William H. Macy returns to the big screen for the third time as director with comedic drama Krystal, in which he appears with stars Rosario Dawson, Nick Robinson, Kathy Bates and Felicity Huffman. The feature, being released via Great Point Media/Paladin Friday, first caught the attention of producer Rachel Winter in 2002. Krystal is one of two Great Point Media titles hitting theaters this weekend, the other being Brian Shoaf’s Aardvark with Zachary Quinto, Jenny Slate, Sheila Vand and Jon Hamm, which the U.K. based company is releasing with partner Paladin. Sony Pictures Classics picked up writer-director Chloé Zhao’s festival favorite The Rider out of last year’s Cannes Film Festival in a late-night deal following its first screening. The critically lauded feature heads to New York and L.A. in a planned slow roll out starting this weekend. And Samuel Goldwyn Films is opening Wim Wenders’ Toronto fest feature Submergence with Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy in a day and date bow.

Among other limited Specialty releases launching their U.S. runs is KimStims’ historical-musical Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc, which will head to a dozen cities over the next few weeks. Commented KimStim about the film: “We first heard about Dumont working on a heavy metal musical on the early life of Joan of Arc from our friends at Luxbox in Paris about two years ago and had been eagerly tracking ever since. When we finally got to see it after Cannes last year we simple fell in love with the whole project.”

Other releases include Kino Lorber’s doc Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami opening in New York, Film Movement’s Bye Bye Germany, Saban Films’ An Ordinary Man, Well Go USA’s Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum and Strand’s Venice ’17 debut Zama by Lucrecia Martel, who was feted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center in a recent retrospective.

Great Point Media/Paladin

Krystal
Director: William H. Macy
Writer: Will Aldis
Cast: Rosario Dawson, Nick Robinson, Tip “Ti” Harris, Jacob Latimore, Grant Gustin, William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman, William Fichtner, Rick Fox, Kathy Bates
Distributor: Great Point Media/Paladin

Comedic drama Krystal has had a long gestation through most of this millennium. Oscar-nominated producer Rachel Winter first read the script in 2002. For a time, the feature’s writer, Will Aldis, had director dibs on the feature, though by 2005 William H. Macy threw his hat into the ring.

The film follows Taylor Ogburn, a young sheltered man from the South with a strange heart condition. Because of his ailment, he can’t go to college – let alone drink or do drugs or experience life in any real way. Upon meeting the woman of his dreams – an ex-hooker-stripper-junkie-alcoholic with a sixteen-year-old son – Taylor pretends to be in AA to woo her. His fabulously talented family (who perhaps actually belong in AA) not surprisingly have a thing or two to say about Taylor falling for this beguiling and unpredictable woman. Past transgressions smash head on with young love, causing complications for everyone involved. But in order to have even a hint of a chance to come out the other side, Taylor must face his own demons and learn what it means to live without fear and finally become a man.

“[Will Aldis] creates rich characters who say things you don’t expect them to say,” said Winter, who received a nomination in 2014 for Dallas Buyers Club. “There’s a surprising nature to this movie. I saw it as whacky as it was on the page [as it could be on screen]. As a producer, if something wakes me up in the middle of the night weeks or decades later, then I know that it’s something I need to do.”

Dan Keston joined Winter as a producer about a year after Macy had received the script through CAA. The project “went through the standard ups and downs” of financing in subsequent years, according to Winter, though the script had continued to be a lure for actors.

“We were at the whims of various cycles,” said Winter. “But we never had problems attracting amazing cast. [At times we didn’t have] money and then schedules would get in the way.”

Financing came through via Great Point Media, which became a good fit for the project. Noted Winter: “After all the time and struggles had passed, we ended up with the most perfect financing partner we could ever hope for… They said, ‘we love this movie — go do your thing.’ They just let us make the movie that’s on the page, and gave us freedom to cast the way we wanted. You couldn’t believe at the end of the journey we were able to get it done the way we did.”

Though Winter said it may not have been “Bill’s first choice to act in the movie,” he also joined the ensemble with wife Felicity Huffman. Other cast came on through a mix of connections or a casting agent.

“Nick Robinson was on Boardwalk Empire which is my husband’s show,” said Winter, referring to the producer Terence Winter. “I saw him in an episode and I couldn’t take my eyes off this kid. I thought I had to work with him someday… I was thrilled when he responded to the script, and Bill saw what I saw. Kathy Bates read the script. She loved [one scene in particular] and said, ‘I have to do this movie.’ Rosario Dawson I’m sure we mentioned every single time we would talk about this movie. She’s in a class of her own.” Winter gave kudos to casting agent Mary Vernieu for assembling the full group.

Krystal shot in April 2015 over 23 days in Atlanta. Veteran distributor Mark Urman’s distribution label, Paladin, came on board to handle the title’s U.S. release via Great Point Media.

Krystal will head to 87 locations in several major markets today. Paladin said there will be “heavy emphasis in the Southeast and in particular Atlanta where it is set, adding about its release in that region: “We have multiple runs and are positioning the film as more ‘commercial,’ less ‘Specialty.’”

Great Point Media/Glass Half Full Media

Aardvark
Director-writer: Brian Shoaf
Cast: Zachary Quinto, Jenny Slate, Sheila Vand, Jon Hamm, Dale Soules, Tonya Pinkins, Marin Ireland, Noah Robbins
Distributor: Great Point Media/Glass Half Full Media

Veteran indie film distributor Jeff Lipsky began working with U.K. based film production/financing/distribution company Great Point Media after contacting them last October. Lipsky, via his company Glass Half Full Media, entered an agreement to shepherd some of its titles in release stateside, including Brian Shoaf’s directorial debut, Aardvark, starring Zachary Quinto, Jenny Slate and Sheila Vand, opening this weekend.

“I really was interested in getting involved with a company [that has not received a lot of] ink that may be turning into one of the prolific producers of independent films around,” said Lipsky. “One of the films they screened for me is Aardvark. The biggest selling point was that it had three talented independent stars, though Quinto is a crossover. All the pieces were very attractive to me. I was beguiled by the movie and Great Point was prepared to give dollars for a theatrical run beyond New York and L.A.”

Aardvark centers on Josh, a troubled man who has lived in the shadow of his brother for so long he starts seeing that shadow everywhere. After experiencing a series of hallucinations involving his brother Craig (Hamm) – an actor, and the star of a popular TV drama – Josh places himself in the care of Emily (Slate), a young therapist. Emily is forced to wade deeper and deeper into Josh’s imaginary world, and along the way forms her own obsession with his famous brother. While Emily and Craig explore a potentially disastrous attraction, Josh begins a relationship with a young woman, Hannah, who might be his soul mate – if only he could be sure she exists.

“We’re doing the tried-and-true independent [marketing] including word-of-mouth screenings in the twelve markets we’re opening in this weekend,” said Lipsky. “We’re also working with mental health groups, though we’re [treading carefully] with that because this is a [broader story], so we don’t want it to sound like a ‘medical school film.’ We’re also going after the fanbases of the three lead actors.”

In the twelve markets Aardvark is opening in this weekend, including New York and Los Angeles, it will play 29 theaters. Lipsky is looking for its initial performance to allow a gradual expansion to 100 locations in the next four to six weeks.

Following Aardvark, Lipsky will work on the releases of Jim Loach’s Measure Of a Man starring Judy Greer and Donald Sutherland on May 11 as well as A Happening of Monumental Proportions, directed by Judy Greer, featuring Alison Janney, Jennifer Garner, Storm Reid and Katie Holmes.

“All three of these titles are service deals [via] Glass Half Full Media,” said Lipsky. “We want to do well by them and we want an ongoing relationship with Great Point Media. Someone should be writing about these people. They’re doing this quietly, but they’re one of the great producers of American independent film though they’re based in the U.K.”

Sony Pictures Classics

The Rider
Director-writer: Chloé Zhao
Cast: Brady Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Lane Scott
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Sony Pictures Classics first saw writer-director Chloé Zhao’s drama The Rider last year in Cannes where it debuted in Directors Fortnight. After viewing the film, the distributor immediately contacted the international sales agents as well as Zhao’s agents at WME.

“Fifteen minutes after midnight, we called the people handling the film and had a meeting in a cafe in Cannes. We made the deal and left the table at 3:45 am,” said Michael Barker, co-president of SPC. “We do not believe there has been any film like it ever because the actors are not actors. They are playing a variation of themselves from a screenplay. It’s written by Chloé [based on the star’s life] but it takes a lot of dramatic license.”

The feature centers on young cowboy Brady, a once rising star on the rodeo circuit. After a tragic riding accident, he is warned that his competition days are over. Back home, Brady finds himself wondering what he has to live for when he can no longer do what gives him a sense of purpose: to ride and compete. In an attempt to regain control of his fate, Brady undertakes a search for a new identity and tries to redefine his idea of what it means to be a man in the heartland of America.

“You think the guy is an actor, but he’s not — though he’s a born movie star,” said Barker. “Chloé is a Chinese-American who went to NYU Film School, but she’s immersed herself in the land where she’s filmed this movie and her previous movie, Songs My Brothers Taught Me. She’s one of the most remarkable talents to come our way in the independent film world in a long time.”

SPC played The Rider at a number of festivals throughout the fall and well into 2018 to drum up word-of-mouth ahead of its release this Friday at select locations in New York and L.A. Barker said that festivals clamored to show the film despite the usual hesitance at top tier events to screen titles at that have had wide festival circuit exposure.

“What’s so remarkable about this is usually these festivals scoff at playing something that’s played other festivals, but that was never in the conversation with this movie. They said it’s a great movie and wanted to play it.”

SPC is also looking to strong reviews to propel the title in its opening weekend and beyond. Zhao and lead actor Brady Jandreau have also taken part in a good amount of press, according to Barker.

After its New York and L.A. launch, The Rider will next head to San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Chicago in its second weekend, followed by eight to ten additional markets the following week. Added Barker: “We’re not going too fast on this movie because we expect it will have a long tail.”

Samuel Goldwyn Films

Submergence
Director: Wim Wenders
Writers: Erin Dignam, J.M. Ledgard (novel)
Cast: Alicia Vikander, James McAvoy, Celyn Jones, Alexander Siddig, Jannik Schümann
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Samuel Goldwyn Films’ Peter Goldwyn saw three-time Oscar-nominee Wim Wenders’ romantic thriller Submergence at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. The company is banking, in part, on the title’s two leads, Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy, to bring in audiences both in theaters and on-demand this weekend.

Submergence is a love story that delves into the extremely different worlds of its two protagonists, Danielle Flinders (Vikander) and James More (McAvoy). They meet by chance in a remote hotel in Normandy where they both prepare for a dangerous mission. They fall in love almost against their will, but soon recognize in each other the love of their lives. When they have to separate, it is discovered that James works for the British Secret Service. He’s involved in a mission in Somalia to track down a source for suicide bombers infiltrating Europe. Danielle ‘Danny’ Flinders is a bio-mathematician working on a deep sea diving project to support her theory about the origin of life on our planet. Soon, they are worlds apart. James is taken hostage by Jihadist fighters and has no way of contacting Danny, and she has to go down to the bottom of the ocean in her submersible, not even knowing if James is still alive.

“I was immediately interested in it because I’m a fan of Wim Wenders and James McAvoy,” said Goldwyn. “The two of them have incredible chemistry and this [film] has such an epic scope. We think it’s a very commercial film and it’s a good time to release it.”

Goldwyn noted Vikander’s turn in Tomb Raider enhances the profile of Submergence as it heads out this weekend, while McAvoy fans have also been an active pool to tap. “[His] fans have been leading a charge for this,” added Goldwyn. “There’s been a lot of chatter online about this.”

Submergence is opening day and date today. Theatrically, it will bow at Cinema Village in New York and at the Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles. The feature will also open at locations in Chicago, Boston, Seattle, Cleveland, Phoenix, Austin, Detroit and Minneapolis.