Closing out October, Specialty titles are packing theaters for the coming weekend. Sony Pictures Classics is heading out with Maggie Betts’ Novitiate, a well-received Sundance title that later screened at the Toronto Film Festival last month. Cannes Palme d’Or winner The Square is coming off of its extensive festival run for a theatrical launch today via Magnolia Pictures. The distributor had success with filmmaker Ruben Östlund’s previous feature, Force Majeure in October, 2014. Orion Pictures/Samuel Goldwyn Films are teaming on British romance-drama God’s Own Country, which has received accolades at festivals since its Sundance debut. And Oscilloscope is opening Brimstone & Glory, a doc spotlighting a pyrotechnic town in Mexico that was produced by the folks behind Beasts Of the Southern Wild.

Among other limited releases is Open Roads’ All I See Is You, heading out to select locations around the country. The drama starring Blake Lively and Jason Clarke centers on a couple with a near perfect marriage — until they don’t. Also marking debuts this pre-Halloween weekend is Cleopatra Entertainment’s Halloween Pussy Trap Kill! Kill! in 15 markets. Others include Strand Releasing’s Félicité, Cohen Media Group’s re-issue title Daughter Of the Nile, Zeitgeist Films’ The Divine Order, Atlas Distribution’s Let There Be Light and Monument Releasing’s Flesh and Blood.

Sony Pictures Classics

Novitiate
Director-writer: Maggie Betts
Cast: Margaret Qualley, Melissa Leo, Julianne Nicholson, Dianna Agron, Maddie Hasson, Morgan Saylor
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Filmmaker Maggie Betts didn’t grow up Catholic, but after stumbling upon a short biography of Mother Theresa she decided to read it. She assumed the book would give a general overview of Mother Theresa’s life, but instead it contained an endless series of painfully intimate letters Mother Theresa had written over the course of her life. The letters were consumed with her relationship with God. The book inspired Betts to write a tale about a group of nuns pre-Vatican II, an event that would cause a major upheaval for many of them.

Spanning over a decade from the early 1950s through the mid-60s, Novitiate is about a young girl’s first initiation with love, in this case, with God. Raised by a non-religious, single mother in rural Tennessee, a scholarship to Catholic school soon finds Cathleen drawn into the mystery and romanticism of a life devoted to the worship and servitude of God. With the dawn of the Vatican II era, radical changes in the Church are threatening the course of nuns’ lives. As she progresses from the postulant to the novitiate stage of training, she finds her faith repeatedly confronted and challenged by the harsh, often inhumane realities of being a servant of God. Cathleen finds herself struggling with the issues of faith, sexuality and recent changes in the Church.

“Women of all ages are enthusiastic about this film,” said Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker, whose company picked up the title out of Sundance in January. “It will appeal to a Catholic audience, but that doesn’t come without controversy. It has a huge female cast of young actresses and is a major debut. It’s rare you see a film of this quality with so many characters.”

Barker said audience reaction to Novitiate was one of the film’s selling points for SPC. The company sees the film appealing not only to women but also college-educated males.

Added Barker: “I saw how it engaged these groups and it’s a subject matter that has held interest over [many decades]. Novitiate is the 21st century version of The Nun’s Story.” The 1959 drama The Nun’s Story by Fred Zinnemann starred Audrey Hepburn as a nun who leaves her wealthy Belgian family but struggles with devotion and disappointment.

Novitiate will open in select locations in New York and Los Angeles today, extending to other major markets including Chicago, Washington D.C., San Francisco and others the following week. It will then head to another 8 to 10 cities before going to its widest point around November 24 timed to Thanksgiving.

Magnolia Pictures

The Square
Director-writer: Ruben Östlund
Cast: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Dominic West, Terry Notary
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Magnolia Pictures released Swedish-born filmmaker Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure in late October, 2014, ultimately grossing over $1.35M at the domestic box office. His latest film, The Square, won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Magnolia picked up The Square at the script stage in 2016. “We love The Square’s audaciousness and insight, and think it’s funny as hell,” said Magnolia’s Matt Cowal. “Ruben’s sensibilities fit very well with ours here at Magnolia.”

The film centers on Christian, the respected curator of a contemporary art museum, a divorced but devoted father of two who drives an electric car and supports good causes. His next show is “The Square,” an installation that invites passersby to altruism, reminding them of their role as responsible fellow human beings. But sometimes it is difficult to live up to one’s own ideals: Christian’s foolish response to the theft of his phone drags him into a series of shameful and hilarious situations. Meanwhile, the museum’s PR agency has created an unexpected campaign for The Square. The public backlash is intense and sends Christian, as well as the museum, into an existential crisis.

“The Palme d’Or win opened up a lot of doors with the press, festivals and exhibitors, so there was great anticipation for the film in advance of its North American bows at Toronto and the New York film festivals and has given the film some great momentum in the awards race as well,” said Cowal. “Fortunately, the movie delivers in a big way and lives up to the hype.”

Cowal added that one of the film’s “greatest strengths” is also one of its marketing challenges: “It’s a big, ambitious film that is stuffed with interesting ideas, and it can be difficult to reductively distill for marketing purposes. Fortunately, thanks to the very strong reputation of Force Majeure, which has grown in stature since its release, as well as the acclaim that The Square has accumulated from its festival run, this has been easy to overcome. We are marketing it as a must-see cinematic statement from one of the most exciting auteurs working today.”

Magnolia will take The Square out with a traditional release, opening New York and L.A. this weekend and expanding into November. The company said it has “top theaters” booked in both cities and throughout the expansion.

Orion/Samuel Goldwyn

God’s Own Country
Director-writer: Francis Lee
Cast: Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu, Gemma Jones, Ian Hart
Distributor: Orion Pictures/Samuel Goldwyn Films

God’s Own Country along with Call Me By Your Name were two heavy-hitting gay-themed films to debut at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Both had acclaimed festival runs and positive critical response. Orion Pictures/Samuel Goldwyn Films’ God’s Own Country heads to theaters in New York and L.A. this weekend.

The film follows Johnny Saxby who works long hours in brutal isolation on his family’s remote farm in the north of England. He numbs the daily frustration of his lonely existence with nightly binge-drinking at the local pub and casual sex. When a handsome Romanian migrant worker arrives to take up temporary work on the family farm, Johnny suddenly finds himself having to deal with emotions he has never felt before. An intense relationship forms between the two which could change Johnny’s life forever.

“We bought it out of Sundance where it won a Director’s Prize. It’s a different kind of story. You don’t see great romance of this kind of world,” explained Samuel Goldwyn’s Peter Goldwyn. “The filmmaking is dynamic. I think [director] Francis Lee is going to take off. It also had a huge opening in the U.K. where it was embraced by a broad audience.”

The film has grossed over $1M in the U.K. where it opened in early September. God’s Own Country opened on Wednesday at IFC Center just following its run at New York’s LGBT festival NewFest. God’s Own Country will head to other major cities in coming weeks. Said Goldwyn: “It’s getting great reviews. Its NewFest screening was sold out…There’s a buzz about the movie that people are talking about.”

Oscilloscope

Brimstone & Glory
Director: Viktor Jakovleski
Distributor: Oscilloscope

Oscilloscope picked up Brimstone & Glory following its premiere at the doc-centric True/False Film Festival earlier this year.

The documentary, produced by the same team behind Beasts Of the Southern Wild, spotlights the National Pyrotechnic Festival in Tultepec, Mexico. In celebration of San Juan de Dios, patron saint of firework makers, conflagrant revelry engulfs the town for ten days. Artisans show off their technical virtuosity, up-­and-comers create their own rowdy, lo-­fi combustibles, and dozens of teams build larger-than-life papier-mâché bulls to parade into the town square, adorned with fireworks that blow up in all directions.

More than three quarters of Tultepec’s residents work in pyrotechnics, making the festival more than revelry for revelry’s sake. It is a celebration that anchors a way of life built around a generations-old, homegrown business of making fireworks by hand. For the people of Tultepec, the National Pyrotechnic Festival is explosive celebration, unrestrained delight and real peril.

“It’s a stunning look at not just a Mexican fireworks festival, but the community of artisans and technical craftspeople that come together to produce this celebration in Tultepec,” commented Oscilloscope’s Andrew Carlin.” Ultimately it’s just a really beautiful and immersive experience, which is no surprise considering it’s from the immensely talented creative team behind Beasts Of The Southern Wild.”

The company is capitalizing on the uniqueness of Brimstone & Glory in building an audience for its theatrical roll-out this weekend. The trailer has received 350K views on Facebook to date. “The overall response to the marketing has been phenomenal,” noted Carlin. “The awareness and the excitement is there. It’s just about navigating this crowded time of year and bringing it out to audiences across the country.” Carlin added that this weekend’s opening corresponded best with theater and filmmaker availability.

Brimstone & Glory will open exclusively at the Nuart in Los Angeles today with New York and more top markets set to follow in the next couple of weeks.