As many industry insiders head to Venice and Telluride as the last vestiges of summer wind down Labor Day weekend, new Specialty releases are nevertheless in abundance as another Awards season begins to ramp up. Lionsgate and its partnered distributors Pantelion and Roadside Attractions will have the weekend’s biggest roll outs for Cantinflas and Life Of Crime respectively. Pantelion hopes to replicate the success it had last year with Instructions Not Included, targeting a primarily Latino audience. Sundance Selects will open Patricia Clarkson-starrer Last Weekend in an exclusive NYC engagement, while Tribeca Film’s Starred Up features rising British star Jack O’Connell in a tour de force performance. Sony Classics will open last year’s Oscar short-listed The Notebook in limited NYC and LA runs while The Canopy by first-time Australian filmmaker Aaron Wilson will open in New York with an exclusive run via Monterey Media.
Life Of Crime
Director-writer: Daniel Schechter
Writer: Elmore Leonard (novel)
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Mos Def (Yasiin Bey), Isla Fisher, Will Forte, Mark Boone Junior, John Hawkes, Tim Robbins, Charlie Tahan, Clea Lewis, Kevin Corrigan
Distributor: Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate
Roadside and Lionsgate head into the holiday weekend with comedy Life Of Crime, which the distributors picked up out of last year’s Toronto where it premiered. The comedy follows two criminals who get more than they bargained for when they kidnap the wife of a corrupt real estate developer who balks at paying the $1 million ransom. “We are releasing this [film] day and date,” said Roadside co-president Howard Cohen. “We are doing these [kinds of releases] selectively and we thought Life Of Crime was a good candidate for both media.” Roadside released David Gordon Green’s Joe starring Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan similarly last spring ($373,375 total theatrical gross). “[For us] part of the decision is instinct, but generally [these kinds of releases] have to have a strong cast which will work in both theaters and on demand,” said Cohen. “Life Of Crime is also benefitting from good reviews and it’s getting great publicity from [the cast] who have been doing press.” Cohen said that an “upscale” audience will be attracted to Life Of Crime. The feature is based on Elmore Leonard’s 1978 novel The Switch, but the title was changed to Life Of Crime because Jennifer Aniston already appeared in a film called The Switch in 2010, directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck and co-starring Jason Bateman. Roadside/Lionsgate will open Life Of Crime on 33 screens in 20 markets and will likely bow in another 20 markets on September 12.
Director-writer: Sebastian del Amo
Writer: Edui Tijerina
Cast: Óscar Jaenada, Michael Imperioli, Ilse Salas, Bárbara Mori, Ana Layevska, Adal Ramones
Pantelion is betting on the enduring popularity of late Mexican actor Cantinflas as it brings its Spanish-language title to primarily Latino U.S. audiences this weekend. The bio-drama of the same name is an “untold story” from his humble beginnings to Hollywood and international stardom. “We began our discussions with the film’s producers about a year ago,” said Pantelion’s Edward Allen. “Cantinflas as a character has no comparison in America. Unlike American actors [of his generation] Cantinflas is still a part of regular viewing for people of Latin American descent. They see him here all the time through sources like Telemundo and Univision. He appeals across generations.”
Last year Pantelion hit box office gold with Instructions Not Included. The comedy grossed $44 million, the most of any Spanish-language title in the states. It will go after a similar audience with Cantinflas partnering with Spanish-language media in the U.S. and some non-media partners to spread the word. “We are doing grass-roots marketing, partnering with supermarkets that cater to Latin American [clientele],” added Allen. “In L.A. we’re doing an outdoor campaign, but also saturating Spanish-language media across all channels.” Best known for co-starring with David Niven and Finlay Currie in Around The World In 80 Days by Michael Anderson, that film took home five Oscars including Best Picture. It grossed $42 million at the box office in 1956 (over $367 million when adjusted for inflation). Instructions Not Included bowed in 348 theaters grossing $7.84 million ($22,547 PTA) August 30, nearly one year ago. It is clearly taking a cue from that successful roll out with a similar strategy with Cantinflas opening in over 380 theaters around the country. “It will mirror the Latino population across the country,” added Allen. “We will expand based on performance and adjust the plan accordingly.”
Directors: Tom Dolby, Tom Williams
Writer: Tom Dolby
Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Zachary Booth, Joseph Cross, Chris Mulkey, Devon Graye, Alexia Rasmussen, Rutina Wesley, Jayma Mays, Judith Light
Distributor: Sundance Selects
Tom Dolby began writing Last Weekend as a novel. About 100 pages into it, he met with his high school and college friend Tom Williams who suggested he write it as a screenplay. “I did [so],” said Dolby. “We developed it with [Williams’] boss Mark Johnson who is an executive producer.” Last Weekend follows an affluent matriarch who gathers her dysfunctional family together at their Lake Tahoe vacation home. The planned idyllic weekend, however, begins to come apart and Celia Green (Patricia Clarkson) questions her role in the family. “[Tom Williams] and I have collaborated creatively on various projects and we had the crazy idea that maybe we could direct a movie together — we’re both first-time directors,” said Dolby at the film’s NYC premiere earlier this month hosted by the Cinema Society at the Tribeca Grand Hotel. “Mark Johnson was incredibly supportive and helped us to put this together and get Patricia [Clarkson] on board.” The filmmakers met Clarkson in New York’s Greenwich Village “at her favorite café” for drinks and conversation. She joined the project in June 2012. “She was excited about the possibility of a character and a role of a woman in her mid 50s that’s really the leading role which is quite rare for that age bracket. And this is also a complicated character,” added Dolby. He pointed out that Clarkson played the lead in Ruba Nadda’s Cairo Time which IFC Films released in August, 2010. That film went on to cume over $1.6 million in the domestic box office. “In Cairo Time, she’s a reserved almost demure character whereas this character is the polar opposite. It’s emotionally raw which was exciting for us,” said Dolby. “The role was also physically demanding. She had to do several days of stunts in the lake which is very cold. She was adamant she’d do her own stunts.”
Financing was in place via private investors before Clarkson joined Last Weekend but her participation upped the caliber of actors seeking supporting roles, according to Dolby. “What was surprising to me as a first time filmmaker — and this is a tribute to Patty — is how many other actors were interested in the parts after she came on board,” he said. “It was cast over the course of 3 weeks and we had 75 – 100 meetings.” He also gave a shout out to casting director Mary Vernieu for opening “the door to actors of a certain stature we didn’t even think possible for such a small film.” The shoot took place over five weeks. It debuted at the San Francisco International Film Festival in May and Sundance Selects picked it up that same month. “IFC Films released Cairo Time so [Patricia Clarkson] is very much a part of their family,” added Dolby. IFC Films label Sundance Selects will open Last Weekend exclusively at IFC Center this weekend in addition to day and date. It will add markets in the coming weeks.
Director: David Mackenzie
Writer: Jonathan Asser
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend, Sam Spruell, David Ajala, Peter Ferdinando, Anthony Welsh, David Avery
Distributor: Tribeca Film
A debut at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, British director David Mackenzie’s critically lauded Starred Up hit theaters this week in addition to on demand outlets. Set in a British prison, the film centers on a troubled and extremely violent teen who is transferred to an adult facility where he encounters his equally tough father – a fellow prisoner – and is taken under the wing of a volunteer therapist. “It was a spec script by Jonathan Asser who had direct experience as a prison therapist,” said Mackenzie at the New York theatrical debut at MoMA this week. “The strong characters were very, very exciting to me as a filmmaker. It’s moving into a world of hard-boiled realism and it was definitely a great opportunity.” Mackenzie met Asser in 2010 and the project shot in 2012 over 24 days. Much has been made of the film’s star Jack O’Connell who is well-known to British audiences via the big screen such as Shane Meadows’ This Is England and from television by way of teen drama Skins. He may very well become something of a household name on this side of the Atlantic with the upcoming Angelina Jolie-directed feature Unbroken in which he stars with Jai Courtney, Domhnall Gleeson and Garrett Hedlund. Mackenzie thanked Tribeca Film for not adding subtitles when introducing Starred Up at MoMA Tuesday night, acknowledging that some of the dialog would likely be lost on U.S. audiences, but he added that the spirit of some of the slang comes through on the screen.
“Starred up” is a term used in the UK to describe the transfer of a young criminal from an institution that normally houses youth offenders to adult prison. “We used an [abandoned] prison in Belfast [for the shoot],” said Mackenzie.” It was a very short time to make this kind of film with this many stunts [and] it was shot in sequence.” Support for the project came from FilmFour, the Scottish Film Board and private equity. He noted that the British Film Institute (BFI) was “not involved but should have been.” Perhaps of minor note, Starred Up is winding its way through various Manhattan film institutions this week. The Tribeca Film release had its premiere Tuesday night at MoMA and opened the Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center Wednesday night. Mackenzie did Q&As Wednesday and again Thursday. Tribeca Film will expand the title September 5 and again September 12 with additional markets added throughout next month.
Director-writer: János Szász
Writer: Tom Abrams, Agota Kristof, András Szekér
Cast: László Gyémánt, András Gyémánt, Piroska Molnár, Ulrich Thomsen, Ulrich Matthes, Göngyvér Bognár
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
János Szász’s The Notebook made the Oscar foreign language short list last December, which caught the attention of Sony Classics. The distributor picked up U.S. rights for the Hungarian title the following month. The drama centers on twin siblings who get through World War II in a border village by studying and learning from the evil surrounding them. “We try to look at as many of the [foreign-language Oscar] entries as possible,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. The point of view of this movie is the affect fascism has on kids and how it permeates down to them. There’s something unique about this story and yet horrible at the same time, so it has this horror element set in an historical [context].” Barker said that a movie like this needs a theatrical window like late summer to breathe because the upcoming awards round could crowd it out. “There’s no way a movie like this would survive the competition of the fall,” he said. “[Successful] foreign films are doing better today than in the past, but it’s the small movies that [still] struggle. So it’s a mixed bag.”
Barker said he believes younger audiences are actually more receptive to foreign-language films because being reared on texting and social media have made them more accustomed to text. SPC’s Oscar-winning 2000 title Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon continues to be the highest grossing foreign-language title in the U.S. at over $128 million. Fellow Oscar winner Life Is Beautiful from Miramax is second at over $57.5 million. SPC’s 2014 English and Hindi-language title The Lunchbox is one of this year’s top dozen Specialty films with over $4.2 million at the box office. The Notebook will have a platform release in New York and LA this weekend.
Director-writer: Aaron Wilson
Cast: Khan Chittenden, Tzu-yi Mo, Robert Menzies, Edwina Wren
Distributor: Monterey Media
Filmmaker Aaron Wilson wrote Canopy based on a collection of true stories of isolation and loneliness during wartime. The project was conceived while he was at a filmmaking residence in Singapore in 2006. Set during WWII, it centers on an Australian fighter pilot who is shot down in combat and awakens suspended in the treetops. “In a broader sense, the story I wanted to tell explores Australia’s place in the Asia-Pacific region,” said Wilson. “Singapore and Australia share a common history forged through empire and war, and in Canopy I had the opportunity to represent this connection symbolically through two soldiers from different backgrounds…” Financing came from international investors and sponsors both in Oz and Singapore in addition to China, Thailand, France and Holland. “We [also] held several events such as art exhibitions — with images from or inspired by the filming — and period-style music events to reach new investors and broaden our group of followers,” said Wilson. “We ran a successful crowd-funding campaign during our post-production to help raise additional funds to complete the film. The film was funded piecemeal, so we’d raise enough money to film and then we’d go and shoot in Singapore. Then we raised some more money to commence our post-production and get so far before we’d have to raise more money…Even after we’d been invited to premiere the film at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, we were still raising funds to complete the film to the point that we could deliver it to the festival.” His Australian lead, Khan Chittenden, was found through auditions held in Melbourne and Sydney.
Taiwanese lead, Mo Tzu-Yi, came to the project by a chance meeting in Hong Kong. “I was attending the Hong Kong Film Market a few years ago and was watching as many Chinese, South-East Asian and Taiwanese films as I could to look for interesting faces and new talents,” he recalled. “I saw this one Taiwanese film with an absolutely riveting lead performance. So I raced to the Taipei Film Commission stall to ask about the actor I’d just seen in this film, only to find that he was standing right behind me.” The project was mostly shot in Singapore aside from a scene in his hometown in Australia. Monterey Media picked up the film last winter. It will open the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York, Laemmle’s Music Hall in L.A. and the Sundance Cinema in Seattle this weekend. “Throughout September and early October, we will roll out the film in limited release into 25-30 additional cities, including some Dolby Atmos 7.1 equipped theaters — as Dolby recognized and has been wonderfully supportive of the film’s incredibly inclusive sound based experience – 7.1 being rare for an independent film,” noted the distributor’s CEO and Managing Partner Scott Mansfield.