Fox Searchlight’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is among the latest of this year’s fall awards hopefuls. Starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, it leads a somewhat reduced number of Specialty newcomers this coming weekend following weeks of packed slates of new titles.

After opening France’s Best Foreign Language Oscar entry last month, The Orchard is launching Thelma from Norway starting Friday on the heels of its festival run. The film by Joachim Trier will have an exclusive New York run before expanding. Gravitas Ventures is opening comedy-romance Amanda & Jack Go Glamping with David Arquette and Amy Acker in under a dozen locations day and date Friday. And on the documentary side, 7th Art Releasing will take Destination Unknown to two locations in New York and L.A.

Among other limited releases this weekend is Turn Key Films’ Gold Star the directorial debut of Victoria Negri featuring the final performance by Robert Vaughn. Others include Dark Sky Films’ Bitch with Jason Ritter and Marianna Palka as well as No Greater Love from Atlas Distribution and the re-release of Shakespeare-Wallah (1965) via Cohen Media Group along with genre feature Mayhem by Joe Lynch from RLJ/Image in ten cities day and date.

Fox Searchlight

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director-writer: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges, Željko Ivanek, Caleb Landry Jones, Clarke Peters, Samantha Weaving with John Hawkes and Peter Dinklage
Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the third film producer Graham Broadbent’s company, Blueprint Pictures, has done with Oscar-winning director Martin McDonagh. FilmFour financed the latest project along with Fox Searchlight, which is releasing the title this weekend.

Described as a darkly comic drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri follows Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) after months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case. She makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is only exacerbated.

“As a producer, you wait and maybe [Martin McDonagh] will write a script and bring it into the office sometime. This one, however, came pretty quickly,” said Broadbent. “I’ve always loved Martin’s work and his compassion and humanity is there with this [feature]. I think it’s his most complete film. It’s a tightrope between comedy and sadness and there are twists you don’t expect.”

Broadbent said McDonagh wrote the script about four years ago with Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell in mind. The filmmaking team sent McDormand the script who quickly joined, followed by other members of cast. “People want to work with him,” added Broadbent. “We were just trying to find the place, time and the correct weather [for the shoot] in the U.S.”

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri shot over 33 days in the western part of North Carolina. Said Broadbent: “As ever you’re looking for tax credits. What we needed was a one street town in the southern U.S. We’d always like more days, but it went well. We’re just greedy for the best and wanted to give Martin all that we could.”

The film won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival in September as well as Best Screenplay in Venice.

Searchlight will open Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in four locations Friday including Regal Union Square and AMC Lincoln Square in New York as well as the Landmark West L.A., Arclight Hollywood. On November 17, the film will head to 12 new markets while expanding in New York and L.A. for a total of around 50 theaters. On Wednesday November 22, it will go to approximately 45 – 50 new cities, bringing its total up to 400-plus theaters for the Thanksgiving holiday. The film should be in approximately 60 0-8 00 locations by December 1.

The Orchard

Thelma
Director-writer: Joachim Trier
Writer: Eskil Vogt
Cast: Eili Harboe, Kaya Wilkins, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, and Henrik Rafaelsen
Distributor: The Orchard

The Orchard released Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier’s previous title, Louder Than Bombs last year. While doing press on that film, the director shared the script for Thelma with the distributor.

“While we couldn’t help fund the movie at the time, we got involved as early as we could and came on board having only seen a few minutes of the film,” noted The Orchard’s Paul Davidson. “We didn’t need to see more than that.  Joachim is consistently brilliant and so we pre bought North America rights for the film around [this year’s] Berlin International Film Festival.” Thelma is Norway’s entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration.

The feature follows Thelma, a young woman (Eili Harboe) who leaves her strict family and isolated country home to attend university in Oslo. There, she soon finds friendship and her first love. Her relationship and newfound  independence is quickly complicated by her parents oppressive meddling, their seemingly fundamentalist religious beliefs, and, possibly, Thelma’s unique ability to shape and affect her environment.

“Because the film is a well-crafted and an auteur-driven story and Joachim has a big following in the independent and foreign film space, it was a no-brainer to ensure that audiences were well aware of it,” commented Davidson. “By playing Toronto, the New York Film Festival and AFI Fest, we made sure that audiences experienced it and heard about it often and repeatedly.” The Orchard is also messaging Thelma’s genre elements to younger demographics ahead of its release this Friday. The film played at Fantastic Fest earlier this fall.

The Orchard released France’s foreign-language entry BPM (Beats Per Minute) just a few weeks ago. The company said it views non-English fare as potentially finding as much momentum in the box office as its American indies.

“The Orchard releases foreign films as often as we see ones that move us passionately and excite us about exposing audiences to them. Last year, Neruda was that film for us. This year, it happens to be Thelma and (BPM) Beats Per Minute,” said Davidson. “Foreign films, if they are well made films, have just as much opportunity as English-language indie films.”

The Orchard plans a slow roll-out for Thelma to capitalize on word-of-mouth. The title will bow at the Angelika in New York November 10 before heading to L.A. November 24. After that, Thelma will expand across the country in “all key DMAs,” according to the distributor.

Gravitas Ventures/Orion Pictures

Amanda & Jack Go Glamping
Director-writer: Brandon Dickerson
Cast: David Arquette, Amy Acker, Adan Canto, Daniel Ross Owens, Nicole Elliott, and June Squibb
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures/Orion Pictures

Producer Cathleen Sutherland along with her producer/colleagues Susan Kirr and Brandon Dickerson set out to make a film based on an Icelandic novel some years ago, but the project fell through when financing disappeared. The trio then decided to “do something else quickly ‘Duplass Brothers-style,’” according to Sutherland. Instead, they focused on a story Dickerson brought to the table based on a “glamping retreat” he used to go to with his family.

“We started on this [project] when the other fell through about two years ago,” said Sutherland. “So we found private investors and shot at the place in Texas where Brandon used to go.”

Originally titled ‘When Jack Went Glamping,’ the re-styled Amanda & Jack Go Glamping follows dejected one-hit author Jack Spencer (David Arquette) who agrees to go “glamping” with his wife, Amanda (Amy Acker), in search of a spark to counter their rocky marriage. When they realize they’ve been double booked with honeymooning hipsters and the handsome, eco-friendly landowner, Nate (Adan Canto), enters the picture, a romantic getaway turns into a group ordeal. Jack must learn to get over himself as he dives deep off the grid into a comedic exploration of love, failure, and relevance with some help from miniature donkeys and the sage wisdom of local Jude (June Squibb).

Dickerson reached out to actress Amy Acker with whom he had worked with on a previous project about taking on the female lead, while Sutherland reached out to her friend Patricia Arquette to see if her brother, David, might be interested in the male lead.

“I asked her if she thought David would be interested and I sent the script and the next morning he called and said, ‘let’s do this,’” said Sutherland who also was a producer on Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, tapping talent from that project. “Richard Robichaux was in Boyhood and Rick [Linklater’s] Bernie. Others we found through casting.”

Amanda & Jack Go Glamping shot over three weeks in Elgin, TX. Just prior to their arrival, a tornado swept through the retreat, tearing up the grounds. “We were there with our investors and [some] cast cleaning up the place before the shoot,” said Sutherland. “Everyone pitched in. We were just happy it happened before we shot.”

Gravitas came on board to distribute “a handful of months ago,” according to Sutherland, who added that the filmmaking team took to the company’s “style and approach.” Amanda & Jack Go Glamping will open in 10 theaters including Los Angeles as well as other locations around the country with showings in Austin set for November 13. The feature will also be available on-demand day and date.

7th Art Releasing

Destination Unknown
Director: Claire Ferguson
Distributor: 7th Art Releasing

Producer Llion Roberts interviewed and directed the testimonies of the Holocaust Survivors featured in Destination Unknown over a thirteen year period between 2003 and 2016.

His work is seen in Destination Unknown, which blends intimate testimony with immersive archive to bring the stories of twelve Holocaust survivors to the screen.The film creates a seamless mosaic of first-hand accounts, rare archive from the time, and family Super 8 footage from after the war. The survivors share their memories, some for the first time, some for the last, bringing their experiences to a new generation.We see those who survived in hiding, those who fought as partisans, and those who endured camps such as Treblinka, Mauthausen and Auschwitz-Birkenau. While a few managed to escape, most had to try to find a way to stay alive until the end of the war. Their stories do not end with liberation. We see how they had to survive the chaos that came afterwards, and their attempts to build new lives.

“It’s been an obsession. I started a trip to Auschwitz in late winter 2001 [with] my brother. I was working with BBC doing satellite links at the time,” said Roberts. “I saw an image of a small child who was the spitting image of my daughter. She had arrived in Auschwitz in December, 1943 and survived until May, 1944. It really struck me. I started doing research for a year-and-a-half, and through that got into contact with a man in Ronkonkoma, NY… His father was in Block 11, which was considered the ‘death block.’”

Roberts flew to New York to speak with the man in March, 2003. He decided that with this subject and other survivors, he’d tell their stories from childhood through their liberation. “In 2003, information wasn’t as readily available online,” said Roberts. “The downside of all that [from the point-of-view of this project] was there would ultimately be a lot of editing to do.”

A number of Roberts’ subjects were also planning various trips back to the Auschwitz/Birkenau complex, which he joined. In all, he did 30 interviews including some with whom he described as “Schindler’s Jews,” with 12 finally making it into Destination Unknown.

In December, 2013 he met Claire Ferguson who went through 400 hours of material over a month-and-a-half. She eventually joined as director and editor of the project.

“She was dumbfounded. The education we had in school only touched on the subject matter,” explained Roberts. “She wondered if there was full truth in this, but after looking through it, she agreed to do it. We agreed she’d get the director and editor title, which is what is unusual about this film. The start dates of principal photography took place 11 years before the director came on board. There were different versions with lots of changes, and it took two and a half years to get to where we are.”

Funding for the project came through Roberts’ personal resources and via the company he is partnered in, Gigatel for many years. There had been offers of funding by others along the way, but Roberts was reticent until the post-production phase.

“People would offer to help but there’s no way you can take the funds because it would influence the film, so we refused,” he said. “I was offered a half million dollars many years earlier, but I turned it down. In the end, all those that did support the film were individuals, and they are shown in the end credits. Post production was an expensive period with music, graphics and use of archival footage etc.” The Shoah Foundation is also a producer of the film.

7th Art Releasing came on board to distribute the film in late 2016. Destination Unknown walloped at Cinema Village in New York as well as Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills.