK, showing Iris teaching, and we continued to sporadically shoot, not knowing exactly where it would go,” said Coxson. “Albert was well into his 80s, but he’d shoot. She was reticent to be a part of the film, but a lot of her friends told her she’d be silly not to let Albert shoot her.” Maysles and his team continued capturing Apfel at New York events, but the ultimate outcome of the film did not become more clear until after production headed down to Florida, where Apfel and her husband Carl have a home.

“When we went to Palm Beach, the film hit its groove,” said Coxson. “She was also with her husband Carl, and she was much more relaxed. We had already pitched out executive producers who wanted to support the film, but by that time we had been shooting for 2 1/2 years. … Albert to the end was so good at finding money for projects, but I think people don’t realize how hard it is even with huge names attached.”

While also working at Janus Films in New York, Coxson met the sales team at Submarine as well as publicist Susan Norget, who took the film under their collective wings, and Magnolia Pictures boarded the project as distributor. Added Coxson: “They supported us and made it easy for us to decide to go with Magnolia. It’s been surreal how great the experience has been because so many don’t get to be released.” Iris will open exclusively in New York at Lincoln Plaza and Film Forum Wednesday and will add several locations in the greater L.A. area Friday. It will add a dozen-and-a-half runs the following week and go to select cities nationwide throughout May.

Any Day
Director-writer: Rustam Branaman
Cast: Sean Bean, Kate Walsh, Eva Longoria, Shane Black, Tom Arnold, Paul Ben-Victor, Leonard Roberts, Willa Ford, Nolan Gross
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures

Any DayRustam Branaman’s Any Day attracted Gravitas Ventures’ attention due to both its “star power and performances.” It picked up the title in January.

The romantic thriller follows Vian McLean (Sean Bean), an ex-fighter who is filled with resentment. He killed a man with his bare hands and has just spent the last 12 years in prison for the crime. Upon his release, he stays with his sister Bethley (Kate Walsh) and her son Jimmy, who gets to know Vian and looks up to his uncle. After some struggle, he finds a job and then meets Jolene (Eva Longoria). Things seem to be working out, but then a tragic event throws Vian is thrown into a dark place, facing the greatest challenge of his life, only to be shown the right path in a sudden experience that will alter his life forever.

“Sean Bean is super amazing in the film,” said Julie Candelaria, VP Marketing at Gravitas. “We initially released it around Easter in VOD space (as of April 1) because of the faith/inspiration angle, and are going out theatrically [Friday]. Generally the film has done well [on-demand]. The operators have been very excited about it.”

Candelaria said the title should transcend beyond the faith-centered audience both because of the cast but also its themes which are more “inspirational” than “religious,” though she noted it is “definitely” an adult film. “It deals with heavy issues, and there’s no adult that hasn’t had to overcome a personal struggle,” she added.

Candelaria said the company has split its marketing pushes, with the first leading up to its VOD release at the beginning of April and now again ahead of its theatrical run. “We’ve done clip placements and all the standard pieces, but we’ve also had an online digital/social agency to outreach to both the faith crowd as well as to the fan bases for Sean Bean and others,” said Candelaria. “We’ve also done a television media campaign and Facebook ads targeting specific fan bases. It’s had a full push.” Members of the cast will be on hand for a Q&A at the Laemmle Noho in L.A. Tom Arnold also appeared on a recent Today episode pushing the title.

Any Day will open in 21 markets this weekend and will continue to add markets based on performance.

Hyena
Director-writer: Gerard Johnson
Cast: Peter Ferdinando, Stephen Graham, Neil Maskell, Elisa Lasowski, MyAnna Buring, Richard Dormer, Gordon Brown, Tony Pitts, Orli Shuka, Gjevat Kelmendi
Distributor: Tribeca Film

HyenaHyena is one of three films that debuted on VOD and digital platforms April 14 to coincide with their premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival — part of their quest to “bring the festival experience home to audiences across the country.” The crime drama/thriller begins its theatrical release in seven markets this weekend.

The feature centers on Michael (Peter Ferdinando), a ruthless undercover cop who targets London’s most violent drug traffickers. He and his team aren’t above taking their cut from the criminals they’re charged with taking on — but when he’s threatened with exposure, he’s forced to rapidly shift his loyalties and sell out his allies in order to stay alive.

Producer Joanna Laurie and colleagues were at France’s Dinard Film Festival with their doc Sounds Like Teen Spirit where they met filmmaker Gerard Johnson and actor Ferdinando. They watched Johnson’s previous film Tony, which was playing the festival, and the stage was set to team up on Johnson’s next project.

“Film4 were also at that screening, and we all agreed then and there that we should develop Gerard’s next feature,” said Laurie. “He already had the idea for Hyena and as we’re all big fans of proper cop films like The French Connection, Un Flic and Bad Lieutenant, so we were very drawn to working with Gerard.” Ferdinando, who starred in Tony, was also on board to star in Hyena. Johnson had written the part of David Knight with Stephen Graham in mind, who also later joined the project.

“We knew we’d probably need to scour London — social clubs, car washes, street corners, they looked everywhere — for Albanians to play the Kabashis, and they did phenomenal work in finding Orli (Shuka) and Kel (Gjevat Kelmendi), who weren’t professional actors and who are a real revelation in the film,” said Laurie. Independent came on board early for international sales and Metrodome came on board for the UK release, and Wildside (now Jokers) boarded for France. Shooting took place all over London. The title opened in the UK on March 6. “We got great reviews, a great per-screen average,” said Laurie. “The film performed in line with our expectations. We just found out our trailer has been nominated for the Golden Trailer Awards.”

Tribeca Film will open Hyena theatrically this Friday in seven markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Columbus, Louisville, and Pittsburgh.

Welcome To Me
Director: Shira Piven
Writer: Eliot Laurence
Cast: Linda Cardellini, James Marsden, Kristen Wiig, Wes Bentley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Alan Tudyk
Distributor: Alchemy

Welcome to MeWriter Eliot Laurence initially conceived of Welcome To Me as a television pilot about the life of a complex woman and an intimate television show she creates about herself. After showing the work-in-progress to his longtime collaborator, Shira Piven, she quickly took to the story and asked Laurence to adapt it into a feature film with her as director. The film shot on location in Los Angeles over a five-week period in August 2013.

Welcome To Me follows Alice Klieg (Kristen Wiig), who wins the Mega Millions lottery, quits her psychiatric meds and buys her own talk show. Inspired by the immortal Oprah, she broadcasts her dirty laundry as both a form of exhibitionism and a platform to share her peculiar views on everything from nutrition to relationships to neutering pets.

“Part of what drew us to the film was that there’s simply nothing out there like it,” said Vincent Scordino, SVP Marketing at distributor Alchemy (formerly Millennium Entertainment). “It’s beautiful, distinct and bursting with humor and empathy — all of which are a testament to Shira’s extraordinary talent. We acquired the film after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.”

Alchemy picked spring for Welcome To Me‘s release, eyeing as templates recent indie releases Bernie ($85,805 opening in three theaters in April 2012), What Maisie Knew ($21,480 in one theater in May 2013) and Fading Gigolo ($180,801 in five theaters in April 2014). “We were also able to get support from key theaters like the Angelika Film Center early,” added Scordino. “We’re opening with exclusive runs in New York at the Angelika Film Center and Los Angeles at Sundance Sunset Cinemas May 1 with an aggressive expansion into top markets across the country on May 8.”