EXCLUSIVE: Coming late into this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Three Christsa psychiatric drama with one of the fest’s most impressive casts, hopes to swoop in a find a distributor without showing it around pre-TIFF. The film had its first press and industry screening today in advance of its Gala unveiling in about 48 hours. Watch an exclusive clip above.

Richard Gere, coming off a superlative and Oscar-worthy career-best performance in Norman earlier this year, is very fine again as Dr. Alan Stone. The story is based on a 1959 experiment at Michigan’s Ypsilanti State Hospital in which he passed up electroshock treatments commonly used at the time to forge a revolutionary idea of putting three patients, who all believed they were Jesus Christ, in the same room together thereby forcing them to confront their delusions. Those patients are played impressively by two-time Game of Thrones Emmy winner Peter Dinklage, Justified co-star Walton Goggins, and Transparent Emmy winner and Get Out co-star Bradley Whitford. The director is Jon Avnet (and he wrote the script with Eric Nazarian) who also helmed Fried Green Tomatoes and Up Close and Personal for the big screen, as well as being a prolific producer-director of many film and TV projects. When I spoke with him in advance of this Thursday’s premiere at TIFF, the industry veteran told me this particular project means a lot to him. “The story was so unique. I just wanted to make a good film,” he said. “It is a short sentence but an incredibly difficult task to achieve. I find these characters really interesting. I can relate to them and the doctor as well. The one thing I am particularly proud of is the work of Richard and Walton, Bradley and Peter. They really took to it even though it was intimidating. The speech was different and very dense, and they had to understand it. It took years of research into schizophrenia.”

Three Christs

Producer Daniel Levin, a managing partner of Narrative Capital as well as a past corporate lawyer with a sideline as a novelist of legal thrillers, was an executive producer of last year’s Lion, the TIFF runner-up for its prestigious People’s Choice Award that went on to several Oscar nominations including Best Picture. He told me he has fond memories of their Lion premiere a year ago at Roy Thompson Hall, the same venue where Three Christs will play, and actually compares the two films. “Lion is about being lost and being found, and this movie is not that far afield,” he told me, saying the book on which it is based had been at one of the studios for decades but that he had strong convictions that with the right cast its time has finally come.

Of course the bar for mental-institution movies was set very high by the 1975 Best Picture winner One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and the milieu has been a staple of films from Hollywood’s storied past, but not so much lately. Levin said he is placing a big bet that this one will resonate in 2017. “As soon as I saw Richard and Peter interacting I did make the decision that we would hold our cards (to pre-screen),” he said. “I felt like the alchemy was there and occasionally you need to believe. I felt like we had done something very grounded and revelatory. When I saw these dailies it took my breath away, and that’s when I decided it would be an old-school analog model of producing that I would let the world decide.” Levin noted that Three Christs is set at the crossroads between the 19th century asylum and modern medicine. “I think the film is timeless but also timely. It shines a bold light on the shuttered interiors of the mind.”

Avnet, who has been around this block more than a few times in his long career, hopes the film will find a good home, one aiming for the often neglected older audience, although — to borrow the title of one of the movies he produced  –it is very risky business these days. “Like Fried Green Tomatoes, it is entertaining and not rubbing the audience’s face in despair. My hope is that it will play, and if it does you can do business because as you know it is extremely difficult to get it done, to get distribution, and to get good distribution. Hopefully with a film like this one you can get some critical reaction that is positive that tells the older people, the 50-and-overs who go to the movie theater in November, December, January, February (where he says over 50% of that audience is) that they should go see this one.”