Moving into late summer, a wide-ranging group of alternatives to the tentpoles hits the Specialty circuit this weekend. Sundance’s Little Men by Ira Sachs and starring Greg Kennear and Jennifer Ehle will hit theaters via Magnolia Pictures, and Austin-based filmmaker Richard Linklater is the focus of a new documentary by SXSW co-founder Louis Black and Emmy-winner Karen Bernstein in a day and date roll out from Sundance Selects. Dianne Wiest, Rosie Perez and David Oyelowo star in Maris Curran’s drama Five Nights in Maine from FilmRise, bowing in New York and Los Angeles, while doc Citizen Soldier heads to theaters via Gravitas Ventures.

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Magnolia Pictures

Little Men
Director-writer: Ira Sachs
Writer: Mauricio Zacharias
Cast: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Alfred Molina, Michael Barbieri, Theo Taplitz, Paulina Garcia, Talia Balsam, Clare Foley, Andy Karl, Yolanda Ross
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Producer Lucas Joaquin, filmmaker Ira Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias began talking about Little Men a couple years back. The film is loosely based on Japanese director Yasujirô Ozu’s 1958 film Good Morning, which was about two boys who go on a silence strike in order to get their parents to buy a television set.

Little Men follows 13 year-old Jake (Theo Taplitz) and his family who move to Brooklyn following the death of his grandfather. There, Jake befriends the charismatic Tony (Michael Barbieri), whose single mother Leonor (Paulina Garcia), a dressmaker from Chile, runs the shop downstairs. Soon, Jake’s parents Brian (Greg Kinnear) and Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) — a struggling actor and a psychotherapist, respectively — ask Leonor to sign a new, steeper lease on her store. For Leonor, the proposed new rent is untenable, and a feud ignites between the adults. At first, Jake and Tony don’t seem to notice, and develop a formative kinship. They both have dreams of going to the same prestigious arts high school together, but the children can’t avoid the problems of their parents forever, and soon, the adult conflict intrudes upon their friendship.

“We were concerned about finding the two kids. That can be difficult,” said producer Lucas Joaquin. “They had to have acting chops to carry a film, but there’s also a style Ira has that is rooted in naturalism, so they can’t feel like child actors. They needed to feel real.” Casting director Avy Kaufman found Theo Taplitz, while the filmmaking team found Michael Barbieri through a casting session at the Lee Strasburg Institute, though originally it was for the part of Jake. “[Barbieri] has a burgeoning career,” noted Joaquin who said Barbieri found representation through WME while at Little Men’s premiere at Sundance. “He’s acting in the new Spider-Man and in The Dark Tower with Matthew McConaughey.”

Chilean actress Paulina García (Gloria) was the first person cast. Her character was written for her. Financing came through private investors, many of which were involved with previous Ira Sachs feature Love Is Strange. The title shot over 25 days in Brooklyn. “It is low budget, but Ira has crews that love to work with him, so everyone was motivated,” said Joaquin. “We shot all over Brooklyn, but we did take some artistic license with the geography of [the borough] so some people who know it well took issue.”

Following its premiere at Sundance, Magnolia boarded as distributor. Little Men will open at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center in New York this weekend. The feature will then head to eight LA, Orange County and Bay Area locations as well as Washington D.C. next week, with further roll outs in major markets set throughout August and September.

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Sundance Selects

Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny
Directors: Louis Black, Karen Bernstein
Subject: Richard Linklater
Distributor: Sundance Selects

Fellow Austinites Richard Linklater and Louis Black have known each other a long time. Black, a co-founder of SXSW, Austin Chronicle as well as the Austin Film Society, met Linklater (also an AFS founder) at a club in Austin in 1985 and appeared in his seminal 1991 film Slacker. “[Producer/director] Karen Bernstein approached me and said, ‘Let’s do something about Rick.’ Rick never actually said ‘yes’ to it,” said Black. “I strategically asked him a number of questions where he could have said ‘no,’ but he didn’t. Before our first long interview, he got it totally…We’ve done so many things together with screenings and benefits that we always back each other with our projects.”

As the title suggests, Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny is a doc on the life and work of Linklater. The film is Black’s first directorial, done alongside Emmy and Grammy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Karen Bernstein. The feature looks at the independent style of filmmaking that arose in Austin in the ‘80s and early ‘90s and how Linklater’s films sparked the low budget, “in your backyard” movement across the U.S. and around the world.

“Karen began filming while [Linklater] and I did three or four long interviews,” said Black. “We have been discussing film for thirty years, but this was much more in depth than in the past. I think I got away with more [in getting him to talk] than other people might have been able to do.”

Filming took place over 18 months. Black put in seed money and worked with other investors he’s worked with on other titles.

“The first time he saw it, he said he ‘didn’t hate it,’” said Black. “We asked him to come to the Sundance premiere and he came. He’s uncomfortable talking about himself, but [in Park City] he did do a lot of interviews, so that indicates he liked it, though he didn’t want to be overly enthusiastic endorsing it.”

IFC Films co-president Jonathan Sehring was interviewed about Boyhood, which the distributor released in 2014, Linklater’s third biggest theatrical film in terms of box office ($25.35M) after studio releases School of Rock (2003, $81.2M) and Bad News Bears (2005, $32.86M). “We already had a working relationship, so it was a natural fit,” said Black about working with the company’s Sundance Selects label for the film’s release.

Karen Bernstein has a history with American Masters on PBS, where the film will be shown next year. The film will open in limited release in theaters alongside on-demand platforms day and date Friday.

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FilmRise

Five Nights in Maine
Director-writer: Maris Curran
Cast: Dianne Wiest, Rosie Perez, David Oyelowo, Teyonah Parris
Distributor: FilmRise

Filmmaker Maris Curran began writing Five Nights in Maine five years before its debut at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, coinciding with the demise of her marriage. “It came from an intimate, personal space, though it’s not autobiographical,” said Curran. “It contains ideas about the future and family, so [through that] I wrote this piece of fiction.”

Five Nights in Maine follows Sherwin (David Oyelowo) who is called to Maine by his estranged, terminally ill mother-in-law (Dianne Wiest) following the death of his wife in a tragic car accident. Grappling with a lifetime of disagreements, Lucinda and Sherwin find themselves forced to cope with their failings and grief in a quiet journey of empathy, compassion and healing.

“David [Oyelowo] and I are also producers [of the film]. We have a great indie producing team including Carly Hugo and Matthew Parker,” said Curran. “We have had a lot of conversations about how to finance indie film. This one has a cast of color and a woman over 65. The subject matter, to me, is important, but dealing with grief and subsequently love, compassion and empathy [made] it a hard film to finance, so we couldn’t go through traditional routes.”

Curran showed the script to two of the film’s main characters on the same day, and both agreed to join the cast. “Everyone who came to this film came to it first from the script and seeing that it was trying to do something different. They’re real human characters. I met with Dianne and Rosie [Perez] both the same day in different places and they both said yes the same day.”

The producing team pooled grants from Cinereach, Panavision, IFP along with a group of equity investors who “wanted to see this happen,” according to Curran, adding: “It’s for people who want to go to a theater and leave thinking and talking about what they saw.”

Five Nights in Maine shot in the fall of 2014 in Maine and premiered at TIFF the following September. FilmRise boarded the project as distributor earlier this year. The title will open in day and date via cable/VOD/iTunes. Theatrically, it will bow at the Village East in New York and Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills in addition to about ten other markets.

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Gravitas Ventures

Citizen Soldier
Directors: David Salzberg, Christian Tureaud
Subjects: Jordan Alex, James Tyler Brown, Martin Byrne, Jared Colson, Cold Floyd, Eran Harrill, Nathan Kruse, Justin Smith, Raymond Viel, Erik Wolff
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures

Citizen Soldier is the second of a trilogy of films focusing on soldiers. Freestyle opened the first title, The Hornet’s Nest, two years ago, grossing over $300K in theaters, according to Michael Murphy, president of distributor Gravitas Ventures, which is opening this film today in theaters.

Citizen Soldier is told from the point of view of soldiers in the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, known since World War II as the “Thunderbirds.” The feature details the dangerous mission they undertake in one of the most volatile parts of Afghanistan at the height of the surge.

“It’s a documentary, but you can bill it as a feature film,” said Murphy. “It’s in your face with GoPro cameras that are on the soldiers’ helmets. It’s a modern-day Band of Brothers [showing] the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s also touching.” Murphy added that the feature “pulls no punches” showing death, and is endorsed by the National Guard Association of the U.S.

Distributor Alchemy had been attached to the title, but didn’t have rights to the trilogy. Gravitas is attached to the upcoming third installment, currently using the working title Danger Close, which Gravitas expects to release in late spring or early summer next year. “[Citizen Soldier] has incredible support,” said Murphy. “Military families, soldiers, but also people enthralled with the Restrepos of the world are [its natural] audience. I think this film will have a long life when they see it on the charts on iTunes. It plays like an action film that’s real and not a Hollywood set. The footage is extremely compelling.”

Gravitas it taking Citizen Soldier to AMC Empire in New York as well as AMC Oklahoma City in addition to locations in Wichita, KS and Los Angeles this weekend. The title will expand through a combination of regular theatrical and special screenings in the coming weeks with non-theatrical set for August 30 and spearheaded by Broad Green Pictures. Added Murphy: “We expect the film to do very well at Walmart, cable VOD and iTunes.”