While the industry, filmmakers and press have Sundance on the mind this weekend, new limited-release titles are making their way into theaters. Freestyle Releasing successfully tapped the faith-based audience with the 2014 hit God’s Not Dead, which grossed in the mid-eight figures. The producers of that film followed up with Caged No More, and the distributor expressed interest early on. Directed and co-written by Lisa Arnold, the title will open in more than 100 locations this weekend. Kino Lorber is opening veteran Israel-born filmmaker Amos Gitai’s latest, the docudrama Rabin, The Last Day next Friday, January 29. The Venice competition title will open exclusively in New York before heading out to additional markets. FilmRise took notice of China’s box office powerhouse Monster Hunt last fall and picked it up for North America. It will hit nearly three dozen markets Friday. And Big World Pictures is opening Romania’s Oscar entry Aferim! on the West Coast before heading eastward.

Also opening in limited release this weekend are A24’s Mojave, Well Go USA’s Ip Man 3, Magnolia’s Synchronicity and indie Naz And Maalick, which will bow in New York before becoming available via VOD and home video from Wolfe Releasing.

Caged No More
Director-writer: Lisa Arnold
Writer: Molly Venzke
Cast: Kevin Sorbo, Loretta Devine, Alan Powell, Cassidy Gifford, Anthony Evans, Dallas Lovato, Abigail Duhon, Christos Vasilopoulos

Caged No More posterInspired by real events, Caged No More is a thriller spotlighting what has been described as the “world’s fastest-growing crime.” The feature follows Aggie Prejean, a woman on a desperate search to find her two granddaughters, Skye and Elle, who have been kidnapped by their sinister father. As the details behind the girls’ disappearance begin to unravel, it’s discovered he has taken them overseas to be sold into slavery to settle his drug debt. Aggie enlists the help of the girls’ uncle, a well-respected local philanthropist, and his son Wil, who is former Special Forces. A global hunt ensues, and the team will stop at nothing to see the girls safely returned home.

“We developed the script in a way that would allow parents to take their kids to the movie so they can go home and have a conversation about trafficking,” said co-writer and director Lisa Arnold. “It’s been almost three years since we wrote the screenplay. Once I had a conversation with [my co-writer] Molly Venzke and found out that trafficking is so prevalent in the U.S., we felt compelled to do something. Like most Americans, we thought it was a Third World phenomenon, but it’s happening [in small towns] and in big cities. Anyone with a beating heart will care about this subject.”

The filmmakers raised financing for the project as well as resources for P&A with support from Icon Media Goup. The project shot in Baton Rouge, LA, in October and November 2014 before taking production to Athens in December and eventually New York City in February 2015. “Our cast and crew were fantastic. They all had such a heart and desire to work for the greater good of what we were doing,” said Arnold. “This is the first time I’ve ever had a project where actors would call up and even re-schedule their other work to be a part of something.”

Caged No More comes from the same producing team as Freestyle’s 2014 faith-based hit God’s Not Dead, which cumed $60.75 million at the box office. Freestyle expressed interest in Caged No More early on and boarded the project for distribution soon after finishing principal photography. The film will open in 117 theaters this weekend, with showings concentrated where churches and other groups will mobilize their members to spread the word. Word Entertainment will handle foreign distribution and the title’s VOD and DVD release.

Today co-host Kathy Lee Gifford, who’s daughter Cassidy Gifford also stars in the film, has raised awareness in the lead-up to the feature’s release. “I’m grateful for people opening their hearts,” said Arnold. “When we have special screenings, people are on their feet and willing to speak out against injustice, and that’s what this film can do. It can change and potentially save lives.”

Monster Hunt
Director-writer: Raman Hui
Cast: Bai Baihe, Jing Boran, Jiang Wu, Elaine Jin, Wallace Chung, Eric Tsang, Sandra Kwan Yue Ng, Tang Wei
Distributor: FilmRise

Monster HuntMonster Hunt has cumed $385 million worldwide, making it China’s highest-grossing movie. The action-fantasy takes place in a mythical ancient world where monsters rule the land while humans keep to their own kingdom. But when adorable baby monster Wuba is born to a human father and monster queen, mortals and creatures alike set out to capture the newborn, and Wuba’s epic adventure gets underway.

“We noticed it back in the summer when we heard it was the highest-grossing film in Chinese history,” said FilmRise VP Bob Jason. “We got a screener, and we convinced our CEO to take a chance on it. It’s a weird and wonderful movie. It’s a fairytale that has a lot of humor, and it’s something we haven’t seen before.”

Two versions of the feature will be released. The original Mandarin-language version is about 10 minutes longer, while the English version is more “family friendly.” “There are some more disturbing sequences in the original version, so we cut some of that out,” added FilmRise’s Ellis Watamanuk. “The Mandarin version will have English subtitles.”

FilmRise is targeting the title’s release on a venue-by-venue basis, placing the Mandarin version in theaters targeting Chinese residents in North America, while the English cut will play select locations. Some theaters will play both. “There are a number of different audiences for this film,” added Jason. “Monster Hunt is targeted to Chinese audiences but also aimed at the fanboy and Comic-Con crowd.”

FilmRise will open Monster Hunt in 35 markets in the U.S. and Canada for the traditional 90-day window before becoming available on-demand/VOD followed by DVD and Blu-ray.

Rabin, The Last Day
Director-writer: Amos Gitai
Writer: Marie-Jose Sanselme
Cast: Yitzhak Hizkiya, Pini Mittelman, Michael Warshaviak, Einat Weitzman, Yogev Yefet, Tomer Sisley
Distributor: Kino Lorber

Rabin posterDocudrama Rabin, The Last Day is being released in the U.S. just months after the 20th anniversary of the former Israel leader’s assassination.

In the evening of November 4, 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot to death at the end of a huge political rally in the center of Tel Aviv. His killer, apprehended at the scene, was a 25-year-old student (and observant Jew). But the following investigation reveals a frightening world that made this possible: a subculture of hate fueled by hysterical rhetoric, paranoia and political intrigue.

Among the characters depicted in the film are extremist rabbis who condemned Rabin by invoking an obscure Talmudic ruling, the prominent right-wing politicians who joined in a campaign of incitement against Rabin, the militant Israeli settlers for whom peace meant betrayal and the security agents who saw what was coming yet failed to prevent it.

“I went to the president of the [Israeli] Supreme Court and asked him to open the protocols because the conclusions were public,” said filmmaker Amos Gitai. “[The story] is based on documentation. We have the [papers] that supports the words [in the film].” Gitai and his team began researching two years ago, poring over documents, video footage and photos from the period leading up to Rabin’s assassination and its aftermath. The Israel-born filmmaker also decided on the format of how he’d portray the events on the big screen.

“We could have done it chronologically, but I decided to work it differently,” said Gitai. “We start with the assassination and go forward and then backward and forward again. Through this subject, you’re aware of the curses and subjects.” Financing for the title came primarily from France and Italy, though Gitai wanted resources to also come from his homeland. “I thought as a principal, we had to at least get some Israeli financing,” he said. “We had 70 actors and hundreds of extras, so we had to adapt to those constraints.”

Rabin, The Last Day filmed in a building made available by the mayor of Tel Aviv and on location in some of the Israeli settlements. The feature debuted at the Venice Film Festival and later at the Philharmonic in Tel Aviv. “The film struck a nerve,” said Gitai. “The release has been moving in Israel. Our opening at the Philharmonic was roughly 200 meters from where Rabin was shot. His family was there, so it was a big event.”

Kino Lorber Films, which has handled a number of Amos Gitai’s U.S. releases will open Rabin, The Last Day next Friday, January 29, exclusively at Lincoln Plaza in New York followed by a national rollout in the coming weeks.

Director-writer: Radu Jude
Writer: Florin Lazarescu
Cast: Teodor Corban, Mihai Comanoiu, Toma Cuzin, Alexandru Dabija, Luminita Gheorghiu, Victor Rebengiuc
Distributor: Big World Pictures

AFERIM_layered_28_Ianuarie_domesticBig World Pictures’ Jonathan Howell couldn’t get a ticket for the world premiere of Aferim! at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival, so he caught the film — which won a Silver Bear in Berlin — at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Set in 19th century Wallachia, local policeman Costandin is hired by local noble Iordache to find Carin, a gypsy slave who had run away from the noble’s estate after having an affair with his wife, Sultana. Costandin sets out to find the fugitive, beginning a journey full of adventures. According to the filmmakers, gypsy slavery lasted from the 14th century up until the middle of the 19th century, a situation which is very little known and almost nonexistent in the public debate today, though its impact continues to influence Romania’s social life.

“I saw it [at Tribeca] and loved it, so I went back to see it again,” said Howell. “The main character can be off-putting, but ultimately he seems to be to some degree a product of his times. I liked the historical aspect the director and writer brought.” Howell said the filmmaking team engaged in extensive research from the period, even incorporating court transcripts from the period.

“It was Romania’s submission for the Oscars, and we thought it had a good chance, so we wanted to do the rollout after the nominations occurred,” said Howell. “We’re sticking with the plan we had if the film had been nominated. By this time, there’s awards-season fatigue with the same 10 movies being talked about. Our opening comes just after other period pieces like The Hateful Eight and The Revenant.

Howell said Big World Pictures is targeting audiences that gravitate toward film festival awardees. Aferim! opens this Friday in five locations including Lincoln Plaza and the Angelika in New York as well as Laemmle’s Royal & Playhouse in L.A. and Landmark’s Opera Plaza in San Francisco.