After a career as writer, producer and distribution chief, James Schamus makes his feature directorial debut with Indignation, in theaters following a fest circuit that included Sundance, Berlin, San Francisco, Seattle and others. The Roadside/Summit release is also being eyed as a breakout role for actor Logan Lerman. The feature is coming out on a busy weekend for Specialty releases, perhaps hinting at a packed fall. Two docs about public figures dealing with unexpected hardship are also making their bows: Oscar-winner Barbara Kopple’s Miss Sharon Jones!, opening via Starz Digital, about the Grammy-nominated R&B singer, while Amazon Studios and Open Road Films launch Clay Tweel’s Gleason about NFL defensive back Steve Gleason. Sony Classics is opening Equity with Anna Gunn in New York and Los Angeles, while A24’s Into the Forest by Patricia Rozema and starring Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood hits theaters in limited release.

Also in theaters will be Netflix’s Tallulah, again featuring Ellen Page. The title will also be available via Netflix on-demand. Samuel Goldwyn films is opening Can We Take a Joke in theaters over the weekend ahead of VOD August 2, and Invincible Pictures will bow Lace Crater by Harrison Atkins day and date.

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Summit/Roadside Attractions

Indignation

Director-writer: James Schamus
Writer: Philip Roth (novel)
Cast: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Danny Burstein, Tracy Letts, Ben Rosenfield, Linda Emond
Distributor: Roadside Attractions/Summit Entertainment

Former Focus Features chief James Schamus is certainly no stranger to the production side of the movie biz. He’s produced dozens of films, sharing an Oscar nomination for Best Picture in 2006 for Brokeback Mountain and a Best Adapted Screenplay nod for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2001. Indignation is Schamus’ first directorial feature, opening this weekend via Roadside and Summit.

The Sundance ’16 debut, set in 1951, focuses on Marcus (Logan Lerman), a working-class Jewish student from New Jersey attending a small Ohio college where he struggles with sexual repression and cultural disaffection amid the ongoing Korean War.

“It has had rave reviews and also been called one of the best adaptations of a Philip Roth [story] that’s ever been made,” said Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen. “The movie is dramatic, moving and gets to the heart of his work. It’s somewhat autobiographical.” Not surprisingly, Schamus has participated in many aspects of the title’s release. Additionally, he’s gone on an extensive media tour, complementing the media attention given star Logan Lerman in the lead-up to its theatrical release today.

“It’s one of the best experiences we’ve ever had with a filmmaker,” said Cohen. “There’s such a great shorthand and [Schamus] has great ideas. He’s been involved in a positive way with everything from marketing, trailer, poster, etc. He gets it in a very profound way and is very appreciative. He knows what distributors care about. It could have been someone who has a big ego about it, but that is certainly not the case with James.”

Indignation has been screened at a host of festivals as well as Jewish events, along with a fair number of word-of-mouth screenings. Roadside is positioning it as a “serious, quality” drama to distinguish it from the studio tentpoles and mostly lighthearted offerings on the Specialty side. “It’s a unique movie in the marketplace, it’s a very classy high-end adaptation with a high profile filmmaker,” said Cohen. “There are other profile Specialty movies going on in the summer, but we’re looking at this as a great, serious movie with great credentials that’s going on in a summer of superhero movies.”

Indignation will open in four theaters this weekend including Lincoln Plaza and the Sunshine in New York as well as the Arclight and Landmark in Los Angeles. The title will then head to about 50 theaters August 12. Added Cohen: “We’re very jazzed there’s a lot of momentum going into the weekend. Logan is doing a lot of talk shows. He’s obviously not a huge name yet, but people are looking at him as a star in the making.”

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Starz Digital

Miss Sharon Jones!
Director: Barbara Kopple
Subject: Sharon Jones
Distributor: Starz Digital

R&B singer Sharon Jones’ manager had an idea to make a documentary about the artist. Two producers who had worked with two-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple put forward her name, and very quickly Miss Sharon Jones! was underway. “One week later, I was called up about something I should film in Cooperstown, New York,” said Kopple. “That first shoot [at the end of August, 2013] was Sharon getting her hair cut and trying on wigs. That’s when we saw her humor.”

The documentary follows the talented and gregarious soul singer of Grammy-nominated R&B band Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. In the most challenging year of her life, Jones confronts pancreatic cancer, and as she struggles to find her health and voice again, the feature intimately uncovers the mind and spirit of a powerful woman determined to restart her newly explosive singing career.

“We filmed over three years,” said Kopple. “Financing wasn’t in place, but that doesn’t matter to me. In documentary, you can’t get people to repeat things. You can’t stop life, you just have to go for it.” As filming continued, Jones was living in Upstate New York where a friend was coaching her into a more healthy lifestyle. Kopple also accompanied Jones to the medical facility for her treatments.

“VH1 came in with financing, but over the course of the [project], they changed course and weren’t doing rock docs anymore, so I went into my savings,” said Kopple. “Her friend was having her drink all these green drinks when all she wanted was pork and brisket, so it was interesting to see her getting used to that. I also filmed her getting chemotherapy, but she was always the sunshine in the room, talking to people, showing her videos. You could still feel her pain, but she took such a positive attitude toward things and it was really infectious.”

Jones gave Kopple mostly free rein, but had one request. “She said to me, ‘I don’t want this to be a reality series, so no filming me getting out of bed,’” said Kopple. “Filming her at the Beacon Theater was a tremendous challenge for me. It’s the most powerful scene in the film. She hadn’t sung for seven-months-plus and here she was with a sold-out audience.” Kopple said that Jones was nervous, worried that her regimen would have changed her performance ability. “When she went in front of the curtain, the audience erupted and could feel her adrenaline.”

Starz Digital is opening Miss Sharon Jones! today at IFC Center in New York and next Friday, August 5, in LA at the NuArt. It will continue to expand throughout August and September to about 50 theaters. On-demand plans are still pending.

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Sony Pictures Classics

Equity
Director: Meera Menon
Writers: Amy Fox
Cast: Anna Gunn, James Purefoy, Sarah Megan Thomas, Alysia Reiner
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Sony Classics picked up Equity out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is pegging it as a financial thriller that will serve as an alternative to the summer studio releases.

The title centers on senior investment banker Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn), who is passed over for a promotion at her firm. She fights for the opportunity to take a start-up public, hoping this promising IPO will secure her a place at the firm’s highest level. But when an employee at the start-up raises questions about a possible crack in the company’s walls, Naomi must decide whether to investigate rumors that may compromise the deal, or push forward with the confidence her superiors expect. Soon Naomi finds herself tangled in a web of deception and office politics and begins to question if there is anyone she can trust. As the IPO draws closer, Naomi sees that the career choices she has made have left her very much alone.

“What excited us most about the film is that it’s a Wall Street story that’s presented from a professional female’s point of view,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. “We haven’t quite seen that before. Wolf of Wall Street and Margin Call were very [male-centric].” He added that the film received financing from women working in the financial world and its two principal producers, Sarah Megan Thomas and Alysia Reiner, star in the film.

Barker gave kudos to Equity’s director, Meera Menon, and its cast. He likened the title to Margin Call’s break-out possibilities, which could tap into Awards Season attention. “It’s an intelligent indie film that’s extremely well made. It reminds me a lot of a movie like Margin Call, which came out of nowhere, but is very timely with wonderful performances.”

Sony Classics will open Equity in New York and Los Angeles this weekend and will then take the feature to additional markets including San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C. the following week.

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A24

Into The Forest
Director-writer: Patricia Rozema
Writer: Jean Hegland
Cast: Ellen Page, Evan Rachel Wood, Max Minghella, Mike Eklund, Wendy Crewson, Callum Rennie
Distributor: A24

Filmmaker Patricia Rozema and actress Ellen Page had been working on a project three years ago that ended up not coming to fruition. Then Page approached Rozema with the novel Into the Forest by Jean Hegland.

Set in the near future, the apocalyptic drama follows two sisters, Nell (Ellen Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood), who live in the Pacific Northwest with their father Robert. Nell is focused on her studies and Eva is training to be a dancer, but their peaceful lives are disrupted one day by what turns out to be a continent-wide blackout. At first the family bonds together and tries to make the most of difficult circumstances, but as time goes on the challenges become more serious.  In the wake of a shocking and violent confrontation between Robert and a menacing passerby, the sisters must work together in order to survive in an increasingly treacherous new world.

“I liked how it tapped into fear and abandonment which is a universal [emotion] right now,” said writer-director Rozema. “It’s character-based, but there are plot turns too. [The two women] lose their support systems, including parents, and they have to venture out on their own.”

Initially, the plan was to make the film stateside, but Canadian incentives including help from Telefilm Canada and provincial enticements from British Columbia took the project north. Producers included Page and Aaron Gilbert (The Birth of a Nation). Additionally, Toronto-based Rhombus Media helped spearhead the title’s Canadian shoot.

Page was acquainted with Evan Rachel Wood and sent her the script. “She read it that afternoon and was in that afternoon,” said Rozema. “Similarly with Max Minghella, we approached him casually and he loved it and was in. There was a lot of tapping into friendships that got this made. The long runaround with agents didn’t exist. That can be a big slowdown for independent films.”

The shoot took place over 28 days in Vancouver Island and elsewhere in B.C. “It’s alway pushing an elephant up a mountain, but this was really a dream shoot,” said Rozema. “Ellen and I are friends, so it worked. I had some initial worries that my lead actor would be my producer, but we did very well. We’d keep talking until we both found a mutual way forward. The editing process was more of a struggle.”

A cut of the film was finished after three to four months of editing, but a decision was made to go back in and reconsider the edit, which finished in time for its Toronto premiere last September. “The tone of this is quite delicate,” added Rozema. “It has the dread of an apocalyptic story, but it’s also matter of fact and maintains suspense. It also gives the passage of time — like what happens when there’s no more television, video games, etc…”

A24 picked up Into the Forest out of TIFF and open it in limited release this weekend.

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Amazon/Open Road

Gleason

Director-writer: Clay Tweel
Subject: Steve Gleason
Distributor: Amazon Studios/Open Road Films

A few years back, filmmaker Clay Tweel saw a teaser trailer during the Sundance Film Festival about former NFL defensive back Steve Gleason, who received adulation for blocking a punt in the first game after the Superdome reopened post-Hurricane Katrina. Later, Gleason was diagnosed with ALS at age 34, given only five years to live. “I saw it as the potential to be heart-warming and heart-wrenching at the same time,” said Tweel. “It hit me in a personal way because I have an older sister who has MS. My family had known Muhammad Ali because my dad was his attorney. I jumped on a plane a couple days after and went down to profess my love of the story to Steve and [his wife] Michel. Soon afterward we were making a movie [in 2014].”

About 1,300 hours of footage had already been collected by the time Tweel boarded the project. Gleason learned his wife was pregnant shortly after his diagnosis, and determined to live his remaining years to the fullest, goes on an expedition to Alaska, creates a foundation to help other ALS patients, repairs a rocky relationship with his father and embraces new technologies to help compensate for his deteriorating physical abilities.

“There were a thousand stories that could be made, but what spoke to me was the intergenerational topic of fatherhood,” said Tweel. “There were lessons he had with his father that he wanted to leave for his son. There was also the emotional journey Michel was having. I haven’t seen that in a lot of other movies, so those two [themes] jumped out at me.”

Gleason and Tweel talked about process. The filmmaker wanted to be able to show how ALS would affect him physically and mentally. “The movie is so intimate, raw and Steve and Michel are so honest, so it was important I have a dialog about not exploiting their vulnerabilities…I joined right when Steve was about to lose his ability to use his fingers. He was having difficulty getting around in his wheelchair.”

The feature debuted at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival where Amazon Studios picked up the title, tapping Open Road Films for its theatrical release this weekend. The film opens in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and New Orleans before heading across the nation over the coming weeks, reaching its widest point in mid-August. Said Tweel: “One of the marketing challenges is that people may think it’s very sad. But when they get to see the movie and talk about it, they’ll [say how] remarkably hopeful and humorous it is at the same time.”