Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
Cannes is winding down with the year’s first glimpse of titles that will hit the fall release slates for companies Stateside, with a number likely to factor into the fall awards season. But first off, of course, is summer and Memorial Day weekend. Sony Classics’ Before Midnight and FocusWorld’s We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks will anchor the Specialty alternative to the official onslaught of blockbusters season. Richard Linklater’s Midnight is the third installment which debuted in the ’90s with Before Sunrise, while Oscar-winner Alex Gibney’s expose on WikiLeaks will take the non-fiction spotlight along with Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton As Himself from Laemmle/Zeller Films. Indican Pictures is bowing immigrant feature A Green Story with Shannon Elizabeth, Ed O’Ross and Billy Zane, while Monterey Media will open coming-of-age story, The Lesser Blessed.
Director-writer: Richard Linklater
Co-writers: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Kim Krizan
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Jennifer Prior, Charlotte Prior
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
SPC’s Michael Barker and Tom Bernard have played pivotal parts in Richard Linklater’s career, having released his first film Slacker at Orion and later Suburbia at SPC. They were also at Sony when Columbia Pictures released the first film that now forms a trio, Before Sunrise. “We’re big fans of these films and of Rick,” said Michael Barker in Cannes. “And when we saw the first screening of [Before Midnight] in Sundance, we knew we had to have it. The producers wanted us as well, so it felt like a match that had to happen. A deal was made very quickly and it’s been such a pleasure to work on this film. It has Rick at the peak of his form in a very relaxed sort of way. It has artistry but it’s also done in an entertaining way and being in Greece is just awesome.”
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles as Jesse and Celine nine years later in Greece. They’re not middle aged, but the dialog driven-plot of the film’s previous installments remain. “Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy play these characters seamlessly and what’s so amazing about the accomplishment of this film is that every word was scripted, though it feels otherwise. I think it’s one of the great screenplays of the last several years.” After Sundance, SPC screened the film at SXSW and Tribeca where it had standing ovations. Like SPC’s Woody Allen rollout two years ago the same weekend, the company is poising the title to be a contrast to the summer blockbusters. “We feel that there are people who want to see a different kind of entertainment than Star Trek this weekend,” said Barker who noted that fans of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset have “grown exponentially” over the years, but that this film will hold its own. “We think the reputation of this film stands on its own whether you’ve seen those or not. So it has the benefit of being related to those films, but it also has the benefit of being the finest of the three,” he added. SPC will open Before Midnight in a platform New York and LA release Memorial Day weekend and plans to go wide June 14th. Noted Barker: “We believe the word of mouth will be very strong. It has its fan base but also an older audience that wants to go to Greece this summer, but also a young audience that’s into Richard Linklater.”
We Steal Secrets producer Marc Shmuger became fascinated with the story of WikiLeaks and Assange over the course of 2010 after the controversial site exposed the Collateral Murder video, the Afghan and Iraq war logs and the U.S. State Department cables leak. “It felt to me as if we might be entering a new era of transparency,” said Shmuger. “I was inspired by this, and also utterly captivated by the enigmatic visionary behind WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, who all of sudden had been catapulted from obscurity to become a central world figure”. Shmuger approached Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney about whether there was any interest in the topic as well, and the two saw the WikiLeaks phenomenon with equal enthusiasm. “We both saw this as a real life thriller, one man against the world,” said Shmuger. “[It is] a story that would be packed with political, personal, sexual, legal and technological intrigue. I also saw it as a story about the breakdown of trust.”
We Steal Secrets uses a lot more conversations compared to his other movies, according to Shmuger. The biggest production challenge was bringing to life the Bradley Manning story. He is the American soldier in Iraq who is accused of funneling large amounts of classified information to WikiLeaks, fueling the site’s international cache. Universal financed the project and during post-production, FocusWorld came on board to distribute the feature. The label is the “unique alternative distribution initiative owned and operated by Focus Features.” “As you know, large studios today are not in the business of making this kind of film,” said Shmuger. “Especially one as political and controversial as this. Yet Universal didn’t blink. Adam Fogelson, Donna Langley, Jimmy Horowitz and David Kosse were all champions of the film — they stepped up. Alex and I are eternally grateful for their steadfast support through the entire process. It took us two years from start to finish. The timing of release is especially poignant with Bradley Manning scheduled to go on trial on June 4th.” FocusWorld will open We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks in New York at the Angelika and Lincoln Center and in L.A. at the Arclight Hollywood and Laemmle Santa Monica. The film expands on May 31st in San Francisco, Boston, D.C., Seattle, Chicago and Dallas. June 7th it will head to Portland, Philadelphia, Phoenix, St. Louis, and will continue to expand through June and July in additional markets. It premieres on VOD on June 7th.
Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton As Himself
Directors-writers: Tom Bean, Luke Poling
Subjects: Ken Burns, Ric Burns, Graydon Carter, Hugh M. Hefner, Robert Kennedy, Jr.
Distributor: Laemmle/Zeller Films
Sales agent Ronna Wallace sent out a general email blast about her involvement with the George Plimpton documentary. Laemmle/Zeller Films’ Steven Zeller recalls that he and partner Greg Laemmle simultaneously opened the email and called each other immediately. “How could we – or anyone – not want to see a movie about George Plimpton?” said Zeller. “When the DVD arrived, most of my immediate family just happened to be at my house, including my mother, brother and two of my sisters, and we’re a tough audience. We watched the film and we all agreed how good, interesting and entertaining it was. I can’t remember the last time we all agreed on such an excellent movie — and if there’s a moral to the story, it’s that sometimes people really do read mass emails.” Zeller said that Plimpton is already familiar with people 35 and above, though younger audiences may need “enlightenment.” ” We’re spending our money and using our resources to make sure the audience who reads The New York Times, the New Yorker, the Paris Review and those who listen to NPR, as examples, are aware the movie is opening and how good it is,” he said.
Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton As Himself opened exclusively at New York’s Lincoln Center Wednesday May 22. It will head to three Laemmle Theaters in LA on June 7th and will continue to “expand city by city,” according to Zeller throughout June and July. “What has been exciting is that theaters have been coming to us — in big cities like Boston and smaller ones like Palm Desert — because they’ve heard good things about the film.”
Distributor Indican Pictures caught wind of A Green Story ahead of its screening at the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival on June 5th of last year, which happened to coincide with World Environment Day. The biopic recalls Greek immigrant Van Vlahakis who headed to the U.S. and realized the American dream by creating Earth Friendly Products, but is then faced with the challenge of cancer. “After seeing the film we realized how timely the topic was – a film about a pioneer and visionary in green living and how it relates to everyone as Climate Change and Green Living become front and center in the world going forward,” said Randolph Kret from Indican. “The core audience for the film ranges from Greeks who will relate to the themes of community, family and the immigrants dream and to anyone who is learning or becoming a part of the Green Community and how to live a better, safer life in these exciting times of technological invention as we (the world) figure out how to reverse and fix the problems our planet has created through fossil fuels and short cuts.” Indican is reaching out to the Greek press to spread the word in addition to mainstream outlets.
Cast members have also given their support, participating in Q&As at advanced screenings as well as formal media events. The film will open in multiple theaters on the coasts this weekend and will head to the Midwest and other areas in the coming weeks.
Monterey Pictures caught Canadian drama The Lesser Blessed at, appropriately enough, the Toronto International Film Festival last year. The film is centered on a First Nations (Canadian Indian) teen who is trying to find his place in the modern world. “This story [is] a universality of a culture of kids who grow up in small rural locations and are seemingly ‘trapped’ in their environment both culturally and economically,” said Monterey Media president Scott Mansfield. “So many people live, love and die within a few miles of where they grew up. The high school teens in The Lesser Blessed have a unique story and yet a relatable universal story for so very many growing up in rural towns.” Mansfield is reaching out to that audience, naturally through social media as well as via “alternative publications.”
Typical of Monterey’s rollout strategy, The Lesser Blessed will open in a half dozen initial cities this weekend and then they’ll assess audience and critical response. From there, it will likely head to an additional 10 to 20 markets over five to six weeks and ultimately reaching 40-plus cities. Noted Mansfield: “In addition to traditional theatrical bookings, however, we have a unique distribution pattern which incorporates The Lesser Blessed plus two other films in our Independent Festival offering entitled ‘Celebrate Independents.’ We recognize that some theaters may not have the audience for even a high quality Indie film for a full week long run and thus we encourage and work with bookers to play the films as events, much like they do the Opera.”