After a jam-packed weekend of new Specialty releases last week, the tide continues with a full roster of new limited roll-outs just as the summer blockbuster season heads into full swing. The weekend’s largest Specialty debuts include Amazon Studios/Roadside Attractions’ The Wall by Doug Liman and starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena, which will open in north of five hundred locations, as well as BH Tilt’s Lowriders by Ricardo de Montreuil with Eva Longoria, Demián Bichir and Gabriel Chavarria with nearly three hundred runs. Sony Classics is going traditional with the New York and L.A. bow of Diane Lane starrer Paris Can Wait, which the distributor is hoping will tap a collective societal need to escape — in this case, to the French countryside. Cate Blanchett plays 13 different characters in artist-director Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto (FilmRise), which is based on his multi-screen installation presented in New York in 2016. Gravitas Ventures has two titles rolling out including Tribeca doc Elián as well as comedy Folk Hero & Funny Guy with Alex Karpovsky. And Josh Charles stars in Paladin’s drama-thriller The Drowning.
Also opening this weekend is Abramorama’s documentary The Last Shaman about a young man struggling with depression who travels to the Amazon to explore the healing powers of the powerful drug Ayahuasca. Samuel Goldwyn Films is launching Tracktown starring Olympic runner, actress, and writer-director, Alexi Pappas. Among other limited releases are Yash Raj’s Meri Pyaari Bindu, FilmRise’s Dead Awake and Atlas Distribution’s Absolutely Anything.
Director: Doug Liman
Writer: Dwain Worrell
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli
Distributor: Amazon Studios/Roadside Attractions
This weekend’s roll-out of The Wall from Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions is the latest in several films the two have collaborated on, most notably Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By the Sea starring Oscar-winner Casey Affleck (nearly $47.7M) and Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship with Kate Beckinsale and Stephen Fry ($14M).
The Wall is a psychological thriller that follows two soldiers pinned down by an Iraqi sniper, with nothing but a crumbling wall between them. Their fight becomes as much a battle of will and wits as it is of lethally accurate marksmanship.
“We’re doing this along the lines of our past mid-level releases,” said Roadside co-president Howard Cohen. “We’re targeting the male and thriller audience. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is the lead, but John Cena also has a huge audience with the WWE.”
Cohen said the trailer release of The Wall brought 15 million views, largely generated from Cena’s fanbase. “That’s why we’re going wider with this, along the lines of Mr. Holmes and A Most Wanted Man. Both Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena have been doing a lot of appearances. [Director] Doug Liman also has a following from the Bourne movies, so we’re activating different fanbases.”
Roadside released Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes in July, 2015 in 361 theaters, grossing over $2.7M its opening weekend, going on to cume over $17.7M. Similarly, Anton Corbin’s A Most Wanted Man bowed in 361 locations in July, 2014, taking in over $2.68M its first weekend, going on to cume over $17.2M. For this weekend’s The Wall bow, Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions is taking the title to about 520 theaters across North America.
The company bought the feature out of Telluride when it was titled Through The Wall. “We are promoting it to a Jewish audience as well as [fans] of comedy,” said Cohen. “It’s a slow roll-out — a classic art house release. It won three Israeli Film Academy Awards including Best Actress for Noa Kooler and Best Screenplay for Rama Burshtein.” In addition to The Wall, Roadside Attractions is opening Rama Burshtein’s The Wedding Plan this weekend, but only in two New York theaters in addition to seven locations in Canada.
Paris Can Wait
Director-writer: Eleanor Coppola
Cast: Diane Lane, Arnaud Viard, Alec Baldwin, Elise Tielrooy, Elodie Navarre, Serge Onteniente, Pierre Cuq, Cédric Monnet
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Paris Can Wait is Eleanor Coppola’s feature film directorial and screenwriting debut at age 81. Coppola, wife of Francis Ford Coppola, previously directed the documentary Heart o Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. Sony Classics saw Paris Can Wait at its Toronto ’16 debut, picking up the feature soon afterward.
In the film, Oscar-nominee Diane Lane stars as a Hollywood producer’s wife who unexpectedly takes a trip through France, which reawakens her sense of self and her ‘joie de vivre.’ Anne (Lane) is at a crossroads in her life. Long married to a successfully driven but inattentive movie producer (Alec Baldwin), she finds herself taking a car trip from Cannes to Paris with a business associate of her husband (Arnaud Viard). What should be a seven-hour drive turns into a journey of discovery involving mouthwatering meals, spectacular wines, and picturesque sights.
“In the midst of an election year that was so traumatic and heavy along with [the recent release] of dark movies and this general feeling that times are dark, this movie felt like a breath of fresh air,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. “It’s the kind of movie people want to see if they are looking to escape the harsh realities of life. It’s about stopping to breathe the air, drinking great wine, eating great food and appreciate being in this great [part of the world].”
SPC is looking to women across age ranges to form the film’s core audience, in addition to people who “like traveling abroad or aren’t able to travel abroad,” according to Barker who added: “You’re on this trip step by step… and Diane Lane is just luminous.”
Lane and Eleanor Coppola have traveled around the country to various events promoting the film, most recently at SXSW and the San Francisco International Film Festival. Sony Classics is opening Paris Can Wait at the Arclight Hollywood and The Landmark in Los Angeles as well as the Angelika Film Center and Paris Theater in New York. It will head to over a dozen additional locations the following week including in Washington, D.C., Chicago and San Francisco with more cities added around the country going into June.
Director: Ricardo de Montreuil
Writers: Elgin James, Cheo Hodari Coker
Cast: Demián Bichir, Eva Longoria, Gabriel Chavarria, Theo Rossi, Melissa Benoist, Tony Revolori
Distributor: BH Tilt
Producer Brian Grazer approached filmmaker Ricardo de Montreuil about Lowriders after seeing his short film, The Raven. De Montreuil had already been living in Los Angeles for a dozen years and was already familiar with the lowrider culture that the city pioneered and has been emulated around the globe.
“There was a draft of the script,” said de Montreuil. “I felt that to tell this story, I wanted to tell it through the eyes of somebody younger and someone who may not be familiar with it. When you grow up, you may turn your back away from your parents. That is Danny’s journey. When I joined the project, we were focused on developing the story, and I was working with Elgin James on the script.”
Lowrider is set against the vibrant backdrop of East LA’s near-spiritual car culture and follows the story of Danny (Gabriel Chavarria), a talented young street artist caught between the lowrider world inhabited by his old-school father (Demián Bichir) and ex-con brother (Theo Rossi), and the adrenaline-fueled outlet that defines his self-expression.
Eva Longoria was the first major cast member to join the project. The filmmaking team was attracted to her “song support of Latino culture,” and her “maternal quality,” for the role of Gloria, according to de Montreuil. Demián Bichir followed as well as Gabriel Chavarria as Danny. “He did a great job carrying the film,” said de Montreuil. “We found him through the casting process and fell in love with him because of how professional he seemed and because of his chemistry with the other actors.”
Lowrider shot over four weeks in Los Angeles. De Montreuil said he couldn’t imagine making the feature anywhere else since L.A. is naturally a character itself in the film as the birthplace of lowrider culture. “It was a challenge because of the time we had,” he said. “Had we been able to shoot somewhere else, it could have stretched to five or six weeks, but for me, we had no other option. So, we came in very prepared.”
While de Montreuil said there wasn’t time for rehearsal, he had extensive conversations with the cast before hand so that “everyone understood their characters. “It was a labor of love,” he said. “Everyone was passionate. The lowrider [scene] was born in Southern California. It’s an American subculture.”
BH Tilt is targeting the 17-54 Latino audience and lowrider enthusiasts. The marketing campaign was digitally heavy and cost in the single digit millions. BH Tilt said it will consider the initial a success if it opens in the $750K to $1.25M range. Lowriders opens in about 275 theaters this Friday.
Director-writer: Julian Rosefeldt
Cast: Cate Blanchett
Two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett plays 13 different characters in a series of vignettes embodying the artistic and political manifestos of Communism, Dadaism, Futurism, Minimalism, Surrealism, and other movements in this film by German visual artist Julian Rosefldt.
Manifesto is based on his multi-screen installation, presented in New York City at the Park Avenue Armory in late 2016. Blanchett portrayals include playing a Russian choreographer schooling her dancers on Fluxus philosophy; a TV anchorwoman delivering Sol LeWitt’s notes on Conceptual Art as if it were breaking news; and a suburban Southern mom serving turkey dinner, accompanied by a Claes Oldenburg Pop Art prayer.
“Our team first saw it at Sundance and we were struck that it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before in terms of the visuals and performance,” said FilmRise chief Ellis Watamanuk. “Cate’s performance is groundbreaking. We are going for a slow roll-out to allow word-of-mouth to grow.”
Manifesto shot over 11 days in and around Berlin. Each part of the film features a different location, tone, and palette. FilmRise is opening the title exclusively at New York’s Film Forum this weekend for a two-week run, connecting into the venue’s “dedicated membership,” according to Watamanuk.
“We’re tapping into an art crowd, but it also speaks to a younger audience. At Tribeca, I was surprised to see that it attracted a younger crowd. It does speak to a younger millennial crowd. Also it speaks to the role of art and that has become much more relevant — something which we couldn’t have foreseen just months ago.”
Manifesto will next open the Nuart in L.A. May 27 followed by showings in Santa Fe, Portland, OR, Washington, D.C., the Bay Area, Seattle and Fort Worth, TX throughout June. Watamanuk said Manifesto has bookings into July, adding: “It’s a great alternative to the summer blockbuster fare. It’s a film you should experience on the big screen and come with friends so you can go have a drink afterward and discuss what you have seen.”
Directors: Tim Golden, Ross McDonnell
Subject: Elián Gonzalez, Raúl Esparza (narration)
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Opening closely after its recent premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, Gravitas Ventures is rolling out documentary Elián in theaters Friday, one week earlier than had been previously planned. The distributor picked up U.S. theatrical, digital and video rights, which was co-produced by Fine Point Films and Oscar-winner Alex Gibney’s Jigsaw Productions. CNN Films previously acquired Elián, which will broadcast the film later this year.
Narrated by Tony Award-nominee Raúl Esparza, the film recalls the story of Cuban Elián Gonzalez, who at five years-old was plucked from the Florida Straits on Thanksgiving Day in 1999. After his mother and others perished at sea, the custody battle between Gonzalez’s Cuban father and Miami-based relatives sparked a flash point for simmering post-Cold War U.S. and Cuban tensions.
“Off the heals of Tribeca, we decided to push the release up a week to this Friday,” explained Gravitas Ventures’ VP of Sales & Marketing, Laura Florence. “We have hired a specialty agency that is targeting the Spanish-speaking Latino audience through an online campaign and we’re doing full English PR in New York and Florida. We’re also reaching out to the Cuban community through a grassroots outreach. Because of the quick release strategy, we’ve had to be pretty nimble so most of our additional markets [after this weekend’s roll-out] will take place in June.”
Though he did not attend the Tribeca premiere, Elián Gonzalez has seen the film and has “been hugely involved” with the project, according to the distributor. Gravitas said a special screening is in the works in Washington, D.C. where Gonzalez may possibly join. The producers have been in contact with the Gonzalez family through a relationship with an Irish consulate.
Elián will bow in New York this weekend, followed by playdates in D.C., Los Angeles and locations in Florida. CNN will air the title in late Q3.
Folk Hero & Funny Guy
Director-writer: Jeff Grace
Cast: Alex Karpovsky, Wyatt Russell, Meredith Hagner, Michael Ian Black, Hannah Simone, Heather Morris, Melanie Lynskey, David Cross
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Folk Hero & Funny Guy producer Ryland Aldrich met filmmaker Jeff Grace when his wife worked as a publicist on an earlier project he produced, It’s A Disaster, in 2012. Aldrich had just completed his first producing project when Grace sent him a script for Folk Hero.
“I knew right away I wanted this to be my next. It was such a complete and realizable movie just from the page,” said Aldrich. “Jeff and I set to work to define the size and scope of the project. Was this a $5M project with James Franco and Andrew Garfield, or a $50,000 project with Jeff and his buddy Adam? It turned out to be somewhere in the middle.”
Folk Hero & Funny Guy centers on struggling comedian Paul Scott (Alex Karpovsky), who is invited to open for his successful rocker buddy Jason Black (Wyatt Russell) on his solo acoustic tour from Boston to Atlanta. Jason hopes the trip will help Paul get his ‘mojo back’ after being dumped by his fiancee. The misadventures begin as the pair set off on the road, picking up new act Bryn (Meredith Hagner) along the way. But their longstanding friendship is tested when Jason reveals an ulterior motive behind the tour.
Jeff Grace and Ryland Aldrich met actor/filmmaker Alex Karpovsky at the Los Angeles Film Festival where the latter was screening the film he directed, Red Flag. The three started to chat about film budgets etc., when talk about collaborating on Folk Hero came up.
“We thought Alex might have some advice. Secretly we hoped he’d want to be involved and when he told us he loved it and asked if we had cast anyone yet. Jeff and I shared a silent high five,” said Aldrich. “With Alex on board it helped define the project as an ‘around a million dollar’ indie. We jumped right into a crowdfunding campaign where we raised $50,003 and garnered a fair amount of attention for our video.”
Aldrich said that they began working with casting director Susanne Scheel. With some money from their Kickstarter campaign in hand, they thought they’d be shooting soon, but it wasn’t until 14 months later in 2015 that they were actually able to head full-on into production after cobbling together the rest of their budget through private equity.
“We all packed up and headed to Atlanta for a 21-day shoot at bars and music venues around the city,” said Aldrich. “There were a few days of B-unit afterwards where Jeff and a few crew drove up the coast for some exteriors, but really the road trip you see is all around Atlanta.”
Folk Hero & Funny Guy debuted at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival followed by a robust schedule of about 20 festivals afterward. Gravitas Ventures came on board in late 2016. The title will open day and date this weekend in theaters and via most on-demand platforms including iTunes. Theatrically it’ll be in 10 markets this weekend including New York and L.A.
Director: Bette Gordon
Writers: Stephen Molton, Frank Pugliese, Pat Barker (novel)
Cast: Josh Charles, Avan Jogia, Julia Stiles, Tracie Thoms, Leo Fitzpatrick, Robert Clohessy, Jasper Newell
Filmmaker Bette Gordon optioned the book Border Crossing by Pat Barker a half-dozen years ago. She had been dealing with the loss of a friend in tragic circumstances, and The Drowning served as something of a personal outlet psychologically for Gordon. She worked with two writers on the script for some time before getting to the point where the filmmaking team could proceed to raising money for the project.
“There was a two year period of writing and re-writing,” said Gordon. “When you feel helpless and powerless, it was a therapeutic thing to do. I grew up in the world of B mellow-dramas and Film Noir, which allow the filmmaker to explore this world of darker psychology. The subtext is something I really like.”
Drama-thriller The Drowning tells the story of a forensic psychologist haunted by his expert witness testimony that sent a young boy to prison for a chilling murder. When the boy later reappears in his life, he is drawn into a destructive, soul-searching reinvestigation of the case.
After casting Josh Charles, who is a friend of writer Frank Pugliese, the search was on for the right Danny, the young man at the center of the story. “I felt I needed an actor to play that character who not only has the youthfulness and energy, but also not a kid,” explained Gordon. “He has to have masculinity. It’s not an easy part to cast… I met Avan [Jogia] who was a great choice.” Gordon met Julia Stiles who also boarded the project. Electric Entertainment brought in initial funding, which lead to additional private investors. Production began in 2015.
“The book is set in Newcastle, England, which is overcast and cold,” said Gordon. “I wrote the script for New London, Connecticut, which also has an industrial landscape and a great train station which was key for me.” Though the feature takes place in New London, the bulk of the shoot took place in Yonkers, NY, as well as City Island and Staten Island in New York City over 24 days.
Paladin will open The Drowning this weekend exclusively at IFC Center in New York.