Brian Brooks is Managing Editor of MovieLine.

This weekend’s roundup of specialty offerings includes three feature newcomers and one filmmaker’s sophomore effort. Dustin Hoffman’s feature directing debut Quartet will launch its regular theatrical run in limited release following a short awards-qualifying run last month. Barry Battles is taking his Black List script (co-written with Griffin Hood) The Baytown Outlaws to theaters with a cast that boasts Billy Bob Thornton and Eva Longoria, while French-born filmmaker Mikael Buch brings to U.S. theaters his comedy Let My People Go! from a script co-written by César-nominated filmmaker Christoph Honoré. And Saved! director Brian Dannelly returns to the big screen with Struck By Lightning, written by and starring Glee‘s Chris Colfer.

Director: Dustin Hoffman
Writer: Ronald Harwood
Cast: Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

TWC picked up Dustin Hoffman‘s movie last spring for a “moderate price,” noted the company’s president of theatrical distribution Erik Lomis. It centers on a home for retired opera singers whose annual concert is disrupted by the arrival of an eternal diva — also the ex-wife of a resident. “We think of [Dustin Hoffman] as such an icon that it’s funny to think of him debuting anything,” said Lomis who noted TWC will, unsurprisingly, target a mature audience. Lomis noted that Hoffman’s wife encouraged him to officially take on the director role for the first time in his five decade-plus career. “He liked this material,” said Lomis. “It’s a compelling story about how you’re not too old to do what you do or to fall in love. It appeals to mature audience but it’s heart-lifting and inspirational for younger audiences as well.”

Quartet debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival and screened at the San Sebastian, Hamptons and Mill Valley film festivals. After a brief qualifying run in December, it’s headed out to the Paris Theater in New York and the Landmark in LA this weekend. The film will then head to the top 75 markets in about 350 theaters on January 25th.

Struck By Lightning
Director: Brian Dannelly
Writer: Chris Colfer
Cast: Chris Colfer, Rebel Wilson, Christina Hendricks, Dermot Mulroney
Distributor: Tribeca Film

Producer David Permut received a call shortly after Chris Colfer won a Golden Globe for his role in Glee. Permut said the actor had written a script which had made its way to a number of producers and read it not knowing what to expect. “I was blown away, it was irreverent, emotional and John Hughes-esque,” said Permut. “It was a Sunset Boulevard take on his last year of high school and his dysfunctional family.” Permut visited Colfer on the set of Glee and discussed the script and possible directors. “I had seen Saved!, which Brian Dannelly directed,” Permut said. “I don’t think the distributor went their full length to get it out at the time. It was his first film. But he’s been doing stellar work on television. Chris also liked Saved! and when they met it was a marriage made in heaven.” The Malerie Baggs character had not been cast when production began, but Permut said the casting director “had a dream about Rebel Wilson” and the stars aligned. “Everyone saw her and they were sold.”

Struck By Lightning, which centers on a high school student who blackmails classmates into contributing to his literary magazine, shot in L.A. in July 2011. “To go to a tax-incentivized state didn’t make sense and people were on hiatus from series and people could sleep in their own beds so it made a lot of sense,” said Permut. “We had a good team below and above the line.” Colfer has hosted Q&A word-of-mouth screenings via satellite ahead of this weekend’s rollout, which will take place in New York at the AMC Empire 25 and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle NoHo 7. The film will also bow in Phoenix, Portland OR, Denver CO, Columbus OH as well as Clovis CA and Lake Park FL. It will expand to Delaware, Utah, Michigan and Connecticut in the following week or two.

The Baytown Outlaws
Director-co-writer: Barry Battles
Co-writer Griffin Hood
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Eva Longoria, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Zoe Bell, Paul Wesley
Distributor: Phase Four Films

Director Barry Battles and writer Griffin Hood are relative new arrivals to Hollywood from the South — armed with a script called Baytown Outlaws which sported a Confederate Flag on its cover. “It made the Black List and one of my [colleagues] gave it to me,” said producer Bob Teitel. “People didn’t know how to make the movie since it’s both comedy and action put together.” Teitel’s colleague introduced him to the duo who he describes as having a “brand of Southern filmmaking.” After an initial meeting, he called them back into his office to work on the script. Battles said he wanted to direct the story about three brothers who agree to help a woman save her son from an abusive father and become targets themselves. “They went out with $4K and did the first part of the film as a short and I thought it was fantastic,” said Teitel. “I think, though, people perceived it would have to be made for $20 million and I knew there was a way to do it for much less than that amount of money.”

After the short was completed, Teitel took it to Billy Bob Thornton who quickly came on board. “Once he was ready to do it, it became like a whirlwind.” The Baytown Outlaws shot in 2011 and Phase Four Films came on board last summer after a “big screening in Hollywood,” according to Teitel. Phase Four will open the film at Cinema Village in New York this weekend and will expand based on initial weekend grosses. It is currently available via VOD.

Let My People Go!
Director-co-writer: Mikael Buch
Co-writer: Christoph Honoré
Cast: Nicolas Maury, Carmen Maura, Jean-Francois Stévenin, Amira Casar, Clément Sibony
Distributor: Zeitgeist Films

Let My People Go! will be the first 2013 release for Zeitgeist Films, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Co-President Emily Russo noted that she and fellow co-prez Nancy Gerstman returned to the Berlin International Film Festival for the first time last year after a long absence and found Let My People Go! by chance. “We stumbled upon it at a market screening,” said Russo. “It had been at a few other festivals but we hadn’t seen it.” Comedies aren’t typical staples for Zeitgeist, but Russo said the film is “in the spirit of our aim to find new talent. It’s what we’ve been doing throughout our history. Mikael [Buch] is a fresh young talent.” The film follows the travails of French-Jewish-born Reuben who lives in Finland but finds himself back in Paris with his zany family after a fight with his boyfriend.

Zeitgeist picked up Let My People Go! from sales group Films du Losange and booked festival play Stateside at San Francisco’s Frameline, the Hamptons and a number of gay and lesbian film events. “We didn’t want to be mired in the end of year which can be tricky — not that it can’t be tricky at any time,” said Russo about the film’s January theatrical launch. “Plus, we were able to get the filmmaker over for word-of-mouth screenings and the opening weekend.” The film will bow at the Quad Theater in New York this weekend and will head to Los Angeles on January 18th in three or four locations. It will head to San Francisco later followed by a slow rollout elsewhere around the country.