Following major festival accolades and a short qualifying run, Magnolia Pictures’ Oscar-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro heads to more than two dozen cities this weekend. The film is the final title in the documentary category to begin its regular theatrical run. On the other end of the spectrum, Sony Pictures Classics will open Robert De Niro starrer The Comedian, which also features Leslie Mann, Danny DeVito and Edie Falco. The film will bow Friday in about 800 theaters. Filmmaker Tim Sutton’s Dark Night, a ‘pseudo-doc’ film loosely based on the massacre at a multiplex in Aurora, CO during a showing of The Dark Knight Rises will also begin its limited run via Cinelicious Pics, while Vertical Entertainment will launch thriller Eloise, directed by Oscar-winning Visual Effects artist, Robert Legato.

Among other films opening in limited release are Janus Films’ Polish genre-bender The Lure, which opened in NY only on Wednesday and will open in L.A. on March 3, as well as doc-thriller A Good American from The Film Collaborative in New York, which producer Oliver Stone called, “a prequel to Snowden,” and Growing Up Smith from Good Deed Entertainment.

I Am Not Your Negro
Director-writer: Raoul Peck
Subjects: James Baldwin, Dick Cavett, Samuel L. Jackson
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Magnolia Pictures

I Am Not Your Negro is the final Oscar-nominated documentary to go measurably out in theaters. Magnolia Pictures acquisitions exec Dori Begley saw I Am Not Your Negro in Toronto where it premiered last September. Though the film played opposite a high profile debut at TIFF, she went in to check out the documentary, directed by Raoul Peck.

“We knew of Raoul’s work before,” explained Magnolia Pictures chief Eamonn Bowles. “In Toronto there was a large-scale screening opposite of it, but Dori went in and came back raving. We were earnest in going in to buy it, and by the time the press started getting out [about the film] we had already closed on it.”

In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, Remember This House. The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends—Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. At the time of Baldwin’s death in 1987, he left behind only thirty completed pages of his manuscript.

Raoul Peck’s film envisions the book James Baldwin never finished. The result is an up-to-the-minute examination of race in America, using Baldwin’s original words and flood of archival material. I Am Not Your Negro is a journey into black history that connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of Black Lives Matter. It is a film that questions black representation in Hollywood and beyond.

“It is so timely and of this moment. It’s not often that something like this happens,” said Bowles. “After we bought the film, we were immediately sending out DVDs to the Academy and had everything out just under the wire.”

Magnolia played I Am Not Your Negro at the Maysles Cinema and Metrograph in New York as well as Baldwin Hills Crenshaw in L.A. as qualifying runs ahead of its regular roll out this weekend. “Every night [during those runs] we had different speakers. The Maysles theater sold out every night, while others did as well,” added Bowles. “That combination of the potency of the film and the call to action meant that [audiences] were going out to proselytize it.”

The company banked on an Oscar nomination to help propel its profile in timing its regular roll-out to this weekend. February is also Black History month, which also positions the title well for its regular launch Friday.

“We’re doing a lot of work with schools and working with [film foundation and production company] Cinereach to get school kids to see the film,” said Bowles. “We’ve also hired publicists from different disciplines working with community social groups. Plus we screened the hell out of this to a lot of influential people. Still, we could make every effort, but it’s really all about people being legitimately electrified by the film. They are our best [promoters].”

Magnolia Pictures is opening I Am Not Your Negro in about 25 cities this weekend in over forty locations Friday including The Arclight Hollywood, The Landmark and Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles as well as The Film Society of Lincoln Center, Film Forum and Magic Johnson theaters in New York. The film will head into over a dozen more locations the following week ahead of further roll outs in cities throughout the country heading into spring.

The Comedian
Director: Taylor Hackford
Writers: Art Linson, Jeffrey Ross, Richard LaGravenese, Lewis Friedman
Cast: Robert De Niro, Leslie Mann, Danny DeVito, Edie Falco, Veronice Ferres, Charles Grodin, Cloris Leachman, Patti LuPone, Lois Smith, Harvey Keitel
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Sony Pictures Classics

Sony Classics’ The Comedian will bow in the most locations among the weekend’s specialty newcomers. The title, which played as a special screening at AFI Fest in Hollywood in addition to showing just after the New Year at Palm Springs International Film Festival, will open in about 800 theaters Friday.

The Comedian centers on an aging comic icon, Jackie (Robert De Niro), has seen better days. Despite his efforts to reinvent himself and his comic genius, the audience only wants to know him as the former television character he once played. Already a strain on his younger brother (Danny DeVito) and his wife (Patti LuPone), Jackie is forced to serve out a sentence doing community service for accosting an audience member. While there, he meets Harmony (Leslie Mann), the daughter of a sleazy Florida real estate mogul (Harvey Keitel), and the two find inspiration in one another, resulting in surprising consequences.

“Taylor Hackford has done a great job and we think it has an amazing cast doing what you want them to do,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. “It’s very entertaining. These actors are at the peak of their form and they look like they’re having a good time.”

Barker said the company had been tracking the feature “for a long time,” and had been looking to work with production company Cinelou Films as well as writer Art Linson. “We felt so comfortable to get together with all these talents in this movie,” added Barker. “Taylor Hackford and the producers knew we were interested, so when they were editing [The Comedian] they showed us the first forty minutes and we bought the film right then and there since we were so taken by it. Cinelou makes fascinating films that the public wants to see.”

Barker said that the company didn’t want to open The Comedian at the end of 2016 due to the backlog in theaters. The company did give it a qualifying run, citing the performances of Robert De Niro and Leslie Mann.

Dark Night
Director-writer: Tim Sutton
Cast: Anna Rose Hopkins, Robert Jumper, Karina Macias, Aaron Purvis, Rosie Rodriguez
Distributor: Cinelicious Pics

Cinelicious Pics

Dark Night, the third feature by Tim Sutton, is loosely based around the 2012 theater massacre that took place in Aurora, Colorado, which took place during a showing of The Dark Knight Rises. Dark Night is told in a “pseudo-documentary” style with a cast of non-professional actors.

The film follows the activities of six strangers over the course of one day, from sunrise to midnight, with the shooter among them. Shot by French cinematographer Hélène Louvart, the dream-like visuals articulate the characters’ sense of alienation and suburban malaise. “There’s a veteran, a young immigrant, a troubled teen, a selfie freak and there’s a guy who’s obviously psychotic that should not have access to guns,” said Sutton about the storyline. “The idea is to show their mundane day and also show [what leads up to them being] in a theater together. The one boundary was morning to night… The script was executed as is.”

Sutton explained how the murders in Aurora motivated him to write a fictionalized account of the tragic day and its relationship to The Dark Knight Rises. “When the Aurora massacre happened, I was horrified like everyone else. What struck me was the relationship to Batman and a theater along with this [man] who threw tear gas and the audience applauded because initially people thought it was a studio promotion.”

Sutton teaches a film class and had been showing Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, the 2003 thriller that loosely recalls Columbine school massacre. The film moved him to make his own commentary on what happened in Aurora. “I decided from that point that Dark Night was going to be [my version of] a direct industry response to violence,” he said. “I wrote it in about three weeks in winter, 2015.”

Soon after completing a working draft, Sutton went out to find financing, which ended up being “75% private,” he noted. Sutton said that “a couple of major financiers” had walked away when he decided against using name actors and when he refused to make the shooter “stereotypically evil.” The entire budget for the film came in at around $300K. The project also received in-kind support from Ringling College of Art & Design in Sarasota, FL where the film was shot.

“Eleonore Hendricks, who cast for Beasts of the Southern Wild and American Honey found [our actors],” said Sutton. “She goes down to Florida and starts looking around beaches, laundromats. A lot of it is feet on the ground… With a budget of this size, you can’t get Jude Law… I’d rather have some people who have an ability to convey a character. I wanted to put people in who could absorb your experience so you can project your own experience onto the screen.”

Dark Night was shot over 16 days in Sarasota, FL though Sutton noted it could have been shot in most any suburb. The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and even screened in Venice along with a number of other festivals. Cinelicious picked up Dark Night last fall. The film will open in New York and San Francisco this weekend, followed by Los Angeles next week. It will platform out slowly through the rest of the month into Mark and will go on-demand May 1.

Director: Robert Legato
Writer: Christopher Borrelli
Cast: Eliza Dushku, Robert Patrick, Chace Crawford, Martin Klebba, P.J. Byrne, Nicole Forester, Brandon T. Jackson, Amber Whelan
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

Vertical Entertainment

Prior to thriller Eloise, the extent of producer Sanford Nelson’s work in the film world was an internship at WME, though his family also has ties to film production in Michigan. In 2012, he learned about an abandoned sanitarium in the state, Eloise, and began doing research. Along the way, he learned that past family members had dealings with the institution, which closed in 1992, and eventually decided it would make for a good backdrop to a horror film.

“I contacted my contacts at WME and read scripts,” said Nelson. “I read The Vatican Tapes by Christopher Borrelli and flew him out to check out Eloise and talk to some of the people there on the ground. I hired Chris and worked with him for a year to develop a script.” Sanford also met with Rob Legato, best known for his Oscar-winning work in Visual Effects including Titanic, Apollo 13, The Jungle Book and Hugo, who also boarded the project as director at the end of 2013.

The feature revolves around four friends who break into an abandoned insane asylum in search of a death certificate that will grant one of them a large inheritance. Finding it, however, becomes the least of their worries in a place haunted by dark memories.

“I brought on Tripp Vinson to also produce,” added Nelson. “It took about two-and-a-half years from inception until we went into production.” The film shot in Michigan in May and June of 2014 over five weeks from a cast assembled by casting agents Deborah Aquila and Tricia Wood. The bulk of the shoot took place in a massive Masonic Temple in Detroit, which doubled for Eloise with only minimal set construction needed. There were also some days spent at the site of the actual Eloise asylum, though it only has a few structures still standing.

Vertical Entertainment came on board last year for the film’s release. Eloise will bow in New York at Cinema Village and in the L.A. area at Laemmle Monica, Laemmle Playhouse and AMC Orange in addition to over a dozen additional locations around the country including Chicago, Philadelphia and in Michigan.