In a bit of role reversal, studio Warner Bros. is readying a platform release for Jeff Nichols’ sci-fi drama Midnight Special, while Sony Classics, a juggernaut of the Specialty space, is setting its sights wide for comedy The Bronze this weekend. Midnight Special stars Michael Shannon, Joel Egerton and Kirsten Dunst, and had its U.S. debut at the SXSW Film Festival just days ago. The Bronze, starring Melissa Rauch and Gary Cole had originally been with Relativity before SPC took over.
SXSW, still underway in Austin, TX, screened another title opening Friday during its edition last year. A24’s Krisha won the Grand Jury and Audience Awards at the festival before heading to Cannes in May.
Also on tap in what is shaping up to be a crowded weekend in the Specialty Box Office is Film Movement’s Take Me To The River. The film’s writer-director Matt Sobel had a crash course in how the industry works when he naively tried to hawk his script at Cannes in 2010, though the experience ended up working to his benefit — just not how he expected. Cannes Directors Fortnight title My Golden Days from Arnaud Desplechin will bow in a traditional rollout via Magnolia Pictures, while Fox Star Studios will open ‘young Bollywood’ title Kapoor & Sons in 144 North American theaters. Kino Lorber is heading to the big screen with Japanese film Sweet Bean, while the filmmaking team of neo-noir title Too Late will open its exclusively theatrical run via a self-release.
Other titles opening in limited release this weekend include IFC Films’ The Preppie Connection, Filmbuff’s Thank You For Playing and Freestyle Releasing’s Ktown Cowboys, which will play theaters exclusively starting Friday before becoming available on VOD and all digital platforms March 25.
Director-writer: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Scott Haze, Sam Shepard, Jaeden Lieberher, Paul Sparks, David Jensen
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. is taking the Specialty route with Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special. It is Nichols’ first studio pic after the Indie Spirit-winning Mud, the Cannes-winning Take Shelter and Shotgun Stories.
A debut in competition at the Berlin International Film Festival last month and a U.S. premiere at the SXSW Film Festival still underway, the sci-fi drama follows Roy (Shannon), a father desperate to protect his uniquely gifted 8-year-old son Alton (Lieberher). Joined by his accomplice Lucas (Edgerton) and his former wife, Sarah (Dunst), the group must race to get Alton to a secret location. They are being trailed by Calvin Meyer (Shepard), the leader of an extreme religious sect, as well as a government task force led by Paul Sevier (Driver). The outcome of this chase could result in a world-changing event.
“[Warner Bros.] became aware of Jeff Nichols and liked his vision and script,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.’ EVP of Domestic Distribution. “We green-lit the movie. What’s great about it is that we thought it was special in the way he tells the story and unique in the way you feel about it. We had an incredible screening at SXSW and the Q&A was fascinating.” Goldstein pointed out the title’s Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes (currently 85), and that the cast is amidst a publicity campaign of talk shows including Kimmel as well as extensive online and print press like The New York Times and Los Angeles Times.
Warner Bros. will open Midnight Special in five theaters this weekend — two in both New York and Los Angeles, and one in Austin to take advantage of SXSW word-of-mouth. “In two weeks, we’ll go to ten markets and then continue to roll it out in a calculated, strategic way, allowing word-of-mouth to drive it,” added Goldstein. “The story itself lends the [feature] a Specialty release. The drama is up-market. There’s also a faith-based component to it, so we have a consultant working with us on that [part of the marketing for the film].”
Director-writer: Bryan Buckley
Writers: Melissa Rauch, Winston Rauch
Cast: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Haley Lu Richardson, Thomas Middleditch, Sebastian Stan, Cecily Strong, Haley Lu Richardson, Dale Raoul, Craig Kilborn, Dominique Dawes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
While Warner Bros. is rolling out Midnight Special in a limited release bow, Sony Classics will be opening its latest, The Bronze, fairly wide this weekend. The Bronze had been with Relativity, which picked up North American rights. Sony Worldwide Acquisitions, meanwhile, had most of the rest of the world, and that division approached SPC about taking it on stateside after Relativity stumbled.
The Bronze stars Melissa Rauch as a foul-mouthed gymnastics bronze medalist who must fight for her local celebrity status when a new young athlete’s star rises in town.
“We’re opening in over 1,100 theaters. We feel like it’s the right way to go,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. “It’s a commercial comedy, and all the actors in the film have a huge following. Melissa Rauch is in The Big Bang Theory and Sebastian Stan is in Captain America. It’s a pleasure to work on a comedy.”
Barker said that there are relatively few other movies in the genre vying for audience attention this weekend, making the release date ideal. He added, “We decided to just go wide on the first week. It’s not something we do all the time by any means, but it’s [consistent with] the nature of this kind of movie.”
Director-writer: Trey Edward Shults
Cast: Krisha Fairchild, Olivia Grace Applegate, Bryan Casserly, Alex Dobrenko, Chris Doubek, Billie Fairchild, Robyn Fairchild, Victoria Fairchild
Filmmaker Trey Edward Shults completed the first draft of Krisha after his cousin passed away in 2011. He initially planned to make a feature in 2012, but then opted for a short film, which played at SXSW in 2014, picking up a prize. He then used the short for a video to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise $10K, though the project received $14K via the crowdsourcing platform.
The feature-version of Krisha won both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival ahead of its selection at Critics Week at the Cannes Film Festival that year. It centers on Krisha, who shows up at her sister’s Texas home on Thanksgiving morning, greeted by her family with warmth, wariness and a palpable unease that grows as Krisha tries to make up for lost time, particularly with nephew Trey. Long-buried secrets and resentments come to the fore in an emotionally charged familial reckoning.
“I [re-wrote] the feature after a friend pushed me,” said Shults. “I had gone to SXSW hoping someone would see the [short] and would want to finance the feature. I think the first time we tried to make [the feature], the script wasn’t quite right.” The Kickstarter campaign provided a big chunk of the project’s overall $30K budget. Krisha shot over nine days at Shults’ mother’s home in Montgomery, TX. Most of the cast is made up of friends and relatives.
“The movie is unique and so personal,” said Shults. “If making the short was the worst week of my life, then making the feature was the best week. Learning from mistakes the first time really helped. Also letting go of my ego and being open to collaboration helped. We didn’t shoot in a traditional way. There were planned choreographed one-takes, which often worked. When they did work, we’d just move on.” Shults said the quick shoots allowed the team to work on creative exercises for the next day.
“The premiere at SXSW was one of the best days of my life,” he added. “It screened on a Monday after most of the ‘big movies’ had played, and we had a decent turn out. I had been the only person to see the final cut. There were people sobbing and hugging.” In addition to Cannes and SXSW, the title played a slew of international festivals including Seattle, BAMcinemaFest, Nantucket, Deauville, Reykjavik, Busan, Hamptons, Denver, AFI Fest, Cleveland and more. A24 closed a two-picture deal with Shults in Cannes. They will also release his next film, which he is currently working on.
Krisha will open theatrically at the Sunshine in New York as well as the Nuart in Los Angeles before expanding wider in the coming weeks.
Take Me To The River
Director-writer: Matt Sobel
Cast: Robin Weigert, Azura Skye, Josh Hamilton, Logan Miller, Ursula Parker, Richard Schiff, Ashley Gerasimovich, Elizabeth Franz
Distributor: Film Movement
Filmmaker Matt Sobel wrote the script for what would become Take Me To The River while still in film school, though with a different title. He decided to travel to the 2010 Cannes Film Festival to sell his script. “I circled a bunch of names in the [industry] directory and pitched a lot of sales agents,” said Sobel. “I didn’t know what they did and how they could help a film in development…The truth was that I was far from making the film, but it was a great learning experience.”
Sobel met with sales reps who told him to come back once he had three-quarters of the project’s financing in place. While things didn’t go according to plan, the trip was worthwhile, both as a crash course in how the industry works and because he met a group of fellow filmmakers who proved valuable. “I fell into this crowd of European filmmakers who ran a group called the Binger Film Lab in Amsterdam,” said Sobel. “I applied there and moved to Amsterdam to work on the script for a year. Everyone who worked on Take Me To The River were either directly a part of the lab or came through people I met there. The group no longer exists unfortunately, since its funding was pulled.”
Take Me To The River follows a California teen who travels to a family reunion intending to come out of the closet. His plans are derailed, though, when a bloodstain on his young cousin’s dress makes him a suspect of her abuse. The project shot in Nebraska in 2014. Initially there was a plan to do a German/Canadian/U.S. co-production with incentives from the former two, but that fell through. Sobel parted ways with an earlier producer, and then turned to family for funds to shoot at home in Nebraska.
“The film is written for its specific location where my family is from,” said Sobel. “I decided to go to the farm where it was [originally] meant to be. That had advantages and disadvantages. The locations were already there, so nothing had to be built, but it was quite remote — much more so than most of the crew had pictured when we explained it. There are complications shooting in a place that’s at the mercy of the elements and where there are a lack of roads with access to some locations. One river location required four-wheelers and horseback. But everything in the film is one-hundred percent real.”
Take Me To The River shot over 20 days. Actress Robin Weigert was the first to board the project. She introduced actor Richard Schiff to the filmmaking team, while the rest came via casting directors Sig de Miguel and Stephen Vincent who had become involved with the film before financing was in place. Post was a “lengthy process,” according to Sobel. He attended IFP’s narrative filmmaker lab which focuses on post-production. The film debuted at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, followed by other festivals including the Hamptons, London, Tallgrass, NewFest and Philadelphia.
Film Movement joined the project through sales reps Cinetic. Take Me To The River will open exclusively in New York this weekend at the Sunshine, followed by Los Angeles the following week, with other markets to follow April 1.
My Golden Days
Director-writer: Arnaud Desplechin
Writer: Julie Peyr
Cast: Quentin Dolmaire, Lou Roy-Lecollinet, Mathieu Amalric, Olivier Rabourdin, Dinara Drukarova, Cécile Garcia-Fogel, Françoise Lebrun
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Veteran French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days won a prize screening in Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes last year before heading to New York Film Festival and AFI Fest in the U.S. It also received 11 César Awards nominations including Best Picture as well as Best Director, which Desplechin won.
The feature centers on Paul Dédalus (played in middle age by Mathieu Amalric) an anthropologist preparing to leave Tajikistan. Reflecting on his life, he has a series of flashbacks starting from his childhood in Roubaix—his mother’s attacks of madness, his father’s alienating depression. He remembers a student trip to the USSR, where a clandestine mission led him to offer up his own identity for a young Russian, whom he considered a phantom twin for the remainder of his life. He remembers university life, and returning to his hometown to party with his sister and her best friend, his shifting circle of friends and their casual betrayals. And most of all he remembers Esther, the beautiful, rude, haughty soul and love of his life.
“We saw it in Cannes and we fell in love with it,” said Magnolia’s Matt Cowal. “It flew a bit under the radar since it wasn’t in competition, though it was one of the best reviewed films out of Cannes that year. The film speaks for itself, it’s very satisfying.”
Desplechin films are no strangers to American shores. His previous feature, Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian was released in 2013 by IFC Films, grossing just $24K theatrically, though it was also on-demand. IFC had also released A Christmas Tale in 2008, grossing $1.06 million, while 2005 feature, Kings And Queen opened domestically via Wellspring grossing $290,973.
“For a foreign language film to work, a lot of things need to go right,” said Cowal. “They have to play the right festivals and get the right good reviews. We’re confident we will get good reviews with My Golden Days.” To usher in word of mouth, Magnolia took the title to film clubs. The Film Society of Lincoln Center is also hosting a retrospective of Desplechin’s films.
Magnolia will have a traditional roll out for My Golden Days. The film will open in limited release this weekend, followed by additional markets in the coming weeks.
Kapoor & Sons
Director-writer: Shakun Batra
Writer: Ayesha DeVitre
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Sanjay Dutt, Fawad Khan, Sidharth Malhotra, Rishi Kapoor, Rajat Kapoor, Ratna Pathak
Distributor: Fox Star Studios
Young Bollywood is at the center of Karan Johar’s latest romantic comedy, Kapoor & Sons, which will open Friday in 144 North American theaters. The title is part of a deal of a slate of films Fox Star Studios has with Dharma Productions.
In the feature, bothers Rahul and Arjun have returned home to Coonoor to be with their grandfather for his final days. Rahul, for his age, seems to have built a pretty good life for himself — a good looking man, doing very well professionally, living in a swanky apartment in London, and planning to pursue architecture and writing. His younger brother Arjun is also an aspiring writer, living in New Jersey, but struggling to make ends meet. The awkwardness and tension between them is apparent. Their arrival in India reveals their disparate relations with their parents, with Rahul the perfect one and Arjun neglected as immature and irresponsible. As the story unfolds, we realize that the characters aren’t entirely as they seem.
“The three young actors, Siddhartha Malhotra, Alia Bhatt and Farad Khan have a strong youth fanbase and the film has a great ensemble cast led by Rishi Kappor which [appeals] to the older audience,” noted Rohit Sharma, head of International Sales & Distribution at Fox Star. “Dharma Productions has a great success track record, which is the reason Fox Star got involved with this project.”
Sharma noted that counter to the U.S. trend of indie audiences increasingly choosing to view movies via alternative platforms, Bollywood audiences on this continent “prefer to watch these films in theaters.” Sharma sites an annual growth rate of 10% in the U.S. over the past few years. North America typically accounts for 25 – 30% of its international total.
“Watching a film with your family in a cinema hall is still the best viewing experience for the audience of Bollywood films in the U.S.,” said Sharma. “They prefer this to watching the film on other platforms such as TV or the internet.” Fox Star is promoting the title over local Indian cable and pay TV channels targeting the Indian community. They have also organized music contests on Indian radio channels and targeting Indian print outlets as well as India focused digital platforms.
In addition to its North American bow, Kapoor & Sons will open in 1,400 locations in India as well as 600 theaters in other international markets. “[About] 140 screens is ideal for a film of this star cast and genre,” added Sharma. “[Depending] on how the film performs its opening weekend, we will decide if we need to add more screens in its second week.”
Director-writer: Naomi Kawase
Writer: Durian Sukegawa
Cast: Kirin Kiki, Masatoshi Nagase, Kyara Uchida, Miyoko Asada, Etsuko Ichihara, Miki Mizuno
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Kino Lorber picked up Japanese film Sweet Bean following its premieres in Cannes and Toronto last year. In the film, the “manager” of a pancake stall finds himself confronted with an odd but sympathetic elderly lady looking for work. A taste of her home-made bean jelly prompts a relationship that is about much more than just street food.
“Sweet Bean is a warm and funny film about how to achieve a life well-lived,” commented Wendy Lidell, Kino Lorber’s recently appointed SVP of Theatrical Distribution & Acquisitions. “It’s nostalgic without being sentimental, heart-warming without being maudlin, and spiritual in the very best sense.”
Kino Lorber has tapped into recent Japan Week events in New York to spread the word about Sweet Bean’s theatrical launch and partnered with the Japan Society for outreach to audiences interested in Japanese culture. “But we see our core audience as much broader than that,” added Lidell. “In fact, Sweet Bean is a totally accessible film that general audiences can easily appreciate. It is a film for anyone who ever reflected about the meaning of their lives, and offers an answer in a delicious package.”
Kino Lorber will open Sweet Bean exclusively at Lincoln Plaza in New York, followed by a platform release in one Atlanta location April 1. The title will head to three runs in the Bay Area, two in Los Angeles and one in Chicago on April 8.
Director-writer: Dennis Hauck
Cast: John Hawkes, Natalie Zea, Crystal Reed, Dichen Lachman, Joanna Cassidy, Robert Forster, Jeff Fahey, Rider Strong
Writer-director Hauck had three initial motivations when writing Too Late, which opens in theaters exclusively this weekend. He wanted to write something for John Hawkes, explore the private eye genre and experiment with capturing long takes on 35mm. “I often find it can be creatively stimulating to set certain structures or limitations for myself when writing, and I viewed this self-imposed structure in the same way a poet might choose to write in haiku or sonnet form,” commented Hauck.
Filmed in the 35mm Techniscope format, the story of Too Late unfolds across five acts, each comprised of a single uncut 20-plus minute shot, roughly the same length as an entire projected film reel. In it, Hawkes plays private investigator Mel Sampson, who is tasked with tracking down the whereabouts of a missing woman from his own past. According to an official description, Too Late “takes the spine of the classic private eye genre and tears it to pieces, weaving it back together into a tapestry of southern California and the menagerie of eccentric personalities and lost souls who inhabit it.”
“Film is the medium I learned to shoot on. I’ve never used anything else and I don’t plan to,” noted Hauck. “Techniscope is unique in that it can yield 22 minutes of footage from a single roll of film, as opposed to the standard 11 minutes of most other 35mm formats. As far as I could tell, no one had ever used a roll of film this way — to create a 20-plus minute shoot on 35mm — and I thought it would be a fun challenge and an interesting way to make a movie.” Too Late was funded through private sources.
The feature is being self-distributed in theaters exclusively this weekend, and Hauck has partnered with Kodak and Fotokem to spread the message that “film can be affordable and accessible to independent filmmakers as both a shooting and exhibition format.” Following its 1:40pm L.A. screening on Saturday, Hauck will take part in a Q&A that will include the president of Kodak. Says co-producer Matt Miller: “Having audiences understand the work that went into the film’s production will also reinforce the messaging of why we felt it was important to present this film only on 35mm and only in theaters.” The filmmaking team will take part in other Q&As over the weekend as well.
Too Late is targeted toward fans of “intelligent, adult-oriented drama” as well as fanboy/fangirls. “We screened at Fantastic Fest this past fall and sold out multiple shows and received an encore screening that filled two theaters,” said Miller. “Many audience members made it a point to see the film two or three times, which is a rare occurrence at the festival where attendees try to see as many films as possible over the weekend.”
For the release, Hauck and the filmmaking team are going DIY. They had met with distributors, with some wanting to do a day and date release, which the filmmakers opted against. Others supported a traditional release, according to Miller, but were hesitant to commit to the expense or challenges of a 35mm-only release. “With access to additional private financing and with the existing infrastructure of Vanishing Angle —a full scale commercial production company — we felt we had the resources necessary to do this ourselves,” concluded Miller. “The only elements we didn’t feel we could handle internally were booking, for which we partnered with Michael Tuckman and mTuckman Media, and publicity, whom we partnered with Alex Klenert and Prodigy.”
Too Late will open in Los Angeles this weekend, followed by Austin next week. The title will then head to New York April 1 followed by five additional markets through the second week of May. In all the title is currently booked in 25 cities. “At this stage we’re focusing on having a strong theatrical release and in the coming weeks we’ll shift focus to our non-theatrical component,” he said. “In the end, the self release felt less like a choice and more of the obvious answer for what the film needed to be successful.”