With an eye at possible Awards consideration, both IFC Films’ Certain Women by Kelly Reichardt and starring Michelle Williams, Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart as well as The Orchard’s Christine starring Rebecca Hall headline a crowded slate of Specialty newcomers this weekend. Performances by the female cast in both titles could move the early needle as the season revs up this fall. STX Entertainment, meanwhile, will open Jonás Cuarón’s U.S.-Mexican border thriller Desierto starring Gael García Bernal just in time for the U.S. election; Donald Trump’s proposed wall between the two countries has factored into the title’s marketing strategy. Kino Lorber is heading out with Keith Maitland’s partially animated documentary Tower, which won jury and audience prizes at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival, while Roadside Attractions is launching drama Priceless, spearheaded by Christian rock band King & Country. Vitagraph will debut Brazilian feature Aquarius on the heels of its New York Film Festival screenings and Joe Swanberg’s Forager Films will bow Little Sister exclusively at The Metrograph in New York this weekend ahead of an expansion.

Among other limited release titles opening this weekend are Eammon Films’ Coming Through the Rye, Let it Play’s Ordinary World starring Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, Arc Entertainment’s Maya Angelou and Still I Rise, GKIDS’ Miss Hokusai and Indican’s Search Engines.

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IFC Films

Certain Women
Director-writer: Kelly Reichardt
Writer: Maile Meloy (short stories)
Cast: Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Lily Gladstone, Jared Harris
Distributor: IFC Films

Sundance Fest debut Certain Women from filmmaker Kelly Reichardt heads out to theaters following its stint at the New York Film Festival, which ends this weekend.

Certain Women looks at four women striving to forge their own paths amidst the wide-open plains of the American Northwest. The feature spotlights three stories that intersect in subtle ways. There’s a lawyer, (Laura Derns) who finds herself contending with both office sexism and a hostage situation; a wife and mother (Michelle Williams) whose determination to build her dream home puts her at odds with the men in her life; and a young law student (Kristen Stewart) who forms an ambiguous bond with a lonely ranch hand, played by newcomer Lily Gladstone.

“I’ve chased [Kelly Reichardt’s] movies since Old Joy (2006), but we finally get to work with her [on Certain Women],” said IFC Films president Jonathan Sehring. “I’m a big fan…she’s one of our great American filmmakers. She’s fiercely independent and makes the movies she wants. Some people say her movies are like paintings…”

Following its Sundance debut in January, Certain Women played some international festivals before heading to Toronto last month and more recently at the New York Film Festival, which IFC Films used as a launching pad for the title’s roll out this weekend.

“The timing was great to be opening up out of the festival and still ahead of a lot of the big Oscar [releases],” added Sehring. “That being said, all the performances in Certain Women are very great.” Searing added that Dern and Stewart have been on the morning show circuit this week.

“All of those actresses have their followings. I don’t like to separate gender out when talking about filmmakers, but I don’t think anyone tells women’s stories better than Kelly,” said Sehring. “I think it will appeal to a broad female audience, but I also think we’re selling a very strong American filmmaker. I think it’s one of her most accessible and broadly appealing works.”

IFC Films will open Certain Women at Lincoln Plaza, IFC Center and BAM in New York as well as the Arclight and Landmark in Los Angeles. Searing noted its strong result on Rotten Tomatoes (95% as of this writing). He said it will continue to roll-out in an “aggressive platform release,” heading to 40 locations by week two. “Obviously it’s dependent on how well we do,” said Sehring. “But we feel we have the goods.”

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The Orchard

Christine
Director: Antonio Campos
Writer: Craig Shilowich
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Timothy Simons, J. Smith-Cameron, Maria Dizzia
Distributor: The Orchard

The Orchard caught Christine at its World Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January and quickly expressed its interest in the title, especially the performance by Rebecca Hall who plays the title character.

Based on true events, Christine is about an ambitious 29-year-old news reporter in Sarasota, FL, circa 1974. Relentlessly motivated to succeed, she knows she has talent, but being a driven career woman in the 1970s comes with its own challenges, especially when competition for a promotion, unrequited love for a coworker (Michael C. Hall) and a tumultuous home life lead to a dissolution of self. With ratings in the cellar, the station manager issues a mandate to deliver juicier and more exploitative stories, a story firmly at odds with Christine’s serious brand of issue-based journalism. To accomplish her goals, she must overcome her self-doubt and give the people what they want.

“We were taken by the authenticity and performances in the film. Antonio Campos did a great job recreating the newsroom of the 1970s, and Rebecca Hall’s performance is stunning,” said The Orchard’s Paul Davidson. “We feel it was one of the best dramas at Sundance. From the first day, we felt that her performance was something we wanted to get behind for Awards. There’s nobody that sees this film and doesn’t react to it, that’s how amazing it is.”

The Orchard has taken the title to other festivals and hosted taste-maker screenings with Rebecca Hall, including for the Screen Actors Guild and more recently at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), moderated by Elvis Mitchell.

“There are many films where you know about how the ending goes, but this is not all about the ending,” said Davidson. “It’s about the life experience leading up to that one moment. This also has some really light moments. For us, it’s definitely about playing up the ensemble for audiences and letting [moviegoers] know it’s a tour de force for Rebecca Hall.”

The Orchard will open Christine exclusively at Film Forum in New York Friday. Davidson noted the theater was “head-over-heels” for the film and that they are promoting the title through their own marketing channels. On October 21, Christine will head to additional cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Boston, followed by an expansion to 150-plus cities.

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Vitagraph

Aquarius
Director-writer: Kleber Mendonça Filho
Cast: Sonia Braga, Maeve Jinklings, Irandhir Santos, Humberto Carrão
Distributor: Vitagraph

Brazilian drama Aquarius caused a stir at the New York Film Festival where it had its U.S. premiere earlier this week. During its first screening at the festival, protesters holding signs were removed by security at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, and more protesters showed up downtown Thursday evening during a sneak screening ahead of the film’s theatrical release this weekend. The protesters are mostly showing support for Filho’s denunciation of the recent ouster of President Dilma Rousseff from office, which Rousseff’s supporters view as a coup.

“The film has touched a nerve in Brazilian society,” said writer-director Kleber Mendonça Filho speaking at a discussion about the film at NYFF. “It appears to get more and more dramatic every week. Whenever we’ve screened it in other cities, including [recently] here in New York it brings out protesters. In Brazil it has captured a certain mood in the country. It’s not an overtly political film, but it is political because it’s about someone who says ‘No’ and in today’s society, saying ‘No’ is a political act.”

The feature centers on 65-year-old widow Clara (Sonia Braga), a retired music critic born into a wealthy and traditional family in the northeastern city of Recife. She is the last resident of the Aquarius, an original two-story building, built in the 1940s, in the upper-class, seaside Boa Viagem Avenue, Recife. All the neighboring apartments have already been acquired by a company which has other plans for that plot. Clara has pledged to only leave her place upon her death, and will engage in a cold war of sorts with the company. This tension both disturbs Clara and gives her that edge on her daily routine. It also gets her thinking about her loved ones, her past and her future.

The film got people talking three months before seeing the film,” said Filho. “It has people for and against, which usually follows the political leanings of the film.”

Filho said the title had a strong reception in Brazil, selling about 350K tickets in the country, which is as he noted, “good for a film of this size.” He added that it cost under a million dollars to make. He first spoke to Brazilian actress Sonia Braga by Skype about the part. The shoot took about seven weeks.

Aquarius opened Thursday at the Angelika in New York and will open at the Arclight Hollywood Friday where Filho and Braga will do Q&As. It also opens at the Paris Theater in New York Friday. It will head to over a dozen cities next weekend before adding more markets well into November.

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STX Entertainment

Desierto
Director-writer: Jonás Cuarón
Writer: Mateo Garcia
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo
Distributor: STX Entertainment

STX picked up North American rights to Desierto at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival for about $1.5 million, but held off its release to the run-up of the American general election this year. The title is also Mexico’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film for this year’s Academy Awards.

The thriller is set in the U.S.-Mexico border. What begins as a hopeful journey to seek a better life becomes a harrowing and primal fight for survival when a deranged, rifle-toting vigilante chases a group of unarmed men and women through the treacherous border. In the harsh, unforgiving desert terrain, the odds are stacked firmly against them as they continuously discover there’s nowhere to hide from the unrelenting, merciless killer.

“The studio has created a unique launch plan and will adjust the release pattern in the weeks ahead to accommodate market demand,” the company noted when giving information about the title’s release this week. “STX chose theater locations that appeal to cinephiles and fans of the thriller genre, along with theaters where audiences respond to quality Spanish language films.”

Among the national talk show appearances secured to promote the film, star Gael García Bernal appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, performing a comedy sketch spoofing Donald Trump’s Border Wall policy. The Mexican release of the film, which STX was not involved with, included marketing and a trailer that used, what STX described as, “Donald Trump’s inflammatory speech about Mexico in which he called for a border wall to separate the two countries.”

Said STX: “In an election year when the topics of illegal immigration and border security are such a heated part of the national debate and discussion, this film is resonating strongly with audiences, critics, pundits and cultural observers – it is not just a heart-pounding and suspenseful thriller, but a truly thought provoking cinematic experience.”

STX will open Desierto in 20 markets in 73 theaters this weekend, including locations in Los Angeles, New York, Austin, Miami, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, San Antonio, San Diego, Phoenix and San Francisco and others.

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Kino Lorber

Tower
Director: Keith Maitland
Distributor: Kino Lorber

Director Keith Maitland’s animated documentary Tower won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award in the doc categories at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival, going on to win other festival nods in Dallas, Montclair and RiverRun film festivals.

Retold through both archival footage and rotoscopic animation, Tower spotlights an infamous day at the University of Texas in August 1966 when a sniper rode the elevator to the top floor of a tower on the campus and opened fire, holding the school hostage for 96 minutes in what was a previously unimaginable event. The film unfolds based on first person testimonies from witnesses, highlighting the fear, confusion and visceral realities that changed the lives of those present and the country.

“Keith Maitland read the article ’96 Minutes’ by Pamela Colloff [about the shooting] and was excited by it,” said producer Megan Gilbride. “Keith optioned the article, and about 6 or 8 months later, he got some development funding from ITVS. He also pitched me the [project] and I said that I wanted to do it.”

Tower was still in development when Gilbride joined, though with some development funds in place, the team put together a proof of concept in the fall of 2013. Next was pitching the project to additional organizations and individuals. Independent Lens and ITVS came in with additional resources as the production looked to the incident’s 50th anniversary as a guiding deadline. “It’s to Lois [Vossen’s] credit that she got in on the pitch and continued to support us,” said Gilbride. “Through IFP’s Independent Film Week, Meredith Vieira Productions came on. We had a rough cut along with animation and vérité footage to show people. We were racing hard to finish in time for spring deadlines to festivals.”

Kino Lorber came on board after its SXSW debut. Initially, there was thought to push the feature out coinciding directly with the incident’s 50th anniversary in August, but it was decided to hold off until fall so as not to be drowned out by the summer blockbusters. “[SXSW’s] Janet Pierson and Jarod Neece were very supportive of the movie,” added Gilbride. “It also seemed to make sense to premiere it in Austin. We had a great experience.”

Kino Lorber opened Tower at Film Forum in New York on Wednesday and will open the title in two L.A. locations today. Films We Like will launch the feature in Toronto this weekend. Next weekend, Tower will head to Austin and Seattle before going wider in additional Texas cities on October 28 as well as other cities including Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Atlanta.

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Roadside Attractions

Priceless
Director: Ben Smallbone
Writers: Chris Dowling, Tyler Poelle
Cast: Joel Smallbone, Bianca Santos, Amber Midthunder, Jim Parrack, David Koechner
Distributor: Roadside Attractions

Christian band For King & Country members Joel Smallbone and Luke Smallbone as well as director brother Ben Smallbone spearhead thriller/drama Priceless, which opens today theatrically, following a Fathom screening in a couple hundred locations on Thursday.

Inspired by true events, Priceless follows James Stevens (Joel Smallbone) whose life has gone through a downward spiral. After the tragic death of his wife and losing custody of his daughter, he is at the darkest crossroad of his life. Angry, desperate and unable to hold down a steady job, he agrees to drive a box truck on a shady, one-time trip cross country for cash — no questions asked. But when he discovers what he is delivering is actually a ‘who,’ he is compelled to save the two frightened sisters who are unaware of the danger that awaits them.

“We have a relationship with Bill Reeves of Working Title Agency in Nashville, who has been working on the film since its inception,” said Roadside co-president Howard Cohen. “We hired him for movies like Grace Unplugged. He understands the faith community in relation to filmmaking. He and the filmmakers have been doing the grassroots marketing, while we’re doing the in-theater and online marketing.”

For King & Country also produced a track, Priceless, which has hit number one on the Christian charts. The title will open in 302 theaters this weekend, with a strong presence in areas of the country where For King & Country has a strong fan base. “The idea behind this movie is to speak out to young women and others about respect and against objectification,” said Cohen. “The faith angle is not as obvious. The next wave of Christian films [spotlight] ideas behind them that are Christian. The underlying messages are something churches support.”

For King & Country will do mini-concerts in Louisville and Memphis in theaters. There will also be a Fathom event Thursday night previewing Priceless in 201 of the 302 theaters where the title will bow this weekend.

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Forager Films

Little Sister
Director-writer: Zach Clark
Writer: Melodie Sisk
Cast: Addison Timlin, Ally Sheedy, Keith Poulson, Peter Hedges, Tony Greenberg, Barbara Crampton, Kristin Slaysman, Molly Punk
Distributor: Forager Films

Zach Clark wrote the script for Little Sister over a two-year period building from a story he developed with his producer, Melodie Sisk. The idea evolved after an invitation from Sisk. “I had the seeds of the idea – a young nun who used to be goth, her damaged war vet brother, and their pot smoking parents – but things didn’t really take shape until Melodie insisted that I visit her parents’ house in the mountains outside Asheville, NC,” noted Clark. “While there, we talked about our respective family experiences and she took me on a tour of the places that would become the locations for the film.”

In the feature, young nun Colleen is avoiding all contact from her family, returning to her childhood home in Asheville, NC. She finds her old room exactly how she left it — painted black and covered in goth/metal posters.

Some members of the cast are friends who joined the project, including Keith Poulson, Kristin Slaysman and Tony Greenberg, or “friends of friends,” according to Clark, while others including Addison Timlin and Ally Sheedy came on board through agency casting. Said Park: “We were lucky to have Forager Film Company as our primary investor, and their belief in the script and our ability to pull it off is really what made this movie possible. I’ve known Joe [Swanberg] as a friend for years, and it’s been so fun and rewarding to have him as a champion and business partner throughout this experience.”

Little Sister shot for a few days in Brooklyn, NY, while the bulk of photography over 22 days spread across five weeks took place in Asheville. “We finished shooting the week before Thanksgiving last year,” said Clark. “Because the movie is set in the lead-up to Halloween, it was important for me to shoot in October, and the cast and crew celebrated Halloween together singing karaoke at a dive bar.”

As Deadline reported in August, Joe Swanberg’s Chicago-based production company Forager Films will release Little Sister this weekend. The company is using a combination of social media as well as some traditional TV and radio along with print interviews and in-person Q&As to attract audiences.

Noted Swanberg: “It’s always an uphill battle with limited financial resources, but there are a lot of talented people involved in the project and we believe that good films always rise to the top and find an audience. One of the things that has always attracted me to Zach’s work is that his core audience is much broader and weirder than most indie filmmakers. I think Little Sister is just as likely to attract older Christian audiences as it is to attract high school punks and goths, and this is precisely why it’s such an exciting film to distribute.”

Theatrically, Little Sister will open exclusively at The Metrograph in New York this weekend ahead of an expansion to 15 other cities in the coming weeks. It will also be available day and date via iTunes and other on demand platforms Friday. Forager hopes to extend the title’s theatrical run into early 2017 to capitalize on both the big screen as well as on-demand.

Added Swanberg: “We believe we can make money from the theatrical release and we are approaching it not only as cinephiles who love seeing movies on the big screen, but also as new distributors attempting to understand the market and build a release model that can work for other films of this size. Rather than being tied to week long runs, we are primarily interested in theaters and screenings that will provide a good viewing experience for the audience. We would rather screen one time in a city and have a full theater than screen for a week to relatively small crowds.  Zach and I have had many different release experiences, and we are using everything we’ve learned from the last 10 years to do something smart and inexpensive that will work for us and the audience.”