Ahead of a Memorial Day weekend likely to be dominated by the latest Pirates Of the Caribbean, there are a limited number of Specialties rolling out over the holiday weekend. Deadheads will be lining up for Abramorama’s Long Strange Trip – The Untold Story of The Grateful Dead, opening in New York and L.A. in addition to some event screenings. The feature, directed by Amir Bar-Lev, is nearly four hours, but will be showing on two screens at each of its regular theatrical venues. Abramorama is also handling the bow of Linda Saffire & Adam Schlesinger’s documentary Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan, spotlighting the well-known prima ballerina. Sundance premiere Berlin Syndrome starring Teresa Palmer also opens via Vertical Releasing Friday on both coasts. And Broad Green Pictures is rolling out doc Buena Vista Social Club: Adios in 21 markets.
Long Strange Trip – The Untold Story of The Grateful Dead
Director: Amir Bar-Lev
Subjects: John Perry Barlow, Sam Cutler, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, Jerry Garcia (archival)
The music documentary is a staple of Abramorama. The company, headed by Richard Abramowitz, released last year’s successful The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years to the tune of over $2.93M, and it currently has Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary, in theaters and with a current total of over $222K since opening in mid-April. The Grateful Dead is at the center of Amir Bar-Lev’s Long Strange Trip, opening this weekend.
“There’s nothing more tribal than a Deadhead,” observed Abramowitz. “This is a fanbase that is very tuned in to the music and everything around the band, so our job is to make this film as accessible to them as possible. To be honest, we don’t have to sell Deadheads on this movie. They are an eager audience.”
At nearly four hours, Long Strange Trip is the first full-length documentary to explore the fiercely independent vision, perpetual innovation, and uncompromising commitment to their audience that made the Bay Area band one of the most influential musical groups of their generation. Assembling candid interviews with the band, road crew, family members and notable Deadheads, Bar-Lev reveals the “untold history of the Dead” and the freewheeling psychedelic subculture that sprouted up around it. The film also delves into the psyche of late lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, whose disdain for authority clashed with his de facto leadership of the sprawling collective that kept the show on the road.
“Dead.net and other organizations around the Dead are providing their support,” said Abramowitz. “As someone who is not a Deadhead, I watched the film and I could’ve seen more. This is what we like to do, identify an audience that is inclined to be receptive and help them activate. We know that this particular group enjoys the communal experience. Theaters are very responsive and we know ticket sales are going to be good.”
Similarly to The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, Abramorama is giving Long Strange Trip a hybrid release, mixing traditional runs in New York and Los Angeles with one-night event screenings. On Thursday evening, will screen at Red Rocks outside Denver and The Capitol Theater in Port Chester where The Dead played about a dozen times in the ’70s and where the surviving members play, individually, quite often.
Added Abramowitz: “Our approach in situations like this is to focus on the in-theater experience and insure that it’s optimal for all concerned: the band, the fans, the theater. No empty seats.”
Long Strange Trip will be on two screens in each of its New York and L.A. locations due to the length and the rules for Academy qualification, screening four times daily. The title will head to 50 other markets. The film will eventually be available via Amazon Prime. Said Abramowitz: “Amir is a filmmaker of substance so he’ll have fans of his there and fans of documentary. but there are a lot of Dead Heads out there and we’re expecting them to line up early.”
Director: Cate Shortland
Writer: Shaun Grant, Melanie Joosten (novel)
Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland first learned about Berlin Syndrome when a colleague at Australia-based film company Aquarius Films brought her the novel of the same title, written by Melanie Joosten. At that point, a script — penned by Shaun Grant — had already been written. She then joined as director.
“I went to Germany and worked with a script editor,” said Shortland. “There were people in Berlin who were involved when the wall came down, so that helped me develop the characters.” Memento, which had financed previous projects with Shortland, joined to provide funds for Berlin Syndrome.
The story centers on Australian photographer Clare who is on holiday in Berlin. While in the German capital, she meets Andi, a charismatic local man. There is an instant attraction between them and a night of passion ensues. But what initially appears to be the start of a romance takes an unexpected and sinister turn when Clare wakes the following morning to discover Andi has left for work and locked her in his apartment. An easy mistake to make, except Andi has no intention of letting her go again.
“Memento suggested I meet Max Riemelt,” said Shortland. “I only really met with a small number [of people for the male lead]. Casting then brought me Teresa Palmer, who had been in Wish You Were Here. She has an ‘every day quality’ that I was very interested in. I wanted someone who could portray a vulnerable and insecure person. After Teresa and Max met, we met in Berlin over two weeks and they got along very well.”
Berlin Syndrome shot for two-and-a-half weeks in Berlin (mostly exteriors) and another two-and-a-half weeks in Melbourne, Australia. “The actors were very intimate and trusting,” added Shortland. “We did a lot of rehearsing without words — just inhabiting the space. So by the time we actually shot, it felt like they had lived together for a while.”
The edit took 11 weeks, which was quicker than Shortland had hoped for. In retrospect, she said she’ll push for a longer schedule for future projects. “I think it’s tough when you can’t stop and walk away,” she said. “There’s no time to leave and come back fresh. But we were showing it to investors and taking notes. It would be great to have time to process, which I will do next time.”
Berlin Syndrome bowed at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and later screened at the Berlin International Film Festival. Vertical Entertainment is handling the title’s U.S. theatrical release, opening in about two dozen locations around the country including the AMC 34th Street in New York and Cinema Village. In Los Angeles the feature will open at the Arclight Hollywood and AMC Village.
Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
Directors: Linda Saffire, Adam Schlesinger
Subject: Wendy Whelan
Documentary Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan began when filmmaker Adam Schlesinger met Diana DiMenna at American Ballet School, where both had daughters who attended. DiMenna suggested exploring the story about famed ballerina Wendy Whelan.
“Diana approached her about [a documentary in 2013], but Wendy was hesitant,” said Schlesinger. “She was going through a tough transition, but Diana told her that that’s ‘exactly why you should do it.’” Added co-director Linda Saffire, “I thought, ‘we have to do this.’ She agreed to let us film her for one day in a dance studio. We were immediately thinking of Don Lenzer as cinematographer. He has worked a lot with dance. We’ve also worked with him on a lot of projects for over the past twenty years.” After showing her footage from their test run, Whelan agreed to do the project.
“We tend to do a vérité approach,” explained Schlesinger. “We don’t say, ‘now we’re going to do an interview,’ for instance. We have conversations naturally and do it as the subjects become more comfortable.” DiMenna provided financing for the project. which shot over a year-and-a-half.
Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan is an intimate portrait of prima ballerina Wendy Whelan as she prepares to leave New York City Ballet after a record-setting three decades with the company. As the film opens, Whelan is 46, battling a painful injury that has kept her from the ballet stage, and facing the prospect of her impending retirement from the company. The film depicts a woman of tremendous strength, resilience and good humor. The audience sees Whelan facing a surgery that she hopes will enable her comeback to the NYCB. She also begins to explore the world of contemporary dance, as she steps outside the traditionally patriarchal world of ballet to create Restless Creature, a collection of four contemporary vignettes forged in collaboration with four young choreographers.
Originally, Whelan was set to have her surgery in New York. The hospital wouldn’t grant the filmmakers access, which threatened to partially derail plans for the doc. Then, Whelan was given advice to see a doctor out of Vail, CO, who is one of the most renown hip specialists in the world. “This was a Thursday and then the surgery took place on Sunday,” said Schlesinger. “We scrambled and asked for permission, and the doctor said, ‘yes.’ We were on our journey, with recovery following the surgery.”
Editing took about one year, including a one month gap, while they worked on another project. The space proved beneficial for the filmmaking duo. “When we got back to the edit room, we looked at it with fresh eyes,” said Saffire. “There were transitions that were bothering us, and when we saw them again, they really bothered us. So we knew we had to work on those.”
The film debuted at the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, the home of the New York Ballet. “Getting into the festival was a dream come true,” added Saffire. “It’s Wendy’s home. When we got the call, we were absolutely thrilled. Plus we’re both New Yorkers.”
Abramorama came on to handle the theatrical release. Fittingly, Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan began its theatrical run at the Film Society of Lincoln Center as well as Film Forum in New York on Wednesday. The title will head to Los Angeles June 9 with additional cities slated throughout the month.
Buena Vista Social Club: Adios
Director: Lucy Walker
Subjects: Manuel ‘Guajiro’ Mirabal, Guajirito Mirabal, Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo
Distributor: Broad Green Pictures
At one point on the lineup at this January’s Sundance Film Festival before being pulled, documentary Buena Vista Social Club: Adios will finally head to theaters Friday. Two-time Oscar-nominee Lucy Walker received financing from Broad Green, which is a sequel of sorts to Wim Wenders’ 1999 title, Buena Vista Social Club.
The title looks at the musicians of the Buena Vista Social Club, who exposed the world to Cuba’s vibrant culture with their landmark 1997 album. Now, against the backdrop of Cuba’s captivating musical history, the feature takes a look at the band’s story as they reflect on their careers and the extraordinary circumstances that brought them together.
Broad Green launched the trailer for the film and poster via popular sites ahead of its release this weekend. The company said it is utilizing “extensive social media” targeting doc fans as well as fans of Cuban music and fans of the original film as Buena Vista Social Club: Adios gets ready for its theatrical run. The company has also partnered with key exhibitor, Landmark, on a sweepstakes.
Commented executive producer Daniel Hammond: “The first Buena Vista Social Club was a culturally moving film that evoked such a passionate response from audiences and critics worldwide, that we were very motivated to continue to tell the stories of these incredible musicians not only as they apply their craft, but as importantly, showcase their lives outside of the music they create.”
Broad Green will bow Buena Vista Social Club: Adios Friday in about 21 markets with more cities set for subsequent weeks.