Post Golden Globes and just ahead of next week’s Sundance Film Festival, awards contenders will continue to dominate the Specialty box office this weekend, though newcomers continue to trickle in. Film Movement is opening Laurie Simmons’ My Art, which features her daughters Lena and Grace Dunham. Simmons had starred in Lena Dunham’s 2010 directorial breakout, Tiny Furniture. French filmmaker Philippe Garrel’s Lover For a Day heads to theaters after playing at the New York and Chicago film festivals this fall, while Cohen Media Group is opening Lebanon’s The Insult, which is shortlisted in the foreign language category. And Susan Sarandon will be on hand to moderate a Q&A Friday for Tribeca’s Saturday Church, which received accolades at LGBTQ festivals and beyond last summer and fall.

Among other limited releases is Lionsgate’s Spanish and English-language animated feature Condorito: La Pelicula.

Film Movement

My Art
Director-writer: Laurie Simmons
Cast: Laurie Simmons, Robert Clohessy, Grace Dunham, Lena Dunham, Benjamin Eakeley, Parker Posey, John Rothman, Josh Safdie
Distributor: Film Movement

My Art is the feature directorial debut of veteran photographer Laurie Simmons, who began writing the story to the project six years ago. “Its central character is Ellie, an artist who shows an unwavering commitment to her work at a critical juncture in her life,” observed Simmons. “Ellie’s artwork derives from my own photo-based images and their examination of women in society.”

Simmons starred in her daughter Lena Dunham’s 2009 feature, Tiny Furniture. She sees at least one similarity in the main character in My Art as the character she played, Siri, in Dunham’s feature. “Siri was a single, working artist mother with two daughters living in downtown New York, loosely based on Lena’s own experience. As much as Lena was unlike her character Aura – Siri was not me. “

In My Art, single, New York City artist Ellie Shine is looking to gain inspiration and tranquility as she housesits for a friend in upstate New York. Accompanied by her lovable handicapped dog, Bing, Ellie comes of age —— middle age —— in her new surroundings. She turns the adjoining barn into her new workplace, staging elaborate recreations of classic movie scenes, ranging from Some Like It Hot to A Clockwork Orange. Business unexpectedly evolves into possible pleasure when Ellie invites three local men, — two gardeners and a lawyer, —to participate in her art. Soon all three men are becoming romantically interested in Ellie, but she remains determined to resist anything that could interrupt her work.

“I spent a lot of time thinking about both artist portrayals and representations of women my age on screen and that’s when Ellie started coming into focus,” explained Simmons. “I would say that experience made me think long and hard about women’s stories – particularly women over forty.”

Simmons shot 30 minutes of the film in 2013, but later “scrapped” most of it with the exception of the shots of her disabled dog. She showed footage to several people who suggested she meet with a potential producer, Andrew Fierberg.

“As a producer Andrew has a history of working with visual artists on hybrid projects that fall somewhere between film and fine arts,” commented Simmons. “I met Andy and knew I had to work with him but it took a full year before we actually started working together as he had projects and I had a script to write. Andy and I ended up collaborating on much of the project. He read the many iterations of my script and came up with the idea that Ellie’s artwork needed to be shot in a stand alone situation, at a sound studio, as if I was really making art. We shot all the art pieces in their entirety prior to shooting the narrative portion of the story.”

The film’s cast is mostly friends and acquaintances, including filmmaker Josh Safdie who she met during the filming of Tiny Furniture. She didn’t know Parker Posey, but the actor had worked with Fierberg on other projects. Six of the film’s vignettes shot at a Brooklyn soundstage in March, 2015, while the rest of the feature shot in Connecticut that summer.

Added Simmons: “I have to say it was really great to have Robert Clohessy and Josh Safdie walking around the sound stage in women’s clothes, makeup and wigs. They seemed to love it and so did everyone else. In that situation I really did feel like an artist making art. It was very comfortable in that way although having to act in the scenes took it out of the realm of my normal practice. My crew and some of the actors weren’t completely up to date on the script so there was that feeling that no one quite knew why the hell they were doing what they were doing. As a visual artist I’m used to people not understanding my projects until I’m done so I was ok with that.”

My Art debuted at Tribeca last year and later in Venice. Film Movement opens the feature at the Quad Cinemas on today followed by the Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts on January 19. Ancillary platforms including VOD, digital HD etc. will follow.


Lover For a Day
Director-writer: Philippe Garrel
Writers: Jean-Claude Carrière, Caroline Deruas-Garrel, Arlette Langmann
Cast: Éric Caravaca, Esther Garrel, Louise Chevillotte, Paul Toucang, Félix Kysyl
Distributor: MUBI

MUBI caught French filmmaker Philippe Garrel’s drama Lover For a Day at Directors Fortnight at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. MUBI had just completed a global retrospective of Garrel’s films. The label chose this weekend to release the title to “avoid the rush of the fall and the clutter of the holidays,” while remaining within a few months of New York Film Festival where it had its U.S. debut to, “build upon the momentum and buzz coming out of that event,” noted MUBI’s Daniel Kasman, director of Content.

Starring Garrel’s daughter, Esther Garrel, the film focuses on 23-year-old Jeanne. After a devastating breakup, the only place she has to stay in Paris is the small flat belonging to her father, Gilles. But when Jeanne arrives, utterly broken-hearted, she finds her father living with a new girlfriend her own age: Arianne. Both young women are looking for their own kind of love in a city filled with possibilities.

“We are looking forward to sharing Lover For a Day with arthouse crowds, fans of Garrel and French cinema, as well as younger audiences/students who can relate to the two protagonists — especially Esther Garrel’s growing fan base given the break-out year she has had, with an impressive performance in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name in addition to her leading role in Lover For a Day,” commented Kasman. “We have been actively promoting the film via social media and dedicated emails to reach MUBI’s highly-engaged community, as well as digital campaigns with sophisticated audience targeting to reach new and relevant audiences. The strong overlap between the MUBI audience and the core audience for the film enables us to leverage our existing users and data to reach the right people. Awareness-driving efforts also include high-impact digital placements as well as some traditional print.”

The company is also working with French cultural organizations, publications and university departments and clubs stateside on cross-promotion. Added Kasman: “Our messaging strategy has focused on the relatability and enjoyability of the film, as well as both Garrel’s history and legacy as a filmmaker and the unique story of a father directing his own daughter in a film that explores the father-daughter relationship.”

Lover For a Day will bow at the Film Society of Lincoln Center today and will head to Los Angeles on January 26 at Laemmle’s Music Hall. Throughout January and February, MUBI will be opening the film in markets throughout the country including Austin, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Oklahoma City, and Santa Fe. Said Kasman: “We expect to confirm bookings in additional secondary markets following the New York opening.”

Samuel Goldwyn Films

Saturday Church
Director-writer: Damon Cardasis
Cast: Luka Kain, Margot Bingham, Regina Taylor, Marquis Rodriguez, MJ Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Alexia Garcia, Kate Bornstein, Jaylin Fletcher
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Filmmaker Damon Cardasis discovered a program by an Episcopal parish in New York’s West Village that targets at risk LGBTQ youth through his mother, an Episcopalian priest in the Bronx. He attended the initiative at St. Luke in the Field church, known as Saturday Church, which, not so coincidentally, also happens to be the title of his feature directorial debut.

“It’s an idea I had three years ago,” said Cardasis. “I heard their stories of not only struggle and abuse, but also witnessed their strength, perseverance and talent.” Cardasis began writing the script for Saturday Church two years before shooting, completing a first draft in seven days.

“I took some time off because of other projects and then I’d come back to it and get feedback,” he said. “Rebecca Miller came to Saturday Church and read the script. She [encouraged me] to make the movie.”

Saturday Church tells the story of 14-year-old Ulysses, a shy and effeminate boy, who finds himself coping with new responsibilities as “man of the house” after the death of his father. Living alongside his mother, younger brother, and conservative aunt, Ulysses is also struggling with questions about his gender identity. He finds an escape by creating a world of fantasy filled with dance and music. Ulysses’ journey takes a turn for the better when he encounters a vibrant transgender community, who take him to Saturday Church, a program for LGBTQ youth. Ulysses manages to keep his two worlds apart; appeasing his aunt and discovering his passion for the NYC ball scene, and voguing, until his double life is revealed.

Producer Mandy Tagger encouraged Cardasis to take on the director role saying that she wouldn’t join the project unless he did so, according to Cardasis. Other producers joined the project and refined the script as well as spearheaded fund raising for the project.

“It’s a small film and there isn’t a name cast,” said Cardasis. “There was no way I wasn’t going to not cast from within the community. This is before there was any Moonlight or LaLa Land had come out. This was before people were into musicals. Mandy and [fellow producer] Adi Ezroni raised all the funds. They didn’t have any examples to go off of. That’s a testament to them and the people who financed the film.”

Casting took place within the community surrounding Saturday Church in collaboration with a social worker and the ball/voguing community. The feature shot over 20 days with nine hour days since the lead, Luka Kain, was 16 years-old. Cardasis tapped his mother’s church, St. Peter’s Westchester Square, as the main location. “They were amazing and instrumental in shooting the film. We couldn’t have done it any other way given the budget and time constraints,” added Cardasis. “We had a very limited editing period due to financing. Technicolor was amazing. Essentially, it was about calling in a lot of favors and tapping people who wanted to tell this story.”

Saturday Church debuted at Tribeca last year. Initially it was given four showings, but then the festival added another screening and later a sixth. Noted Cardasis: “It was one of the smaller films in competition but then it kept getting more showings.” Saturday Church recently screened at the Key West Film Festival. The title has picked up a dozen awards from various festivals. Samuel Goldwyn Films picked up the title after Tribeca.

Saturday Church walloped at Village East in New York as well as the Arena Cinelounge in Los Angeles in a day and date release. Susan Sarandon will moderate a Q&A today at the 7:10 showing at Village East.

Cohen Media Group

The Insult
Director-writer: Ziad Doueiri
Writer: Joelle Touma
Cast: Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Camille Salameh, Diamand Bou Abboud, Rita Hayek, Talal Jurdi, Christine Choueiri
Distributor: Cohen Media Group

The U.S. release this weekend of drama The Insult continues the relationship between distributor Cohen Media Group with Lebanese-born filmmaker Ziad Doueiri and producer Jean Bréhat. The company released their previous film, The Attack. “We’ve been involved with this film from its very beginning, coming on as co-producers in the screenplay stage,” noted Cohen Media chief Charles Cohen. “Our cultivation of a rewarding relationship with these bold and original filmmakers made The Insult a natural fit.”

The Insult is shortlisted for Best Foreign Language category.

The film centers in present-day Beirut. A civilian dispute is blown out of proportion in which Tony, a Lebanese Christian and Yasser, a Palestinian refugee, are facing off in court. As the media circus surrounding the case threatens a social explosion in divided Lebanon, Tony and Yasser reconsider their values and beliefs as revelations of trauma complicate their understanding of one another.

The Insult has had an extensive international film festival tour over the past year, including stops along the way in Venice, Telluride, Toronto, and most recently Palm Springs, where Ziad participated in a panel with the other shortlisted foreign language directors,” commented Cohen. “As we have seen, this film delivers to an international audience. It’s a story rooted in the particulars of Lebanon’s culture and history, but the story is ultimately about empathy, a message that carries widely – especially today.”

The Insult had originally been slated for release January 26, a date that has “worked in the past,” according to Cohen with their previous films, The Salesman and Timbuktu, but the company wanted to be able to get it into Lincoln Plaza in New York before the venue’s closure. Noted Cohen: “It has always been an important home to our films. When the Lincoln Plaza announced its imminent closing, we worked hard to have the film bumped to an earlier date so we could participate in the final weeks of the theater’s run.”

In addition to Lincoln Plaza, the film will also open at The Quad in New York as well as one location in Los Angeles. The film will then head to select markets around the country January 19.