Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor heads to a postapocalyptic twist on the Garden of Eden in Z For Zachariah, the latest by indie vet Craig Zobel, which Roadside Attractions opens this weekend in two dozen markets. The title joins another hefty slate of limited releases heading to theaters this weekend. Screen Media Films opens 7 Chinese Brothers with Jason Schwartzman, Stephen Root and Olympia Dukakis in several cities, while Queen Of Earth starring Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston and Patrick Fugit — the follow-up to Listen Up Philip from Alex Ross Perry (who also appears in 7 Chinese Brothers) — is opening in a day-and-date release. Perry’s feature took a page out of Joe Swanberg’s Happy Christmas in its production and release trajectory. Oscilloscope is opening Brazil’s The Second Mother, hoping to ride some recent successes that have come out of South America, and Epic Pictures Releasing is rolling out Turbo Kid in about 50 theaters.
Also opening in limited release this weekend are Cinema Slate’s Brazilian documentary I Touched All Your Stuff in New York and Los Angeles as well as Well Go USA’s Memories Of The Sword, Strand Releasing’s Drown and PBS Distribution’s docu The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution, which will have a two-week engagement at New York’s Film Forum.
Z For Zachariah
Director: Craig Zobel
Writers: Nissar Modi (screenplay), Robert C. O’Brien (novel)
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie, Chris Pine
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Lionsgate financed Z For Zachariah through its Grindstone division. Based on Robert C. O’Brien’s post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, which was published posthumously, the film revolves around a trio who come together following a mysterious global disaster that spares only a small lush valley. There, a young woman (Margot Robbie) who believes she is the last human on Earth meets John (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a dying scientist searching for survivors. Their relationship becomes tenuous when another survivor (Chris Pine) appears, and as the two men compete for her affections, their primal urges begin to reveal their true nature. Rich with themes of envy, hatred and desire. The story has been described as a twist on the Garden of Eden.
“Once we saw it, we felt it had some potential and took it to Sundance, where it played in competition and received buzz,” said Roadside Attractions Co-president Howard Cohen. “Its audience is primarily cinephile but also has a sci-fi following.” During a recent conversation at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Zobel noted that he was attracted to the idea of “being left alone on Earth.” Screenwriter Nissar Modi began the Z For Zachariah journey a decade ago before it went into production, spending a chunk of that time acquiring rights. During that time, Modi departed a bit from the novel and added a third character.
The script eventually made it onto the Black List. Tobey Maguire’s production company, Material Pictures, optioned the script and eventually gave it to Craig Zobel about two years ago. Ejiofor committed to starring in the indie on the heels of his commitment to 12 Years A Slave.
Roadside Attractions opens Z For Zachariah on 24 screens in 19 markets as well as day-and-date on VOD.
7 Chinese Brothers
Director-writer: Bob Byington
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Stephen Root, Olympia Dukakis, Jonathan Togo, Alex Ross Perry, Alex Karpovsky, Bob Byington
Distributor: Screen Media Films
Writer-director-actor Bob Byington wrote the script for 7 Chinese Brothers and later had some false starts, only to return to the back burner. After Byington met Jason Schwartzman at the Cinefamily Theater in Los Angeles two years ago, the project found new momentum.
Schwartzman stars as Larry, an inebriated sad sack who rides a tide of booze onto the shores of an undiscriminating Quick-Lube. The only bright spot probably is his boss, Lupe (Eleanor Pienta). The question is whether Larry can keep it together long enough to win the girl, provide for his French bulldog (Schwartzman’s real-life pet Arrow), laze about with his friend Major (TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe) and do his cantankerous grandmother proud.
“[Schwartzman and I] met at Cinefamily back in spring 2013,” Byington said. “He read the script and said he wanted to play the main guy, so it got up and running pretty fast after that.” Athens-based production company Faliro House provided financing for the project. The company had been tracking the filmmaker since the 2008 SXSW premiere of his docu, RSO (Registered Sex Offender). “I think they started to track me after that,” said Byington. “That movie did well in Europe, so Faliro was interested in my next project.” Shooting took place over five weeks in Austin.
“We had a rehearsal process that was built into the schedule, and that turned out to be important,” said Byington. “Every director I know tends to be happy when they’re done shooting the movie, but then you can’t wait to do another one.” Shooting wrapped in March 2014, and the edit took the better part of a year, finishing in time for its SXSW Film Festival debut this past March. “Screen Media wanted the film and made an offer that was better than the rest of the others,” said Byington. “They seem to be getting more assertive about their product.”
The company will open 7 Chinese Brothers at IFC Center on Friday in New York with Schwartman, Dukakis and Byington taking part in Q&As. The film also opens this weekend in Houston, San Diego and Seattle. The title will head to nine additional markets September 4 including L.A., Chicago, Austin and Denver, with more cities added throughout September.
Queen Of Earth
Director-writer: Alex Ross Perry
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit, Kentucker Audley,
Distributor: IFC Films
Following the 2014 Sundance debut of his feature Listen Up Philip with Jason Schwartzman and Elisabeth Moss, filmmaker Alex Ross Perry initially had eyed putting together a similarly sized project as a follow-up. But after a chat with fellow filmmaker Joe Swanberg, he set his sights in a different direction. “I hung out with Joe during a screening of his film Happy Christmas, and he said, ‘Look, that takes so long to get going,'” recalled Perry. “He said that he gets comfortable doing projects that make sense at the moment and asked if I had any ideas that he could help to get off the ground [now].”
Perry had the idea of a woman sitting at a lake house in mind. The feature centers on Catherine (Moss), who entereds a particularly dark period in her life: Her father, a famous artist whose affairs she managed, has recently died, and then she’s dumped by her boyfriend James (Kentucker Audley). Looking to recuperate, Catherine heads out to her best friend Virginia’s (Katherine Waterston) lake house for some much-needed relaxation. But relaxation proves impossible to find as she is overcome with memories of time spent at the same house with James the year before. As Catherine reaches out to Virginia with attempts at connection, Virginia begins spending increasing amounts of time with a local love interest, Rich (Patrick Fugit), and fissures in the relationship between the two women begin to appear, sending Catherine into a downward spiral of delusion and madness.
“In early March, Joe and I were coincidentally out in L.A. for a few weeks and talked about it more,” said Perry. “After I got home, I finished a draft by early May and sent it to Joe and [Moss] because I knew by the time I was in the middle of writing it, I wanted her in it. Lizzie said yes within 24 hours. Mad Men was winding down at that point. I just needed to find the other six people.”
The scope of the film, one main location, allowed Perry to get the project off the ground through Swanberg’s Forager Film Company (he is a producer), which provided resources. The budget production mirrored the budget for Happy Christmas, Perry noted. The shoot (on Kodak Super 16mm film, no less) took place during the final two weeks of September last year in Carmel, NY. “There was nothing we needed to do with financing,” said Perry. “This film is idiosyncratic. I knew this wouldn’t be a movie I couldn’t pitch and have [people] go for it. I could just be free.”
Queen Of Earth shot in chronological order, and its contained perimeters gave the filmmaker and Moss plenty of latitude. “Forget about the script, I knew Lizzie would go with it,” said Perry. “The whole idea behind doing things smaller is there aren’t many things that can go wrong. You only need to keep two plates spinning — there aren’t many variables.” Perry worked with a crew of 12 and the days were spent at the lake house, waking in the morning to shoot and finishing at night. Perry used the same post facilities he used for Listen Up Philip, and the title debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival.
IFC Films caught Queen Of Earth at the Berlinale, where Joe Swanberg’s Forager Film Company served as the title’s de facto sales company. “Joe knows how to talk to these people and gets favorable terms,” said Perry. “I think a lot of the conversations about distribution started from there. He’s made enough movies to know how to do this.” IFC Films secured rights to the film last spring and will open the title in New York at IFC Center and Lincoln Center Friday in a day-and-date release. It will go to an additional half-dozen locations September 4, expanding to other locations throughout the month.
The Second Mother
Director-writer: Anna Muylaert
Cast: Regina Casé, Helena Albergaria, Michel Joelsas, Luis Miranda, Lourenço Mutarelli, Camila Márdila, Karine Teles, Theo Werneck
Oscilloscope caught Brazilian feature The Second Mother at the Sundance Film Festival this year at an industry screening that did not attract many of the usual buyers. The screening turned out to be a boon for Oscilloscope, which had a leg up. “There are these small, foreign gems at Sundance that go largely unnoticed because distributors are hyper-focused on covering the big, ‘buzzy’ premieres,” said Andrew Carlin, Oscilloscope’s Director of Theatrical Distribution.
The Second Mother centers on Val, a hard-working live-in housekeeper in Sao Paulo. Val is perfectly content to take care of one of her wealthy employers’ needs, from cooking and cleaning to being a surrogate mother to their teenage son, who she has raised since he was a toddler. But when Val’s estranged daughter Jessica suddenly shows up, the unspoken but intrinsic class barriers that exist within the home are thrown into disarray. Jessica is smart, confident and ambitious and refuses to accept the upstairs/downstairs dynamic, testing relationships and loyalties and forcing everyone to reconsider what family really means.
“There couldn’t have been more than 20 people there,”Carlin said about the film’s industry screening in Park City. “When the film ended, I looked around and was thinking, ‘Did everyone else see what I just saw?’ I mean, I was really blown away by it. Anna’s script is so smart and funny and layered — there just aren’t enough superlatives. And Regina Casé absolutely gives one of the best performances of the year.
He added, “When we walked away with the film out of Sundance, it almost felt like we’d stolen something.”
Carlin compares The Second Mother to fellow South American titles Wild Tales (SPC, $3.1M domestic cume) and Gloria (Roadside Attractions, $2.1M), for its audience appeal potential. “I think the success of those films has really shown that South American cinema is having a great moment right now, and art house audiences aren’t scared of it — they’ve embraced it,” said Carlin. “They’re adventurous and they really deserve a lot of credit. … Regina Casé is basically Brazil’s Oprah. The fact that she plays a maid for a wealthy family is a totally genius bit of ironic casting.”
The Second Mother is opening at home in Brazil and stateside this weekend. Oscilloscope will bow the feature at the Angelika and Paris theaters in New York as well as the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles. The distributor will add locations in the Bay Area in addition to the L.A. area Labor Day weekend. Added Carlin: “The film is nicely positioned, with the top 25 markets already set. I expect us to be in 50-plus markets by October.”
Directors-writers: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Kark Whissell
Cast: Munro Chambers, Laurence LeBoeuf, Michael Ironside
Distributor: Epic Pictures Releasing
Epic Pictures Group principals Patrick Ewald and Shaked Berenson met Montreal-based producer Anne-Marie Gélinas at a cocktail party during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, and she told them about Turbo Kid. The project dates back to October 2011, when producer Ant Timpson (ABCs Of Death) contacted the directors about expanding their short film T Is For Turbo into a feature. Timpson and producer Jason Eisener had pitched the project at the inaugural Fantasia Frontiere market in 2012. “They were looking for final piece of equity to trigger the production,” said Ewald. “Six or seven days later, they were rolling into production. We loved the script, even though it’s a left-of-center story.”
Turbo Kid begins decades after the apocalypse, in which the world is left in a permanent nuclear winter. A lonely young orphan called the Kid (Munro Chambers) roams the wasteland scavenging for comic books and paraphernalia from the ’80s. He trades knick-knacks with the dodgy barkeep Bagu (Romano Orzani) at the nearby trading post for fresh water, the most valuable commodity. After bumping into arm-wrestling champion Frederic (Aaron Jeffrey), the Kid sees a glimpse of the exciting world he’s been hiding from all these years. His routine existence is disrupted when he runs into the mysterious and very excitable Apple (Laurence Lebeouf). Just as Apple starts to bring the Kid out of his isolated world with unflappable humor and goofy behavior, their relationship is forever changed when she is kidnapped by a bounty hunter (Tyler Hall) working for Zeus (Michael Ironside), the sadistic and overly garrulous leader of the Wasteland.
“We don’t usually do something in just five days, but we liked the team, so it was the perfect [arrangement],” said Ewald. “The film also works on two levels. There’s the core fanboy audience and fans of graphic novelists and video gamers, but because it has this early ’80s [element], there’s a nostalgic part to it as well.”
Ewald and Berenson added that the title skews toward an older audience that is mixed male and female but appeals across generations. “We’re talking about an audience where both father and son will want to go see this,” added Ewald. “We’re finding it is appealing to a much wider audience.”
The feature will head out via Ewald and Berenson’s Epic Pictures Releasing, the distribution label for Epic Pictures Group. The label has been releasing films for two years, including 2013’s Big Ass Spider. “We have in-house bookers and a well-oiled machine,” said Ewald. “Turbo Kid is a perfect example of how an audience finds a movie. It launched at Sundance and received an award at SXSW and has been building a fan base from its festival run.”
Epic Pictures Releasing opens Turbo Kid nationally in about 50 theaters in a day-and-date rollout across all platforms (and DirecTV beginning Sunday). Added Ewald: “We’re not four-walling. We’re partnering with theaters, and we also have [exhibitors] coming to us to get this film. It’s independent and difficult, but we’re not paying to play. We’re in just about every major city across the U.S., and we have local ambassadors promoting the film locally.”