Following a dizzying climax of Awards Season, the post-Oscar releases are going full throttle at the Specialty box office. Fox Searchlight will have the biggest limited release of the weekend with Jeffrey Blitz’s comedy Table 19 starring Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, June Squibb and Lisa Kudrow. The feature is actually ‘mostly’ wide, heading to more than 800 locations Friday.

Bart Freundlich returns to the big screen with a story that has been in the works for three decades: Wolves, starring Michael Shannon, Carla Gugino, Taylor John Smith heads out day and date today.

The Orchard is bowing Donald Cried, which it picked up last year at SXSW. The company is also opening hip-hop film Junction 48 this weekend. Abramorama is bowing Jacob and Josh Kornbluth’s hybrid feature Love & Taxes in a traditional window, while Dark Sky Films is launching comedy Catfight with Sandra Oh, Anne Heche and Alicia Silverstone. And on the doc side, Argot Pictures is opening Eddie Rosenstein’s The Freedom to Marry in New York.

Bleecker Street is opening director Mark Pellington’s Sundance fest premiere The Last Word with Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried in New York and LA at Lincoln Square, Union Square, Arclight and Landmark today.

Also opening is The Film Collaborative’s The Last Laugh at Lincoln Plaza today. Other limited release titles this weekend are Magnolia Pictures’ My Scientology Movie, Summit Entertainment’s The Shack and Vertical Entertainment’s Headshot.

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Fox Searchlight

Table 19
Director-writer: Jeffrey Blitz
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, June Squibb, Lisa Kudrow, Stephen Merchant, Tony Revolori
Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Table 19 is a homegrown project from 21 Laps Entertainment. The idea for the comedy was born out of a personal experience by the company’s former exec Tom McNulty. “He came back from a wedding overseas and told this tale about being seated at the ‘loser table,’” said producer and 21 Laps chief Shawn Levy. “It’s The Breakfast Club for grown-ups.”

The title follows the travails of ex-maid of honor Eloise, who been relieved of her duties after being unceremoniously dumped by the best man via text, but decides to hold her head high and attend her oldest friend’s wedding anyway. She finds herself seated at the random table in the back of the ballroom with a disparate group of strangers, most of whom should have known to just send regrets. As everyone’s secrets are revealed, Eloise learns a thing or two from the denizens of Table 19.

Initially, the company hired the Duplass brothers to pen the script, but the duo departed the project. Writer-director Jeffrey Blitz, then boarded to write and direct, according to Levy, with the “Breakfast Club at a wedding” cornerstone remaining.

“Jeff had a vision of this movie that was equally part poignant and also funny,” said Levy. “The draft lead to a partnership with 3311 Productions.” Levy added that Searchlight had been a part of the project early on, but eventually 3311 was set to finance the project entirely. Then, Searchlight was once again came on board.

Jeffrey Blitz earmarked the lead for Anna Kendrick early on. She had starred in Blitz’s 2007 feature Rocket Science. Others were cast with attention to create what Levy called an “idiosyncratic ensemble, again, akin to the ‘80s teen comedy by John Hughes.

Table 19 shot over 26 days in Atlanta, described by Levy as “rigorous and tight,” adding: “The focus was on the characters and a disparate group of individuals who come together as outcasts, but leave as friends. Every day we shot from Jeff’s script, but when you have talented comics like Lisa Kudrow, Anna Kendrick and Craig Robinson, there is bound to be improv and this movie was no exception. I think it benefited from that. The scope of the movie isn’t larger than the characters. They are at the center of it.”

Fox Searchlight will open Table 19 in about 870 locations across the U.S. and Canada this weekend.

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IFC Films

Wolves
Director-writer: Bart Freundlich
Cast: Michael Shannon, Carla Gugino, Taylor John Smith, Chris Bauer, John Douglas Thompson, Zazie Beetz
Distributor: IFC Films

Basketball drama Wolves has had a thirty year gestation for writer-director Bart Freundlich, who wrote an initial scene for the on-and-off project while in the tenth grade. While in film school, he returned to writing, but it wasn’t until in his 40s that he came up with an ending, which prompted him to return to Wolves. “It would be interesting to look back and see how much of [the early writing] made its way in,” said Freundlich. “The character development deepened the story hopefully, but when I came up with the ending, it informed the whole story.”

Wolves follows Anthony (Taylor John Smith), a standout player on his Manhattan high school’s basketball team who seemingly has everything going for him: a killer three-point shot, a loving girlfriend (Zazie Beetz), and a chance at a scholarship to Cornell. But Anthony’s dreams of playing college ball are jeopardized by his volatile father (Michael Shannon), a hard-drinking writer whose compulsive gambling threatens to derail the lives of both his wife (Carla Gugino) and son. Though it goes against his nature, Anthony must summon the strength to step out from his father’s shadow and reclaim his future.

“I had a reading of the script with some actors I know, which isn’t something I always do, but that helped me do more tweaking,” said Freundlich. “The film business has changed so much since I was first doing my projects. I wanted to try and raise the money on my own and have a succinct expression of my vision.”

Over eight months, Freundlich spoke with two main investors who came in with financing, along with others who invested smaller amounts. His wife, actress Julianne Moore, had worked with actor Michael Shannon, and Freundlich approached the actor with the script. And, Freundlich himself had worked with Carla Gugino on Californication some years back and tapped her to join the cast.

“I knew the biggest challenge would be to find an 18 year-old,” said Freundlich. “I auditioned a couple hundred kids. I looked at basketball players who could act and actors who could play basketball, but Taylor had the ‘essence’ of the character, so basketball ability was secondary.” Freundlich said that his daughter encouraged him to go for the right personality vs innate ability for the sport. The actor honed in on his on-court abilities during a training period ahead of shooting.

Wolves shot in June and July, 2015 over 25 days in New York, particularly at the famed West 4th Street basketball courts in Manhattan. “A lot of it was luck, not having rainy days when we were at W. 4th Street and finding gyms that happened to be closed,” explained Freundlich. “A lot of it was serendipitous.”

Wolves was completed in January, 2016. Freundlich had participated as a juror at the Tribeca Film Festival the previous year, and the timing and location of the festival felt like a good fit to debut the title. IFC Films caught the feature at the festival, and Freundlich was familiar with some of the principals at the New York-based distributor.

“[IFC president] Jonathan Sehring executive produced my film World Traveler (2001). It was a perfect match for the movie,” he said. “Wolves is like an independent film wrapped in a commercial film. It transcends genre. I loved that IFC saw those things and could cater to the potential of two different audiences. They figured this time of the year would be good for it, timed to March Madness.”

Wolves is the first release for IFC Films post-awards season. The company hosted a post-Independent Spirit Awards bash at the Ocean Club last Saturday in Santa Monica for their nominated films Certain Women, Kiki (also opening this weekend) and The Childhood. IFC Films will platform Wolves in New York and Los Angeles in a day and date release this Friday, expanding to a half-dozen additional cities in the coming weeks.

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The Orchard

Donald Cried
Director-writer: Kris Avedisian
Writers: Jesse Wakeman and Kyle Espeleta
Cast: Jesse Wakeman, Louisa Krause, Tyrone Alcorn
Distributor: The Orchard

A mutual friend introduced producer Kyle Martin to the writers of Donald Cried in 2014. The group sent him the short film version of Donald Cried (2012), which sparked his interest. “I watched it and thought it was funny, weird and really on to something,” said Martin, who produced Lena Dunham’s feature Tiny Furniture, which had caught the attention of the filmmakers. “I followed up and we all hung out and it all went from there.”

Jesse Wakeman stars in the film about a guy (Peter Latang) who leaves working class Warwick, Rhode Island to reinvent himself as a slick, Wall Street mover and shaker. Fifteen years later, when he’s forced to return home to bury his Grandmother he loses his wallet on the trip. Stranded, the only person he can think of to help him out is his next door neighbor and former childhood friend Donald Treebeck (Avedisian). Donald hasn’t changed a bit, and what starts as a simple favor turns into a ride into their past.

“[The filmmakers] said they were ‘making this movie this winter,’ and that ‘we know a dentist who has $50K,’” said Martin, emphasizing the urgency felt by writer-director Kris Avedikian along with writer-actor Jess Wakeman and others who were part of the projects earliest stages. “We used Tiny Furniture as a model for how to do something on a particular scale. They also had a lot of relationships in the community, so we had a lot of locations favors. It all coalesced and we lurched forward.”

The filmmakers tapped private investors in Rhode Island where the film was shot for the film’s high five-figure budget. Shooting took place outside of Providence. The crew was kept to a minimum, shooting over just nine days with several days of pick-ups.

“There’s an immediacy to something when you don’t have a big crew,” said Martin. “It’s like a bunch of people hanging out. We set our own daily goals and if we fell short, then we’d pick it up the next day. The hard part was that we had a lot of blizzards, which was great on the one hand because it was caught on camera, but we had to dig out cars, and we had some days we couldn’t shoot.”

Aside from Jesse Wakeman, who was already attached to act, many cast members came via Boston Casting. Kyle Martin had worked with Louisa Krause on a previous project, and joined in for Donald Cried. The film debuted last year at the SXSW Film Festival. The Orchard’s Danielle DiGiacomo caught the film at the event and the company picked up the title later last spring.

“They’ve prioritized this tiny movie,” added Martin. “[The Orchard] has been our biggest fans, giving it a 90-day theatrical window. This is a word-of-mouth film and they want to give it a chance to grow.” Donald Cried will bow in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, expanding to dozens of additional markets in the coming weeks.

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Abramorama

Love & Taxes
Director: Jacob Kornbluth
Writer: Josh Kornbluth
Cast: Josh Kornbluth, Sarah Overman, Helen Shumaker, David Keith, Robert Sicular, Harry Shearer, Robert Reich, Nicholas Pelczar, Patricia Scanlon
Distributor: Abramorama

Workshopped at the Sundance Theater Lab, Love & Taxes is a comic tale of seven years of tax avoidance, beginning as a solo theatrical monologue developed in the early 2000s with writer-actor Josh Kornbluth’s collaborator, David Dower. The feature is a comedy that blends solo performance and scripted scenes to bring the subjective reality of the storyteller to life.

Despite working for a high-powered tax attorney, Josh hasn’t filed his taxes in seven years. But when his boss persuades him to join the system, almost mystically things start going well for Josh. His performing career takes off, his solo shows are “optioned” by major Hollywood studios, he and his brother Jake decide to make movies together and he meets the woman of his dreams, Sara. But while Sara wants Josh to join society and take care of his debts, Josh isn’t paying attention to his finances, and has fallen for the manipulations of an unscrupulous tax lawyer, who now might own the rights to his and his brother’s film. Josh soon finds himself broke: his tax-avoidance problems have ballooned into a tax nightmare that threatens all of the great new things in his life.

“After doing a bunch of those improvs, we had a structure, which we kept as a constantly evolving outline,” explained Josh Kornbluth about the creation of Love & Taxes. “Writing the screenplay began with doing a transcription of the live show.  Then I had to hunker down and actually write stuff. One of the first tasks was to decide which scenes — and which jokes — were best told by me, as the performer, and which would work best in the narrative-film sections.”

Josh worked with Jake Kornbluth beginning in 2008, with the latter giving input on a first draft. Josh then teamed up with other actors for readings to work on structure. By the fall of that year, they had a workable draft.

Financing for the film came together “very slowly, scene by scene,” according to Jake Kornbluth. The project actually shot over eight years. The Kornbluths would shoot a scene and show it to investors, raise more money, and shoot the next few scenes.

“During the time we were making Love & Taxes I met my future wife, got married, had two kids, made a feature documentary called Inequality For All — with Robert Reich who is also in Love & Taxes — started a non-profit with Reich, and almost finished another feature doc…,” said Jake Kornbluth. “The casting was as organic as the financing process.  Mostly, they were actors we knew from our first film collaboration, Haiku Tunnel.  It felt like getting the old band back together, but with an entirely different challenge.”

Additional casting came together via Amy Potozkin of the Berkeley Repertory Theater and Nancy Hayes, a San Francisco casting director the duo had worked with on Haiku Tunnel. Aside from Harry Shearer, Robert Reich and Patricia Scanlon, all were Bay Area actors. The majority of filming took place in the Bay Area, aside from one shoot in New York and another in Los Angeles. Other “locations” were created using graphics and green screen.

Abramorama is planning a traditional theatrical window before heading out via streaming and digital on-demand platforms. The title will bow in 10 theaters and will go further based on performance.

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Argot Pictures

The Freedom to Marry
Director: Eddie Rosenstein
Subjects: Evan Wolfson, Mary Bonauto, April DeBoer
Distributor: Argot Pictures

Filmmaker Eddie Rosenstein grew up with lawyer Evan Wolfson, who was a central figure in the fight for same sex marriage in the United States. Rosenstein said that he and his family had been in awe of the activist for a long time. Eventually, he reached out to Wolfson, asking who was making the film behind the movement and Wolfson’s role in it. “He said, ‘nobody,’” explained Rosenstein. “So he said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

The Freedom to Marry is a look at how same sex marriage became the law of the land in the U.S. The documentary follows Evan Wolfson, the architect the movement, civil rights attorney Mary Bonauto and their key colleagues on this decades long battle, culminating in a dramatic fight at the United States Supreme Court. More than the saga of one movement’s history, this is an inspiring tale of how regular people can actually win – and how activists can effectively change the minds and laws of the nation

Filming began in the beginning of 2015 when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. “My challenge was about how to tell this forty year story in the final battle,” said Rosenstein. “Evan was a leader in the movement, but it was a movement involving millions of people.”

Rosenstein went straight to Wisconsin, dropping his other projects. Wolfson was focusing on the court of public opinion to turn the tide in favor of same sex marriage, which he and the movement believed would influence the courts to eventually rule in their favor. “Evan had argued in the Supreme Court in Hawaii and proved that it was winnable,” said Rosenstein. “You need to win the court of public opinion, so he had to strategize in that way.”

Financing came directly from organizations backing same sex marriage, which wanted the campaign to be documented. Additional resources came from individuals. In addition to Wolfson, Rosenstein chose others at the center of the landmark Supreme Court case, Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer whose case was eventually wrapped into three other cases for the final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I also chose Mary Bonauto, an attorney, because she was particularly moving,” said Rosenstein. “Some people thought it would be old news, but I’m glad we told the story the way we did. I wanted to make a film that would show that change is possible even in this jaded time. It’s not old news. Since the election, the world has been embracing this film… It’s not just about LGBT, but about how regular people can make change.”

The Freedom to Marry debuted at Frameline, San Francisco’s LGBT film festival, the oldest in the world. It also picked up a best documentary win in Savannah. Rosenstein is neighbors with Argot Pictures’ Jim Brown, whose company took on distribution.

Rosenstein and Eddie Rosenstein will take part in Q&As Friday and Saturday at the 8pm showings of the feature at Village East Cinema in New York. The feature will open at the Laemmle Monica Film Center in L.A. March 10 with additional showings of title in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Seattle, Dallas, the Bay Area, Key West and other select locations throughout March and April.

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Dark Sky Films

Catfight
Director-writer: Onur Tukel
Cast: Sandra Oh, Anne Heche, Alicia Silverstone, Amy Hill, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Ariel Kavoussi, Craig Bierko, Dylan Baker
Distributor: Dark Sky Films

Producer Gigi Graff and filmmaker Onur Tukel first met at the Tribeca Film Festival at the premiere of Tukel’s Summer of Blood. Years later they reconnected at a gathering in Hastings on Hudson, NY and told her about the script for Catfight. “I read it and I loved it,” noted Graff. “I knew immediately it was special and we jumped right in and months later, we were making a movie.”

Catfight follows one-time college pals Veronica (Sandra Oh) and Ashley (Anne Heche), who run into each other at a party. The women, now in their forties and having not seen each other since school, find that their lives have taken radically different paths. Ashley is barely scraping by as a painter of politically charged canvases, while Veronica is married to a wealthy businessman who’s about to profit hugely off yet another US-led war in the Middle East. Within minutes of their reunion, a rivalry is revived, old wounds are torn open, and a Manhattan stairwell becomes home to a woman-on-woman brawl.

“The lack of roles for women in their 40s — juicy roles — I think enabled us to get some of the most talented women interested in the project,” explained Graff on Catfight’s casting. “The script was the calling card and the heart of what got cast attached. We also collaborated with fantastic casting director Stephanie Holbrook.”
Financing came through Tukel’s relationship with MPI and shot over 16 days. Added Graff: “We were super tiny and what we pulled off with what we had still amazes me. [We had] the most bear bones crew. An interesting anecdote is that all department heads of this film are women.”

Catfight will open in limited engagements in a day and date release this weekend.