French filmmakers Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledo scored big in 2012 with their drama The Intouchables, which managed Hollywood-proportion numbers at the international box office and even totaled well over $10M in the U.S. Their latest film, Samba, resonates as a personal story about a hot-button topic in many countries around the world: immigration. Broad Green’s Samba joins a packed slate of limited-release features going up against the studios this weekend including The Film Arcade’s Unexpected starring Cobie Smulders and Elizabeth McGovern, with a day-and-date release Friday. Documentary streaming service Sundance Now Doc Club is teaming up with its fellow AMC entities Sundance Selects and later Sundance Channel Global for a multiplatform release of Sundance Film Festival doc A Gay Girl In Damascus: The Amina Profile. Sundance Selects also will open Barbara filmmaker Christian Petzold’s follow-up, Phoenix, starring Nina Hoss and Ronald Zehrfeld.

Among the other specialty titles opening this weekend are Pantelion’s The Vatican Tapes bowing in hundreds of locations, while Saban Films debuts American Heist with Hayden Christensen and Adrien Brody. Paladin will open Frank The Bastard, Oscilloscope will bow Big Significant Things, Cinema Guild will launch Pedro Costa’s Horse Money and Menemsha Films will open The Outrageous Sophie Tucker.

Samba
Directors-writers: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano
Writers: Delphine Coulin (novel), Muriel Coulin
Cast: Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tahar Rahim, Izia Higelin, Hélène Vincent, Jacqueline Jehanneuf
Distributor: Broad Green Pictures

Samba posterFilmmakers Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledo had one of the most successful French titles in the international box office ever with The Intouchables. That movie, about the unlikely bond between a street-savvy caregiver for a wealthy aristocrat who’s left a quadriplegic after a paragliding accident, also managed to sparkle stateside with an eight-figure cume. The pair are following up that feature with Samba, which stars Intouchables actor Omar Sy along with Charlotte Gainsbourg.

For 10 years, Senegalese immigrant Samba (Sy) has stayed under the French government’s radar, taking menial kitchen jobs in the hope of becoming a professional chef. Suddenly, as his longtime ambitions for a better life seem just within reach, immigration authorities hit Samba with an order to leave France immediately. Stubbornly holding on to his dream, Samba pins his hopes for a reprieve on a local immigration advocacy center and Alice (Gainsbourg), an emotionally vulnerable volunteer with little experience but plenty of heart. He finds a second home at the center with Alice and her colleagues, including brusque law student Manu (Izïa Higelin), do-gooder Marcelle (Hélène Vincent) and naïve Maggy (Jacqueline Jehanneuf), as they search for a way for him to stay in France.

The Intouchables was the second-highest-grossing French film ever, though this is a very different film,” said Broad Green President of Theatrical Distribution Travis Reid. “We think it’s a great film that was also a breakout hit [in Toronto].” Broad Green picked up the title out of last year’s TIFF, adding it to its busy 2015 slate of releases. This will be the company’s third title to open in theaters, following Eden and 10.000Km.

Nakache and Toledano’s The Intouchables blitzed the box office stateside when The Weinstein Company opened the film in May 2012, bowing with a solid $103,507 in four theaters ($25,877 average). It went on to total nearly $10.2 million domestically. Globally, the film cumed in the mid-nine figures.

“We’re doing a targeted marketing approach and digital campaign [to reach] art house and French film fans,” said Reid. “Omar Sy was at the premiere at the Paris Theatre in New York and is doing a lot of publicity, and we placed a lot of material in the right theaters ahead of [this weekend’s] release. We’re opening in what we think are the two best theaters for French film in the country: the Paris in NYC and the Landmark in Los Angeles.”

The following week, Broad Green will expand Samba in the New York and L.A. areas and will expand to the top 25 markets around August 7.

Unexpected
Director-writer: Kris Swanberg
Writer: Megan Mercier
Cast: Cobie Smulders, Anders Holm, Gail Bean, Elizabeth McGovern
Distributor: The Film Arcade

Unexpected posterFilmmaker Kris Swanberg initially had the idea for Unexpected after a former student contacted her and let her know she was pregnant. At the time, Swanberg also was six months pregnant. “I used to be a high school teacher in Chicago, teaching film and video for a couple years, [and] this movie is inspired by that experience,” said Swanberg, who co-wrote the feature with Megan Mercier.

Unexpected centers on Samantha Abbott (Cobie Smulders), a dedicated teacher at an inner-city Chicago high school. Just as she is coming to terms with her school closing, Samantha faces some life-changing and unexpected news: She is pregnant. After breaking the news to her supportive live-in boyfriend John (Anders Holm) and opinionated mother (Elizabeth McGovern), Samantha learns that one of her most promising students, Jasmine (newcomer Gail Bean), has landed in a similar but very different situation. As the women navigate their ambitions for the future, Samantha and Jasmine forge an unlikely friendship that will challenge their perspectives and leave a lasting impact on each other.

“I met with my producer Andrea Roa at Sundance in 2014, and we started talking about moving the project forward,” said Swanberg, whose husband’s is filmmaker Joe Swanberg. “We found financing through private investors in Chicago as well as former basketball player Chris Webber.”

The filmmaking team also set out to find cast for Unexpected in April 2014. Swanberg headed to L.A. to meet with various agencies and quickly set up meetings with Smulders and Holm. “I [separately] hit it off with them,” said Swanberg. “I asked them to [join the cast] about six or eight weeks out from the shoot. Gail Bean’s character was harder, but we eventually found her through an audition process about four weeks out.”

Unexpected shot in Chicago over four weeks. Editor Zach Clark began the editing process as the shoot took place, which Swanberg found helpful. “It informed me of what we did shooting the movie, and we adjusted accordingly,” added Swanberg. “Cobie was pregnant while shooting, so that was a big thing. We had to navigate how pregnant she was versus how pregnant she’s supposed to be in the movie. That was funny and crazy.”

The Film Arcade picked up Unexpected out of Sundance and is opening the film Friday in a day and date release in 22 cities including the Village East in New York and the Sundance Cinemas and Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Los Angeles.

A Gay Girl In Damascus: The Amina Profile
Director-writer: Sophie Deraspe
Distributor: Sundance Now Doc Club/AMC

A Gay Girl in Damascus posterDocumentary streaming service Sundance Now Doc Club will spearhead Friday’s release of its first festival acquisition title, which will utilize various sister divisions of AMC Networks.

Nabbed out of the Sundance Film Festival this year, A Gay Girl In Damascus revolves around well-known Syrian blogger Amina Arraf, who purportedly was kidnapped by local authorities during the Arab Spring. After it was revealed to be an elaborate hoax persona, an entire international community realized it had been “catfished.” But the betrayal cut deepest for Canadian activist Sandra Bagaria, who had been involved in an online relationship with Amina. Playing out like a detective story, the documentary reconstructs this astounding tale of global deceit from Sandra’s perspective. As she crosses the globe in search of answers — questioning journalists, activists and intelligence agencies — she prepares for a face-to-face confrontation with Amina’s true creator.

“We saw the film at Sundance, and it really blew my mind,” said Sundance Now Doc Club G.M. Linda Pan. “I had heard of the story previously, though this was an entirely new angle and deeper and personal. We liked how it played out on local and universal level. We were able to galvanize the broader company with a limited theatrical release through Sundance Selects, and later in the year it will be on Sundance Channel Global. It’s a prime example of the different parts of the company coming together. We’ve done small versions of this, but this is the first time the different parts have come together for a documentary film.”

Pan said A Gay Girl In Damascus has been well-received at LGBT festivals, most recently at Outfest in Los Angeles, and filmmaker Sophie Delaspe has been very active in the lead-up to the film’s theatrical rollout as well as its debut on Sundance Now Doc Club. “We have been very cognizant that [the filmmakers] have been living with the film longer than us and have an idea to find the audiences better than us,” added Pan.

Theatrically, A Gay Girl In Damascus will open at IFC Center in New York, Laemmle Music Hall in L.A. as well as the Roxie in San Francisco and Digital Gym Cinema in San Diego in addition to its Sundance Now Doc Club streaming. “We want to do more of these films straight from festivals releases along with our curated collections,” Pan said.

Phoenix
Director-writer: Christian Petzold
Writers: Harun Farocki, Hubert Monteilhet (novel)
Cast: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Nina Kunzendorf, Michael Maertens, Imogen Kogge, Kirsten Block
Distributor: Sundance Selects

Phoenix posterSundance Selects has another title this week: Phoenix, Christian Petzold’s follow-up to his Berlin-winning Barbara, is inspired by Hubert Monteilhet’s book Return From The Ashes. The new film reunites Barbara stars Nina Hoss and Ronald Zehrfeld in a film noir set in 1945 Berlin. It centers on Nelly (Hoss), a German-Jewish ex-nightclub singer who has survived a concentration camp. But, like her country, she is scarred — her face disfigured by a bullet wound. After undergoing reconstructive surgery, Nelly emerges with a new face, one similar but different enough that her former husband, Johnny (Zehrfeld), doesn’t recognize her. Rather than reveal herself, Nelly walks into a dangerous game of duplicity and disguise as she tries to figure out if the man she loves may have been the one who betrayed her to the Nazis.

“The plan has always been for it to be a traditional art house release,” said IFC Films and Sundance Selects President Jonathan Sehring. “It screened at [Brooklyn Academy of Music] recently and the reviews and response have been great.” Sundance Selects is banking on strong reviews and word-of-mouth to propel the title. The combination proved a winning one for Petzold’s Barbara, which bowed in December 2012 with only a $63,410 gross in 15 theaters ($4,227 per-screen average) but went on to cume just over $1 million domestically.

Phoenix won accolades at the 2015 German Film Awards in addition to the FIPRESCI Prize in San Sebastian and Best Actress for Hoss at the recent Seattle International Film Festival. “I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays because it has been very well received [at festivals and by press],” added Sehring. Phoenix will open with limited runs in New York and Los Angeles this weekend in a traditional window, with an expansion to the two cities’ suburbs soon after. The title will expand slowly throughout the summer.