Following up his 2013 kidnap thriller Prisoners, filmmaker Denis Villeneuve forays into drug cartel territory with Sicario, which opens in theaters just days after making its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The Lionsgate release, starring Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro And Josh Brolin, will have a limited bow in New York and L.A., eventually going wide in early October. The film should be at the forefront of this weekend’s crowded space of new limited release titles, typical for fall. Docs are also rolling out this week, including The Vladar Company’s Jeremy Scott: The People’s Designer, just in time for New York’s Fashion Week as well as Gravitas and Submarine Deluxe’s Peace Officer, which bowed Wednesday. Veteran French filmmaker François Ozon returns to this side of the Atlantic with Cohen Media Group’s The New Girlfriend, and Strand heads out with The Cut by German-Turkish filmmaker Fatih Akin, coinciding with the centenary of the Armenian genocide.

Also in theaters are Bleecker Street’s Pawn Sacrifice, which opened Wednesday, Cinedigm’s War Pigs and Cinema Libre’s Olivados. Additionally, Abramorama is opening Sundance ’15 doc Racing Extinction in New York, L.A. and other cities.

Sicario
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan
Distributor: Lionsgate

Sicario posterQuébécois filmmaker Denis Villeneuve has traversed the indie circuit and even Hollywood the past five years in the U.S., and is making his return to theaters stateside with an emotional-thriller featuring a cast of heavy-hitters this weekend. Cannes and Toronto 2014 feature, Sicario (which in Mexico, means ‘hit-man’) is set in the lawless border area stretching between the U.S. and Mexico. In the film, Emily Blunt plays an idealistic FBI agent, who is enlisted by an elite government task force official [Josh Brolin] to aid in the escalating war against drugs. Led by an enigmatic consultant with a questionable past [Benicio Del Toro], the team sets out on a clandestine journey forcing Kate to question everything that she believes in order to survive.

A Texas native, writer Taylor Sheridan developed the story after returning to the border area in northern Mexico he knew as a youth. Black Label financed the project, which was also produced by Thunder Road. Sicario continues Villeneuve’s penchant for thrillers tackling complex moral dilemmas such as the Oscar-nominated Incendies (which Sony Classics released in April, 2011 grossing just over $2M in the U.S.) and Warner Bros’ 2013 action-thriller Prisoners, which topped $61M domestically.

Given the subject matter, Lionsgate is targeting an adult audience, and in particular males, focusing in particular on fall sports to get the word out to action fans. The company is also doing a campaign focusing on the Hispanic audience with media promotions on Univision, Telemundo and others. It also is going into online gaming with ‘Cartel Ciphers,’ via Twitter, which the distributor says allows fans to “play as undercover agents through three chapters of original story, each concluding with an exclusive featurette video for the film.”

Lionsgate will release Sicario at six locations in New York and Los Angeles on Friday. The film will have a limited expansion in top markets to approximately 40 locations on Friday, September 25 before opening wide in North America on Friday, October 2.

Jeremy Scott: The People’s Designer
Director: Vlad Yudin
Subjects: Jeremy Scott, Devon Aoki, Eva Chen, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Paris Hilton, Jared Leto, Kelly Osbourne, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Eric West
Distributor: The Vladar Company

Jeremy Scott The People’s Designer posterDirector Vlad Yudin and producer Edwin Meija began filming designer Jeremy Scott as he began his ascent in the fashion world landing him at the apex of pop culture, though his aesthetics have been polarizing. Jeremy Scott: The People’s Designer tells the story of a misunderstood child from rural Missouri who, despite rejection and adversity, holds true to his dreams and succeeds in an iconic collaboration with Adidas Originals and revitalization of the major Italian fashion house, Moschino, as their third Creative Director. Nevertheless, Scott is portrayed as an outlier in the fashion world. The doc tells of his struggle to gain acceptance and overcome immense challenges to reach his goals. Along the way, the feature also gives viewers a look at Jeremy’s worldview beyond clothing, including his goals for the future, inspirations, fears and opinions about culture.

“He grew up on a farm outside Kansas City, was bullied in high school, rejected from F.I.T. and was sleeping on the streets of Paris,” said producer Edwin Meija who is also a partner in The Vladar Company, which will release the title this weekend. “Vlad [Yudin] and I reached out to Jeremy directly and talked to him over a few months about two years ago. We liked his vision. This is an American designer who put popcorn chip designs on models and made it look refreshing. He’s not your typical couture designer, but there’s a lot of empathy in his story.”

Valentino: The Last Emperor producer Matt Kapp joined the project at the beginning stages. Yudin and Meija’s Vladar Company financed the film as it did for its 2013 film, Generation Iron ($850K domestic gross), which Yudin also directed.

“The Vladar Company focuses on niche content,” said Meija. “We’re not trying to compete with big studios in terms of the stories we put up on the screen…Generation Iron focused on the fitness crowd and then it crossed over. Here we have an underdog like Jeremy Scott that overcomes obstacles. He has a fan base and this is a story for them. Vladar prides on stories that can appeal to niche audiences that we know we can market to. We know how to target those audiences [better] than most studios do.”

Media said the distribution label of their company has its own relationships with various exhibitors including AMC, Landmark and others. The Vladar Company will open Jeremy Scott: The People’s Designer in a dozen locations Friday in major markets including New York, Miami, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Dallas, San Francisco, Orange County, Kansas City and Toronto.

Peace Officer
Directors-writers: Brad Barber, Scott Christopherson
Writers: David Lawrence, Renny McCauley
Subject: William “Dub” Lawrence
Distributors: Gravitas Ventures, Submarine Deluxe

Peace Officer posterPeace Officer’s Utah-based filmmakers had sent their doc to sales company Submarine for sales representation and had asked to meet with the company in Park City on the first day of the Sundance Film Festival this past January. The timing was a challenge, but momentum was on their side.

“[It was] an inopportune time to say the least,” said Submarine’s Dan Braun. “I told one of our acquisitions people, Matt Burke who had liked the film that I couldn’t meet with them even though I was intrigued by the title and the subject. He informed me that they were already 30 minutes away and we would have to cancel them after they had driven 3 hours. I put everything aside and watched the first 30 minutes of the film. I found it astonishingly powerful and incredibly well made, well paced and it had a real emotional punch to it. I knew I was going to sign the film even before the filmmakers arrived.”

Peace Officer takes a look at the “increasingly militarized state of American police as told through the story of ‘Dub’ Lawrence, a former sheriff who established and trained his rural state’s first SWAT team only to see that same unit kill his son-in-law in a controversial standoff 30 years later. Driven by an obsessed sense of mission, Dub uses his own investigation skills to uncover the truth in this and other recent officer-involved shootings in his community.

“The film plays like a dramatic feature and has already been compared to The Thin Blue Line, and has won many festival awards [including SXSW], so we strongly believe that word of mouth will drive audiences of all adult ages to the film,” said Braun. “The core audience is anyone who cares about abuses of the constitution, the militarization of the police and civil rights abuses by the Police. We believe that goes across a wide age range from college students to people of a certain age that came up through the revolutionary times of the ‘60s and ‘70s. This may sound like anti police film — it is not.”

Braun added that ahead of the film’s release this weekend, part of the focus has been on grassroots outreach with advocacy groups including NACOLE (National Association of Civilian Law Enforcement), NPAP (National Police Accountability Project), CUPR (Communities United For Police reform) Peaceful Streets, Policing the Police, CopWatch, the Hinckley Institute, Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, Charles Koch Institute, Peaceful Streets and Police Accountability Conference.

“We have the support of the ACLU who, along with NACOLE will be joining us for Q&As in different markets,” said Braun. “We are also doing strong print buys and radio in NY and LA and in week 2 and 3 markets. We also held a premiere and influencer screening earlier this week at MOMA, which was hosted by constitutional lawyer David Boies and attended by many business leaders and policy makers…”

Submarine Deluxe and Gravitas have teamed up on releasing titles in the past and will do the same for Peace Officer. The distributors will give the film a full 90-day theatrical window and won’t be on-demand until December. Peace Officer will open at IFC Center in New York on Wednesday and will open the Quart on Friday and will head to San Francisco and Salt Lake City in two weeks, with other markets including Washington, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans and others set for the following week. The title is currently booked in 30 markets. Added Braun: “We are qualifying the film for Academy consideration and wanted to get in the race early before the craziness of the full fall season hit. This fall feels like it will be more crowded than ever so we wanted to go earlier and mid-September felt right. We believe the film needs a long lead time to sink in and build word of mouth and grass roots support.”

The New Girlfriend
Director-writer: François Ozon
Writer: Ruth Rendell (novel)
Cast: Romain Duris, Anaïs Demoustier, Raphaël Personnaz
Distributor: Cohen Media Group

The New Girlfriend posterCohen Media Group released French filmmaker François Ozon’s In The House (2013, nearly $390K) and wanted to continue the relationship after seeing The New Girlfriend at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.

The New Girlfriend centers on Claire and her love affair with a mysterious stranger. After mourning the loss of Laura, Claire comes across Laura’s husband David dressed head-to-toe in his wife’s clothes. Unsure whether his new guise is the result of foul play, she threatens to reveal David to Laura’s family. But the more time she spends with him, the more Claire becomes seduced by his beautiful new incarnation. As the two become inseparable, Claire wonders whether she is falling for David’s alter ego, or perhaps a part of Laura’s resurrected soul.

“The primary target audience is going to be fans who know and admire Ozon’s work as well as French film lovers,” noted Cohen Media Group president Daniel Battsek. “With this film, we have been exploring outreach to both a younger audience and the LGBT community. Our marketing materials and positioning reflect the quality of the film but also play up the comedy and Hitchcockian suspense aspects of the film.” The company has taken the title across the country to various regional and LGBT festivals to build word of mouth.

Cohen Media Group believes a mid-September release for The New Girlfriend will give it an opportunity to shine before the full weight of the season potentially crowds out the field. “We wanted to wait until we could get access to the best screens not only in New York and LA, but in other key markets across the country,” added Battsek. “There haven’t been a lot of movies appropriate for our audience during the summer and the big fall releases are still a few weeks away, so we felt The New Girlfriend would fit nicely into this time period.”

Cohen Media Group will open the feature at the Landmark in Los Angeles as well as three theaters in New York including Lincoln Plaza, The Sunshine and Chelsea Bow-Tie Cinemas this weekend. The title will head to 13 theaters in 7 major markets nationwide including San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Seattle and continue to expand over the next several weeks.

The Cut
Director-writer: Fatih Akin
Writer: Mardik Martin
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Simon Abkarian, Makram Khoury, Hindi Zahra
Distributor: Strand Releasing

The Cut posterSet against the backdrop of the Armenian genocide, Strand co-heads Marcus Hu and Jon Gerrans saw German-Turkish director Fatih Akin’s The Cut at a screening in last year’s Toronto following its premiere in Venice. The Culver City-based distributor had handled a number of Akin’s previous releases including the two films that precede The Cut as part of his Love, Death and the Devil trilogy.

“We’ve had a long-term relationship with Fatih Akin and handled the previous two films in this trilogy,” said Hu. “Fatih has been a friend and colleague of ours since we worked on Head On and subsequently on Edge Of Heaven and his two documentaries, Crossing The Bridge and Polluting Paradise.”

The film begins in 1915 on the night the Turkish police round up all the Armenian men in the city, including the young blacksmith, Nazaret Manoogian, who is separated from his family. Years later, after managing to survive the horrors of the genocide, he hears that his two daughters are also still alive. He becomes fixated on the idea of finding them and sets off to track them down. His search takes him from the Mesopotamian deserts and Havana to the barren and desolate prairies of North Dakota. On this odyssey, he encounters a range of very different people: “angelic and kind-hearted characters, but also the devil incarnate.”

The Cut comes on the centenary of the Armenian genocide, which has long been a taboo topic in Turkey, though the film, which reportedly had a $20M budget, had a high-profile debut in the country last December. The film was shot in Jordan, Cuba, Canada, Malta and Germany and was co-written by frequent Martin Scorsese scribe, Mardik Martin. Strand will open The Cut in New York and L.A. this weekend and will continue to roll out via a platform release over the next few weeks.