Ron Howard goes back to Beatlemania with documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years this weekend. The feature, made in cooperation with the surviving band members, will include a presentation of a remastered Beatles concert at Shea Stadium for its theatrical showings. Abramorama is spearheading a diverse theatrical rollout starting today. Hulu will begin its exclusive window starting Saturday. Two other nonfiction titles also open this weekend: director Robert Kenner’s Command and Controlfrom American Experience/PBS Films, and FilmRise’s SXSW premiere Silicon Cowboys. Specialty narratives arriving today include James Caan’s The Good Neighbor via Vertical Releasing, Area A23a’s comedy, Is That a Gun in Your Pocket? — which has received some wrath from the NRA and other gun groups — and the Orchard’s Miss Stevens with Lily Rabe. China Lion is opening Cock and Bull two days after its bow in mainland China.

Among other limited release debuts this weekend are Samuel Goldwyn Films’ Finding Altamira with Antonio Banderas in a day-and-date release and the Weinstein Company’s Wild Oats with Demi Moore, Jessica Lange and Shirley MacLaine.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Mark Monroe, P.G. Morgan
Subjects: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, George Harrison, Elvis Costello, Eddie Izzard, Sigourney Weaver, Whoopi Goldberg
Distributor: Abramorama

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Abramorama

Opening with a mix of one-week engagements as well as more than 100 one-night event screenings, Ron Howard’s  documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years begins its rollout this weekend. Jeff Jones, CEO of the Beatles’ company Apple Corps, approached producer Nigel Sinclair to put together a team to create a film about the Fab Four several years back.

“I know Ron Howard, and I asked if he’d be interested,” said Sinclair. “It was a complex film to build. We had to find a storytelling paradigm, but that’s Ron’s magic. We [also] brought in [Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr] to get their perspectives 50 years later.”

The feature is based on the first part of the Beatles’ career from 1962-66. Eight Days a Week explores how John Lennon, George Harrison, McCartney and Starr came together to become the world’s most popular band. The title explores their inner workings – how they made decisions, created their music and built their collective career together – all the while exploring the Beatles’ musical gifts and their complementary personalities. In all, the film looks at the time period from the early Beatles’ journey in the days of the Cavern Club in Liverpool to their last concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco in 1966.

The project began in 2012 but “hit the ground running in 2013,” according to Sinclair. In 2014, a release went out asking fans for Beatles-related footage or artifacts from the period, which turned into a boon for the filmmaking team. “We had enormous reaction from fans, who gave us a lot of what we were looking for,” said Sinclair. “What interested Ron most was how the Beatles dealt with each other and how they made decisions. We spent a lot of time brainstorming with our writers to get a strong sense of their history.”

Apple Corp financed the feature, while both McCartney and Starr took part in two interviews each. Sinclair added that Howard wanted to interview both surviving Beatles at the beginning and at the end of production. “Ron and Paul had a lot of contact during the making of the film,” said Sinclair. “They’re involved. It’s their movie, and they’ve promoted it generously.”

Abramorama’s Richard Abramowitz noted that the company is creating a multi-pronged release strategy. The team targeted curatorial, community-based theaters including the Jacob Burns Center in Pleasantville, NY, north of NYC; Music Box in Chicago; and the Coolidge in Boston. “These are audiences that are cultivated by the theaters,” said Abramowitz. “In addition to those markets, we’re engaged for full-week runs in others, and there are more than 100 theaters around the country where there will be one-night event screenings.” Abramowitz added that single-night venues have been asking for more screenings due to demand.

“They’ve already presold 200 seats in Modesto, CA,” he added. “The audience for the Beatles is everywhere, but the nature of the circumstances is that chains don’t participate.” The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years will begin its Hulu window on September 17, taking it outside the traditional 90 days window most chains require.

Also on tap are 70 theaters around the country that will have full-week engagements. “If you want to see the film, you’re likely to be able to find it,” added Abramowitz. “When you have film this good and coverage this broad, the idea is to make the film as accessible as possible.”

The Good Neighbor
Director: Kasra Farahani
Writers: Mark Bianculli, Jeff Richard
Cast: James Caan, Logan Miller, Keir Gilchrist, Edwin Hodge, Anne Dudek, Lili Reinhart
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

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Vertical Releasin

Vertical Entertainment is eyeing in part the “fairly affluent customer who buys premium VOD or still goes to the movies,” as it opens The Good Neighbor today. The feature revolves around a pair of mischievous high school kids (Logan Miller and Keir Gilchrist) who create the illusion of a haunting on an unsuspecting neighbor (James Caan). While keeping his every reaction under surveillance, they see much more than they bargained for.

“You can’t cast anyone better than James Caan with [fewer] words and more emotion,” said Rich Goldberg, president of Vertical Entertainment. “[Along with] the affluent customer [drawn by] a classic movie star, there’s also a fairly young crowd that is tied into social media, so we’re [pushing the movie] through Facebook. It’s harder to get millennials out to theaters. Their Saturday nights aren’t shaped by going out to theaters. They’re more likely to watch something on television or a computer, so we find it more difficult to develop a box office strategy for that group. [But] we felt it was easy to market to the sophisticated audience that reads reviews and will go out to movies.”

The film, which was titled The Waiting when it premiered at SXSW in March. It will open in more than a dozen cities this weekend, including Cinema Village in New York and Los Feliz 3 Cinemas in Los Angeles. Said Goldberg: “It’s difficult to hold theaters these days. We’ll probably hold for a second weekend and likely a third, but it’s hard these days to hold a [specialty movie] in theaters for longer than three weeks.”

Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?
Director-writer: Matt Cooper
Cast: Andrea Anders, Matt Passmore, Cloris Leachman, Katherine McNamara, Horatio Sanz, John Heard, Fernanda Romero, David Denman, John Michael Higgins
Distributor: Area 23a

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Area A23a

Area 23a takes a dabble in the gun-control debate this weekend with its comedy Is That a Gun in Your Pocket? Some pro-gun groups including the NRA already have logged their displeasure, though the distributor claims they condemned the feature before seeing it.

Life in the idyllic, gun-toting town of Rockford, TX, is turned upside-down when a gun incident involving her son spurs stay-at-home mom Jenna (Andrea Anders) to rethink Rockford’s obsessive gun culture. Much to the chagrin of her husband Glenn (Matt Passmore), Jenna ignites a movement by convincing the women of Rockford to withhold sex until every gun in town is given up.

“We saw it at the Sedona International Film Festival, and we were impressed with the audience reaction,” said Area A23a’s Kirt Eftekhar. “We were also impressed with the discourse that took place after a comedy. It’s a film that gives ‘access’ to the issues of gun control and family values. The film gets the attention of comedy fans but is also a timely one in this political season.”

Eftekhar said the NRA “went on fire” over Is That a Gun In Your Pocket? in August via its radio outlet and through the group’s boosters. “It’s a female-driven comedy, but men also love the raunch factor,” said Eftekhar. “[The NRA] says it’s ridiculous testing the Second Amendment. … They’re going through the mother ship to rock the horse on the film. It’s not overtly saying to take guns away, it’s just giving an opportunity to talk about the issues.”

Is That a Gun In Your Pocket? opens today in New York, L.A., Washington, D.C. and Phoenix ahead of expanding to 10-12 markets on September 30 and another 10 after that. Added Eftekhar, “Our hope is heading into the election year to do event screenings with different groups involved.”

Miss Stevens
Director-writer: Julia Hart
Writer: Jordan Horowitz
Cast: Lily Rabe, Timothee Chalamet, Lili Reinhart, Anthony Quintal, Oscar Nuñez, Rob Huebel
Distributor: The Orchard

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The Orchard

Miss Stevens is co-writer and director Julia Hart’s directorial debut. Its story is “personal” to her, according to producer (and husband) Jordan Horowitz. “[It’s] true to her voice and, importantly, a female story,” he said. “And it was also something that was achievable, production-wise, as a first feature for someone who had never even made a short.”
The title centers on Miss Stevens (Lily Rabe), who is stuck at a crossroads in her personal life. While chaperoning three of her students on a weekend trip to a drama competition, she explores the fine line between being a grownup and being a kid.

Actors Rabe and Lili Reinhart joined the project early on, though the male roles involved a more involved search. Beachside fully financed the film, which was shot over 21 days in Simi Valley, CA. Miss Stevens debuted at the SXSW Film Festival, where it screened in competition.

“[Actor] Timothée Chalamet put himself on tape and then did a test with Lily and we just adored him,” noted Horowitz. “Anthony Quintal is a major YouTube personality, and we had seen some of his videos and loved his energy, so Julia had a few conversations with him and then she offered him the part. Once we had our core foursome, we took the film to market and were lucky enough to find … Beachside, who were just enormous champions of Julia and the movie from Day 1.”

Hart will take part in Q&As at select screenings of the film this weekend in Los Angeles. The title opens Friday at Cinema Village in New York and in L.A. at the Sundance Sunshine. Miss Stevens will become available via digital platforms on September 20. Theatrical expansion will be based on performance.

Command and Control
Director-writer: Robert Kenner
Distributor: American Experience Films/PBS

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American Experience/PBS Films

Robert Kenner’s latest film is being styled as a doc that “plays like a true Hollywood thriller.” Kenner read the book by Eric Schlosser that surrounded the events shown in Command and Control in 2011 while still working on another film.

Command and Control explores the unlikely chain of events surrounding the accidental, near-catastrophic explosion of a Titan-II nuclear missile in Damascus, Arkansas. Described as a “fast-paced, white-knuckle thriller,” the film capitalizes on Kenner’s unprecedented access to a real decommissioned Titan II nuclear missile silo to depict dramatic recreations that reveal the “terrifying, Dr. Strangelove-esque” shortcomings of America’s nuclear weapons control systems.

“There was a bigger story in that the whole East Coast was in terrible danger,” said Kenner. “We were all in jeopardy, but we didn’t know it. It was so incredible. I decided that instead of doing a straightforward [story], it would be like a techno-thriller.”

Key to telling the story of the near catastrophic event was getting access to a Titan II silo. Kenner hung out outside of a Titan II museum in Tucson, and eventually won over authorities. “We got the funding before we fully got permission to access the silo,” said Kenner. “We wouldn’t have been able to make the film without the silo. It took at least a year to put the pieces together. American Experience and a number of foundations like Carnegie came on board [to fund the project].”

Kenner interviewed people including those in the command center, all the way down to nearby farmers. The project took about a year. “We had a drone in the four feet between the missile and the silo wall,” said Kenner. “That was the most exciting. It was like shooting a Paul Greengrass film…Food, Inc and Merchants of Doubt were issue films, so this was different. This one incident [is] as an example of how we as humans can cause unimaginable tragedies. And this was only the second worst accident that week. It’s always the most mundane things that can cause the worst accidents.”

Kenner’s 2015 doc Merchants of Doubt grossed over $308K, while is 2009 feature, Food, Inc. grossed over $4.4 million.

Command and Control will have a limited run, opening in New York at Film Forum today, expanding to the top 15 markets over the next month including Washington, D.C. September 23 and Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia September 30. The feature will air on PBS in the first quarter of 2017.

Silicon Cowboys
Director-writer: Jason Cohen
Writer: Steven Leckart
Distributor: FilmRise

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FilmRise

Distributor FilmRise first caught documentary Silicon Cowboys, perhaps appropriately, at the SXSW Film Festival in March where it debuted. The story tracks the launch of Compaq Computer by a group of friends who met in 1982 at a Houston diner. “They’re the reason we all have iPhones right now,” said FilmRise’s Bob Jason. “It’s fun and informative. This time of the year, there’s a lot of tough heavy-hitting docs, but this is light, fun fare.”

The film follows how the trio set out to build a portable PC to take on IBM, then the world’s most powerful tech company. Although many others had tried cloning IBM’s prized code, only to be trounced by high-priced lawyers, Compaq’s vision for a portable PC found startling success, sending shockwaves through the industry and dethroning a tech giant.

“We’ve employed an incredible publicity team…We’re targeting older audiences who have nostalgia for [technology from this period] and also younger audiences fascinated with technology,” said Jason. “The soundtrack is amazing. There’s a great electronic score that we’re doing giveaways with.” Continuing, Jason added: “For what we’re trying to do, it isn’t hard to get the theaters we want…”

FilmRise will open Silicon Cowboys in seven theaters in six cities including Village East in New York, the Laemmle Playhouse and Laemmle Monica Film Center in L.A. as well as the Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park in Houston in addition to locations in San Jose, Chicago, and Columbus, OH.

Cock and Bull
Director: Cao Baoping
Writers: Zhang Tianhui, Yang Jianjun
Cast: Liu Ye, Zhang Yi, Duan Browen, Wang Ziwen, Sun Lei
Distributor: China Lion

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China Lion

Chinese feature Cock and Bull heads into North American theaters two days after its release in mainland China, timed to the Chinese mid-Autumn Festival, which starts Thursday. The title screened in competition at the Shanghai Film Festival, winning Best Actor for Liu Ye.

Cock and Bull is set against the backdrop of a murder occurring in a small town in southeast China. A local mechanic, known for his honesty, comes under suspicion. When the police target him to take the fall, he’s forced to try and exonerate himself, uncovering a number of disturbing facts, most much bigger than the initial crime.

“We’re marketing to our first language Chinese speakers in time for the aforementioned holiday, but we hope Western movie goers will discover it as well,” said China Lion’s Robert Lundber. “The director, Cao Baoping, did the highly regarded The Dead End — itself an award winner at the Shanghai Film Festival — so we hope to cross-over and continue play throughout the month and beyond. It’s a smart Rashomon-inspired thriller with a universal theme that we think will resonate beyond the native language.”

China Lion will open Cock and Bull in 12 theaters Friday in its staple of metropolitan areas with sizable Chinese populations including Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Chicago, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto and Vancouver. The company said it is hoping to expand to more cities the following Friday.