A big hit in Australia and other territories where it was released, Kate Winslet’s The Dressmaker by Jocelyn Moorhouse heads out in limited release this weekend via Amazon/Broad Green Pictures. The Toronto fest ’15 debut was over a decade in the making, finally getting to the big screen through the determination of producer Sue Maslin. Not surprising for fall, the feature hits a crowded market this weekend. Sundance ’16 debut Goat starring Nick Jonas and Ben Schnetzer opens in a day and date roll out from Paramount Pictures, while Starz Digital is opening My Blind Brother. Netflix doc Audrie & Daisy bows in select locations, while Magnolia is opening fellow non-fiction feature The Lovers and the Despot. And Oscilloscope will include a short with this weekend’s launch of Australian adolescent pic Girl Asleep.

Among other films opening in limited release this weekend are Kino Lorber’s 1000 Rupee Note, First Run’s The Ruins of Lifta, Shout! Factory’s Beauty and the Beast, Strand’s Closet Monster, Indican’s New World Order, and The Age of Shadows from CJ Entertainment. Walt Disney is also opening Mira Nair’s story about a Ugandan girl whose world turns upside down after being introduced to the game of chess in, Queen of Katwe.

The Dressmaker
Director-writer: Jocelyn Moorhouse
Writers: Rosalie Ham (novel), P.J. Hogan
Cast: Kate Winslet, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Snook, Judy Davis, Caroline Goodall, Kerry Fox, Rebecca Gibney, James Mackay
Distributor: Amazon/Broad Green Pictures

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Amazon/Broad Green Pictures

Drama The Dressmaker by Jocelyn Moorhouse won a number of awards at home in Australia and packed quite a box office punch, grossing over $14.4 million during its release there earlier this year. Producer Sue Maslin read the novel by Rosalie Ham back in 2001 and had approached the author about screen rights, though it would be some time before she was able to secure them.

In the film, Kate Winslet stars as a glamorous woman returns to her small town in rural Australia. With her sewing machine and haute couture style, she transforms the women and exacts sweet revenge on those who did her wrong.

“Tragically, when I approached [Ham] the rights had gone,” said Maslin. “I had to wait five years for the rights. After five years, the film was still not getting made, so she told me she was thinking of not renewing [with the original holders]. So I got the rights.”

Next, Maslin approached filmmaker Jocelyn Moorhouse about adapting the book, having been impressed with her work on the 1991 feature Proof. “At first she turned me down,” said Maslin. “She had four children and couldn’t drop everything to [write and direct] a movie. But a year later, she said she couldn’t stop thinking of the movie and in 2008 came on board.” Malin added that the novel adaptation itself was a complicated undertaking because it includes a “cast of thousands” and is “unwieldy from a narrative point of view.” Added Maslin: “But it gave room to Jocelyn to find the essence of the story and what it needed to be carried through into a screen experience. The relationship between mother and daughter is the central part, which gives The Dressmaker its power.”

The screenplay took three years to be in a shape in which Maslin felt was ready to be sent out. “We sent it to Kate Winslet,” said Maslin. “We waited for about nine months, and one day out of the blue, there was a wonderful email from her. She said she wanted to do it. We were like, ‘Is this real?’” Moorhouse headed to the U.K. to meet Winslet right away. By 2012, the Oscar-winning star was formally on board and Maslin was putting together financing, eventually raising $17M AUS ($14.5M USD).

“It’s a very female skewed [story] and five years ago, studios were [pointing that out] as if it were a negative thing,” said Maslin. “Universal Pictures (Australia) was the only one that seemed to get it — that you can have films about women and have them be commercially successful.”

Another delay took place following Winslet’s pregnancy, so the project had to be re-financed. A patchwork of sources including Universal in Australia in addition to pre-sales brought in resources as well as Australian tax incentives. The shoot began in October, 2014, heading into Australia’s summer. “We needed to finish by Christmas,” said Maslin. “We were asking actors to wear handmade corsets…We had well over 300 costumes.”

The Dressmaker became one of the highest-grossing Australian produced films ever. Amazon picked up rights on this side of the Pacific out of its Toronto premiere last year, bringing on Broad Green to handle the title’s release. The Dressmaker will open in 9 major cities this weekend stateside.

Goat
Director-writer: Andrew Neel
Writers: David Gordon Green, Mike Roberts, Brad Land (memoir)
Cast: Ben Schnetzer, Nick Jonas, Gus Halper, James Franco, Danny Flaherty, Jae Picking, Brock Yurich
Distributor: Paramount Pictures/The Film Arcade

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Paramount Pictures/The Film Arcade

Filmmaker Andrew Neel told a crowd at the New York theatrical premiere of the film at the Sunshine Theater that Goat had been on the table for a number of years since producer Christine Vachon (Killer Films) picked up rights to the story. “I thought long and hard about it and saw my way into it,” said Neel at the event… After years of struggling to get it made, everything fell into place.”

The filmmaker said prior to its premiere that once Ben Schnetzer and Nick Jonas were cast, the money “came together pretty quickly.” Jonas, James Franco, Schnetzer and other cast members joined the premiere earlier this week, which was appropriately followed by a frat-party style celebration with pizza and beer at nearby venue Hill & Dale.

The film includes plenty of hair-raising hazing. It centers on 19-year-old Brad Land (Schnetzer) who is reeling from a terrifying assault over the summer. He starts college, however, determined to get his life back to normal. His brother, Brett (Jonas), is already established on campus and with a fraternity that lures Brad with its promise of protection, popularity and life-long friendships. Brad is desperate to belong but as he sets out to join the fraternity his brother exhibits reservations, a sentiment that threatens to divide them. As the pledging ritual moves into hell week, a rite that promises to usher these unproven boys into manhood, the stakes violently increase with a series of torturous and humiliating events.

Originally written in 2004, Neel and Mike Roberts revised the script in 2014, eventually shooting in May 2015 in the Cincinnati area.

“I was on board and we started casting. We found Ben and then read a lot of people for the role of Brett, and Nick came in and did a great job,” said Neel. “Financing came from Great Point Media. We shot 18 days, and extended it by a couple days for exteriors and locations shots. We didn’t have a lot of money to do what we needed, but we pulled it off…It was brutal subject matter and it was punishing.”

Goat had its debut at Sundance earlier this year, followed by the Berlin International Film Festival with other fest screenings in San Francisco, Seattle, Provincetown and Nantucket. Paramount is spearheading the U.S. release, which will open in 20 theaters in 20 markets including the Angelika in New York and Sundance Sunset in L.A. in a day and date roll out.

Audrie & Daisy
Directors: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk
Subjects: Audrie Pott (post-humous), Daisy Coleman, Melinda Coleman, Jim Fall, Delaney Henerson
Distributor: Netflix

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Netflix

Filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk learned of a sexual assault video that went viral (the victim in that incident remained anonymous). From that came the idea to find teens who had gone through similar trauma but willing to go public. “We had only come across a few stories where women were out with their names publicly,” said producer Sara Dosa, who has worked with Cohen and Shenk for years. “The more we researched about Audrie [Pott] and Daisy [Coleman’s] story, we realized they were the ideal stories to tell.”

Doc Audrie & Daisy examines the ripple effects on families, friends, schools and communities when two underage young women find that sexual crimes against them have been caught on camera. The feature spotlights America’s teenagers who are coming of age in a world of social media bullying, spun out of control.

The filmmaking team came across both women’s stories in 2013, and dug into research starting in February 2014. The Pott family lived in Saratoga, CA, not far from the filmmakers’ base in San Francisco, and met with them in April of that year. “I reached out to both women’s mothers. From there we started to build trust and rapport,” said Dosa. “We met with [the Colemans] in Missouri in July… Then the next steps were to create a reduction schedule.”

Though both families were on board, the filmmaking team had the challenge of getting local community support, which was essential in telling the broader story of Audrie & Daisy. Dosa said that both communities had been overwhelmed with the fallout of attention in the aftermath of the assaults.

“These towns had been shell-shocked by the media,” she said. “Some were eager to talk, while others wanted to sweep the whole thing under the rug. We wanted to tell as many sides to the story as possible.”

Funding came through private sources in addition to grants from groups including the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund Grant, Tribeca Film Institute and Impact Partners. “With all independent films, financing is a challenge, but we had some early supporters and when we had footage, we then had momentum,” added Dosa. “Parents were also supportive.”

Filming took place over two-and-a-half years. During that time, the Potts family was undergoing a civil suit against the perpetrators. A surprise outcome of that case resulted in a boon of sorts for the production. “As part of the settlement, the perpetrators agreed to do a 45-minute-long interview as long as we kept them anonymous,” said Dosa. “It turned out to be an incredible gift. We wanted to know their perspectives and what it meant for them and what they learned out of such tragic events. They were the most harrowing interviews any of us had ever been a part of…”

Audrie & Daisy premiered at Sundance where negotiations took place for the film’s acquisition by Netflix. The feature will have a limited theatrical roll out Friday in addition to being available on Netflix. Added Dosa: “There’s a lot of complexity to this story and Netflix seems to understand that. They’ve also been supportive with an outreach and engagement campaign, which will also begin Friday.” The program, organized through Futures Without Violence, includes a what Dosa describes as a “comprehensive curriculum guide.” In addition to its regular theatrical release, there is also a community and campus screening program of the title, with 120 requests to date.

My Blind Brother
Director-writer: Sophie Goodhart
Cast: Jenny Slate, Adam Scott, Zoe Kazan, Nick Kroll, Talia Tabin, Heidi Lewandowski
Distributor: Starz Digital

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Starz Digital

Producer Tory Tunnel saw the short film My Blind Brother while she was a judge at a film festival at New York University a decade ago. “It was incredible,” she said. “[From there], she developed it into a tremendous feature script.”

The feature revolves around Bill (Nick Kroll), who has always lived in the shadow of his brother Robbie (Adam Scott), a handsome athlete and local hero who is blind. Their sibling rivalry reaches a fever pitch when both men fall for the same woman (Jenny Slate).

“We had always talked about turning it into a feature film and we became serious about it four years ago,” said Tunnel. “We developed it and turned to casting. It’s always tricky with first-time feature directors, so we were trying to get people to watch the short and meet the woman behind the script. It makes it so satisfying once you get to ‘the other side.’”

Fellow producer Tyler Davidson boarded the project in mid-2014 through WME. He was also won over the by the story portrayed in the earlier project. “The cast was in place and Sophie’s vision and personality as well as the short made it a quick decision,” he said. “She was the epitome of the fearless, tireless leader.”

Three of the main cast came on board via WME. Adam Scott was attached earlier. Jenny Slate and Nick Kroll both knew Scott and were “eager to work together,” according to Tunnel. “They all had chemistry off-screen and it’s tangible on-screen.”

Tyler Davidson’s Low Spark Films and Think Media Studios financed the project. The shoot took place over 22 days in May and June 2015 outside of Cleveland. “It was a perfect match for the film,” said Davidson. “It wasn’t initially set there, but when Sophie scouted the area and saw the enormity of Lake Erie, she saw how the [setting] would fit for the film’s climax.”

My Blind Brother debuted at the SXSW Film Festival where it was picked up by Starz. The events leading up to its pick-up came as somewhat of a nice surprise for the filmmaking team. “We were told going in to manage expectations in terms of the level of market festival compared to a Sundance,” said Davidson. “We did have tempered expectations, but the initial screening was so huge that we were in a competitive bidding as the credits rolled.”

Starz is opening My Blind Brother day and date Friday in 26 theaters in 23 markets as well as on demand and iTunes and other digital platforms Friday.

Girl Asleep
Director: Rosemary Myers
Writer: Matthew Whittet
Cast: Harrison Feldman, Matthew Whittet, Amber McMahon, Eamon Farren, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Imogen Archer, Maiah Stewardson
Distributor: Oscilloscope

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Oscilloscope

Oscilloscope picked up Australian feature Girl Asleep out of the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year where it screened in the event’s Generations section.

The portrayals of Australian adolescence centers on Greta Driscoll whose “bubble of obscure ‘loserdom’ bursts” when her parents throw her a surprise 15th birthday party and invite the whole school. Perfectly content being a wallflower, suddenly Grega’s flung far from her comfort zone into a distant parallel place — a strange world that’s a little frightening and a lot weird, but only there can she find herself.

Girl Asleep shares some comic and aesthetic DNA with the films of Michel Gondry, Wes Anderson, Richard Ayoade, but Rosemary’s voice is a totally singular one,” commented Oscilloscope exec Andrew Carlin. “There’s just so much humor and whimsy and heart packed into Girl Asleep‘s 80 minutes. It’s exhilaratingly creative and we think audiences are going to love it as much as we do.”

With its storyline focus on adolescence, Oscilloscope is naturally targeting a younger audience. The distributor noted that it also sees Girl Asleep as a degree of counter-programming to the “serious, adult-oriented, awards-hopefuls” that particularly populate new releases this time of the year.

For its release, the company is pairing a short documentary titled Pickle, which will precede Girl Asleep, certainly a unique twist that is rarely if ever seen today. “Short films – narrative, animated and docs – are generally relegated to the most specialized, under-attended sections of film festivals,” noted Carlin. “Theatrical audiences these days just aren’t exposed to a short unless it happens to be in front of a Pixar feature. Director Amy Nicholson’s film, which centers on her parents and their succession of pets, many of which meet ‘untimely’ fates, is truly the most charming and memorable 15-minutes audiences will experience all week.”

Girl Asleep and Pickle will open exclusively at the Nuart in L.A. this week, followed by New York next weekend. Oscilloscope expects to the films to be in the top 25 markets by October 7.

The Lovers and the Despot
Directors-writers: Ross Adam, Robert Cannan
Subjects: Shin Sang-ok, Choi Eun-hee
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

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Magnolia Pictures

Magnolia picked up Sundance doc The Lovers and the Despot out of the festival last January.

The stranger-than-fiction documentary tells the story of young, ambitious South Korean filmmaker Shin Sang-ok and actress Choi Eun-hee, who met and fell in love in the 1950s post-war Korea. In the ‘70s, after reaching the top of Korean society following a string of successful films, Choi was kidnapped in Hong Kong by North Korean agents and taken to meet Kim Jong-il. While searching for Choi, Sin was also kidnapped, and following five years of imprisonment, the couple was reunited by the movie-obsessed Kim, who declared them his personal filmmakers. Choi and Shin planned their escape, but not before producing 17 feature films for the dictator and gaining his trust in the process.

“We had heard a bit about the story previously, but the film takes a deep dive into what we found fascinating,” said Magnolia’s Matt Cowal. “It plays like a thriller and we found it very satisfying.”

Magnolia has promoted the title through word-of-mouth and festival screenings ahead of its release this weekend, in addition to working with the Korean community stateside. “We are hoping there will be interest with the Korean-American market here,” added Cowal. “We have done some in-language advertising and promotion to tap that audience.”

Magnolia will open The Lovers and the Despot in the L.A. area at the Royal, Laemmle NoHo 7 and Laemmle’s Playhouse as well as Lincoln Plaza and the Sunshine in New York in addition to locations in Washington, D.C., Cambridge, MA and Philadelphia in a day and date release via VOD, iTunes and Amazon Video. The title will open additional markets into October and early November.