Sundance Selects opens Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake in theaters this holiday weekend. The feature dazzled in Cannes in May, winning the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or. I, Daniel Blake’s initial rollout is a qualifying run, but finding awards momentum is tricky. Sony Classics is opening Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta Spain’s entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration, in limited runs before adding locations into the New Year, while Disney UTV is launching Dangal, starring Aamir Khan, with the widest bow for a Bollywood film in North America. Focus Features is beginning limited runs of A Monster Calls ahead of a wide release, while horror thriller The Autopsy of Jane Doe, starring Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch, opens day-and-date via IFC Films.

Among other films opening in limited release is CBS Films and Lionsgate’s Boston Marathon bombing thriller Patriots Day, starring Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman and J.K. Simmons, which bowed Wednesday. CBS Films said it is off to a good start, grossing $64,644 for a $9,235 per-theater average. The title, which was the closing-night film at this year’s AFI Fest, was co-financed by the two companies, as they did with their late summer/fall breakout Hell or High Water, which grossed nearly $27M in the U.S. CBS Films is handling production and marketing, while Lionsgate is spearheading distribution. The film is playing in two theaters in NY, two in LA and three in Boston and will expand to theaters nationwide on January 13. Also making its bow is Fox 2000’s drama Hidden Figures, produced by Chernin Entertainment.

I, Daniel Blake
Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Rebecca O’Brien
Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy, Briana Shann, Dylan McKiernan
Distributor: Sundance Selects

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Sundance Selects

British filmmaker Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May, the second for Loach following his 2006 win for The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

The film centers on Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), who is gruff but goodhearted and a man out of time. A widowed woodworker who’s never owned a computer, he lives according to his own common-sense moral code. But after a heart attack leaves him unable to work and the state welfare system fails him, the stubbornly self-reliant Daniel must stand up and fight for his dignity, leading a one-man crusade for compassion that will transform the lives of a struggling single mother (Hayley Squires) and her two children.

“I think every film Ken Loach does is so of the moment and on point,” said IFC Films President Jonathan Sehring. “I have heard people on both the right and the left say, ‘Yes, this is the problem.’ And the performances are just stunning.”

Sehring noted that with the financial commitment involved in awards campaigning, some films — and presumably this one — might not get the attention they deserve. The company does have a core crowd of Loach fans that it hopes to draw from to boost momentum for the film, which begins its slow rollout this weekend.

Theatrically, Loach’s Wind That Shakes the Barley grossed $1.84 million theatrically domestically, to go with more than $21 million internationally). His previous title, Jimmy’s Hall, which Sony Classics opened in July 2015, grossed over $560K in theaters in the U.S.

“This speaks to a lot of people’s fears about being lost in the system,” said Sehring. “We’ve been doing a lot of grass-roots work on this. We’ve been screening it a lot because it is a great word-of-mouth movie.”

I, Daniel Blake opens Friday at IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza in New York as well as the Royal in Los Angeles. Added Sehring: “This [weekend’s opening] is really a qualifying run. It’s a crowded marketplace right now, but we’ll be adding screens in mid-January.”

Julieta
Director-writer: Pedro Almodóvar
Writer: Alice Munro
Cast: Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel Grao, Inma Cuesta, Dario Grandinetti, Michelle Jenner, Rossy De Palma
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

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Sony Pictures Classics

New York’s Museum of Modern Art hosted an extensive retrospective of celebrated Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s career, stretching back to the 1980s, in the lead-up to the release of his latest film, Julieta, which opened Wednesday in the U.S. Additionally, iTunes is making his films available exclusively. Sony Pictures Classics has the rights to all 20 of his titles, including his latest, which debuted at Cannes.

Julieta is a fusion of Almodóvar and Alice Munro,” said SPC Co-president Michael Barker, referencing the Canadian writer who penned the original works that are the basis of Julieta. “It’s his most accessible film, in our minds. It has a lot to do with Munro’s [stories] about mother-daughter relationships. … Pedro has always adored her writings. He’s fused three stories into one film seamlessly. It is faithful to the stories, though it moves from Canada to Spain.”

The feature centers on Julieta (Emma Suarez), who lives in Madrid with her daughter Antía. They both suffer in silence over the loss of Xoan (Daniel Grao), Antía’s father and Julieta’s husband. But at times grief doesn’t bring people closer, it drives them apart. When Antía turns 18, she abandons her mother without a word of explanation. Julieta looks for her in every possible way, but all she discovers is how little she knows of her daughter. Blanca Pares plays the 18-year-old Antía,, and Priscilla Delgado is her younger self.SPC says Julieta is “about the mother’s struggle to survive uncertainty, [and] about fate, guilt complexes and about that unfathomable mystery that leads us to abandon the people we love.”

Almodóvar’s previous film, 2013’s I’m So Excited, grossed $1.36 million domestically, while his 2011 title The Skin I Live In — which featured Almodóvar discovery Antonio Banderas — grossed $3.18 million. His highest-grossing film is 2006’s Volver, which took in nearly $12.9 million on this side of the Atlantic. That feature starred Penelope Cruz, who also was popularized through Almodóvar’s earlier films.

“[Julieta] was a huge hit at Toronto and the New York Film Festival. I believe with his every movie, he gets a new audience,” said Barker. “The response to the retrospective and iTunes is that new audiences are discovering his films. Let’s face it, the guy is a bit of a rock star.”

SPC is playing Julieta in New York and L.A. through Christmas weekend before moving out to major markets around the country in time for New Year’s.

Dangal
Director-writer: Nitesh Tiwari
Writers: Shreyas Jain, Piyush Gupta, and Nikhil Mehrotra
Cast: Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra, Zaira Wasim, Suhani Bhatnagar
Distributor: UTV Motion Pictures

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Disney UTV

Dangal by Nitesh Tiwari is on track to be the widest Bollywood title to open North America. The feature will play 331 theaters over the Christmas weekend. Star Aamir Khan is likely the one to deliver on the feat. His 2014 title PK grossed $100M worldwide. UTV developed the script in 2013. Said Lokesh Dhar, Business Head North America for Disney UTV: “The story, the central characters and their determination [is] importance with respect to female empowerment, and we secured top-class talent for the project.”

Dangal (Wrestling) revolves around the extraordinary life of Mahavir Singh, an ex-wrestler who is forced to give up his dreams of winning gold for India in international wrestling due to lack of financial support. He resolves to train his future son to represent India in his passion sport one day. But destiny had other plans. Over two decades, Mahavir’s faith in his dream dwindles as he is blessed with four children — all girls. But when his eldest daughter 14-year-old Geeta, and his second daughter Babita, 12, bash up a group of boys from the neighborhood during a teasing incident, Mahavir realizes his girls have the same talent he was born with. With hope restored, Mahavir relentlessly pursues his goal of transforming his daughters into world-class wrestlers. Forcing them to train with the village boys, Mahavir inspires them to fight to win despite the odds and to go for gold, no matter what.

“Our target audience is mainly South Asians and Indian film lovers, however we are confident that there will be a good percentage of first timers — people who have never seen a Bollywood film — for this film,” said Dhar. “We are using mainly digital marketing, PR, feature stories, traditional media, reaching out to local South Asian communities and marketing partnerships with exhibitors.”

In her write-up about Dangal, Deadline’s Nancy Tartaglione noted that film’s theatrical trailer had 24 million views less than a week after showing up on YouTube and is now nearing 40 million. And in an unconventional move, the film will bow in North America two days before India.

A Monster Calls
Director: J.A. Bayona
Writer: Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd (original idea)
Cast: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Ben Moor, James Melville, Oliver Steer, Dominic Boyle, Jennifer Lim
Distributor: Focus Features

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Focus Features

A Monster Calls had its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, followed by other major festivals including Fantastic Fest, Mill Valley and internationally in San Sebastian, Zurich and London. The title has hit several international territories including filmmaker J.A. Bayona’s home, Spain, where it is currently the highest-grossing film of the year, taking in over $28.5 million, according to Focus. The film is also a recipient of a dozen Goya Awards nominations in the country, including Best Picture and Best Director.

The feature follows 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall), who is dealing with far more than other boys his age. His beloved and devoted mother (Felicity Jones) is ill. He has little in common with his imperious grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), while his father (Toby Kebbell) has resettled thousands of miles away. But Conor finds a most unlikely ally when the Monster (Liam Neeson) appears at his bedroom window one night. Ancient, wild and relentless, the Monster guides Conor on a journey of courage, faith and truth that powerfully fuses imagination and reality.

Focus said that it has played A Monster Calls in an “aggressive 30-market word-of-mouth screening program targeting tastemakers and media partners including AARP, Refinery 29″ and others. The company also has targeted talk show appearances with talent on GMA, Live with Kelly and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in addition to targeted media on “key” holiday network specials including Michelle Obama’s interview with Oprah Winfrey on CBS.

Focus Features opens A Monster Calls in four locations Friday including ArcLight Hollywood and the Landmark in Los Angeles and AMC Lincoln Square and the Sunshine in New York. The feature will expand to additional theaters January 6.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Director: André Øvredal
Writers: Ian B. Goldberg, Richard Naing
Cast: Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch, Ophelia Lovibond, Michael McElhatton, Olwen Kelly, Parker Sawyers, Jane Perry, Yves O’Hara
Distributor: IFC Films

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IFC Films

Horror title The Autopsy of Jane Doe has had a long gestation. Producer Eric Garcia told fellow producer Fred Berger about two writers, Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing, who had hatched an original thriller, which quickly excited Berger. “I think there’s an idea of genre being [B-movie] or lesser fare,” said Berger. “I met with them, and we promised that we’d make the horror film we want to see and not just do it from the finance standpoint. We huddled up every Saturday for 12 hours.” Berger, along with with Goldberg and Naing, developed the script for a number of months in 2012.

The film follows father-and-son coroners Tommy and Austen (Cox and Hirsch) conducting a late-night autopsy on a murdered young woman whose body is found in a gruesome crime scene where a family has been massacred in their own house. Working late into the night as they methodically peel back layers of skin, muscle, and bone, the pair are baffled by the lack of external signs of trauma on the victim and the alarming extent of her internal injuries. As the dread mounts and the atmosphere gets thick with evil, it becomes apparent that the Tildens’ fate is intertwined with a darkness that neither of them can comprehend.

“Because it was incubated in such a pure way, we wanted to make a movie that would exist in the canon of horror movies we love,” said Berger. “We had a lot of interest from many studios working in the horror space, but we were afraid that the story would be stripped away.” Berger added that the filmmaking group had been given “more lucrative and easier financing offers,” but he, Garcia along with Goldberg and Naing decided to not take the easier route.

Meanwhile, Berger’s colleague, Brian-Kavanaugh Jones, suggested taking the project to London. Garcia and Berger made a trip there and partnered with producers Ben Pugh and Rory Aitken of the upstart UK company 42. Other actors were on the project initially, but they exited eventually. Attention also was focused on finding a director, for which the team had specific ideas.

“We wanted a European filmmaker on this,” said Berger. “We believed that a different perspective on an American story would be great. After speaking with André Øvredal, we knew it would be [a good fit]. … And we wanted to anchor the film with the Tommy character, who was filled by Brian Cox. Emile Hirsch came in around the time of the Berlin International Film Festival in 2015.”

IM Global came in with financing. Initial funds were set but then fell apart. IM Global came in during the Toronto festival in September. “They were great partners,” said Berger.

The feature shot in sequence during March and April 2015 in a 25,000-square-foot warehouse in East London. IFC Films saw the title before its festival run and came on board before its Toronto debut. IFC Films will open The Autopsy of Jane Doe in a day-and-date release, beginning with one New York location on the theatrical side. It will expand December 30 to additional locations and again in January 6.