After a mostly busy fall packed with awards hopefuls and name casts, heavyweights in the specialty space are taking a slight reprieve this World Series weekend before anticipated titles including Spotlight, Brooklyn and Carol hit theaters in the coming weeks. More niche features are taking the opportunity to offer an alternative in a still mostly crowded market. Producer Abigail Disney is making her directorial debut with documentary The Armor Of Light, which had its premiere Tuesday at MoMA with Disney and subjects Rev. Rob Schenck and Lucy McBath in attendance. The film follows an evangelical minister and the mother of a teenage shooting victim who ask whether it is possible to be both pro-gun and pro-life. Music Box Films is opening Spain’s official selection for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration, Flowers, following a late-date pickup of the title when the company eyed some exhibition opportunities. Alchemy is opening Gaspar Noé’s Cannes title Love, targeting a younger audience with “event” screenings. Oscilloscope is launching 2014 Cannes Grand Jury Prize winner The Wonders, and Sundance pic The Royal Road will bow with a DIY release in New York.
Also opening in limited runs this weekend is Sony/Columbia’s Freaks Of Nature, Carter High from Play Now Enterprise, Cinema Slate and Fandor’s Hard Labor and the Orchard/Netflix’s Manson Family Vacation on demand.
The Armor Of Light
Director-writer: Abigail Disney
Co-director: Kathleen Hughes
Subjects: Reverend Rob Schenck, Lucy McBath
Distributor: Fork Films
The Armor of Light posterAbigail Disney has produced dozens of documentaries including Pray The Devil Back To Hell (2008), The Queen Of Versailles (2012) and Citizen Koch (2013). Her latest project motivated her to take the director’s chair because of a subject she finds “crucial.”
The Armor Of Light follows the journey of an evangelical minister trying to find the courage to preach about the growing toll of gun violence in America. The film tracks Rev. Rob Schenck, anti-abortion activist and fixture on the political far right, who breaks with orthodoxy by questioning whether being pro-gun is consistent with being pro-life. Schenck is shocked and perplexed by the reactions of his longtime friends and colleagues, who warn him away from this complex and politically explosive issue. Along the way, the reverend meets Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, a teenager who was shot dead in Florida and whose story has cast a spotlight on “Stand Your Ground” laws. McBath, also a Christian, decides to work with Schenck even though she is pro-choice. She is on a difficult journey of her own, trying to make sense of her devastating loss while using her grief to effect some kind of viable and effective political action.
“It’s an issue I’ve cared about my adult life — not just guns but violence in general in American life,” said Disney, granddaughter of Roy O. Disney, co-founder of the entertainment company bearing the family name. “I saw the biggest possibility were among the people who had this strong belief in the sanctity of life but who also are followers of the NRA, and those people were white evangelical Christians. I went looking for someone who would talk to me, and Rob was the first person who would do this.”
Through contacts within the Disney organization, the filmmaker found “some people” on the other end of the political divide willing to talk about the issue, but it was through a friend who works at a theological seminary that she met her main subject. “My friend is a liberal, but she met Reverend Schenck at an interfaith conference. From what I understand, he was also in a period of his own change. We had an initial conversation, and after five weeks of praying and thinking, he told me he’d go along with [the project]. … It could be serendipity that we met or, if you’re more faithful, maybe something different. … I grew up in a filmmaking family, and it was something I wanted to try and had it in me. This comes from deep within me.”
Financing came via Disney’s company Fork Films, which also will release Armor Of Light. The company is releasing the film Friday in more 20 cities including New York at the AMC Empire 25 and Landmark Sunshine as well as the ArcLight Hollywood and Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena.
Flowers
Directors-writers: Jon Garaño, Jose Mari Goenaga
Writer: Aitor Arregi
Cast: Nagore Aranburu, Itziar Aizpuru, Josean Bengoetxea, Itziar Ituño
Distributor: Music Box Films
Flowers_posterSpain’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar consideration, Flowers debuted at home at the San Sebastian International Film Festival last year, traveling the fest circuit before its U.S. bow at the Seattle International Film Festival in the spring. The Basque-language title had a one-week run at the Coral Gables Art Cinema in Miami, grossing a decent $8K and capturing the attention of Music Box Films, which picked it up after this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
The feature follows Ane, who lives a quiet, unfulfilled life trapped in a seemingly loveless marriage until she suddenly starts to receive bouquets of flowers anonymously, once a week. Meanwhile, Tere wants nothing more than a grandchild, but her only son Beñat and his wife Lourdes have other plans. A sudden, tragic event jolts all of their lives into a new reality, and flowers start to appear anonymously once again — but this time, instead of passion, they represent an emotional memory.

“It was under the radar, though it won an award in Palm Springs,” said Music Box’s Ed Arentz. “We weren’t sure if we’d have room in our slate [but] found an opportunity to get another film at the Paris [in New York] and the Royal [in Los Angeles] this fall. Then it became Spain’s official selection, so we felt we had a chance in that race as well.”

Music Box is targeting the traditional older female audience for Flowers, which Arentz said is an “acting showcase” that’s “beautifully directed.” He said the film does not have a plethora of obvious affinity groups to tap to attract audiences aside from the Spanish consulate and the Cervantes Institute, but the company hopes that some of the momentum the title saw this summer in Miami will translate to this weekend’s bow at the Paris theater in NYC.

“It’s a quiet movie we don’t see that much of, so we’re hoping there’s an audience that appreciates that kind of subtly,” said Arentz. “Our hope is the reviews and box office from the Paris will tip the film over to exhibitors who are sitting on the fence. We’re guardedly optimistic.”

Flowers will open November 6 in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., before heading to the Royal on November 27. Added Arentz: “It’s a late entry into the fall release schedule. Under ideal circumstances, it will become nominated and play into the spring.”

Love
Director-writer: Gaspar Noé
Cast: Karl Glusman, Aomi Muyock, Klara Kristin, Ugo Fox, Benoît Debie
Distributor: Alchemy
love posterAlchemy picked up Argentine filmmaker Gaspar Noé’s Love along with upcoming titles The Lobster and Mia Madre out of this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The film centers on Murphy, an American living in Paris who enters a sexually and emotionally charged relationship with the unstable Electra. Unaware of the effect it will have on their relationship, they invite their pretty neighbor into their bed.
“It was the first one we acquired [in Cannes]. We trusted Gaspar and [sales company] Wild Bunch on this,” said Alchemy SVP Marketing Vincent Scordino. “We see it as an event film that stands out even among the [biggest] specialty films of the year. We think it’s not like anything people have seen before. It’s an honest film about the excesses and extremes that characterize young love.”
Alchemy is targeting the younger filmgoer for Love, going “aggressively” to social media and partnering with various groups to get the word out ahead of this weekend’s theatrical bow. “We did a trailer premiere with Vice and have been doing screenings at the ACE Hotel and the American Cinematheque,” said Scordino. “We’re highlighting this as an ‘event’ film, and in many cases, Gaspar will be in attendance. [Star] Aomi Muyock will also be traveling with him. We think we’ll get a lot of traction with cinephiles and college-aged kids. There are many great specialty films, but most skew older. Love skews much younger.”
Alchemy will open the at the Angelika and Village East theaters in New York. It will bow in additional cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia before heading to the top 20 markets the following week. Love also will become available digitally next week.
The Wonders
Director-writer: Alice Rohrwacher
Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Maria Alexandra Lungu, Sam Louwyck, Sabine Timoteo, Agnese Graziani, Monica Bellucci
Distributor: Oscilloscope
The Wonders posterThe Wonders took the Grand Prix at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and proceeded to play festivals worldwide including the U.S., but it took some time before it found a home for theatrical distribution here.
The drama centers on a family of beekeepers living in stark isolation in the Tuscan countryside. The dynamic of their overcrowded household is disrupted by the simultaneous arrival of a silently troubled teenage boy taken in as a farmhand and a reality TV show intent on showcasing the family. Both intrusions are of particular interest to the eldest daughter, Gelsomina, who is struggling to find her footing in the world, and Rohrwacher conveys her adolescent sense of wonder and confusion with graceful naturalism.
“It’s difficult to discern why a film sits in the marketplace for a long time,” said Oscilloscope exec Andrew Carlin. “The fact that [The Wonders] hadn’t found a home in the U.S. and being of this caliber was remarkable to us. … If movies don’t get sold at [festivals like] Toronto, they sit around, and then it becomes this illogical speculation that they’re tainted in some way, which is completely not true. So we wait on some of these films we like and see if they’re around [later].” Carlin added that current foreign-language awards heavyweight Son Of Saul (which Sony Classics will roll out beginning December 18) won the Grand Prix in Cannes this year.
“The fall can be a minefield when choosing a release date, and audiences are inundated with options,” said Carlin. “I think over the past month, we’ve seen a number of the prestige titles fail to connect, so I think it gives us a great opportunity to grab screens in the top markets and offer audiences something ‘wonderful’ — no pun intended.” Oscilloscope is targeting art house and Italian audiences ahead of its bow, exclusively at Lincoln Plaza in New York. L.A. and the majority of the top 10 markets will be added Thanksgiving weekend.
The Royal Road
Director-writer: Jenni Olson
Distributor: Self-distributed
The Royal Road posterAfter a lengthy festival run including its debut at Sundance in January and screenings at the Seattle, San Francisco and Nashville film festivals, veteran filmmaker Jenni Olson’s The Royal Road will begin a theatrical run in New York at the Anthology Film Archives this weekend.

The film offers a primer on the Spanish colonization of California and the Mexican-American War alongside intimate reflections on “nostalgia, butch identity, the pursuit of unavailable women and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo” — all against a contemplative backdrop of 16mm urban California landscapes and featuring a voice-over cameo by Tony Kushner. California urban landscapes serve as the framework for the film’s lyrically written voice-over, which combines extensive historical research with a stream-of-consciousness personal monologue and relates these seemingly disparate stories from an intimate, colloquial perspective to tell a one-of-a-kind California tale.

“I’ve been making these kind of 16mm urban landscape films since my first short in 1997,” said Olson, who began work on The Royal Road seven years ago. “I have a unique working method and reservoir of this landscape footage. I then write voice-over scripts to accompany the images.” California’s historic El Camino Real (Spanish for “the royal road”), which marked the path leading to the missions established by Junipero Serra during the colonial era, serves as “the device,” as Olson describes it, for the feature’s story. “It’s a minimalist plot of me in San Francisco pining for this woman in Los Angeles,” said Olson. “I follow the royal road to her door. … And I always say living in San Francisco is like living on the set of Vertigo, so that also became an integral component of the script.”

Olson received financial support for the project through various Bay Area organizations including the San Francisco Film Society in addition to a Kickstarter campaign that raised $24K (with a goal of $20K). The filmmaker said the project’s budget came in at $75K, sans any payment to the director herself. The Royal Road debuted at Sundance, which Olson has attended with previous titles, though this time around, she decided to strategize differently.

“The significant difference for me [at Sundance] this time was to hire a publicist, and it made a huge difference in how the film was positioned,” said Olson, who worked with Matt Johnstone Publicity at the festival. “It got written about a lot with some amazing reviews.” Kevin Iwashina’s Preferred Content represented the title, which, she added, gave the title cachet out of Sundance even if it wasn’t ultimately acquired there. “It’s a small, noncommercial film,” said Olson. “They didn’t get any takers, but it was nice getting it out there, and I think it makes people take it more seriously.” Olson said that she’s currently in “serious negotiation” for a VOD/DVD release with a distributor, and it will continue to other festivals and special runs in the coming weeks.

“It is an art film,” added Olson. “I wasn’t thinking of the market when making it, but I’m grateful for places like Fandor and Mubi. I’d imagine it will reach an audience that is a ‘special’ audience of people interested in much more ambitious viewing of films that are genuinely not commercial.”