After last weekend’s crowded slate of high-profile openers, the July 4 holiday weekend is comparatively sparse with new debuts, though audiences seeking Specialty respite from big titles The BFG, The Legend of Tarzan and The Purge: Election Year will have some options, at least on the coasts. Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions is bowing Susanna White’s Our Kind Of Traitor in several hundred locations around the country, starring Stellan Skarsgård, Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris, easily the biggest debut among the weekend’s Specialty offerings. The Orchard is heading out with doc Life, Animated, a festival favorite the company hopes will emulate the success of its 2015 Oscar-nominee (and quite different) Cartel Land. Music Box Films is opening Anne Fontaine’s The Innocents, which has been likened to Best Foreign Language winner Ida. And after about two years away from the big screen here, Michel Gondry returns with his latest, road trip pic Microbe And Gasoline.
Also opening in limited release this weekend is bromantic comedy Buddymoon from Gravitas Ventures, bowing day and date, starring Flula Borg and David Giuntoli, as well as Roseanne For President! in NYC and LA via IFC Films.
Our Kind Of Traitor
Director: Susanna White
Writers: Hossein Amini, John le Carré (novel)
Cast: Stellan Skarsgård, Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris, Carlos Acosta, Radivoje Bukvic, Doyla Gavanski, Velibor Topic, Alec Utgoff
Distributor: Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions
Our Kind of Traitor was part of a three picture deal Lionsgate did with Studio Canal at last year’s AFM, which also included The Commuter and Robinson Crusoe.
Our Kind of Traitor centers on English couple Perry (Ewan McGregor) and Gail (Naomie Harris), who befriend a flamboyant and charismatic Russian (Stellan Skarsgård) while on holiday in Marrakech. Unbeknownst to the couple, Dima is a kingpin money launderer for the Russian mafia. When Dima asks for their help to deliver classified information to the British Secret Services, Perry and Gail get caught in a dangerous world of international espionage and dirty politics. The couple is propelled on a perilous journey through Paris and Bern, a safe house in the French Alps, to the murky corners of London and an alliance with the British Government via a ruthless and determined MI6 agent (Damian Lewis).
“It’s a spy thriller follow-up of sorts to A Most Wanted Man, which we opened in July, 2014 on roughly the same number of screens,” said Roadside Attractions’ co-president Howard Cohen. “We had been discussing [this film] at AFM and it fit our slate for the coming year. It’s counter-programming and we knew this weekend there would be few new Specialized offerings for this weekend.”
Roadside Attractions bowed A Most Wanted Man with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rachel McAdams in late July, 2014 in 361 theaters, grossing over $2.68 million its opening weekend ($7,444 average), going on to cume over $17.23 million.
“We’re targeting the smarter, older audience, which is our sweet spot,” said Cohen. “This is very different from the audience the big three releases are going for. Our marketing is being driven with TV and online advertising… It’s a spotlight on the British financial system which some reviewers are referencing because of the news lately, though this isn’t [a commentary] on its relationship with the E.U.”
Our Kind Of Traitor will open in 358 U.S. theaters as well as 15 locations in Canada. The feature will expand based on performance its first weekend.
Director: Roger Ross Williams
Subjects: Owen Suskind, Jonathan Freeman, Gilbert Gottfried, Ron Suskind
Distributor: The Orchard
Distributor The Orchard saw Oscar-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams’ Life, Animated, at its Sundance Film Festival debut in January. The film follows Owen Suskind, a young man who didn’t speak as a child until he and his family discovered a unique way to communicate by immersing themselves in the world of classic Disney animated films. This emotional coming-of-age story follows Owen as he graduates to adulthood and takes his first steps toward independence. The subject of his father Ron Suskind’s bestselling book of the same title, Owen was a thriving three year old who inexplicably went silent – and for years after remained unable to connect with people or convey his thoughts. Over time, through repeated viewings of Disney classics like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King, Owen found useful tools to help him understand complex social cues and re-connect with the world around him.
“It’s about how movies can inspire and change lives,” said The Orchard EVP Paul Davidson. “The thing that moved us, and all who watch the film, is that everyone can relate to facing challenges in life and hearing that there are no immediate solutions. But with this, there’s a family that figures out [the challenge] for themselves. We were sold on that concept from the beginning because it touches you in a special way.”
Rights to use the Disney animated films were sorted before The Orchard came on as the feature’s distributor, and Davidson noted that the studio is a “supporter” of the film, which opens exclusively in theaters this weekend. The company is taking a cue from its 2015 doc release Cartel Land in opening Life, Animated in summer. “From a release standpoint, we’ve been fans of opening docs with audience and awards potential in the summer because it’s counter-programming,” said Davidson. “We had a similar release plan for Cartel Land. It’s the right timing for an Awards contender.” Life, Animated has already picked up a number of prizes on the festival circuit including Audience Awards at the recent San Francisco International Film Festival and Nantucket Film Festival. Williams won the Directing Award at Sundance.
“We are doing a lot of work with autism groups and there’s no lack of support for this film,” added Davidson. “There are appearances [set] for Nightline, The View, GMA, and Access Hollywood has shown the trailer. We’re doing a combination of grassroots outreach along with general marketing.”
Life, Animated will open at IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza in New York today as well as the Landmark in LA. Roger Ross Williams and family members will participate in Q&As. There is also a planned one-day screening of the film on 50-75 screens across the country via Regal Cinemas, where subject Owen Suskind works. The Orchard expects the film to play the top 50 markets through summer.
Director-writer: Anne Fontaine
Writers: Sabrina B. Karine, Alice Vial
Cast: Lou de Laâge, Agata Buzek, Agata Kulesza, Vincent Macaigne, Joanna Kulig, Eliza Rycembel, Anna Prochniak Katarzyna Dabrowska
Distributor: Music Box Films
Sundance’s The Innocents by Luxembourg-born director Anne Fontaine (Adore, Coco Before Chanel) heads into theaters this weekend following screenings at COLCOA, San Francisco, Seattle, San Francisco and Provincetown film festivals. The title won the Audience prize at the latter event.
In Warsaw as WWII is ending, French Red Cross doctor Mathilde is treating the last of the French survivors of the German camps. When a panicked Benedictine nun appears at the clinic begging Mathilde to follow her back to the convent, she finds something shocking: a nun about to give birth and several more in advanced stages of pregnancy. A non-believer, Mathilde enters the sisters’ fiercely private world, dictated by the rituals of their order and the strict Rev. Mother (Agata Kulesza, Ida). Fearing the shame of exposure, the hostility of the occupying Soviet troops and local Polish communists and while facing an unprecedented crisis of faith, the nuns increasingly turn to Mathilde as their beliefs and traditions clash with harsh realities.
“This is different than her previous films. It’s an historical drama which she pulled off spectacularly,” said Music Box Films Managing Director Ed Arentz. “We bought it at Sundance from [French sales company] Films Distribution. We were in tears at the Eccles screening. It has echoes of [Pawel Pawlikoski’s Oscar winner] Ida, though not that they’re the same movie, but more that the film spotlights unaddressed traumas.”
Arrant said that finding the right time to release a title can often come down to simple availability. He noted that ideally he might have picked a slightly later date for The Innocents’ roll-out, though he ultimately sees the film working regardless of season. “I would have frankly preferred to do later in the summer,” he said. “It will come down to how people are responding to the trailer, etc. I do think it’s a movie that can play any time of the year though.”
Music Box Films is working with Atlanta-based Carmel Communications to tap the Catholic community and media. Arentz said the title is not a “faith-based film,” but instead hints at issues that are not so “black and white.” “I think the art house is highly playable,” added Arentz. “To the extent that we can play beyond that to a Catholic audience that may not be habitués of art house cinema will also be great.”
Music Box will open The Innocents at the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza theaters in New York as well as Landmark in Los Angeles this weekend. Added Arentz: “For week two, we broaden to about 25 screens in L.A. and New York suburbs as well as in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Detroit. By August 5 we’ll be in 100-plus [locations].”
Microbe And Gasoline
Director-writer: Michel Gondry
Cast: Ange Dargent, Théophile Baquet, Audrey Tautou, Diane Besnier
Distributor: Screen Media
Microbe And Gasoline is French filmmaker Michel Gondry’s first feature since Drafthouse Films’ Mood Indigo in summer, 2014 ($303,187 North American gross). The feature centers on Microbe, a shy, aspiring artist, has trouble making friends at school until he meets Gasoline, a likeminded outcast. Together they hatch a plan to build a car and spend their summer on an epic road trip across France.
“We saw the film after its New York Film Festival debut. We knew it hung around for awhile after its French debut,” said Screen Media’s Tom Yagielski. “We struck a deal with Studio Canal soon afterward. We’ve been huge fans of Gondry’s work over the years, and critics are warming to this film maybe more than the past few. It’s his most satisfying since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
Focus Features released that title in March 2004, grossing over $34.4 million. Gondry’s biggest grosser remains Sony’s The Green Hornet, which the studio released in 2011, eventually grossing over $98.7 million.
“This is a road trip, so we thought it was a nice fit thematically with summer,” added Yagielski. “With the 4th of July weekend, we saw a bit of an opening in the art house space in New York and Los Angeles. There were a lot of big art house openings last week, so we thought this weekend provided a chance for [Microbe And Gasoline] to have more space… It is for the Gondry fan and core art house fans.” Screen Media hosted Gondry in NYC this week for various events including a Master Class at IFP, press with AOL Build and Q&As at the Sunshine Theater this weekend.
“We’ve also done a lot of word of mouth screenings including one at [New York’s] Museum of the Moving Image where we had to turn people away. The film also played a number of regional festivals over the spring.”
In addition to the Sunshine, the feature will play the Nuart in L.A. this weekend before expanding to a half dozen additional screens on July 15 ahead of more locations throughout the month. “We’re excited to have a 92% on RT,” added Yagielski. “We hope that as more reviews come in we’ll see the same kind of reaction.”