The Orchard is taking a left turn this weekend with its latest release, The Young Karl Marx by I Am Not Your Negro filmmaker Raoul Peck. The Berlin ’17 premiere starring August Diehl and Stefan Konarske as Karl Marx and Friederich Engels has had initial success in social media after its trailer brought out commentary from the left, right and in-between. The title is among a number of limited release newcomers this weekend, which also features a slew of thrillers including Oscilloscope’s Estonian feature November along with Epic Pictures’ Irish tale The Lodgers and Cleopatra Entertainment’s Are We Not Cats.

Other Specialties making bows this weekend include Gravitas Ventures doc Survivors Guide to Prison by Matthew Cooke, featuring Susan Sarandon, Patricia Arquette, Cynthia Nixon, Ice-T, Danny Glover and others.

The Orchard

The Young Karl Marx
Director-writer: Raoul Peck
Writer: Pascal Bonitzer
Cast: August Diehl, Stefan Konarske, Vicky Krieps, Olivier Gourmet, Hannah Steele, Alexander Scheer
Distributor: The Orchard

Filmmaker Raoul Peck had a box office hit last year with his Oscar-nominated box office success I Am Not Your Negro, which incidentally took Best Documentary at the recent BAFTAs. He returns this year with an historical bio-drama, The Young Karl Marx, which premiered at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival where distributor The Orchard saw the film.

The feature takes a look at Karl Marx starting at the age of 26. He embarks with his wife Jenny on the road to exile. In 1844 Paris they meet young Friedrich Engels, son of a factory owner and an astute student of the English proletariat class. Engels brings Marx the missing piece to the puzzle that composes his new vision of the world. Together, between censorship and police raids, riots and political upheavals, they will preside over the birth of the labor movement, which until then had been mostly makeshift and unorganized. This will grow into the most complete theoretical and political transformation of the world since the Renaissance – driven, against all expectations, by two brilliant, insolent and sharp-witted young men.

“We’ve been fans of Raoul’s since watching as spectators while I Am Not Your Negro took the world by storm,” said The Orchard’s Paul Davidson. “I met Raoul at a DGA dinner last year. He’s such a passionate individual. We wanted an opportunity to get involved with something new he was doing, and we jumped at the chance to see [this film]. He has a unique point-of-view on subjects that are not always easy.”

Davidson said that the film doesn’t exactly lend itself to an easy marketing tagline, though the distributor is spreading the word via three different focuses. The company is playing up Raoul Peck’s name foremost. His success with I Am Not Your Negro, which grossed over $7.1M in the domestic market, has garnered the Haitian-born director a following. The Orchard is also tapping history buffs as well as people from across the political spectrum who are interested in Karl Marx.

“There are many Facebook groups that are [focused] on Karl Marx and we had millions of people talking about the trailer,” said Davidson. “Some people debated whether a movie should even be made about Marx. Some conversations were light-hearted and others were not. There were people who asked if the movie would be free…”

While tickets will be sold, Davidson said they do plan to offer some social media groups engaged in the conversation about the movie free tickets. They have also taken the feature to college campuses including UCLA and Columbia University.

The Orchard will open The Young Karl Marx at The Metrograph in New York and the Laemmle Royal in L.A. today. A national roll-out will follow.

Oscilloscope

November
Director-writer: Rainer Sarnet
Writer: Andrus Kivirähk
Cast: Rea Lest, Jörgen Lik, Avro Kukumägi
Distributor: Oscilloscope

Oscilloscope caught Estonian fantasy-drama November ahead of its Tribeca Film Festival debut last year. The feature is based on Andrus Kivirähk’s novel Rehepapp and was Estonia’s entry for foreign language Oscar consideration.

“It’s astonishingly beautiful and bizarre and haunting — totally unlike anything else out there. It won Best Cinematography at the festival and, frankly, it was probably the easiest award Tribeca gave out last year,” commented Oscilloscope’s Andrew Carlin. “Much of the film defies description, but it’s incredibly evocative with shades of Jodorowsky, Bergman, and even Resnais. “

In this tale of love and survival in 19th century Estonia, peasant girl Liina longs for village boy Hans, but Hans is inexplicably infatuated by the visiting German baroness that possesses all that he longs for. For Liina, winning Hans’ requited love proves incredibly complicated in this dark, harsh landscape where spirits, werewolves, plagues, and the devil himself converge, where thievery is rampant, and where souls are highly regarded, but come quite cheap.

November has found a lot of champions in the arthouse world,” explained Carlin. “Exhibitors who aren’t afraid of a commercial challenge are keen to support it. So it won’t necessarily have the prototypical New York and L.A., top 10, top 25 rollout pattern, but we’re going to make sure it finds a home in as many markets as possible over the next several months.”

The company is playing up its unconventionality and uniqueness in messaging it ahead of its release this weekend. Oscilloscope expects it to only appeal to certain audiences.

Noted Carlin: “November is definitely for adventurous audiences and I think the marketing reflects that. We’re playing up the “beauty” — which is exceedingly easy with this film— but certainly not hiding the ‘weird-as-f*ckness.’ Much like the film, we want the trailer to evoke a mood rather than check narrative boxes. This isn’t a French rom-com, it’s a dreamy, black-and-white Estonian folktale. The people who show up and buy a ticket already get what this movie is and they absolutely will not be disappointed.”

Oscilloscope will open November in New York at the Village East today followed by L.A. the following Friday, March 2 at Arena Cinema, with national rollout to follow.

Epic Pictures

The Lodgers
Director: Brian O’Malley
Writer: David Turpin
Cast: Bill Milner, Charlotte Vega, David Bradley, Eugene Simon
Distributor: Epic Pictures

Following his 2014 thriller, Let Us Prey, Irish filmmaker Brian O’Malley was looking for another project that was less heavy-duty in the realm of gore and violence. Through Dublin-based production company, Tailored Films, he received a script by David Turpin of The Lodgers in 2015.

“It’s the first proper ghost story film I had seen,” said O’Malley. “I was told it was a ghost story, but didn’t have much expectation, but it’s a genre I’ve always loved.”

The Gothic supernatural thriller centers on a family curse, which confines orphaned twins Rachel and Edward to their home as punishment for their ancestors’ sins. Bound to the rules of a haunting childhood lullaby, the twins must never let any outsiders inside the house, must be in their rooms by the chime of midnight, and must never be separated from one another. Breaking any of these three rules will incur the wrath of a sinister presence that inhabits the house after midnight. While Edward is committed to this ill-fated life, he’s becoming more unhinged due to the fact that Rachel is not. Smitten by a local soldier, Rachel grows skeptical and begins to rebel, desperate to escape the oppression and misery of their captivity.

Commenting on the film, O’Malley said that the story is firmly tied to Ireland’s transitional period to independence. The “big houses,” estates granted to gentry by the British were often rumored to be haunted — something encouraged by owners in order to scare away locals.

Taking a cue from budgetary concerns, O’Malley said that after joining the project, the most significant change in the story came with the ending. “The original ending was far too expensive,” he noted. “There were some other changes too… When you make a film with the Irish Film Board, there are always notes.” The organization provided financing for the feature, which was augmented by tax incentives.

Cast were not in place when O’Malley came on as director. He and the filmmaking team saw a lot of people for the role of Rachel, which was finally filled by Charlotte Vega.

“Charlotte was so sarcastic in the audition,” said O’Malley. “I originally didn’t think she’d be [Rachel] because she didn’t have the correct color of hair. But then she nailed every scene, so lesson learned. Don’t judge on physical appearance.” Vega’s opposite, Bill Milner joined for the role of brother Edward afterward.

The Lodgers shot at various locations in Ireland over 22 days, with some underwater sequences shot over four days a couple months later.

O’Malley said some rules in place in Ireland made the shoot a challenge, though he found it fulfilling. “When shooting on a low budget, it’s difficult. You have a strict ten hour shoot day. If you go over ten minutes one day, you have to give back that ten minutes the next day. [Still] we shot ten scenes per day. Of course it was stressful, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable shoot.”

The Lodgers scenes at the Toronto International Film Festival last year as well as Sitges in Spain and Cork. Epic Pictures will bow the title day and date this weekend, with limited theatrical locations in select cities along with availability on iTunes and VOD platforms. The feature will open March 9 in Ireland.

Cleopatra Entertainment

Are We Not Cats
Director-writer: Xander Robin
Cast: Michael Patrick Nicholson, Chelsea Lopez, Michael Godere, Kelsea Dakota
Distributor: Cleopatra Entertainment

The seeds for writer-director Xander Robin’s horror-romance Are We Not Cats came from the anxieties he felt as an adolescent. He then channeled that into filmmaking. “I created a lot of shorts that tied romance and anxiety,” he said. “I had the [initial] idea for this film in 2011. I was living in Florida at the time, but this [story] needed to be in a place with a cold climate, so I moved to New York.”

He created the short Are We Not Cats in 2013, which features two of the main actors that appear in the feature version, which opens this weekend via Cleopatra Entertainment.

Are We Not Cats is the story of a man who, after losing his job, his girlfriend, and his apartment in a single day, attempts to restart his life, but is sidetracked when he meets a woman who shares his unorthodox habit – a proclivity for eating hair.

“We tried to get named talent attached at the end of 2014 but we came up with nothing,” admitted Robin. “I wrote this part though for the lead in the movie since he was in two of my shorts. We ended up getting a group of friends together to put in small investment of $3,000-$5,000 and I put in a bit more and one of my producers took a big risk and matched me.”

The project shot in 2015 over 16 days in Staten Island, New Jersey, Brooklyn, Queens and Connecticut, followed by some pick-ups. Robin said that the production was fortunate to have climate that most would consider ‘inclement weather.’

“We were extremely lucky because it was snowing the whole time and the story takes place in the snow,” said Robin. “The sun only came out on our final day.”

The feature debuted in Venice, which proved to be an unplanned strike of good luck. “Venice wasn’t the original target [to debut] but we were extremely lucky to play Critics Week,” said Robin. “We were the first American film to play that in like six years. A friend told us that they were looking for a film like ours. Being able to screen there helped us to go onto an amazing run with festivals. I think we played in 12 countries.”

Cleopatra Entertainment picked up the title during Cannes. Are We Not Cats will open this weekend at Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills, Cinema Village in New York and the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco.