Movies Opening This WeekHBO came on board with Sundance 2012 documentary Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present after seeing the Serbian performance artist at MoMA. The company’s maverick non-fiction guru Sheila Nevins gave the lowdown on the premium channel’s association with the documentary, which had already begun shooting before HBO joined the project. Your Sister’s Sister came together with a name cast reminiscent of its director’s previous titles and Patang purposely shot in a documentary style going against convention in India where it takes place. Also opening this weekend is Sundance doc The Art of Rap by rapper Ice-T and The Girl From The Naked Eye, which rolls out in ten markets.

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Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present
Director: Matthew Akers
Subjects: Marina Abramovic, Ulay, Klaus Biesenbach
Distributors: Music Box Films, HBO
Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is
Matthew Akers’ documentary on performance artist Marina Abramovic caused a splash at the Sundance Film Festival in January as well as one of the most interesting of all film parties. Guests — including Sundance founder Robert Redford — donned white robes and masks and were asked to remain silent for about a half-hour in a makeshift gallery. The perfect addendum to the film about the Serbian artist, which follows her as she prepares for her retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

“We went to the museum and it was as simple as that,” Sheila Nevins, president of Documentary at HBO and Cinemax said as she explained how the network became involved. “It seemed human and very lovable and quite dramatic.” Nevins said that the broad spectrum of emotions the performance elicits worked perfectly with the “HBO family” although this film was not one the premium network initiated. “Some projects like Marina — there’s a rumble going on and we see if it’s right for us,” said Nevins. “Fifty percent of what we show we’ll look at a rough cut, but we’re not as involved in co-financing as something we initiate. But Marina was good already.” Nevins said HBO is open to any kind of project and, despite its lofty position atop the proverbial food chain in the non-fiction space, she noted that she and her team are very accessible for filmmakers seeking potential HBO involvement.

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“I’m very competitive, said Nevins. “We respect first-time filmmakers and ideas and we’re very approachable. Just because we’ve done this for years doesn’t mean some kid from NYU for example may not have the best idea out there. Journeys With George came to us by mail. We have to be open or you’re potentially going to lose. It’s about life and real people and people can only tell that story.”

Your Sister's SisterYour Sister’s Sister
Writer-director: Lynn Shelton
Cast: Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt
Distributor: IFC Films

Producer Steven Schardt has worked with director Lynn Shelton since her 2009 feature Humpday and approached her latest film release with a similarly streamlined production. Humpday “had a crew of six to eight people and on Your Sister’s Sister, we massively raised that number to twelve,” he said half-jokingly. The film initially starred Rachel Weisz as the sister of Iris (Emily Blunt) who encounters her friend Jack (Mark Duplass) on their family island. But a scheduling conflict forced her off the project and Rosemarie DeWitt came on board. Schardt frugally secured the location from the owners of 65 acres of land on the San Juan Islands in Washington state.

Your Sister’s Sister shot over 13 days vs 10 days for Humpday, maintaining a “very low budget” and “nimble” structure for both. Schardt said the latest film has a built-in specialty audience similarly to Shelton’s previous work, but he believes it has the potential to cross over as well. ” Audiences seem to really like it and we’re hoping for good word of mouth,” said Schardt. “The eighteen to octogenarian crowd have appreciated the film. IFC has been running some television ads in addition to internet marketing to help get the word out and it most recently opened the Seattle International Film Festival. The film will open in New York and six other cities initially and expand from there.

Patang (The Kite)Patang The Kite
Director: Prashant Bhargava
Cast: Seema Biswas, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Makund Shukla, Sugandha Garg, Aakash Maherya, Hamid Shaikh
Distributor: Self-release

Patang had a seven-year journey from concept to screen. Director Prashant Bhargava shot 100 hours of research footage in the lead-up to shooting the film that takes place against the backdrop of a huge kite festival in India. “It’s a family drama with three different stories set during the festival,” Bhargava noted, “and there is one kite that goes through the three stories.” Bhargava worked with mostly non-actors did no rehearsals and didn’t use storyboards. He said he wanted to create an environment in which all the actors “lived on screen.” He said “We wanted them to live their roles.”

Unlike most India-based productions, the crew was purposely kept to a minimum. “This is very challenging in India because there are usually very large crews for projects,” said Bhargava. “We were shooting during the actual kite special or in a shop where real business was taking place, so a large crew or large cameras would have affected the environment. So we shot it like a documentary.” Bhargava raised financing through individuals who gave in the $5K to $50K range and he is doing a DIY approach to distribution. “It’s hard for distributors to reach the audience that I truly believe exists, so we’re doing the self-release,” he said. “We have a great team of 10 people doing that.” For now, Patang will screen in New York at Cinema Village, AMC River East in Chicago and at two locations in New Jersey.

The Art of Rap
Director: Ice-T
Subjects: Ice-T, Dr. Dre, Chuck D., Ice Cube, Common, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Mos Def
Distributor: Indomina

Himself immersed in the culture of hip hop and rap since the 1980s in Los Angeles where he grew up, Tracy Marrow, better known as Ice-T, interviews some of rap’s biggest influencers to find the roots of its beginnings. Indomina Picked up worldwide rights to the feature after its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The distributor said it plans to roll out the title on 156 screens beginning Friday.

The Girl From The Naked Eye
Director: David Ren
Writers: Jason Yee, Larry Madill, David Ren
Cast: Jason Yee, Samantha Streets, Gary Stretch, Dominique Swain
Distributor: Archstone Media

After screenings at the Canada International Film Festival (where it won the event’s Royal Reel Award) and the Hoboken Film Festival in New Jersey, David Ren’s The Girl From The Naked Eye begins its theatrical run Friday. The film centers on a call girl who ends up dead and her only friend in the world, Jake, goes on a manhunt to find her killer. The film will be premiering in the top 10 markets in 16 theaters the first week. Based on performance, the release could expand significantly.