The last time Alan Rickman took on director duties was in 1997 for The Winter Guest starring Phyllida Law, Emma Thompson, which Fine Line released on Christmas day of that year, eventually grossing over $870K. The Golden Globe winner waited almost a decade-and-a-half to do it a second time with A Little Chaos, which Focus World will open day and date beginning this weekend. A Little Chaos will be joined by a sizable number of newcomers this weekend, though many — not all — will likely stay in theaters for short stints. FilmBuff is opening The Strongest Man, which promises to show a new range of acting talent by Patrick Fugit, also in a day and date bow. It will be joined by Monterey Media’s Runoff, which takes an inside look of life in rural Kentucky. Sundance Selects will bow documentary, Murder In The Park, focusing on a case that rocked the justice system after a man convicted of murder was saved from the death penalty merely hours before his scheduled execution after he was found innocent. And, Strand Releasing will open Israeli drama A Borrowed Identity in limited release.

Other limited releases this weekend include Starz Media’s 7 Minutes, Magnolia’s The Little Death, Vertical Entertainment’s Into The Grizzly Maze, Strasson Group’s WARx2, Archstone’s L.A. Slasher as well as EuropaCorp’s Big Game, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Onni Tommila, which will open with a day and date bow.

A Little ChaosA Little Chaos
Director-writer: Alan Rickman
Writer: Alison Deegan, Jeremy Brock
Cast: Thomas Allam, Alan Rickman, Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Stanley Tucci, Hope Hancock, Isabella Steinbarth, Hal Hewetson, Carolina Valdés
Distributor: Focus World

Alan Rickman returns to the director’s seat with his second film as helmer following The Winter Guest (1997). His latest, A Little Chaos is a romantic drama centered on Sabine (Kate Winslet), a talented landscape designer, who is building a garden for King Louis XIV. Class barriers come into play, however, she becomes romantically involved with the court’s renowned landscape artist (Matthias Schoenaerts). The film re-imagines the creation of the Rockwork Grove, a unique element of France’s “Sun King” Louis XIV’s magnificent Palace of Versailles. Le Notre, established as a famous and celebrated architect, is tasked with overseeing the creation of an outdoor ballroom.

“We picked it up in Toronto last year where it was the Closing Night Film,” said Focus World’s Anjay Nagpal. “It plays well to an older audience, but the cast plays across platforms, so we thought it would be a great day and date release.”

Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet worked together when the actress was 19 in Sense And Sensibility and have remained in touch. Matthias Schoenaerts, who plays her romantic counterpart, met Rickman while he was filming in Belgium and was cast as Le Notre. Rickman plays Louis XIV.

“He’s been out there and really working for the film,” said Nagpal about Rickman. “He was on Jimmy Fallon the other night, and had a funny piece that went viral. Kate Winslet is also out there doing the circuit.”

A Little Chaos will open in 80 locations in 43 markets including the Empire in New York and Sundance Sunset in L.A. “We’ll be expanding next week in 25 additional markets, playing in high-end independent theaters that welcome this kind of product. We’ll also be four-walling small select AMC theaters,” said Nagpal. “[Art house] theaters are fine with day and date, though it is on a theater by theater basis. The big chains that have always resisted still do, but AMC [will work with day and date] when it makes sense for them.”

The Strongest Man posterThe Strongest Man
Director-writer: Kenny Riches
Cast: Patrick Fugit, Lisa Banes, Ashly Burch, Paul Chamberlain, Nancy Fong, Robert Lorie, David Park, Davy Rothbart, Freddie Wong
Distributor: FilmBuff

Filmmaker Kenny Riches found the seeds of his second feature directorial after visiting Miami where he now lives. He met artist Robert Lorie, who plays Beef in The Strongest Man. “He became my tour guide of a Miami that’s not South Beach,” said Riches. “I kept my eyes and ears open, noticing the cultural idiosynracies here. One day I just told Robert I was going to write a film about him and I’d like him to act in it. He’s not an actor, he’s an artist, but he was into it.”

The Strongest Man is a Miami-centric comedy about an anxiety-ridden Cuban man, who fancies himself the strongest man in the world. In a quest to recover his most beloved possession, a stolen bicycle, he finds and loses so much more.

“It takes a long time to incubate the story but once I start writing it’s pretty quick,” said Riches. “I assembled the crew pretty quickly. I mostly work with my friends from Salt Lake City. They live there and L.A., but flew out and then we patched in some people from Miami.”

Actors Patrick Fugit and Paul Chamberlain are friends. While in Berlin with Fugit, Riches took note of a persona Fugit created during their stay. “When I was living in Berlin, he [visited] and created this persona with a German accent and it just stuck with me,” said Riches. “He’s great at transforming himself but he doesn’t’ usually get cast [using that talent].” Fugit also introduced his fellow Gone Girl cast member Lisa Banes to Riches, and the two hit it off. “It became obvious she’d be very awesome in the film,” he added. “She was the only one I didn’t write the part specifically for her, but she was great.”

The feature shot over 3 weeks. Financing came via investors from Salt Lake City Riches had worked with previously in addition to some investors in Miami. “We were working with a small budget, so we couldn’t fix any problem with money,” said Riches. “We weren’t afforded that luxury, so we had to just get creative with it. We did the art design in my studio here in Miami. It was a hot sweaty Miami mess.”

Sundance Institute came in with finishing funds. The feature screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January. “I think people see Sundance as a closed door, but having this experience showed me that they care about film and filmmakers,” said Riches. “FilmBuff came on shortly after Sundance. XYZ was our domestic sales agent and Visit Films did international. FilmBuff will open The Strongest Man day and date in six cities, with iTunes its initial on-demand platform.

Runoffrunoff poster
Director-writer: Kimberly Levin
Cast: Joanne Kelly, Rashel Bestard, Tom Bower, Brennan James Callan, Drew Cash, Kivlighan de Montebello, Thomas Dunbar, Jennifer Graham, Neal Huff, Darlene Hunt
Distributor: Monterey Media

Filmmaker Kimberly Levin is a bio-chemist whose work lead to the discovery that a textile factory was dumping chemicals into a tributary of Lake Cumberland, a popular recreational destination in the state. The factory ended up being re-located rather than closed in the ’90s and the matter became the seeds for a script that Levin began working on in 2006.

Runoff is set in rural Kentucky as the harvest draws near. In the feature, Betty confronts a terrifying new reality and will go to desperate lengths to save her family when they are threatened with being forced from their land. An old friend, struggling to keep his own farm profitable by any means necessary offers Betty a way out. She refuses to get involved, but as the pressures mount for her family and they are on the brink of eviction, her husband, Frank, reveals that he is seriously ill. Runoff combines an ecological urgency with a sensitive story.

“I came from the theater and was super passionate about performance and actors,” said Levin. “We worked with [casting director] Cindi Rush in New York and we were very fortunate when [actor] Joanne Kelly walked into the room. We wanted someone who most people didn’t know, but also talented and could fit in the underbelly of the farming world and able to work with hogs and cows.”

With private investors mostly from Kentucky secured, the film shot over 22 days in early to late fall in 2011. “We had this incredible experience in an authentic and chaotic environment because you’re dealing with animals,” said Levin. “Our male lead had to get in a hog pen and they became very aggressive. At first they ran from him, but then they became curious and started to swarm and nip at him. They were seeing if there was anything edible, then one of them bit him on the thigh with full force.” Locations were working farms and Levin as well as producer Kurt Pitzer spent time gaining the trust of local farmers. The film shot in sequence in order to capture the progression of autumn.

“We should give a lot of compliments to state of Kentucky in helping us,” said Pitzer. “They’d shut down roads etc. There were many things we needed like sheriff deputies, EMTs and they’d come out to help. Kentucky gave us production value that we would have never otherwise been able to afford. It was amazing.”

Post-production took place near Levin and Pitzer’s home in Brooklyn. Monterey Media will open the feature at the Village East in New York this weekend, with planned roll outs in Louisville, KY and Los Angeles July 24. Kimberly Levin and Kurt Pitzer will be joined by cast members for post-screening Q&As during afternoon and evening screenings of the film at Village East throughout the weekend with additional Q&As set for the following week.

A Murder in the Park posterMurder In The Park
Director: Christopher Shawn Rech
Co-director: Brandon Kimber
Distributor: Sundance Selects

Filmmaker Christopher Shawn Rech produced a number of crime-stopper programs in L.A., Cleveland and Chicago. A Chicago-based attorney who sponsored the programs told Rech about a wrongful conviction case in October, 2012.

In 1999, just hours before his scheduled execution, convicted killer Anthony Porter’s life was saved by a journalism class from Northwestern University, led by renowned Innocence Project pioneer, Professor David Protess. The class seemingly found the real killer, Alstory Simon. Porter was released, becoming the poster boy of the anti-death penalty movement. Because of his case, Illinois eventually abolished the death penalty. The filmmakers present strong evidence that Northwestern’s investigation led to the release of the real killer, and imprisoned an innocent man. In October 2013, due in part to this film’s investigation, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office reopened this case.

Simon cooperated on the project from the beginning, though his lawyers were slow to cooperate because they were very weary of the media.

“[Executive producer] Andrew Hale had a lot of paperwork compiled by federal investigators,” said Rech. “We decided to work on the case and get all sides, and if I was right, and he’s innocent, I’d make a call to action movie. He had exhausted all of his appeals, and my intention at the time was to make a film to get everyone mad.” Rech pursued what he thought would be Murder In The Park‘s trajectory. He spoke with Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune about the case, showing the journalist a videotape of Simon’s explanation of what happened.

“This seemed to shake him a little,” said Rech who also helped finance the feature along with Hale. “The next day he called for the case to be re-opened. At that point, Simon’s lawyers were emboldened and decided to go for another angle and asked for it to be reviewed.” The case was re-opened in October, 2013. By then, the initial version of Murder In The Park had wrapped. Sales company Submarine’s Josh Braun was slow in playing the film, according to Rech, because, “We all knew things were still happening.”

Murder In The Park debuted at DOC NYC where IFC Films saw the title and picked it up for its Sundance Selects label. It later played the Cleveland International Film Festival. Sundance Selects will open Murder In The Park in 10 cities Friday including New York, L.A., Chicago and Cleveland.

A Borrowed IdentityA Borrowed Identity
Director: Eran Riklis
Writer: Sayed Kashua (screenplay and novel)
Cast: Tawfeek Barhom, Ali Suliman, Yaël Abecassis, Razi Gabareen, Michael Moshonov, Daniel Kitsis, Marlene Bajali
Distributor: Strand Releasing

Strand Releasing picked up Israeli drama A Borrowed Identity ahead of its Telluride debut on this side of the Atlantic. The feature is a coming-of-age drama set in the early 1990s about an Arab teenager trying to find his place in Israeli society. The feature is written and adapted from two autobiographical novels by Arab-Israeli author and journalist Sayed Kashua.

In the film, Eyad (Tawfeek Barhom), a Palestinian Israeli boy, is given the chance to go to a prestigious Jewish boarding school in Jerusalem. As he desperately tries to fit in with his Jewish schoolmates and within Israeli society, Eyad develops a friendship with another outsider, Jonathan (Michael Moshonov, Lebanon) a boy suffering from muscular dystrophy, and gradually becomes part of the home Jonathan shares with his mother, Edna (Yael Abecassis, Live And Become). After falling in love with Naomi (Daniel Kitsis), a Jewish girl, he leaves school when their relationship is uncovered, and he discovers that he will have to sacrifice his identity in order to be accepted.

“We have worked with [director] Eran Riklis (The Syrian Bride) in the past and we were very interested in this film which is a story by an acclaimed author,” said Strand co-president Marcus Hu. “We’re targeting an art house audience as we open Friday.”

Strand will open A Borrowed Identity at Lincoln Plaza in New York this weekend and will watch how it performs there to determine its legs in other markets. It has playmates at Laemmle’s Royal Theater in L.A. and at Edwards Westpark in Orange County set for July 3.