Late multi-Grammy Award-winning singer Amy Winehouse gets the spotlight in a new film by BAFTA-winner Asif Kapadia, simply titled Amy, which A24 will open in New York followed by a national rollout beginning Friday. The title uses never-before-seen footage of the artist and features previously unheard tracks. The doc will be joined by Sundance winner Cartel Land by Matthew Heineman, which The Orchard is also opening in New York followed by a national rollout. The title goes behind the scenes of the Mexican drug war, seen from the point of view of two vigilante groups on both sides of the border. Sony Classics is opening Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall, which returns the British-born filmmaker to a story set in Ireland. SPC will open it in limited release over the 4th of July holiday weekend and will continue to roll it out slowly over the summer in major markets. And Main Street Films is bowing Jackie & Ryan starring Katherine Heigl and Ben Barnes day and date.
Also opening this weekend in limited release is Debra Granik’s doc Stray Dog in New York at the Film Society of Lincoln Center Friday followed by L.A.’s Laemmle Music Hall later in the month as well as Strand Releasing’s Mala Mala.
Director: Asif Kapadia
Subjects: Amy Winehouse, Yasiin Bey, Mark Ronson, Tony Bennett, Pete Doherty, Blake Fielder-Civil, Mitch Winehouse, Tyler James, Janis Winehouse
Director Asif Kapadia, producer James Gay-Rees and editor Chris Kin collaborated on the 2010 documentary, Senna, about F1 driver Ayrton Senna. Two years after that film’s release, Gay-Rees was approached by Chairman and CEO of Universal Music UK, David Joseph on six-time Grammy-winner Amy Winehouse. The result is a story told in her own words, featuring extensive unseen archival footage as well as previously unheard tracks.
Winehouse captured the world’s attention with her voice and charisma, expressing personal struggles and pain through her intimate lyrics. She became an international sensation, experiencing a meteoric rise to fame. Media attention, coupled with her troubled relationships and addictions led her into a tragic cycle of self-destruction resulting in her untimely death at age 27.
“David Joseph had been a big fan of Senna,” said Gay-Rees. “I don’t know anything about the story behind the grim headlines, but I thought there had to be something more to it than that.” Universal Music underwrote the documentary’s financing and the title was largely pre-sold in Cannes in 2013. The title is largely made up of archive, though the production did over 100 interviews, which form a sound-bed under the footage on screen.
“We started working with A24 following the Berlin International Film Festival in February,” said Gay-Rees. “They had been tracking the film for nearly two years and we’re really glad we ended up partnering with them in the U.S.” A24 opens Amy in New York and L.A. July 3 followed by markets nationwide July 10.
Director: Ken Loach
Writers: Paul Laverty, Donal O’Kelly
Cast: Barry Ward, Simone Kirby, Jim Norton, Francis Magee, Aisling Franciosi, Andrew Scott, Brian F. O’Byrne, Aileen Henry
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Set a decade after his 2006 feature The Wind That Shakes The Barley, Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall is set in 1921. Jimmy Gralton wants to build a dance hall on a rural crossroads in an Ireland on the brink of Civil War. The venue would be a place where young people could come to learn, argue, dream, but especially to have fun. As the hall grew in popularity its socialist and free-spirited reputation brought it to the attention of the church and politicians who forced Jimmy to flee and the hall to close. After living in the U.S. for a decade, Jimmy returns to look after his mother and vows to lead a quiet life. The hall stands empty, despite pleas from young people. Jimmy, however, reintegrates and his activist side designates and he vows to re-open the hall.
Ken Loach and casting director Kahleen Crawford tried to cast as many parts locally as possible in order to maintain a “sense of community.” Barry Ward was chosen to play Jimmy in part because the real Jimmy Gralton was about 40 when the dance hall was created, and production didn’t want someone “too young, or too old.”
“[Sony Classics] has never worked with [Ken Loach] but we always wanted to. I’ve known him for many, many years,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. “The combination of politics and romance is done very well and it’s something that captures the spirit of the Irish. These are among the best Irish actors working today. Many have worked on Broadway. While they may not be movie stars, they have been around doing quality work.”
British-born Ken Loach’s 2013 release, The Angels’ Share grossed nearly $347K in the U.S. box office following its release by IFC Films in April, 2013 (it made $7M around globally). His 2006 Cannes Palme d’Or winner The Wind That Shakes The Barley grossed over $1.83M after IFC released it in March, 2007 (nearly $22.9M globally).
SPC will bow Jimmy’s Hall, which screened in competition at the 2014 Festival de Cannes, this weekend in New York and L.A. with Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. following soon with a particular eye on art house audiences and those with interests in Ireland, according to Barker. “It won’t be released at a quick pace,” he added. “It will continue to roll out throughout the summer.”
Director: Matthew Heineman
Distributor: The Orchard
A winner of the Directing Award and the Cinematography Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, doc Cartel Land is an on-the-ground look at the journeys of two modern-day vigilante groups and their shared enemy – the murderous Mexican drug cartels. In the Mexican state of Michoacán, Dr. Jose Mireles, a small-town physician known as “El Doctor,” leads the Autodefensas, a citizen uprising against the violent Knights Templar drug cartel that has wreaked havoc on the region for years. Meanwhile, in Arizona’s Altar Valley – a narrow, 52-mile-long desert corridor known as Cocaine Alley – Tim “Nailer” Foley, an American veteran, heads a small paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon, whose goal is to stop Mexico’s drug wars from seeping across our border.
Filmmaker Matthew Heineman follows Nailer and El Doctor as they try to bring their own form of justice to a society where institutions have failed. “Over the course of a year, I was embedded with both groups and went on an incredible journey that I could have never predicted or dreamed of,” said Heineman. “The more time I spent down there, the more complex the story became: it was partly an ascent of people seeking to fight evil and partly a descent into hell as they took the law into their own hands, with many twists and turns in between. I became even more motivated, almost obsessed, as the lines between good and evil became ever more blurred.”
Most of the funding for Cartel Land came via A&E IndieFilms in addition to a grant from Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program. The film also participated in Sundance’s Catalyst Initiative where the final gap in funding came through a group of financiers. Shooting took place from the summer of 2013 to summer 2014 in Arizona and Mexico.
“Having no experience filming in risky situations, Cartel Land pushed me into some pretty precarious places – I was in shootouts on the streets of Michoacán and in Breaking Bad-like meth labs in the middle of the dark, desert night,” said Heineman. “Each day brought with it a unique set of challenges, dangers, and opportunities. There’s one scene [in the film] in which I’m crammed in the back of a jeep in Michoacán. A member of the ‘Autodefensas’ was interrogating a suspected cartel member, constantly jamming his pistol into the man’s head, threatening him, intimidating him to get more information. Not only was it disturbing to witness, but I could barely move, as I was jammed in the middle seat, sandwiched between two other armed men. It was an hour-long take, while the car was speeding through curvy city streets. Ultimately, it turned out to be an important turning point in the film.”
The Orchard picked up Cartel Land at Sundance in January and Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow saw the film soon afterward and joined on as Executive Producer. The title will open in New York exclusively July 3, expanding across the country over the next few weeks. Added Heineman: “I believe so deeply in getting this film seen widely in both Mexico and the U.S. and have been traveling a ton promoting the film on TV, radio, and online publications.”
Jackie & Ryan
Director-writer: Ami Canaan Mann
Cast: Katherine Heigl, Ben Barnes, Clea DuVall, Emily Alyn Lind, Sheryl Lee, Nathan Stevens, Ryan Bingham, Chelsea Goodwin
Distributor: Main Street Films
Main Street Films became involved with Jackie & Ryan from the very beginning of production. The feature centers on Ryan Brenner (Ben Barnes), a traveling musician and Jackie Laurel (Katherine Heigl) a former singer at a crossroads in her marriage, have a chance encounter while Ryan is busking on the streets of Ogden, Utah. After a sudden car accident propels them together, Ryan finds himself at Jackie’s house for dinner. Ryan’s battling to find the courage to write his own music while Jackie’s fighting for independence from her estranged husband who wants her to return to their upscale Manhattan marriage. When Ryan’s musician mentor dies in a train accident and Jackie’s husband threatens to take custody of her daughter, Ryan and Jackie find the strength and music they need in each other.
“Molly Hassell (producer) and Highland Film Group brought us the project and we fell in love with the story,” noted a Main Street Films spokesperson. “We were also very excited when we learned that Katherine Heigl and Ben Barnes were interested in starring in the film. We also knew that Ben Barnes has a beautiful singing voice and the music would be fantastic…”
Financing for Jackie & Ryan came together from equity partners and pre-sales, while Main Street Films provided the “backstop deal and marketing support from pre-production,” according to the company. It shot over 21 days in Ogden, UT. The film will open in theaters and on-demand day and date July 3.