Michael Moore tapped the media zeitgeist with his surprise announcement earlier this week of a new film that would have a sneak screening at IFC Center in New York just a day later. Michael Moore in TrumpLand, a one-man show shot in Ohio, began runs in Manhattan and Encino ahead of a planned internet release. It is Moore’s second release of 2016 following Where to Invade Next, which grossed over $3.8 million theatrically, and it joins a very crowded field of Specialties. Another high-profile doc, Before the Flood from National Geographic, boasts an impressive list of appearances from celebrities and politicians, opening in limited release ahead of a worldwide broadcast later this month. A24’s Oscar-hopeful Moonlight opens in the wake of robust festival buzz in Telluride, Toronto and New York, while Kino Lorber will bow Italy’s foreign-language Oscar entry Fire at Sea. Focus World is opening Ti West’s latest In a Valley of Violence starring Ethan Hawke, while Drafthouse Films is opening rock doc We Are X by Stephen Kijak. And Freestyle will open Icelandic-set feature Autumn Lights in New York and L.A.
Among the weekend’s other limited releases are Magnolia’s Korean Cannes debut The Handmaiden by Park Chan-wook, Lionsgate’s American Pastoral, Abramorama’s The Uncondemned, Pure Flix’s I’m Not Ashamed and KimStim Films’ Creepy.
Michael Moore in TrumpLand
Director-writer: Michael Moore
Theater Direction: Dana Calderwood
Distributor: Dog Eat Dog Films, IMG Films
Very few were aware of Michael Moore’s surprise project Michael Moore in TrumpLand prior to his tweeted announcement Monday. Filmed over October 7 and 8 at a theater in Wilmington, Ohio, the feature, documenting Moore’s one-man show, had a free sneak preview on October 18 at IFC Center.
Deadline covered the Tuesday screening, describing TrumpLand as “Moore delivering an impassioned and often very funny pro-Hillary one-man-show before a politically mixed audience.”
“He got the fire in his belly and called me and said he had a harebrained idea and said we’re shooting in three weeks,” said producer Carl Deal, who has worked with Moore on many projects. “He had thought about putting the show together in September. We relied on a lot of goodwill from people. Michael has a lot of opinions as everyone knows, so we decided to make a piece of art out of it.”
Added Deal: “It’s a live show, but it has a personal arc where he talks about his own personal experience. He wasn’t a Hillary supporter. He was able to get the audience on board with him, even if they didn’t all agree with him…”
Moore is no stranger to the stage. He did a one-man show in London a decade ago and has espoused his leftward political leanings with comedy before audiences in subsequent years. Moore wanted his latest to be in Ohio, a quintessential swing state.
“We went there to scout a few different theaters in a few different towns,” said Deal. “We found a great location in Newark, Ohio. [The management] was super enthusiastic about it, but the next day, they called back and said the board [prohibited] renting it to [Moore]. When you’re a couple weeks away from shooting, that’s a f*cking disaster.”
Another possibility came in Wilmington, Ohio, located in Clinton County but heavily Trump-leaning. Ohio’s Governor Kasich, who won his state in the Republican primary, lost to Donald Trump in Clinton and out of 25K registered voters in the primary, only 500 votes went to Hillary Clinton.
“The theater is the centerpiece of downtown and is a non-profit,” said Deal. “The management and board, who are mixed politically, have been under fire ever since, but they stood by the program. They believe it’s a place where anyone’s voice should be heard. Ironically one of its big benefactors is Glenn Beck.”
The shoot was pushed back a few days after losing their original location. Moore used social media to get locals out for the show, aiming for a “fair mix” of “light Trump supporters, Bernie Sanders supporters, Hillary Clinton supporters and independents,” according to Deal. IMG Films backed the project.
Deal said that the initial intention was not to put Michael Moore in TrumpLand in theaters right away, but instead to get it out via the internet in order to get it to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. A few days prior to its sneak preview, however, they called up the head of IFC Center about doing a possible theatrical presentation. “We called up John Vanco a few days ago and asked for a sneak and a run, and he cleared the deck for us,” said Deal. “Nobody anticipated the hunger for it. Sixth Avenue and West 4th Street [where IFC Center are located] was pandemonium.”
The plan is to still push the feature online “as soon as possible,” though specific news on that is still pending. Michael Moore in TrumpLand, which is being released through Moore’s own Dog Eat Dog Films and IMG Films, began one-week runs at IFC Center and Laemmle Town Center 5 in Encino on Wednesday. Additional theatrical runs are also pending.
Director-writer: Barry Jenkins
Writer: Tarell McCraney (story)
Cast: Naomie Harris, André Holland, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe, Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome
In 2003, Playwright and actor Tarell McCraney wrote the semi-autobiographical story In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue that would become the feature Moonlight. He put it aside, though some time later producers from Plan B met with Medicine for Melancholy director Barry Jenkins about possibly collaborating on a new project. Moonlight turned up as a possible feature.
Jenkins and McCraney had not met prior to working together, though they later discovered they had spent some time going to the same school and both were from the same Miami neighborhood where Moonlight is set.
“I was working on London and they said, ‘We’re sending Moonlight to Barry,’ and I thought, ‘who’s Barry?,’ said McCraney. “It ended up that we grew up blocks from each other and went to the same school at some point, but we didn’t know each other.”
A24 describes the feature as a “timeless story of human connection and self-discovery.” Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black gay man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. The distributor adds that the feature is a “vital portrait of contemporary African American life and an intensely personal and poetic meditation on identity, family, friendship, and love.”
“Originally my idea was to give Tarell notes and let him flesh out the best film version of this story,” said Jenkins. “He got super-busy with [other projects] and finally I just flew down to Miami and said, ‘Let’s sit down and talk about this.’ It was me pitching to Tarell.”
“There was a story already there,” said McCraney at the same NYFF event. “Anyone that is familiar with my work knows that there’s a feeling and then I write something around it, but with this, the story was already there.”
Jenkins then spent time in Brussel working on the screenplay. A24 partnered with Plan B Entertainment to produce the project. After finding cast including Naomie Harris, André Holland, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe and Trevante Rhodes, the feature shot in Miami beginning in mid-October of last year.
Moonlight debuted at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals before heading to the New York and London Film Festivals ahead of its release this weekend. The title has generated Oscar buzz and great word-of-mouth during its festival runs, which should help propel its box office. A24 will bow Moonlight at four locations in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, ahead of adding five additional markets including Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Miami and Atlanta the following weekend. Moonlight is slated to be in the top 20 markets November 4 before going nationwide November 11.
Before the Flood
Director: Fisher Stevens
Writer: Mark Monroe
Subjects: Leonardo DiCaprio, Elon Musk, Pope Francis, Ban Ki-Moon, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Barack Obama
Distributor: National Geographic
National Geographic had a first-look at documentary Before the Flood ahead of its recent festival debuts in Toronto and the Hamptons International Film Festival. The group made an offer for the title and had rights within a week of first viewing the feature, according to National Geographic CEO Courteney Monroe. “It’s a perfect fit for our brand,” she said. “At National Geographic, we believe in the power of storytelling to change the world and Before the Flood has the potential to do just that.
Boasting some big names both featured in the doc and as producers including Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese, the film takes a look at how climate change affects the environment and what society can do to prevent the demise of endangered species, ecosystems and native communities across the planet.
“Five or so years ago we were part of an incredible documentary Restrepo, which won an award at Sundance and was nominated for an Oscar,” noted Monroe. “Then we seemed to walk away from the feature doc business. But feature documentaries and covering important topics like we do with Before the Flood is something National Geographic should not only be part of — we should own. So I am thrilled about our re-entry into this business with this incredible powerful documentary, and we definitely have more on the horizon.”
National Geographic is opening Before the Flood with limited releases in New York and Los Angeles this weekend ahead of a broadcast on its network ahead of the U.S. election on October 30 in 171 countries and 45 languages. Monroe emphasized Nat Geo views Before the Flood as a non-partisan issue that transcends national boundary.
“It’s a human issue. It’s a global issue that demands attention from anyone running for the highest office in the land,” added Monroe. “As an organization that has been dedicated to preserving our planet since its inception, I see it as our duty to inform voters on these issues, and encourage people to vote in November like our lives depend on it, because when it comes to climate change, they actually do.”
In a Valley of Violence
Director-writer: Ti West
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Taissa Farmiga, James Ransone, Karen Gillan, John Travolta
Distributor: Focus World
Focus World caught Ti West’s In a Valley of Violence ahead of its SXSW Film Festival debut earlier this year. The feature stars Ethan Hawke as a drifter named Paul, who along with his dog make their way toward Mexico. In an attempt to shorten their journey, they cut through the center of a large valley, ending up in the forgotten town of Denton. The old mining town is mostly abandoned except for a brash group of misfits, chief among them Gilly (James Ransone), the troublemaking son of the town’s Marshal (John Travolta).
As tensions rise between Paul and Gilly, Denton’s remaining residents bear witness to an inevitable act of violence that starts a disastrous chain reaction, infecting the petty lives of all involved and quickly drags the whole town into the bloody crosshairs of revenge. Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga) and Ellen (Karen Gillan), two bickering sisters who run the town’s only hotel, try to find the good in both men, while desperately searching for their own salvation. Only the world-weary Marshal struggles to stop the violent hysteria, but after a gruesome discovery about Paul’s past… there is no stopping the escalation.
“It is a perfect platform for Focus World. It has a great indie director who has a cult following, but there’s also the fallback of a great genre film with a great cast,” said Focus World SVP Anjay Nagpal. “We have had Ti and Ethan along with other cast doing personal appearances at festivals, radio shows including NPR and Sirius XM as well as AOL Build and genre press.” Nagpal said the company sees potential audiences coming both from cult fans of Ti West as well as genre fans generally.
In keeping with Focus World’s mandate for its English-speaking narratives, In a Valley of Violence will open day and date. The company is releasing a set number of non-English-speaking titles and documentaries in traditional roll outs in a twelve month period.
Ti West will attend post-screening Q&As this weekend at the Music Box in Chicago as well as the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood this weekend. In all, the title will open in 33 locations in 28 markets Friday in 28 markets and will expand theatrically based on performance.
Fire at Sea
Director-writer: Gianfranco Rosi
Writer: Carla Cattani
Subjects: Samuele Pucillo, Maria Costa, Pietro Bartolo
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Kino Lorber head Richard Lorber saw Italian documentary Fire at Sea at the Berlin International Film Festival in February. The feature won several awards at the festival, including the top prize, the Golden Bear, the first for a non-fiction title. It is also Italy’s entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration this year.
Fire at Sea takes place in Lampudesa, a once peaceful Mediterranean island that has become a major entry point for African refugees into Europe. On the island, the audience meets Samuele, a 12-year-old boy who lives simply, climbing rocks by the shore and playing with his slingshot. Yet nearby there are also thousands of men, women and children trying to survive the crossing from Africa in boats that are too small for such a journey. Director Gianfranco Rosi presents these two very different realities side by side.
“It’s truer than fiction. It helps you understand what’s going on,” said Wendy Lidell, SVP Theatrical/Nontheatrical Distribution and Acquisitions at Kino Lorber. “It’s intuitively communicative [bringing] two divergent worlds together. Only an artist can convey that feeling.”
Kino Lorber is emphasizing the artistry in Fire at Sea as it heads out into theaters. Though immigration is an issue front and center not only in Europe, but also on these shores, the company sees the feature first and foremost as an art film as opposed to a political one.
“In order for people to really understand what’s going on, it takes an artist to break through the clutter,” said Lidell. “Through our festival positioning at Telluride, New York Film Festival, Toronto, Hamptons and a dozen more regional festivals, we’re [spreading the word] about its [superb] non-fiction storytelling.” The company is also positioning Rosi himself for Awards season, working on a retrospective that will begin at BAM Cinematheque in Brooklyn before heading to similar organizations in the U.S. including the American Cinematheque in L.A. and Pacific Film Archive.
“Rosi is an auteur, which is how he’s viewed in Europe,” added Lidell, noting the filmmaker won the Golden Lion at the 2013 Venice Film Festival for Sacro GRA, which will be screened in the retrospective.
Kino Lorber will open Fire at Sea at IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza in New York Friday, before heading out to Los Angeles the following week. The title will then head to the top 20 markets over the next six weeks.
We Are X
Director: Stephen Kijak
Subjects: Yoshiki, Toshi, Pata, Hiroshi Morie, Sugizo
Distributor: Drafthouse Films
Drafthouse Films is styling We Are X as a story about “the world’s biggest and most successful band you’ve never heard of…yet.” X Japan has sold over 30 million singles and albums, and has counted among its admirers Sir George Martin, KISS, Stan Lee and the Emperor of Japan. Lead by drummer, pianist, composer and producer Yoshiki, the band pioneered a spectacle-driven style of visual rock.
We Are X chronicles the band’s tumultuous history over the past three decades including its personal, physical and spiritual heartache. The feature culminates with preparations for their reunion concert at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“I first saw the film at SXSW and loved it. We are dedicated to releasing great non-fiction and we have also released a number of Japanese films,” said Drafthouse Films founder Tim League. “I am also personally a bit obsessed with Japanese popular culture in general and specifically the We Are X story is so incredible. All of the pieces just seemed to fit.”
Drafthouse Films is tapping fans of X Japan through music press, and specifically Yoshiki’s loyal fanbase. Additionally, the company is positioning the feature to grab the attention of documentary loyalists.
“The documentary’s emotional engagement with audiences for strong word-of-mouth, universal themes of persevering and achieving success despite unimaginable tragedy, [along with] critical accolades are compelling for a broader documentary and arthouse audience, whether they were previously familiar with the band or not,” noted Drafthouse’s Sumyi Khong Antonson. “We’ve hosted a series of intimate press and tastemaker screenings followed by live piano performances to showcase Yoshiki’s on-screen musical talents. We also have multiple in-theater Q&A appearances planned during the release for audiences to engage with him as well as director Stephen Kijak.”
Drafthouse is bowing We Are X exclusively at the Landmark’s Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles this weekend. The feature will then head to San Francisco, and Austin next week, followed by New York on November 4 at the new Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Brooklyn theater with additional Q&A appearances by Yoshiki and Kijak. Added Antonson: “We’ll continue to expand in markets including Boston, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, Seattle, Washington DC and more throughout November and the rest of the year.”
Director-writer: Angad Aulakh
Cast: Guy Kent, Marta Gastini, Sveinn Ólafur Gunnarsson, Thora Bjorg Helga, Salome R. Gunnarsdóttir, Stefán Hallur Stefánsson, Snorri Englibertsson
Distributor: Freestyle Digital Media
Autumn Lights is a “slow-burn” thriller, the first Icelandic-American co-production, delving into themes of obsession and loneliness. The feature centers on an adrift American photographer who crosses paths with an intriguing European couple after discovering a deserted crime scene in remote Iceland.
“We were interested in telling a story that was intimate in scope and celebrated subtlety and nuance, juxtaposing that against the very grand backdrop that is Iceland,” noted writer-director Angad Aulakh. “That juxtaposition helped us create the suspended reality in which the world of this story exists.”
Shooting took place outside of the capital Reykjavik over the course of a month during summer, in addition to some location dates in Paris. Financing was cobbled together primarily through Iceland’s various film programs, according to Aulakh who also served as a producer on the title. “We were shooting during the summertime, which is when they experience nearly 24 hours of daylight,” said Aulakh. “We used that light to the film’s advantage in helping to support the surreal qualities of the story and how the passing of time is not perceptible. And even for us, two Americans living in Iceland during the making of this film, the amount of light was daunting at first.”
Freestyle will open Autumn Lights day and date for week-long engagements at the Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles and Cinema Village in New York.