IFC Films is opening Born To Be Blue, with Ethan Hawke as jazz great Chet Baker, in theaters this weekend in what the company says is one of the Oscar-nominated actor’s best performances. Audiences will get their chance to weigh in as the title heads to a limited bow Friday in addition to on-demand platforms just days after its theatrical bow. The title joins a fairly crowded Specialty space, which will include baseball documentary Fastball, narrated by Kevin Costner, from Gravitas Ventures. Animated feature April And The Extraordinary World from the producers of the 2007 Oscar-nominated Persepolis heads to New York and L.A. via GKIDS before a platform rollout in early April. And Amplify will open cross-genre horror They’re Watching in over a dozen theaters today.
Also opening in limited release are Hank Williams biopic I Saw The Light with Tom Hiddleston, as well as Filmbuff’s Jane Wants A Boyfriend and Reliance Big Pictures’ Rocky Handsome.
Born To Be Blue
Director-writer: Robert Budreau
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Carmen Ejogo, Callum Keith Rennie
Distributor: IFC Films
Born To Be Blue stars Ethan Hawke in a “re-imagining” of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker’s life in the 1960s. In the ’50s, the musician was at the top of his game, but by the ‘60s, he had become a has-been, with a personal life in shambles due to years of heroin addiction. Born To Be Blue zeroes in just as Baker attempts to stage a comeback, spurred in part by a passionate romance with a new flame (Carmen Ejogo).
“We saw it in Toronto and acquired it during the festival,” said IFC Films president Jonathan Sehring. “Ethan’s performance is arguably the best of his entire career, and I’m not the only one who thinks that. It’s a very mature performance and this is coming off Boyhood.”
Hawke starred in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, which IFC Films released in 2014, earning the actor his fourth Oscar nomination (and second acting nom in a supporting role). Sehring noted that Bruce Weber’s 1988 Baker documentary, Let’s Get Lost, had been a “touchstone” for him, and Hawke’s portrayal fit the image of Baker he saw in the documentary. “I thought [Hawke] was Chet Baker. Everyone in the company fell in love with it,” said Sehring. “It goes well-beyond a trumpet player and tortured artist.” Also of note is that Hawke does his own singing in the film.
“He went to shoot it when we were in the middle of the Boyhood release,” said Sehring. “He’s constantly working. He’d fly back and forth. We knew he was working on it, but we saw it at the same time [as others] in Toronto.”
IFC Films will open Born To Be Blue in theaters March 25 at Lincoln Plaza and IFC Center in New York, followed by other markets in the coming weeks. On-demand platforms will be available March 31. Added Sehring: “We’re looking for it to do well both in theaters and on-demand.”
Director: Jonathan Hock
Subjects: Kevin Costner (narration), Derek Jeter, Denard Span, Craig Kimbrel, Nolan Ryan, Justin Verlander
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Veteran producer Thomas Tull told Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim he wanted to do a baseball documentary after the pair finished work on their 2008 guitar doc It Might Get Loud. Guggenheim knew just the man. “Since Davis knew I had a specialty in sports films,” said filmmaker Jonathan Hock, “he suggested that Thomas give me a call.” In 2012, Tull did just that, and the next steps were to get Major League baseball on board, not too difficult given Tull’s previous baseball movie, 42.
“Baseball in the Major League is a closed world,” said Hock. “These guys are handling teams worth a couple hundred million dollars in assets, so they are particular about who penetrates that world. Thomas and I were interested in capturing what we believe is the magic of the game.”
Fastball comes just as baseball season is about to get underway in the U.S. Narrated by Kevin Costner and combining new and archival footage, the feature follows baseball legends as well as scientists who explore the magic within the 396 milliseconds it takes a fastball to reach home plate. They also try to decipher who threw the fastest pitch ever.
“As Thomas and the baseball commissioners office were in discussions, others had let me onto the field,” said Hock, who had already done a baseball doc on Cuban player Luis Tiant, who recently threw out the first pitch at an exhibition game between the U.S. and Cuba during President Obama’s visit. “There’s the cliche, ‘too inside baseball,’ but we decided we had to go way inside to understand baseball’s heart and soul. Once we both had the conviction, we were in agreement.” Hock said Tull personally took care of the financing for the project. Shooting began in 2012 at the Baseball Hall of Fame to capture key interviews.
“Getting contemporary players [to participate] was a difficult process. When they’re playing they’re very serious about it. In the off-season, it’s less difficult,” he added. “But we needed to be with them during the baseball season, so it took the entire 2013 and part of the 2014 seasons to get what we needed.” Tull, who worked with Costner on Man Of Steel, reached out to the actor about narrating the feature. “Kevin was amazing and generous with his time,” said Hock. “He read it like he cared.”
Fastball bowed last year at the Tribeca Film Festival. Out of that premiere, Gravitas Ventures eventually came on board, all deciding the best time to open the doc would be the start of the next baseball season. Fastball will open in nearly every Major League city in 30 locations in a day-and-date rollout this weekend.
April And The Extraordinary World
Directors: Christian Desmares, Franck Ekinci (also co-writer)
Writers: Benjamin Legrand, Jacques Tardi (graphic novel)
Voices: Marion Cotillard, Philippe Katerine, Jean Rochefort, Olivier Gourmet, Marc-André Grondin, Bouli Lanners, Anne Coesens, Macha Grenon, Benoît Brière; Susan Sarandon, Paul Giamatti (English version)
Sci-fi adventure April And The Extraordinary World is set in 1941 Paris in an alternate “steampunk” universe. In the film from the producers of Oscar-nominated animated feature Persepolis, a family of scientists is on the brink of discovering a powerful longevity serum when a mysterious force abducts them, leaving young daughter April behind. Ten years later, April (Marion Cotillard) lives alone with her cat Darwin and carries on her family’s research in secret. But she soon finds herself at the center of a shadowy, far-reaching conspiracy, and on the run from government agents, bicycle-powered dirigibles and cyborg rat spies. Undaunted, she continues her quest to find her parents and discover the truth behind their disappearance.
“We picked up the film out of the Annecy Film Festival where it ended up winning the grand prize. That gave us confidence that the film played well, so we took it to Fantastic Fest last fall,” said GKIDS’ Dave Jesteadt. “It has great art house pedigree, and it’s a fun genre film. But we also think it has a substantial possibility with audiences beyond those who are [drawn to] a French subtitled film.”
Jesteadt said that nevertheless, the title will play well to the dedicated art house crowd, noting that fans of Sony Classics’ 2007 animated feature Persepolis ($4.44M domestic gross) are a natural audience for the film. “We’re playing the subtitled version in the evenings, but we also created a new English-language version for matinees featuring Susan Sarandon and Paul Giamatti,” added Jesteadt. “They bring a comic energy to it that highlights the film.”
GKIDS will open April And The Extraordinary World at IFC Center in New York as well as at the Nuart in Los Angeles this Friday. The title will then begin to platform in the top 15 markets April 8.
Director-writer: Jay Lender, Micah Wright
Cast: Mia Faith, Brigid Brannagh, Kris Lemche, David Alpay, Carrie Genzel, Dimitri Diatchenko, Cristian Balint, Alin Popa
Co-director and co-writer Micah Wright and producer Mark Lagrimas had been looking for a project together for a few years. After considering various options, Lagrimas felt They’re Watching fit the bill. “There were different horror movies that had been passed to me, but what was different about this is that it’s a bit of everything,” said Lagrimas. “I thought this could be something I could pitch to investors.” Lagrimas pitched the title to his friend Enrique Garcia, who boarded as executive producer. Other private investors also chipped in.
They’re Watching centers on an American television crew caught up in a centuries-old web of revenge and horror, with angry Eastern European villagers out to kill the show’s star.
“The key was to get quality actors to make this thing work. There’s a lot of comedy and other genres [in the film],” said Lagrimas. “Micah and [co-writer/director] Jay Lender are comic book and video game guys. They storyboarded every scene, so the crew was shocked about how few takes they did for each scene. The shoot moved pretty fast.” Consistent with They’re Watching’s storyline, the project shot in Eastern Europe — specifically in Bucharest and Transylvania in September, 2013. Added Lagrimas: “It was a mostly Romanian crew. They’re pros and have done this all before.”
The filmmaking team had edited a version of the feature that was 15 minutes longer without a score, but after test screenings, it was decided to go tighter and add a score. Distributor Amplify joined the project through a producer’s rep who facilitated an agreement.
“They were the most passionate about the project,” said Lagrimas. “We were approached by bigger distributors, but we were excited by Amplify. They got what we were trying to do. Others were trying to push this as the next Blair Witch, which it is not.” Amplify will open They’re Watching in 21 theaters in various markets this weekend.