Don Cheadle never envisioned he’d play Miles Davis, nor did he initially plan to direct a film about the famed musician. But that he did, and after festival runs in New York, Sundance, Berlin and SXSW, the Oscar nominee gets to show his big-screen filmmaking chops as Miles Ahead hits theaters via Sony Pictures Classics this weekend. Once again, the market is crowded with more than a dozen limited-release newcomers. Paramount opened Richard Linklater’s SXSW opener Everybody Wants Some!! in New York and L.A. ahead of adding some markets Friday. The Tribeca Film Festival originally was due to host the world premiere of documentary Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe until the organizers removed it from the schedule. All the media brouhaha gave distributor Cinema Libre an opportunity to maximize its audience draw. The controversial film will begin its theatrical rollout Friday in New York. Actor James Napier Robertson went behind and in-front of the camera with his directorial The Dark Horse, opening on both coasts from Broad Green Pictures. And on the foreign-language front, China Lion is launching Hong Kong Film Festival opener Chongqing Hot Pot, while Music Box Films is opening Francofonia, hoping to capture the box office success of director Aleksandr Sokurov’s earlier title Russian Ark.

Other films opening in limited release include Catching the Sun in NYC’s Cinema Village, while Well Go USA is taking out Kill Your Friends; First Run is opening Marinoni: The Fire in the Frame; Cohen Media Group with César winner Standing Tall; and Distrib Films with Next Time I’ll Aim for the Heart. Busted Buggy Entertainment is releasing Rescue Dogs around the country, allying with charities for live adoption events at the theaters. And Matson Films is bringing child sex-trafficking feature Sold to Village East in New York this weekend ahead of its bow next week in L.A. and other markets.

Miles Ahead
Director-writer: Don Cheadle
Writer: Steven Baigelman
Cast: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Lakeith Lee Stanfeild, Michael Stuhlbarg
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Miles Ahead posterDon Cheadle’s directorial debut from a script he co-wrote with Steven Baigelman about musical genius Miles Davis is a “no-holds-barred portrait of a singular artist in crisis” rather than a conventional biopic. In the midst of a dazzling and prolific career at the forefront of modern jazz innovation, Davis (Cheadle) virtually disappears from public view for a period of five years in the late 1970s. Alone and holed up in his home, he is beset by chronic pain from a deteriorating hip, his musical voice stifled and numbed by drugs and pain medications, his mind haunted by unsettling ghosts from the past.

“When Miles was inducted in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, they asked his nephew Vincent if they’d ever do a movie about Miles Davis and he said, ‘Yeah, and Don Cheadle is going to play him,’” Cheadle recalled during a conversation last week at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. “I had no plan to do that at the time, and it was not on my bucket list of things to do before I die.” Cheadle added that, because of the “proclamation” by Davis’ relatives, he met with family members to hear their ideas, though he didn’t share their vision of how to tell the story.

“I met with the family and heard their ideas. They were fine, but it would have been a standard telling of the story,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in that. I told them I wanted [a story] that was wild, expansive, expressionistic and gangster.” Cheadle said that Davis’ family was won over with his concept, though it still was undetermined who would write that script. “I said, ‘Well, great, so if someone writes anything like that, let me know.’”

After some time, it became apparent nobody was going to spearhead that telling of Davis’ life, so Cheadle decided to pursue it himself. He attempted to hire other directors several years ago, but that fell through. “Had the whole thing gone away, I would have been relieved, but it became a personal mandate,” he said. “So we were able to find irrational investors and also crowdfunded. I also spent some of my money and deferred my fees … and found a way to get it done.” Cheadle said the movie shot over 30 days with an $8 million budget. His role in Avengers: Age of Ultron cut into the project’s pre-production, though Cheadle managed to juggle both. “I had to fly around doing Avengers in London,” he said.

Miles Ahead had its World Premiere as the closing-night gala at last year’s New York Film Festival and went on to screen at Sundance, Berlin and the recent SXSW Film Festival. Sony Classics picked up worldwide rights to the title last summer. The film opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles before platforming out into further markets in the coming weeks.

Everybody Wants Some!!
Director-writer: Richard Linklater
Cast: Will Brittain, Zoey Deutch, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Blake Jenner, J. Quinton Johnson, Glen Powell, Wyatt Russell
Distributor: Paramount

everybody-1Following up his Best Picture Oscar nominee Boyhood, Austin-based filmmaker Richard Linklater is back in theaters this weekend with the SXSW Film Festival opener Everybody Wants Some!!

A “spiritual sequel” to the cult classic Dazed and Confused set in the world of 1980 college life, Everybody Wants Some!! is a comedy that follows a group of friends as they navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood. Deadline’s Ross Lincoln wrote about its SXSW bow: “[The film] presents a deliberately filtered-through-nostalgia view of the era as the characters essentially spend three days drinking, carousing, uttering constant quips and wandering from party to party.”

Linklater based most of the story on his own experience during the time period (minus a hazing incident late in the film), and the majority of the title’s cast are native Texans. Its budget was $10M, according to Paramount, a sum that should be recouped as it heads wide following its limited release this week, even though the film lacks some of the more recognizable stars of his earlier studio titles.

Gramercy released Dazed and Confused way back in 1993, grossing $8 million at the time. Linklater has criss-crossed between studios and specialty distributors throughout his 2 1/2-decade filmmaking career. This will be Paramount’s third Linklater title.The studio released School of Rock with Jack Black in 2003, which remains Linklater’s highest-grossing feature at more than $81 million. Two years later, Paramount opened Bad News Bears with Billy Bob Thornton, Greg Kinnear and Marcia Gay Harden, eventually taking in nearly $33 million. IFC Films released Boyhood in summer 2014, grossing more than $25 million. Shot during the course of 12 years, the pic scored a half-dozen Oscar noms, and Patricia Arquette won for Best Supporting Actress.

Paramount opened Everybody Wants Some!! in limited release on Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles. It adds six additional markets on Friday.

Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe
Director-writer: Andrew Wakefield
Writer: Del Matthew Bigtree
Subjects: Dr. Brian Hooker, Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh, Mark Blaxill, Polly Tommey, Dr. James M. Sears, Dr. Rachel Ross, Brandy Vaughn, Dr. Luc Montagnier, Stephanie Seneff, Congressman Bill Posey
Distributor: Cinema Libre

Vaxxed-poster-600x889Fresh off a mini-media firestorm surrounding its controversial inclusion and then exclusion from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival lineup, distributor Cinema Libre is taking quick advantage of the attention, sending the film straight to theaters. Vaxxed will bow Friday at the Angelika Film Center in New York before heading to Laemmle’s Monica Film Center on April 15. The title was scheduled to have its world premiere at the Tribeca fest on April 24.

In a synopsis released by the distributor, Vaxxed  is “an investigation into how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the government agency charged with protecting the health of American citizens, concealed and destroyed data on their 2004 study that showed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism as revealed by Dr. William Thompson, aka CDC whistle blower.  This alarming deception has contributed to the skyrocketing increase of autism, potentially the most catastrophic epidemic of our lifetime.”

The selection of the anti-vaccination documentary prompted an outcry from doctors, researchers and activists against the largely discredited science behind the film. The festival had affirmed the film’s inclusion, with fest co-founder Robert De Niro stating that the topic was a “personal” one for him. The decision was reversed following the outcry.

“My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family,” De Niro said in a statement. “But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.”

Cinema Libre’s Richard Castro said to Deadline on Thursday: “The film is already selling out shows at the Angelika, and it hasn’t even opened yet. I’m confidently anticipating massive audience support for Vaxxed, both in New York and in Los Angeles in a couple of weeks. From there, we’ll take it where the people want to see it and, so far, there are people all over the country asking when it will open in their city.”

Vaxxed was financed through donations from individual families and supporters, according to Cinema Libre, and was acquired from Autism Media Channel in a deal negotiated by Wakefield for Autism Media Channel and Bigtree with Richard  Castro.

The Dark Horse
Director-writer: James Napier Robertson
Cast: Cliff Curtis, James Rolleston, Sia Trokenheim, Kirk Torrance, Xavier Horan, Miriama McDowell, Baz Te Hira, Wayne Hapi
Distributor: Broad Green Pictures

The Dark Horse posterVeteran television actor James Napier Robertson returns as director with his second big-screen feature, The Dark Horse, opening in two New York and L.A. locations this weekend. Based on a true story, the film centers on the life of charismatic and brilliant chess champion Genesis Potini. His emotionally charged story is about finding the courage to lead, despite his own struggles — finding purpose and hope in passing on his gift to the children of his community.

“[The Dark Horse] was one of the first films I saw when I started here [at Broad Green],” said Travis Reid, the company’s President of Theatrical Distribution. “I really liked the movie. It’s small, but I was really surprised how good it is. Cliff Curtis is really tremendous in the movie. We met with [Robertson and producer Tom Hern], who could not be nicer and more talented. … We’re already in conversations with them about future projects.” Curtis is filming the next season of Fear the Walking Dead but is managing to do a good amount of publicity for the title along with Robertson.

Word-of-mouth will be the primary driving force behind The Dark Horse as it slowly makes its way into theaters starting Friday. The company has hosted tastemaker screenings, which have been “very positive,” according to Reid. The Dark Horse has a 97% Fresh on RT as of Friday morning.

“I’m sure we’ll stay at a very high score,” added Reid. “Other important people in the industry have been very supportive. James Cameron [hosted] the L.A. premiere [Wednesday night] at the ACE Hotel and is hosting a dinner.”

Broad Green is opening the feature at the Angelika in NYC and the Royal in L.A. It will head to San Francisco April 8, followed tentatively with an additional three or four markets. “We want to go slow and let word-of-mouth lead the expansion.”

Chongqing Hot Pot
Director-writer: Yang Qing
Cast: Chen Kun, Bai Baihe, Qin Hao, Yu Entai
Distributor: China Lion

ChongqingHotPotThe opening-night film of the recent Hong Kong Film Festival, Chongqing Hot Pot revolves around three friends who open a hot pot restaurant in a former bomb shelter. Soon, they discover it’s linked by a single wall to the bank vault next door. While deciding to take the easy money or go to the police, they find out one of the bank’s employees is a former classmate and look to enlist her in deciding their future.

“We were introduced to it through Distribution Workshop, a Hong Kong-based sales company that we’ve picked up past films from,” said China Lion exec Robert Lundberg. “We had great success last year opening Let’s Get Married ($180,929 debut weekend gross in 39 theaters) in the same weekend, and we’re hoping to duplicate it, though we’ve pivoted to a different genre based on audience demand.” China Lion is banking on Chongqing Hot Pot female lead Bai Baihe and male lead Chen Kun will draw in its core Chinese-language moviegoers as well as “Asian film aficionados looking for a thriller in theaters.”

“We’re definitely aiming for a mix of first-language Chinese speakers and Western art house audiences. We’re trying some new locations,” said Lundberg. “We’re going out to critics, as we’re hoping to drive interest through expected positive reviews. The director has crafted the film’s narrative to appeal to both Chinese speakers and non-Chinese speakers and as such, we’re eager to see results for the weekend.”

China Lion will open Chongqing Hot Pot on Friday alongside its bow in China. In North America, the title will open in 20 cities and is looking to expand the following week. Added Lundberg, “We’ll be looking to expand aggressively on April 8 with positive results, hoping to double [the film’s] theater count if our expectations are met.”

Francofonia
Director-writer: Aleksandr Sokurov
Cast: Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Benjamin Utzerath, Vincent Nemeth, Johanna Korthals
Distributor: Music Box Films

Francofonia poster“In Francofonia, Aleksandr Sokurov does for the Louvre what he did for the Hermitage in Russian Ark, demonstrating that a museum can be the heart of a nation and civilization itself,” said Music Box Films’ Brian Andreotti, referring to the Russian filmmaker’s 2002 box office hit that Wellspring released in North America, eventually grossing $3 million. “The unique combination of genres and styles he employs here has resulted in one of his most accessible and affecting films to date.”

Against the backdrop of the Louvre’s history and artworks, Sokurov applies his uniquely personal vision onto staged re-enactments and archives for a fascinating portrait of real-life characters Jacques Jaujard and Count Franziskus Wolff-Metternich and their compulsory collaboration at the Paris museum under the Nazi occupation. Entrusted by Hitler to supervise France’s art collection for the Nazis, Wolff-Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath) arrives to find the Louvre mostly empty. The museum director, Jaujard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), already has dispersed artworks to chateaux around the country to protect it from deportation to the Third Reich. These two men — enemies then collaborators — share an alliance that would become the driving force behind the preservation of museum treasures.

“We are partnering with art museums, galleries, curators and conservationists to reach art lovers across the country,” added Andreotti. “And because this is very much an international production, we have had success reaching out to Russian, French and German groups.”

Francofonia opens Friday at Film Forum and Lincoln Plaza Cinema in New York. The feature will lead to Los Angeles on April 15, followed by a platform release into the top 25 markets over several weeks in a traditional window. DVD/Blu-ray and transactional are set for June 28 with SVOD via Amazon Prime to follow.