Actress-filmmaker Rebecca Miller wrote the character Julianne Moore plays in Maggie’s Plan with her in mind. Moore, who stars along with Greta Gerwig and Ethan Hawke, won the Best Actress Oscar last year for Still Alice, which Sony Pictures Classics released. The company is taking Maggie’s Plan out this weekend. Penélope Cruz, meanwhile, will be in New York for Q&As for her latest film, Ma ma, beginning its U.S. release via Oscilloscope. The two features are among the narratives opening in the specialty arena, which will be joined by a number of diverse documentaries. Sundance Selects is opening Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Weiner, while the Film Sales Company is going to open 2015 Sundance Special Jury Prize winner Pervert Park, making its bow exclusively at IFP’s Made in New York Media Center. And The Orchard is opening Tribeca 2015 docu Almost Holy in New York and Los Angeles.

Maggie’s Plan
Director-writer: Rebecca Miller
Writer: Karen Rinaldi
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, JMaggie's Plan posterulianne Moore, Bill Hader, Travis Fimmel, Maya Rudolph
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Producer Rachael Horovitz and filmmaker Rebecca Miller knew each other well before their paths crossed again for Maggie’s Plan. After Miller spent time in Ireland, the two found each other again when their kids attended the same school in New York. “She came to me soon after I worked [as a producer] on Moneyball in early 2012,” said Horowitz. “We talked about a lot of ideas she had, but this was the one that stood out. It was fortuitous and great timing for her to make a New York movie since she had come back from Ireland. It’s a New York love story.”

In Maggie’s Plan, Greta Gerwig portrays Maggie Hardin, a vibrant and practical thirtysomething New Yorker working at the New School who, without success in finding love, decides now is the time to have a child on her own. But when she meets John Harding (Ethan Hawke), a “ficto-critical anthropologist” and struggling novelist, Maggie falls in love for the first time and adjusts her plans for motherhood. Complicating matters, John is in an unhappy marriage with Georgette Nørgaard (Julianne Moore), an ambitious Danish academic. With some help from Maggie’s eccentric and hilarious best friends, married couple Tony (Bill Hader) and Felicia (Maya Rudolph), she sets in motion a bold new plan that intertwines the three main characters’ lives and connects them in surprising and humorous ways. Maggie learns that sometimes destiny should be left to its own devices.

“We were both excited, and she was inspired to go home and write this,” said Horovitz. “She wrote quickly, and I [soon] saw 30 or so pages. We met regularly and developed the script together along with her producing partner.” Others including Locomotive Film’s Alex Kerry and Lucy Donnelly along with London-based Protagonist Pictures, which also worked with Horovitz previously, came on board as producers. Financing came via a combination of private sources along with foreign presales, which Protagonist arranged out of Cannes. Miller wrote the Georgette character with Moore in mind. The two already were friends before the project. Gerwig and Hawke joined the cast afterward.

Maggie’s Plan shot in February 2015, coinciding with a blast of winter weather in New York. “The first two days were some of the coldest days I remember, coinciding with a ‘winter vortex,’” said Horovitz. “But we did have a wonderful shoot. We were looking at outtakes for the DVD yesterday, and it was fun to remember that time. The night of Bill Hader’s shoot, people just stayed late because they didn’t want to go home.”

Sony Pictures Classics picked up the feature out of Toronto, where it had its premiere. Maggie’s Plan also played New York, Sundance, Berlin and San Francisco festivals. The film opens today in five New York and Los Angeles theaters before expanding to additional cities in the coming weeks.

Ma ma
Director-writer: Julio Medem
Cast: Penélope Cruz, Luis Tosar, Asier Etxeanida, Teo Planell, Anna Jiménez
Distributor:

Ma ma posterOscilloscope screened Ma ma ahead of its debut at Toronto last year. The combination of Oscar winner Penélope Cruz and Spanish filmmaker Julio Medem were attractive draws for the company.

Ma ma follows Magda (Cruz) as she experiences tragedies and miracles alike. Just as Magda is diagnosed with breast cancer, she meets Arturo (Luis Tosar), a devoted husband and father in the midst of unspeakable loss. Their chance encounter leads both down a path of strength, grace, love and rebirth.

Fifteen years later, [Medem’s] Sex and Lucia remains a seminal piece of Spanish art house cinema, so we were excited by the opportunity to work on one of his films,” Oscilloscope exec Andrew Carlin said. “This is classic melodrama in the best sense. So often that word is used as a pejorative, but good melodrama is one of the most inclusive and accessible genres of film, so we think the audience appeal within the art house world will be quite broad.” On the promotional side, Carlin noted Cruz’s schedule includes appearances on The Tonight Show, Good Morning America and Charlie Rose ahead of the weekend’s release.

“This has been something of a passion project for Penelope, so it was her desire to be integral to the film’s promotion,” added Carlin. “And because she’s one of the most well-known and well-respected actresses in the world, we were able to secure a significant amount of publicity. The flip side to that, however, is her limited availability, so the release was somewhat a product of scheduling. Regardless though, we feel like the timing — a late-spring release — is a very appropriate period for the film.”

Oscilloscope is planning a traditional release with a standard 120-day window, opening exclusively in New York today at the Sunshine, where Cruz will be taking part in Q&As. The company said it will add about a dozen runs in the Los Angeles and South Florida area on Memorial Day weekend, ahead of opening in the top 25 markets by mid-June.

Weiner
Directors-writers: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg
Writer: Eli B. Despres
Subjects: Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin
Distributor: Sundance Selects

Weiner posterWeiner co-director Josh Kriegman worked for politician Anthony Weiner when he ran for mayor of New York in 2005. He later went into production, working with fellow filmmaker Elyse Steinberg on film and television projects. After hearing that Weiner would run for mayor again in 2013, the duo decided to pick up the camera to follow the events.

From 1999 until 2011, Weiner served as a congressman on the cusp of higher office before a sexting scandal forced a humiliating resignation. Just two years later, he ran for mayor of New York City, betting that his ideas would trump his indiscretions. He was wrong. With unprecedented access to Weiner, his family and his campaign team, the documentary is a look inside a political comeback-turned-meltdown. What begins as an unexpected surge to the top of the polls takes a sharp turn once Weiner is forced to admit to new sexting allegations. As the media descends and dissects his every move, Weiner desperately tries to forge ahead, but the increasing pressure and crippling 24-hour news coverage halt his political aspirations.

“For me it’s one of the best documentaries about a political campaign I’ve ever seen. I can compare it to The War Room (1993),” said IFC Films president Jonathan Sehring. “I find it amazing because of his hubris, but I also feel real empathy for him. I can’t say I felt that when it was all going on, but I felt it for him and for [his wife, Huma Abedin]. I think the filmmakers did an amazing job.”

Kriegman and Sternberg won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, where Sundance Selects announced its acquisition of the title. Sundance Selects is expecting to attract an audience beyond those familiar with Weiner’s rise and fall as it heads to theaters this weekend. “I think it’s going to play well beyond political junkies and documentary film [fans],” added Sehring. “This is something I’m very excited about. I think any intelligent moviegoer will find this [compelling], but also anyone interested in seeing how a tragedy plays out in [what is now] an altered media landscape.”

Sundance Selects opens Weiner day-and-date today, bowing theatrically at IFC Center, Lincoln Plaza and City Cinemas in New York. It will go wider heading into Memorial Day weekend.

Almost Holy
Director-writer: Steve Hoover
Subject: Gennadly Mokhnenko
Distributor: The Orchard

Almost Holy posterThe faith community is one major group that is being targeted for this weekend’s release of Almost Holy, executive produced by Terrence Malick. The film centers on religious figure Gennadiy Mokhnenko, who has made a name for himself by forcibly abducting drug-addicted homeless kids from the streets of Mariupol, Ukraine. As his country leans toward a European Union inclusion, hopes of continued post-Soviet revitalization seem possible. In the meantime, Gennadiy’s center has evolved into a more nebulous institution.

“You rarely see this kind of a hero portrayed in a documentary,” said Paul Davidson, EVP of Film and Television at the Orchard. “He’s an unforgiving subject. A lot of the actions he takes are against the law, but he’s doing it for the betterment of kids.” The title includes a score by Oscar winner Atticus Ross, who shared the Academy Award for Original Score with Trent Reznor for The Social Network in 2010. An EP hit iTunes today that features music from the film along with what Davidson described as a “visual mood piece” by Atticus.

“This time of the year felt like the right time to release Almost Holy,” said Davidson, who saw the title at its Tribeca premiere in 2015. “Some of the ‘bigger’ docs will land in July, just like what we did for Cartel Land last year.” The Orchard has been targeting public radio audiences in addition to tapping viewers of the Christian Broadcasting Network in the lead-up to the title’s release Friday. “CBN has been a good partner,” added Davidson. “CBN saw something worth messaging here to their community. There are many people who are in horrible situations, and anything we can do to drive action to help is a worthy thing to do — not just in the Ukraine but also in our own backyards.”

The Orchard opens Almost Holy today at the Sundance Sunset in L.A. and Village East in New York. The film will expand into major markets during the next several weeks.

Pervert Park
Directors-writers: Frida Barkfors, Lasse Barkfors
Distribution: The Film Sales Company

Pervert Park posterThe subject matter behind documentary Pervert Park would have posed a worthy obstacle for any filmmaker, let alone novices. Scandinavian filmmakers Frida and Lasse Barkfors tackled the project as their first feature film and in another country — the U.S. Initially, the duo — who read a newspaper article about the “park,” piquing their interest — worked with a Swedish production company, but they approached another production group in 2011 in Denmark after parting ways with their earlier arrangement.

The film chronicles the lives of 120 convicted sex offenders, who live in a place dubbed “Pervert Park.” Like in many other U.S. states, sex offenders are not allowed to live within 1,000 feet of places frequented by children. The crimes committed by the residents range from simple misdemeanors to horrendous acts. The feature blends candid interviews with observational footage, revealing the personal stories behind each of their subjects with their offenses as well as their demons, bearing witness to stories seldom heard.

“They had already been to the park and came to us to ask if we’d produce the film,” said producer Anne Kohncke. “We tried to raise financing in Denmark, but the usual places we go to said, no. This was their first film and for them to take on such a controversial subject made it really hard.” Although the Danish Film Institute turned the project down, the filmmaking team turned to a program run through the organization called Film Workshop, which provides very small funding and equipment.

“[Frida and Lasse Barkfors] received that and they just went back to Florida,” said Kohncke, noting that the duo had built relationships with their subjects and were eager to get the filming process underway. “They had the trust of the people in the park, so they had to go.” Following the quick shoot, the Barkforses formed a production company in Sweden, eventually finding additional resources through traditional film funding entities at home. Kohncke’s company showed footage to broadcasters, who picked up rights to the title, and the film also sold to other territories. Noted Kohncke: “People were afraid of the balance that would be presented in [the film], but when we had a rough cut, we were able to get broadcasters on board.”

Pervert Park debuted at Denmark’s CPH: DOX festival, followed by Sundance 2015, where it won a Special Jury “Impact” Prize. Andrew Herwitz’s the Film Sales Company is handling the title’s U.S. release directly. The sales outfit has released features on its own in the past, including Live-in Maid (2007), Bones Brigade: An Autobiography (2012) and The Birth of Sake (2015). The company is banking on strong reviews out of New York to push its further release beyond this weekend’s exclusive showing at IFP’s Made in New York Media Center.