As the Sundance Film Festival begins its wind-down to this weekend’s awards, the remaining attendees will get a preview of Specialty titles that should make their way to big screens later this year. Oscar nominated titles from 2017, including Call Me By Your Name, The Shape of Water, Darkest Hour, Lady Bird and others continue to dominate the Specialty box office, and that won’t likely change well into February.

Some new titles are trickling out in the lead-up to the Oscars. Magnolia Pictures is opening Please Stand By starring Dakota Fanning and Toni Collette in a day and date release this weekend. Strand is hoping to find traction with the Chinese animated film Have A Nice Day, which was removed from a French animation festival last summer after pressure from the Chinese government. And Good Deed Entertainment, which found surprising box office success and an Oscar nom with last year’s Loving Vincent is heading out this weekend with musical-drama American Folk.

Also opening this weekend is Bollywood title Padmaavat via Viacom18 Motion Pictures and The Clapper with Amanda Seyfried from Momentum Pictures.

Magnolia Pictures

Please Stand By
Director: Ben Lewin
Writer: Michael Golamco
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Toni Collette, Alice Eve, Patton Oswalt
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Writer Michael Galamco was inspired by a play he had seen to adapt a story about a neuro-diverse, autistic woman who dreams of being a screenwriter. Producers Lara Alameddine and Daniel Dubiecki also worked on the script for a few months after joining with writer Michael Golamco on the project.

“When you take that backdrop and then connect it with Star Trek, it exploded on the page for us,” said Dubiecki. Added Alameddine: “We loved [the character] Wendy because she’s neuro-diverse, but she’s a hero that overcomes something. It’s a feel-good movie. There’s a lot going on in the world right now, so it’s something [that offers] hope.”

In the film, Dakota Fanning stars as a woman who escapes a group home hoping to get her Star Trek script produced in Hollywood. On the way she must conquer a new world full of challenges.

The filmmaking team met with Ben Lewin, who connected with the script because the central character is a writer. He boarded the project as director and then other pieces for the feature began to fall into place, including casting and financing.

“This is a fortunate version of a [filmmaking] story,” said Dubiecki. “Dakota came on within weeks of Ben. We also pre-sold international sales, which helped with financing. We then went to traditional financiers.” 2929 Entertainment came on rounding out resources.

“One of the greatest things about this project was that we got to choose Los Angeles,” said Dubiecki. “We hadn’t been able to shoot here in 10 years. We were the last [project] to get the California tax cut before the change.”

Added Alameddine: “It’s not just that people get to stay in their homes, but by being in L.A., we had access to great crews and talent. Also people were excited to be home. [Additionally] we also found a lot of actors who are neuro-diverse. And that’s the heart of the film.”

Please Stand By shot over 29 days in L.A. as well as a couple days in San Francisco. Magnolia Pictures, which is affiliated with 2929 came on to distribute. The company is tapping Star Trek fans and the neuro-diverse community in the lead up to its day and date theatrical release this weekend.

Strand Releasing

Have A Nice Day
Director-writer: Liu Jian
Distributor: Strand Releasing

Strand Releasing caught Chinese animated feature Have A Nice Day at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival. The film, however, ran afoul of the Chinese government, getting pulled from the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France.

The animated Neo-noir takes place in a small town in southern China. In a desperate attempt to find money to correct his fiancée’s failed plastic surgery, driver Xiao Zhang steals a bag containing a lot of money from his boss. News of the robbery spreads fast within the town and, over the course of one night, everyone starts looking for Xiao Zhang and the money.

“We wanted to find something unique in the marketplace and this is something [akin] to counter-programming,” said Strand Releasing co-president Jon Gerrans at a dinner hosted by Frameline and the Film Society of Lincoln Center at the Sundance Film Festival last weekend. “It’s a great quality film, but the Chinese government didn’t support the film, so we were drawn to that.”

According to a BBC article last June, the French festival’s organizers were compelled to withdraw the film because they “did not have the right to endanger the film’s team.” The Chinese government has increasingly become more strict about Chinese films receiving approval from authorities before going to international festivals, the BBC article explained.

“It does say something about Chinese politics that they don’t want to be represented by this,” said Gerrans. “It does show an underbelly of Chinese society but there’s something very interesting about that. The themes are very adult, which is consistent to what we do [at Strand].”

Have A Nice Day will open exclusively at the Angelika in New York this weekend, followed by Los Angeles next weekend. The title is also set to play in San Francisco in the coming weeks. Added Gerrans: “Hopefully it will work and then we’ll keep rolling it out.”

Good Deed Entertainment

American Folk
Director-writer: David Heinz
Cast: Joe Purdy, Amber Rubarth, Krisha Fairchild, David Fine, Bruch Beatty
Distributor: Good Deed Entertainment

American Folk debuted at last year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Good Deed Entertainment, which picked up the title last spring, is combining the theatrical release, in part, with a concert tour involving folk artists including cast members Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth.

Filmed over 3500 miles in 14 states, musicians Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth star as two strangers, both folk musicians, whose fates become intertwined after their plane is grounded in California following the September 11 attacks. Both desperately needing to get back to New York, they embark on a cross-country journey in a 1972 Chevy Van. Along the way, the duo finds solace in their mutual love of classic folk songs, and raising their voices with everyday people they meet on the road. They re-discover the healing nature of music and bear witness to a nation of people who lift each other up in the wake of tragedy.

“We were looking for something different and finding a picture that spoke about America in a positive way given the political climate we’re currently in,” said Good Deed Entertainment VP of Acquisitions & Distribution, Kristin Harris. “The film uses 9/11 as a backdrop but it’s not at the center of the story. It’s about unity and [the film] is a discovery of a smart first-time director.”

While American Folk will open in 10 theaters in 10 cities this weekend, Good Deed is also doing most digital platforms.

“It’s about America, so we wanted to have it available for middle America,” said Harris. “We want to get it in on people’s minds as it tours… We’re pleased with the critical response. Our marketing and messaging is about the unifying power of song. We’re targeting a folk demographic, which is an older fanbase, but also ‘hip’ millennials who are discovering this music.”

Beyond its initial roll-out this weekend, the title will expand based on performance.