A pair of Sundance 2015 titles — The Film Arcade’s James White and Magnolia’s Entertainment — take their theatrical bows amidst the Oscar-vying fray this weekend. Nominated for two Gotham Awards, writer-director Josh Mond’s James White stars Christopher Abbott and Cynthia Nixon in a story born out of personal circumstances. John C. Reilly co-stars in Entertainment, which features Gregg Turkington as a broken comedian who tours a string of third-rate California desert venues while attempting to connect with his estranged daughter. Rialto Pictures will open a limited run of the documentary Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words just months after what would have been the three-time Oscar winner’s 100th birthday. The feature is guided by footage filmed by Bergman herself. Anthony Mackie and Jennifer Connelly star in Screen Media Films’ Shelter, the feature directorial debut by Paul Bettany, which is opening day-and-date. FilmRise also is launching docu Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans day-and-date, while Cinema Slate is teaming with Fandor on Brazilian title Casa Grande in a limited theatrical run along with on-demand.
Broad Green opens the docu Song Of Lahore for an Oscar-qualifying limited run this weekend. Other Friday limited bows include Saban Films’ Man Up in L.A. and New York before going on-demand November 20 and Lionsgate Premiere’s Heist. Abramorama’s Rock In The Red Zone and FIP’s Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, openThursday, the latter in 287 theaters — a record number for a Bollywood title in North America.
Director-writer: Josh Mond
Cast: Christopher Abbott, Cynthia Nixon, Scott Mescudi, Ron Livingston, Makenzie Leigh, David Call, David Cale
Distributor: The Film Arcade
Josh Mond began writing the script for James White after losing his mother to cancer. The feature reflects that challenging period for the writer-director. The story centers on James White (Christopher Abbott), a troubled twentysomething trying to stay afloat in frenzied New York City. He retreats further into a self-destructive, hedonistic lifestyle, but as his mother (Cynthia Nixon) battles a serious illness, James is forced to take control of his life. As the pressure on him mounts, James must find new reserves of strength or risk imploding completely. Mond said the story is “not autobiographical” but contains a lot of “personal elements.”
“I committed to this in 2011 when [my mother] passed away,” said Mondm, who produced 2011 indie hit Martha Marcy May Marlene and 2012 feature Simon Killer. “My [filmmaking] partners were heavily involved in writing and cutting down [the script]. I also asked Chris [Abbott] to be a part of the writing process.” A friend of Mond’s, Abbott boarded the project early on as its male lead. The pair then met with Nixon, who also joined the project to star opposite Abbott.
Cinematographer Mátyás Erdély — who is also getting attention for his work on the upcoming Son Of Saul — took on DP duties as Mond’s producers, with whom he has worked on previous projects, raised money through private investors. “We shot for 18 days in New York and a couple days in Mexico,” said Mond. “It was very intense considering the subject matter, but that was fitting. Post was a huge learning experience. My editor, Matthew Hannam, who cut Enemy (2013) and I didn’t know each other going in, but we’re brothers now.” Post was aided financially through a Kickstarter campaign.
James White premiered at Sundance this year. Said Mond about the experience: “Sundance was surreal. I was so nervous. My heart was beating so fast during the screening, I could barely hear anything. The audiences were very vocal in their reaction to the film. It was amazing to premiere it there.” The Film Arcade picked up the title in the spring. “They were aggressive in expressing their love of the film and wanted it to be a collaborative process,” added Mond, who said the lead-up to this weekend’s rollout was buoyed by the help of New York-based publicity execs Adam Kersh and Ryan Werner.
“The film is one of the strongest indie films of the year,” said the Film Arcade’s Andy Bohn. “Our initial focus is on turning out the traditional art house audience. However, the mother-son relationship in the film is incredibly relatable, so we believe a more mainstream audience will be drawn in by strong word-of-mouth and reviews.” The company is emphasizing Abbott’s and Nixon’s performances with backing from critical reviews as the title heads into awards season.
“We’re thrilled the film was nominated for two Gotham Awards and hope there are more to come,” added Bohn. The Film Arcade will bow James White at the Landmark Sunshine in New York on Friday and ArcLight Hollywood on November 20. Said Bohn: “We’ll add theaters and expand to other markets in the following weeks. We’re going to roll the film out slowly to allow word-of-mouth to build.”
Director-writer: Rick Alverson
Writers: Gregg Turkington, Tim Heidecker
Cast: Gregg Turkington, Tye Sheridan, John C. Reilly, Annabella Lwin, Mike Hickey, Michael Cera, Kevin Guthrie, Sergio Estrada
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Producer Ryan Zacarius and filmmaker Rick Alverson almost worked on a different project together, but after that fell through, they began talking some time later about what would become Entertainment. “Rick pitched this idea, and I loved his work,” said Zacarius. “He had this idea of painting it as a picture of being on the road. A lot of [the story] had been taken from his own experience of being on the road, but we didn’t initially thing of it as being a comedy.”
The film follows an aging comedian who tours the California desert, lost in a cycle of third-rate venues, novelty tourist attractions and vain attempts to reach his estranged daughter. By day, he slogs through the barren landscape, inadvertently alienating every acquaintance. At night, he seeks solace in the animation of his onstage persona. Fueled by the promise of a lucrative Hollywood engagement and the possibility of rekindling a relationship with his daughter, he trudges through a series of increasingly surreal and volatile encounters.
The filmmaking team initially began developing Entertainment with an eye to shoot at the end of 2013, but they stepped back for a time and scouted around the desert areas of California. “We had an idea of the route we wanted to take with the movie, so we spent the spring raising the rest of the money — eventually finding funds through a collection of private equity,” said Zacarius. John C. Reilly already was committed to the project through his friend Gregg Turkington, who co-wrote and stars in Entertainment.
“We had thought of other actors for [what would eventually be] Tye Sheridan’s character, but someone suggested him through a connection with David Gordon Green,” said Zacarius. “At first the character was going to be older.” In addition to the title’s professional actors, the filmmaking team held casting sessions in Bakersfield for nonprofessionals. Preproduction began in early summer, with the shoot taking place in the hot California desert towns in July and early August.
“Like normal productions, there are normal stresses with scheduling,” said Zacarius. “We had a purposely small crew. We shot a few days in Bakersfield and a few days in Mojave. We would preproduce our next day, so in a way, it was refined as we moving ahead. The heat was the main issue. Sometimes, it would determine where the camera would go to avoid it overheating.”
The project quickly went into post in order to meet an extended Sundance deadline. Early distribution talks with Magnolia had begun back in 2013, though the company eventually picked up Entertainment shortly after the festival. Magnolia is opening the movie at the Film Society and Sunshine theaters in New York as well as the Carlton in Toronto before heading to L.A., the Denver Film Society, Chicago Music Box and Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum beginning November 20. The company will add more cities well into December. Some on-demand platforms also begin this weekend.
Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words
Director-writer: Stig Björkman
Writers: Dominika Daubenbüchel, Stina Gardell
Subjects: Ingrid Bergman, Pia Lindström, Isabella Rossellini, Roberto Rossellini, Ingrid Rossellini, Liv Ullmann, Sigourney Weaver
Distributor: Rialto Pictures
Coming to theaters just months after the 100th anniversary of her birth, Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words includes a treasure-trove of footage shot by the multi-Oscar-winning actress herself both in the U.S. and in Europe through various stages of her life.
During a dinner at the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival, director Stig Björkman’s met Bergman’s daughter, actress Isabella Rossellini, who was serving as the president of the jury that year. “We were having a conversation, and she said to me, ‘Should we make a movie about Mother?'” Björkman recalled at a screening of the film this week at Scandinavia House in New York. “That’s really how it started — by this chance meeting.”
Through never-before-seen private footage, notes, letters, diaries and interviews with her children, the documentary presents a personal portrait and captivating look behind the scenes of the celebrated life of a young Swedish girl who became one of the most recognizable actresses of American and world cinema and won three Academy Awards among seven nominations.
Initially, the documentary was set to be a linear biopic, but changes to its approach evolved. Part way into developing the project, Björkman noticed many stills of Bergman included the actress holding a camera, which struck his curiosity. “There are all these still photos of Ingrid with a movie camera in her hands,” said Björkman. “So I thought she must have filmed home movies when she was in America, and [her eldest daughter] Pia Lindström said they were all in the closet. I asked if I could see them.” Said Lindström at the NYC screening of the film, “He was the only person to ever ask about them.”
Sales company Pretty Pictures approached distributor Rialto Pictures during the summer about taking on the U.S. release, following its Cannes debut. New releases typically aren’t in the distributor’s wheelhouse. “We rarely do new releases, but we looked at the film and felt it was a good fit,” said Rialto’s Eric Di Bernardo, whose company focuses on releases of restored classics. “It is a new film, but it still has the tie-in to classical history, so we decided to go for it.” Rialto initially had thought of releasing Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words on her centennial birthday — Bergman died of breast cancer on her 67th birthday, August 29, 1982 — but then realized the film had already been accepted into the New York Film Festival in early fall, so the release was delayed.
“After NYFF, of course, then leads into the Lion’s Den of fall, and we didn’t want it to get lost,” said Di Bernardo. “There was a desire to make it eligible for Academy Award consideration, so we’ve decided to open it at Lincoln Plaza in New York exclusively this weekend followed by an L.A. [run] in December. That way, we’ll stay out of the fray in most of the country until early 2016.” Rialto also will give the docu a short run in Washington, D.C., later this month tied to Bergman tributes the Swedish embassy has been hosting in the U.S. capital. Lindström and Björkman will take part in audience Q&As opening night Friday at Lincoln Plaza.
Director-writer: Paul Bettany
Cast: Anthony Mackie, Jennifer Connelly, Rob Morgan, Bruce Altman, Kevin Geer, Kevin Hoffman, Teddy Cañez
Distributor: Screen Media Films
Shelter is the directorial debut for UK-born actor Paul Bettany. Producer Daniel Wagner first saw the script for the project after his producing partner Paul Ogden Barnum gave it to him for a read. Barnum and Bettany had worked together on 2011’s Margin Call. “We spoke for a couple hours the next day, and I was blown away by his vision,” said Wagner, referring to his initial conversation with Bettany two years ago. “Being a first time director, he sold me on his ability to execute the film the way it should be done.”
In the feature, Hannah (Jennifer Connelly) and Tahir (Anthony Mackie) fall in love while homeless on the streets of New York. The film explores how they found themselves there and “realize they need each other to build a future.”
“I wrote a check and then [later] I brought in other financial partners,” said Wagner. “Jennifer Connelly was always on board the film, but being married to Paul helps. We had a shortlist for who would play Tahir, and Anthony was on that list. We, of course, got him, but it was more a matter of fitting it into his schedule. We did bend over backward a bit to make it happen.”
With a budget under $5 million, Shelter was shot in late summer in New York City. Wagner said their budget made it a challenge to shoot in the city, but nevertheless it went off smoothly. The feature debuted at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. UTA repped Shelter for a distributor, which eventually went to Screen Media Films. “Screen Media had a vision of how to release that we thought was good for the movie,” said Wagner. “They’ve done a lot of PR, screenings and generally getting the film in front of people prerelease. Everybody talks a good game, but they actually showed up.”
The company will open Shelter day-and-date Friday, including the Empire 25 in New York and Fine Arts in Los Angeles as well as locations in Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, Miami and West Palm Beach, FL.
Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans
Directors: Gabriel Clarke, John McKenna
Subjects: Steve McQueen, Chad McQueen, Neile Adams, John Sturges
In 1970, Steve McQueen was hot off classics The Thomas Crown Affair and Bullitt. Then, the racing fanatic began production of his passion project, Le Mans, centered on the 24-hour car race in France. But the infamously troubled production was plagued with financial troubles, on-set rivalries and the star’s own personal issues. Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans interweaves newly discovered footage and McQueen’s private recordings with original interviews to reveal the true story of how this cinema legend would risk everything in pursuit of his dream.
“We were keeping our eyes on [the documentary] ahead of Cannes through Content Media,” said Jack Fisher, president of FilmRise. “Steve McQueen is, of course, very familiar to people. His character is so filled with passion and goes beyond that to obsession.” Beyond McQueen fans, FilmRise is hoping to tap the racing crowd as the title heads into a limited release this weekend. Fisher said racing organizations are actually reaching out to the company to see the film.
“We think it has a shot at an Academy Award nomination,” said Fisher. “We’re opening in L.A. (NoHo 7) and New York (Village East) for qualifying runs this weekend, and depending on how well it goes, we’ll see about holdovers and expansion. FilmRise is involved with just about every platform out there. We want to extend it as much as we can. We’ll know more about [what we’ll do with the release] November 13.”
Director-writer: Fellipe Barbosa
Writer: Karen Sztajnberg
Cast: Thales Cavalcanti, Marcello Novaes, Suzana Pires, Alice Melo, Bruna Amaya, Clarissa Pinheiro
Distributor: Cinema Slate, Fandor
A debut at the 2014 Rotterdam Film Festival, Casa Grande follows one high school senior’s dawning sexuality, which is shadowed by the discovery of his upper-class white family’s looming financial ruin. Jean struggles with newfound knowledge of his racial and class privilege as he sweetly courts a mixed-race girl from a lower-ranked school than his and sows his oats with the family’s nubile maid. Jean’s parents, meanwhile, clutch at straws merely to survive. His father (Brazilian screen staple Marcello Novaes), a failed hedge-fund baron, tries vainly to conceal the true extent of the damage, as his formerly sheltered wife resorts to peddling cosmetics.
“One of the reasons we’re able to bring it to government is because Fandor stepped in,”said Cinema Slate’s Rodrigo Brandão who separately is also VP Marketing and Publicity at Kino Lorber Films. “We handpicked these four films to not only put in [Fandor’s] platforms, but also for limited theatrical release to raise their profiles.” The other three titles include The Moving Creatures and Hard Labor as well as the upcoming Brazilian soccer documentary Sunday Ball, which will bow in December.
“Casa Grande won awards in Brazil and other festivals,” said Brandão. “It was also the opening-night film of LatinBeat at the Film Society of Lincoln Center last year. A lot of it is personal for [director] Fellipe Barbosa because the story was lifted from his own personal experience.” Theatrically, Casa Grande will open at Cinema Village in New York in a day-and-date bow via Fandor. The title will continue to roll out in limited select locations including Los Angeles. It will hit iTunes as well as DVD/Blu-ray in 2016.
The documentary follows Sachal Studios musicians from their hometown in Pakistan to New York City as they rehearse and take the stage for a truly moving concert performance with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, after receiving a personal invitation to perform from veteran trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, the organization’s Artistic Director.
The Tribeca and Hamptons film festivals title was originally a more localized story about Pakistan’s struggling musicians who were attempting to revive the country’s rich musical tradition. In the late 1970s, dictator General Zia-ul-Haq suspended Pakistan’s constitution and imposed an Islamic System, resulting in the suppression of the country’s film, music and other arts traditions.
“[Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy] was filming the documentary for about a year in 2012, but then there was a dramatic turning point when [the Sachal Studios musicians] were invited by Jazz at Lincoln Center to perform. That made it become a much bigger movie,” said co-director Andy Schocken, who joined the project at that point. “Sharmeen had co-directed Saving Face with Daniel Junge, and I had produced [a film he directed], so Daniel put us together. After that, I was on a plane to Pakistan.”
The Pakistani portion had challenges, including intermittent power outages and lack of air conditioning amid very high temperatures. Schocken noted that getting hard drives in and out of the country also could pose roadblocks. “Personally speaking, I don’t speak the language, but overall we didn’t have obstacles [with authorities],” he said. “Now people can make films in Pakistan. The sad part is that Pakistan had a huge film industry based in Lahore, where they turned out a lot of films. Our musicians produced scores for those films, but when the dictatorship came in, they cracked down on the film industry, which then hurt [the artists] supporting it.”
In New York, the production team was given virtually all access by Jazz at Lincoln Center, where the Pakistani musicians performed in the style of their musical traditions but tied to classical jazz hits performed by the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra. “They allowed us unrestricted access during rehearsals, a lot of which were very tense,” said Schocken. “They do webcasts of their concerts, with an in-house camera crew, so they gave us access to that.” Schocken also said the group gave them access to the music produced from the concert.
Broad Green Pictures, which picked up rights to the docu in early fall, is giving the title a qualifying run this coming week and will open it more broadly next year, coinciding with a release via Universal of the Sachal Studios musicians’ music.