Atlas Distribution will open 9/11 in several hundred locations this weekend, timed to the 16th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon as well as United Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, PA. The latter was itself detailed in Paul Greengrass’ 2006 film United 93. In 9/11, Charlie Sheen and Whoopi Goldberg are part of a group of people who find themselves trapped in an elevator in the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Industry folks will be busy up at the Toronto Film Festival, but in the states, there is a busy schedule of new films opening theatrically. IFC Films is bowing Rebel In the Rye about writer J.D. Salinger, while The Orchard is opening Sundance documentary Trophy, which it hopes to make traction on the awards circuit. China Lion is opening hot Chinese doc Twenty Two after picking up the title recently, and Grasshopper films will roll out SXSW debuter, Spettacolo exclusively in New York.
Other limited release openers on the docket include Memoir of a Murder from Well Go USA, Magnolia’s School Life, Paradise Club from Indican, Napping Princess from GKIDS. Additionally, Sony will open comedy Poster Boys with limited bows Friday.
Director-writer: Martin Guigui
Writer: Steven Golebiowski
Cast: Charlie Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg, Luis Guzman, Gina Garson, Wood Harris, Jacqueline Bisset, Olga Fonda, Bruce Davison
Distributor: Atlas Distribution Company
Martin Guigui’s feature film, 9/11, shot at Long Beach, California’s Thunder Studios a bit over a year ago. Starring Charlie Sheen and Whoopi Goldberg, the feature centers on a group of five people trapped in an elevator in the World Trade Center’s North Tower on 9/11. They work together, never giving up, to try to escape before the unthinkable happens.
“This is an unusual sort of film in that we want to message it out while being respectful of the subject matter. It’s sensitive obviously,” said Stephan Manpearl, who is spearheading the marketing campaign on the film for Atlas Distribution Company, which is releasing the title Friday. “We want to honor the memories of the people who lost their lives. It is still a commercial picture, not a documentary, but there is a fine line that makes it a balance between the two.”
Initially, the company released a trailer that was not well-received by viewers, but a second trailer came out a week later in early August that spurred positive reaction. In the second one, the primary actors in the film are simply talking heads conveying their personal feelings about what motivated them to take on their roles, giving thoughts about the first responders and others who died at the World Trade Center that day.
“The second one gives a personal touch for what we’re saying and the actors were great about doing that,” said Manpearl. “It was authentic in conveying why they wanted to do the movie. So, the campaign is just making people aware of the movie, while honoring and telling the story of five random people from different walks of life who happened to be in the elevator together.”
Manpearl stressed that the film is on a smaller scale than larger past 9/11 productions including Greengrass’s United 93 (2006) and Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center (2006). “As in many independent films, you don’t have the same resources available as studios, so we did most of our marketing through social media and finding influencers and bloggers who would respond to what the movie is about and sharing that with their constituencies,” he said. “We also had [publicity company] PMK help with that.”
9/11 is opening today in 400-plus theaters in all major markets. In New York, it will play the Empire 25 as well as other locations in the metropolitan area.
Rebel In the Rye
Director-writer: Danny Strong
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Spacey, Sarah Paulson, Zoey Deutch, Hope Davis, Victor Garber
Distributor: IFC Films
Multi-hyphenate Danny Strong happened upon Kenneth Slawenski’s book J.D. Salinger: A Life in New York’s East Village back in 2012. While reading the biography he decided it wanted to option the book with an eye at directing. “I took him to lunch and convinced him to option it to me,” said Strong. “I told him I write it and sell it to a mini-major and it may not get made, or I could do it on spec and we’ll have a better chance of getting the movie made.”
Set amidst the colorful backdrop of mid-20th century New York City, Rebel in the Rye follows a young Salinger (Nicholas Hoult) as he struggles to find his voice, pursues a love affair with famed socialite Oona O’Neill (Zoey Deutch), and fights on the frontlines of World War II. It’s these experiences that will inform the creation of his masterpiece, The Catcher in the Rye, bringing him overnight fame and notoriety, but leading him to withdraw from the public eye for the rest of his life.
Strong was not able to tackle the screenplay right away, however due to his commitments to The Hunger Games, but then had a draft of the title within six months, including notes from his producers who he tapped to board the project. After meeting with a number of financiers, production company Black Label Media came on with financing.
The production’s next challenge was finding the person who would play J.D. Salinger. Strong saw footage of Nicholas Hoult’s films and was “blown away” by his versatility. “Nicholas auditioned with other actors and he was clearly the one,” said Strong. “Then when we got Kevin Spacey as Whit, I had a film.”
Rebel In the Rye shot over 26 days in New York City, which was “very much a challenge,” according to Strong given the tight schedule and the frenzy of the U.S.’s largest city. Post was an abbreviated process in order to be ready for Sundance. After its World Premiere, Strong went back into the edit. “It was like a test screening,” he said. “And I [decided] I had to make some changes.”
IFC Films picked up the title out of the festival. The film had its New York premiere Wednesday at the Metrograph, which, along with cast and filmmakers, also brought out Kristen Stewart, Harry Connick, Jr., Erich Bergen, Paul Haggis, Whit Stillman and more. Rebel In the Rye opens in select locations today.
Director: Shaul Schwarz, Christina Clusiau
The Orchard and CNN Films picked up North American rights to Sundance documentary Trophy in a deal that Deadline reported at the time was close to $2M. The feature is an early non-fiction awards contender as the title heads out into theaters as the season gets underway.
Trophy journeys viewers across lush African forests and vast plains and into the world’s largest hunters’ convention in Las Vegas as it investigates the powerhouse industries of big-game hunting, breeding and wildlife conservation. Through the eyes of impassioned individuals who drive these industries—from a Texas-based trophy hunter to the world’s largest private rhino breeder in South Africa—the film grapples with the consequences of imposing economic value on animals. What are the implications of treating animals as commodities? Do breeding, farming and hunting offer some of the few remaining options to conserve our endangered animals?
“The minute we saw it, we were taken by it,” said The Orchard’s EVP of Film and Television Paul Davidson. “When evaluating whether you want [a film] for release, there needs to be something that creates desire to go to a theater to see a movie. It needs to feel theatrical in terms of scope and scale. The beauty and scale is great in Trophy, and the messaging in the film is an eye-opening experience.”
Davidson said that the film will play for people on both sides of the debate about big game hunting and noted that the company worked with “multiple grassroots groups that may not agree with the other side, but are open to discourse.”
Added Davidson: “Most people feel big game hunting is full-scale bad, but what they have done with this movie is a testament [ to the filmmakers] at being open to questions and uncovering all sides of the argument. It doesn’t tie-up neatly at the end. There is not a clear-cut answer.”
Theatrically, The Orchard will open Trophy in New York this weekend at The Quad where the filmmakers will take part in post-screening Q&As with photo editors from leading publications. Directors Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau are veteran photographers, which The Orchard is also touting in its promotion. Next weekend, the title will play Laemmle Santa Monica where Alec Baldwin will moderate discussion with the filmmakers. On September 26, Trophy will play 100-plus locations across the country as one-night event screenings via theatrical on-demand group, TUGG. Additionally, Trophy will play 50 markets in traditional release in major markets.
Said Davidson: “There are a lot of folks who are not typically documentary-goers like hunters and folks in middle America who are interested in this and that’s seen in the TUGG [events].” Trophy will have an IDA screening September 14.
Director: Guo Ke
Distributor: China Lion
Chinese documentary Twenty Two was a last minute U.S. pick-up for distributor China Lion. The company was familiar with the short that the feature is based on and the distributor took note when the title cracked the top five grossing films at home during its August release. Twenty Two picks up two years after Thirty Two. The latest title has grossed over $25M at home to date, according to China Lion.
“It’s an incredibly important story that was further supported on social media and elsewhere by popular Chinese actors, actresses and directors championing the film and encouraging the public to go see it,” said China Lion’s Robert Lundberg.
Twenty Two follows the lives of the elderly survivors who were forced into sex slavery as “Comfort Women” by the Japanese during World War II. At the time of filming, only 22 of these women were still alive to tell their stories; through their own personal histories and perspectives, they tell a tale that should never be forgotten to generations unaware of the brutalization that occurred.
China Lion is targeting student groups, North American-based government entities and local first-language Chinese speakers who are familiar with the topic. The company is engaged in a bigger-scale grassroots push to academics than it has done in with past titles.
“For the most part there is a correlation between theatrical box office success in the Mainland and elsewhere in the world, provided the marketing materials reflect the change of locale and the expectations of both Chinese speakers and non-Chinese speakers,” said Lundberg. “We’re hoping to see this success with Twenty Two. Additionally, we cut an international trailer for the film and we highlighted support by well-known supporters of the film like director Feng Xiaogang.”
China Lion will focus on its historically top markets as it takes the title to theaters today, opening in 11 theaters with an eye to expanding further as word-of-mouth sets in. Added Lundberg: “The film is an incredibly moving account of a very dark time in history, but still shows how society has come together and supported these victims of a war.”
Directors: Jeff Malmberg, Christina Shellen
Distributor: Grasshopper Films
Marwencol filmmakers (and spouses) Jeff Malmberg and Christina Shellen were on vacation together in Italy when they stumbled upon their next feature film topic. They noticed that the town, Monticchiello, did not have some of the quaint trappings of many Tuscan villages.
“We were fascinated,” said Shellen recalling their first visit in 2008. “We sat on it for a couple years, but then we went back and saw the theater [in the village] and it was incredible. The town’s people have spent 50 years joking about themselves and then they allowed two Americans in.”
Spettacolo focuses on a tiny hill town in the Italian region of Tuscany. The villagers came up with a way to confront their issues: they turned their lives into a play. Every summer, their piazza became their stage and residents of all ages played a part – the role of themselves. Monticchiello’s annual tradition has attracted worldwide attention and kept the town together for 50 years, but with an aging population and a future generation more interested in Facebook than farming, the town’s 50th–anniversary performance just might be its last.
The duo translated their 2010 feature documentary, Marwencol, into Italian in order to show the locals that their concept was more of a portrait than a news piece. “They got it when they saw it,” said Malmberg. “Our first directorial decision was to live their for six months [in 2012]. They’re used to a certain kind of ‘soft shoot’ about their theater, so there was a process to get around that and go underneath to something that was more interesting and an honest portrayal of what the theater is. We could see the cracks. It stopped necessarily being this all-beautiful thing that tied them altogether.”
Tribeca Film Institute gave a grant which allowed them to begin the project. More funds also came via Guggenheim, Sundance Documentary Fund, the National Endowment for the Humanities and Creative Capital. The bulk of the project shot over the six months while the pair lived there.
Malmberg and Shellen learned Italian quickly during their stay after a translator they hired fell through. At first the locals were patient with them, but the two realized they were going to have to overcome the language barrier in order to complete the film. “We basically had to learn through immersion,” said Shellen. “We speak at the intermediate level now. It was enough to cull through the footage.
“What we realized was that the best material was Italian vérité,” said Malmberg. “The way they speak to each other is musical, overlapping and complex. There was a lot of edit time involved.”
Spettacolo debuted at SXSW and will open at The Quad in New York this weekend before adding select markets in the coming weeks.