Awards season is just beginning and soon will come the Fall onslaught of hopefuls, but for now there’s a bit of a lull as a relative few Specialty newcomers make their ways into theaters over the Labor Day weekend. William H. Macy’s second feature directorial, The Layover, opens via Vertical Entertainment, as does India-set historical drama Viceroy’s House starring Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville along with Gillian Anderson, going out day and date from IFC Films. PBS Distribution is opening Sundance Fest doc Dolores, its first acquisitions title to hit theaters. And Freestyle Digital Media is opening filmmaker/actor John Asher’s A Boy Called Po, also day and date.

Also opening in limited release Friday is Lake Bell’s I Do… Until I Don’t? from Film Arcade. The title will bow in nearly 200 locations across the country including the Landmark and Arclight in L.A. as well as the Angelika, Lincoln Square and AMC Empire in New York.

Vertical Entertainment

The Layover
Director: William H. Macy
Writers: David Hornsby, Lance Krall
Cast: Kate Upton, Alexandra Daddario, Matt Barr, Matt Jones, Kal Penn, Molly Shannon, Rob Corrdry
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

Producer Keith Kjarval and William H. Macy have been longtime collaborators, including the previous feature film Rudderless in 2014. The two found that The Layover came at a good moment.

“We wanted to dive back in and find something that could tickle some folks in a time we could all use some laughs,” commented Kjarval. “Bill and I decided to start reading scripts with the aim of finding our next film, and we read hundreds of scripts all of which didn’t work for one reason or another. And then I read The Layover for the first time after WME sent it to me and Bill at the same time, and Bill flipped for the script and the rest is history.”

The movie is centered on two best friends whose plane is rerouted due to a hurricane warning. In St. Louis, they find themselves competing for the same guy in their extended layover.

The Layover shot in Vancouver, B.C., St. Louis and parts of Florida over six weeks. Macy’s reputation helped put casting in place.

“The casting was relatively simple, because who doesn’t want to be directed by one of the greatest actors of all time? All we really had to do was sit back and talk about who we saw as these characters and then go and ask them to do it,” noted Kjarval. “In terms of the financing, Bill and I have a friend and collaborator Patricia Cox, who we worked with on Rudderless and Bill had worked with for many years dating back to The Atlantic Theatre Company. And Patricia was the vital cog who put all of that together and, along with Aaron Gilbert and Bron Studios, we formed a formidable producing partnership.”

Vertical Entertainment is working with Kjarval’s company Unified Pictures as The Layover heads into limited release over the holiday weekend.

PBS Distribution

Dolores
Director: Peter Bratt
Subject: Dolores Huerta
Distributor: PBS Distribution

2017 Sundance Film Festival documentary Dolores is the first acquisition title for PBS Distribution under the tutelage of Erin Owens and Emily Rothschild who joined in January.

Dolores is the story of iconic labor leader and feminist pioneer Dolores Huerta, who fought for racial and economic justice alongside Caesar Chavez but has never enjoyed the same recognition, though she co-founded the first farm workers union with Chavez. Huerta became one of the most defiant feminists of the twentieth century. She continues the fight to this day, at 87. With intimate and unprecedented access to this intensely private mother of eleven, the film reveals the “raw, personal stakes involved in committing one’s life to social change.”

“[Dolores] is so timely right now. We decided this should be our first major release,” said Owens. “I think it being Labor Day was a natural hook for us. Dolores herself is immensely popular, and she has a huge following. We find that when we screen it, there are more and more people following the film. Requests from exhibitors and the public have been great.”

PBS Distribution traveled Dolores to a number of festivals post-Sundance including Seattle where it won Best Documentary. The feature also won audience awards at festivals in San Francisco, Montclair and Minneapolis.

“We believe in a robust film festival campaign,” said Owens. “Word-of-mouth through festivals was key for us. [Beyond] the documentary crowd, we’ve also been pushing the film to labor organizations, feminist groups and others. There has been a huge grassroots campaign. Sonya Childress from Firelight Media has been spearheading our engagement campaign.” PBS Distribution is also pushing Dolores for awards consideration.

Dolores will open exclusively in New York at IFC Center today, followed by select locations the following weekend in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. The title will expand in California September 15 while also opening in various cities including Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Added Owens: “Pre-sales have been selling like hotcakes and some shows are already sold out in California. My goal is to keep us on screen for as long as we can in as many markets as we can.”

Freestyle Digital Media

A Boy Called Po
Director: John Asher
Writers: Colin Goldman, Rod Hamilton
Cast: Christopher Gorham, Julian Feder, Kaitlyn Doubleday, Sean Gunn
Distributor: Freestyle Digital Media

Actor/filmmaker John Asher was given the script for A Boy Called Po from producer Darby Parker. The boy at the center of the story has autism, which inspired him to take on the project. His son with ex-wife Jenny McCarthy also lives with autism.

“For me, my motivation was my son Evan,” said Asher. “The film just spoke to me. Mainstream Hollywood considered it difficult and not appealing to a wider audience, but I disagreed. I also wanted to educate people about autism.”

Inspired by true events, A Boy Called Po is the story of a widowed father struggling to raise his sixth-grade autistic son. The pressure of work, school and coping with the loss of his wife and mom push the two nearly to the breaking point.

“The way it had been originally written required a much [bigger budget],” said Asher. “I had to tailor it to a workable [number]. It took me seven years to raise a half million dollars.” Two anonymous investors gave the bulk of the budget, motivated by the subject matter. To cut back expenses, Asher minimized the fantasy elements that were in the original script.

While speaking at an actor’s class in 2013, Asher met the child who would become his lead actor. His personality was an immediate sell for the director. “Julian [Feder] was so precocious and I loved that he didn’t care what other people thought about how he acted,” he said. “After I met him, I wanted to go into production right away since he was growing-up fast. I talked to his parents and started to work on the incredibly difficult performance to portray an autistic child.”

Asher met with Christopher Gorham, whose child also has autism, to play the father. A Boy Called Po shot over 18 days in Los Angeles. Children were on set, so there were a limited number of hours the film could shoot. “It was tough, so a lot of the film had to be visualized and conceptualized way beforehand,” said Asher. “This is the first movie I’ve cut together and boy do I have great respect for editors. When I showed the director’s cut — it was really the director’s cut. I didn’t use temporary music whatsoever [during the edit]. I wanted to see how it looked without music.”

Asher had a chance meeting with Burt Bacharach on a plane and told him about the project. The composer suggested Asher take a look through his catalog. “After showing him a rough cut of the film that included a song, Bacharach offered to score the whole film,” said Asher.

The film played some festivals, picking up a prize at the San Diego Film Festival. Asher and team worked out a plan for release with Freestyle Digital Media in June, which will open the title day and date today. Theatrically it will bow at Village East in New York and Cinelounge in L.A. as well as in locations in select cities including San Francisco, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Dallas, Denver.

IFC Films

Viceroy’s House
Director-writer: Gurinder Chada
Writers: Paul Mayeda Berges, Moira Buffini
Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi, Lily Traves, Jaz Deol, Om Puri, Michael Gambon, Neeraj Kabi, Denzil Smith, Simon Callow, David Hayman
Distributor: IFC Films

IFC Films saw U.K./Indian-produced historical drama Viceroy’s House ahead of its Berlinale premiere in February. The film was popular in Great Britain, where it opened in March, cuming over $5.2M. “I met with Gurinder in Berlin. We had been talking about the film for a long time,” said IFC Films’ Arianna Bocco. “It is not an obvious thing for the U.S. because it’s a particular moment in history, but there are a lot of parallels to today and Gurinder makes that accessible. The refugee crisis, self-identity and what defines a nation: I think all of those things are relevant today.”

Set in India in 1947, the film follows Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) who is dispatched along with his wife Edwina (Gillian Anderson) to New Delhi to oversee the country’s transition from British rule to independence. Taking his place in the resplendent mansion known as the Viceroy’s House, Mountbatten arrives hopeful for a peaceful transference of power. But ending centuries of colonial rule in a country divided by deep religious and cultural differences proves no easy undertaking, setting off a seismic struggle that threatens to tear India apart.

IFC Films is targeting the traditional art house crowd, but also hoping to lure people interested in historical stories. “I feel it has an ability to expand,” said Bocco. “It’s a day and date release, so we’re going to try and get to those audiences wherever they may be. We’re messaging that it’s an upscale art house film that will satisfy all the elements of drama.”

Theatrically, IFC Films is opening Viceroy’s House at the Royal in Los Angeles and Lincoln Plaza along with IFC Center in New York in addition to an Orange Country, CA run. Viceroy’s House will head to over forty runs in the next couple of weeks.

Added Bocco: “I think the film is going to find an audience. I’m optimistic that her style and personal story — and there, a personal element — will shine through. We’re hopeful that even though we’re going day and date, the theatrical run will do well.”