The story of a hired hand (played by Dave Franco) who disrupts the lives of a Medieval nunnery is among the new Specialty titles out this weekend. Also starring Alison Brie, Kate Micucci, Aubrey Plaza and John C. Reilly, The Little Hours was picked up by distribution outfit Gunpowder & Sky. The feature is among a fairly busy weekend for new limited releases. Sony Pictures Classics is opening German feature 13 Minutes by Oliver Hirschbiegel, while Gravitas Ventures is heading out with documentary The Reagan Show. Also on the non-fiction side is Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry.

Additional limited run openers include The Skyjacker’s Tale from Strand Releasing and The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography from Neon.

Gunpowder & Sky

The Little Hours
Director-writer: Jeff Baena
Cast: Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Kate Micucci, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, Jemima Kirke, Nick Offerman, Lauren Weedman, Adam Pally, Jon Gabrus
Distributor: Gunpowder & Sky

Distributor Gunpowder & Sky picked up The Little Hours just after its debut at the Sundance Film Festival. The company currently has five projects in production, and as an acquisition title, The Little Hours is somewhat of an exception in terms of the distributor’s broader strategy.

“We will make the odd acquisition but we’re producing features,” said Janet Brown, Gunpowder & Sky head of Distribution. “We’re not pre-ordaining whether something will be theatrical or not. Our strategy is to do what makes sense at the time for how it is released. For this one, we were super excited to take it out theatrically.” Deadline reported in January that the company acquired the title in a low-seven figure deal.

In the film, Medieval nuns Alessandra (Alison Brie), Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), and Ginevra (Kate Micucci) lead a simple life in their convent. Their days are spent chafing at monastic routine, spying on one another, and berating the estate’s day laborer. After a particularly vicious insult session drives the worker away, Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) brings on new hired hand Massetto (Dave Franco), a virile young servant forced into hiding by his angry lord. Introduced to the sisters as a deaf-mute to discourage temptation, Massetto struggles to maintain his cover as the repressed nunnery erupts in a whirlwind of pansexual horniness, substance abuse, and wicked revelry.

“It’s our first [traditional] feature theatrical release and it’s the kind of stuff we stand for,” said Brown. “We’re trying to go where no one else has gone. We want to do awesome, loud [releases] that make noise. It’s a raunchy story and it’s what we wanted. It is a risk and we’re embracing it.”

Brown praised the film as “ridiculously entertaining,” and added that some of its anachronistic elements have been a help for the company as it spreads the word. “It’s pure laugh-out-loud entertainment. We’re embracing it for the pureness of it,” she added. “The absurdity of the colloquial speech against the Medieval setting lends itself for fun in marketing.”

The company released a red band trailer that made “a splash,” according to Gunpowder, which they “had hoped for.” That was followed-up by a clip of cast member Aubrey Plaza — who is also a producer — appearing to be smoking cannabis with fellow ‘nuns,’ which went viral garnering millions of hits on Facebook. There is also related ‘raunchy’ art, which has been used in the marketing.

The subject matter has also received some backlash. Gunpowder & Sky received a petition with 31K signatures spearheaded by a Catholic group asking that it not release the feature. “We are finding the whole thing fun,” said Brown. “We have had no problem with exhibitors and we’ll be releasing the film. Theaters are embracing it awesomely. It’s indicative of the comedy momentum now.”

The Little Hours will open exclusively at the Sunshine in New York and the Arclight Hollywood in L.A. this weekend, with major markets set for the coming weeks. “We have 70 theaters booked so far,” said Brown. “We’re anticipating over 100 by middle July. It’s a traditional roll-out over the course of summer.”

Sony Pictures Classics

13 Minutes
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Writers: Fred Breinersdorfer, Leonie-Claire Breinersdorfer
Cast: Christian Friedel, Katharina Schüttler, Burghart Klaussner, Johann von Bülow, Felix Eitner, David Zimmerschied, Rüdiger Klink, Simon Licht, Cornelia Köndgen
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Starting five years ago, German-born filmmaker Oliver Hirschbiegel was approached on three different occasions by two groups of people about possibly directing a project based on the story in 13 Minutes. The director said he “didn’t want to go back to the Third Reich,” and that initial scripts didn’t hold appeal. About a year-and-a-half later, however, one group came back with a different script and a new approach that included interrogations and flashbacks.

“That got me on board,” said Hirschbiegel. “And it was nearly fully funded. I put in more scenes. It was ninety percent there.” Casting was still to be determined, but Hirschbiegel had Christian Friedel in mind to play the main character, Georg. He also eyed Burghart Klaussner, who he had hoped to work with in his 2004 feature, Downfall. “There were two shoots I’d call heaven, and this was one of them,” said Hirschbiegel. 13 Minutes shot over 39 days throughout Germany.

The feature centers on Hitler’s anniversary speech on November 8, 1939. A man is arrested on the Swiss border for possession of suspicious objects. Just minutes later, a bomb explodes in the Munich Bürgerbräukeller, immediately behind the Führer’s lectern, killing eight people. The arrested man is Georg Elser (Christian Friedel), a carpenter. When a map of the site of the assault and detonators are found on him, he is sent to the head of the criminal police, Arthur Nebe (Burghart Klaussner) and the head of the Gestapo, Heinrich Müller (Johann von Bülow). From them, Elser learns that his attempt has failed — that the man he wanted to kill had left thirteen minutes before the explosion. Elser is interrogated by Nebe and Müller for days, but he holds out against their questions until he finally confesses. Elser remembers how National Socialism slowly metastasized in his home village, and how he attempted to oppose it, together with his best friend Josef Schurr (David Zimmerschied) and a few others.

“The hard part about getting state money is that you have to piece it together, and that has [obligations],” said Hirschbiegel. “If you get some money in [one German state] then you have to spend that money there. You’re constantly on the move. There’s also a lot of money spent on travel.”

13 Minutes bowed at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival. SPC had been in talks about acquiring the title, and then announced it at the festival. The title will open New York and L.A. before rolling out in other markets around the country.

Gravitas Ventures

The Reagan Show
Directors: Sierra Pettengill, Pacho Velez
Writers: Josh Alexander, Francisco Bello
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures

The Reagan Show is the third film distributor Gravitas Ventures is releasing as part of its pact with CNN Films. The documentary is an all-archival feature, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The feature follows Ronald Reagan’s rivalry with charismatic Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, tracing how the Communicator-in-Chief used his public relations chops to overcome Soviet mistrust, the objections of a skeptical press corps and the looming threat of WW III. Employing wit and political irony, and told solely through 1980s network news and videotapes created by the Reagan administration itself, the film explores Reagan’s made-for-television approach to politics as he faced down his greatest rival.

“Considering the political culture we’re in right now, [the filmmakers] have identified the right partners in positioning it correctly,” said Gravitas Ventures’ Laura Florence. “The goal is for it to be a conversation starter for [audiences] to come to their own conclusions.”

The distributor has been partnering with various special interest groups including politically-focused organizations that will get the word out to those inclined to its historical nature.

“There are multiple kinds of audiences for this film,” added Florence. “There’s more of a liberal point-of-view, but we’re seeing moderate groups who are seeing the difference between a Reagan presidency and that of Trump when it comes to Russia.”

Gravitas will open The Reagan Show at the Metrograph in New York and the Laemmle Playhouse in Pasadena Friday, followed by additional cities around the country soon afterward. The title will also be available via VOD beginning July 4.

Two Bird Films

Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry
Directors: Laura Dunn, Jef Sewell
Subjects: Wendell Berry, Tanya Berry, Mary Berry, John Berry Jr.
Distributor: Two Bird Films (self-distributed)

Terrence Malick, who executive produced filmmaker Laura Dunn’s previous film, The Unforeseen (2007), suggested she take a look at rural writer/activist/farmer Wendell Berry. “I think he’s one of the most important voices in American poetry,” she said. “Robert Redford, who also executive produced [later] asked me what I wanted to do next and I mentioned Wendell Berry. There was a lot of back and forth with [Berry] though because he was hesitant to be at the center of a film.” Both Malick and Redford EPd Look & See.

The feature is a “cinematic portrait of the changing landscapes and shifting values of rural America in the era of industrial agriculture,” as seen through the mind’s eye of Berry. The doc was filmed in and around the rolling hills of Henry County, Kentucky where Berry has lived and farmed since the mid-1960s. Dunn weaves Berry’s poetic and prescient words with gorgeous cinematography and the testimonies of his family and neighbors, all of whom are being deeply affected by the industrial and economic changes to their agrarian way of life.

[Wendell’s wife Tanya] came back to me and pushed [the project],” explained Dunn. “I told him that I understood he didn’t want me to just take out a camera and start filming. So I told him I’d like to show what the world looks like through his eyes.”

Dunn first met Berry in 2004 and began conversations about a film in 2008. Ms. Berry invited the team back in 2012. The idea was to cover all the seasons from Berry’s hometown in Kentucky. Filming took place over three years.

“The land itself had to be a character,” said Dunn. “It was important to show all the seasons and show how the farmers worked [throughout the year]. I’d edit, then raise money. I couldn’t do the whole year in succession. I had a couple of children, so that slowed me down. We finished in summer 2015 and then edited for a year.”

Funding came through a combination of various grants including Sundance Documentary Fund, International Documentary Association, Austin Film Society and from individuals.

Dunn added that Berry “really liked” that his wife and daughter Mary are featured prominently. He saw an early cut, making inquiries whether the “direction was clear enough,” but was pleased.

Dunn said that it was important for her and the filmmaking team that the film captured Berry’s vision for rural America, so a straightforward release without having an activist element was not preferable. The title is being self-released with a grant from Sundance Creative Distribution Initiative, which helps filmmakers going for non-traditional theatrical releases. TUGG, which allows communities to “lobby” for a screening of a film in a local theater, is also involved.

Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry is opening this weekend at Alamo Drafthouse in Austin and IFC Center in New York with later bows planned in art houses around the country.