Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.

Billy Bob Thornton marks his return to the director’s chair for general audiences with Jayne Mansfield’s Car, starring Tippi Hedren, Kevin Bacon and Robert Duvall. Isaiah Washington, meanwhile, was lured out of semi-retirement for Alexandre Moors’ Blue Caprice, which recalls a rash of shootings that terrorized the U.S. capital. Politics, genetically modified food, music and art are at the center of three documentaries that are among this weekend’s new Specialty offerings. Music Box will open Informant which looks at FBI informant Brandon Darby. Herb & Dorothy 50X50 is a follow-up to a 2008 doc that profiled a seemingly ordinary middle class couple who amassed an important collection of minimalist and conceptual art while Sample This looks at how a forgotten record helped cement hip hop on the streets of the Bronx.

Jayne Mansfield’s Car
Director-writer: Billy Bob Thornton
Cast: Tippi Hedren, Kevin Bacon, Ray Stevenson, Robert Patrick, Hohn Hurt, Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton
Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment

The first narrative feature Billy Bob Thornton has directed since Daddy And Them (2001), the provocatively titled Jayne Mansfield’s Car had its debut in competition at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival. Distributor came on board the film set in 1969 Alabama soon after its premiere there. “We loved it – it has a phenomenal cast, a unique storyline and it’s Billy Bob Thornton’s return to directing,” said Anchor Bay president Bill Clark. “We knew that audiences could identify with one or more of the diverse characters in the film – everyone has an uncle, father, grandfather that embodies the aspects of each generation.” The film centers on the death of a clan’s estranged wife and mother which brings together two very different families. “This film is geared toward a mature audience, although all families have some sort of dysfunction, and will find the film relatable,” said Clark. “Jayne Mansfield’s Car is backed by a nationwide marketing and publicity campaign. The film has had strong word of mouth screenings leading up to release. Billy Bob Thornton has supported this film through broadcast, print and online interviews. The rest of the cast, including Mr. Duvall, have also been extremely supportive.”

Jayne Mansfield’s Car, which screened at the Mill Valley and Austin film festivals last fall, began its Ultra-VOD release in August and is slated to open 10 markets in 10 theaters including New York, L.A., New Orleans, Dallas, Austin and additional Southern cities this weekend. Clark noted the film has “done quite well” in VOD and its expansion will be based on what is “best to maximize the film’s performance for its audience, filmmakers and Anchor Bay.”

Blue Caprice
Director: Alexandre Moors
Writer: Ronnie Porto
Cast: Isaiah Washington, Tequan Richmond, Tim Blake Nelson, Leo Fitzpatrick, Al Sapienza, Cassandra Freeman
Distributor: IFC Films

Producer Isen Robbins met filmmaker Alexandre Moors via Prolific Entertainment’s Tara Kromer and Will Rowbotham. Based on true events that terrorized the Beltway in 2002, Blue Caprice tells the story of a boy lured to America by a father figure who goes off the deep end and begins a random killing spree that made headlines in and around Washington, D.C. “In some ways it came together very organically — it’s best as a producer to forget the bad stuff,” said Robbins. “Of course we never had enough money or time. We decided we were just going to start shooting, set an arbitrary date. We started raising money on the lookbook (no script), and the script came together and we ran towards that start date – that cliff – and jumped. I got lucky and we got to land safely in the arms of IFC Films/Sundance Selects.” Robbins worked with a team of producers who were longtime friends of the project as well as Jonathan Gray and Hillary Stabb who executive produced. Finding the auto which is at the center of much of the movie caused some anguish in the lead up to the shoot. “That car was a beast to find. Every director has at least one thing that keeps them up at night and the car was Alex’s,” said Robbins. “I used a Craigslist app and found it down South. When that car started – and it was a when – it was a true death trap to drive. It barely had breaks.” Moors had always wanted Isaiah Washington to play the adult lead, but had fallen off the grid, not even having formal representation. But Robbins messaged him through Facebook (they had met once previously) and got the actor in front of Moors who eventually convinced him to take on the role.

After the shoot, New York film organization IFP helped with post one of a number of groups and individuals that helped get Blue Caprice to the big screen. “It took a village, organizing the village was at times challenging.” The film debuted at Sundance in January followed by New Directors/New Films in New York. “CAA’s Micah Green provided much needed background support,” said Robbins. “Our publicist Adam Kersh at Sundance and ND/DF killed it. I had never had a film with such perfect press at a festival before, he’s the best.” Washington will appear on The View and other promotional events ahead of the film’s roll out this weekend at IFC Center in New York. It will also be available via VOD and will open L.A. next weekend followed by Washington, D.C.

Director-writer: Jamie Meltzer
Subjects: Brandon Darby, Scott Crow, Lisa Fithian, Caroline Heldman
Distributor: Music Box Films

Director Jamie Meltzer first heard about activist and FBI informant Brandon Darby through an open letter to the Austin activist community. He had turned his back on his leftist past and started working with the federal agency. “My first thoughts were – how on earth did a radical leftist activist start working for the FBI? Was he ever a sincere activist?” said Meltzer. “Starting the film was a way of exploring those initial questions. Pretty soon it was obvious that this would be a film about clashing perspectives, that it wouldn’t provide simple answers, and that I wanted the viewer to try and make up their own minds about all the questions swirling around Brandon and his choices.” As the project developed, Meltzer received support from Cinereach, Filament Productions and Lucky Hat Entertainment. “One of the biggest challenges of the film was getting people to agree to interview, not just Darby, but he was certainly a challenge,” noted Meltzer. ” At the time I was approaching him, he felt like his life was threatened and he was pretty much under siege, and was incredibly suspicious. It took about six months for him to agree to sit down to interview and another year for him to agree that we could use the interview footage in the film.”

Meltzer wanted the feature to be a vehicle for dialog between the right and left, so he and his team have worked to engage audiences across the political spectrum in order to prompt discussions between conservatives and progressives and to spread word about the film ahead of its opening this weekend. “Of course, beyond politics the film is an unbelievable and unexpected story, so we hope it will appeal across to a wide range of audiences,” added Meltzer. Music Box is releasing the film at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center in New York and in Los Angeles Friday with additional nationwide theatrical dates in September and October. It is also available via iTunes and all major digital outlets.

Herb & Dorothy 50X50
Director: Megumi Sasaki
Subjects: Herbert Vogel, Dorothy Vogel, Paula Antebi, Lisa Bradley, Christo, Jeanne-Claude, Charles Clough, Chuck Close
Distributor: FineLine Media

Filmmaker Megumi Sasaki decided she needed to do a follow-up to her 2008 documentary Herb & Dorothy after attending the Vogel Exhibition at the Indianapolis Museum of Art in December of that year. Herbert and Dorothy Vogel amassed an important collection of conceptual and minimalist art pieces despite their meager salaries as New York City civil servants. “The exhibition created a small ‘universe’ of the Vogel Collection, which proved beautifully what amazing ‘eyes’ they really had,” said Sasaki. “I was stunned both by the beauty of it and by my ignorance. It was as if I’d followed a famous actor for many years backstage but had never seen him act on stage.” Though 50X50 is a follow-up, it turned out to be a “whole new film,” according to Sasaki, though this time, the art world welcomed her team and financially the production struggled as the weight of expectation due to the success of the first film mounted. Financing mostly came from 2,200 individual supporters via crowd-funding in addition to contributions from French and Japanese corporations. “Production-wise, it was easier. But it was very difficult emotionally when Herb died,” said Sasaki. “It could have been the most dramatic part of the film, but I just couldn’t roll camera in his final days…We were all grieving and were worn out emotionally. But we had to complete the story and finish production as quickly as possible.”

Herb & Dorothy 50X50 will open at IFC Center in New York this weekend and will slowly roll out to over 40 cities in the next two months. It will open in San Francisco next week followed by Los Angeles later this month. “The film has been warmly received, particularly in art communities,” added Sasaki.” I’m delighted and grateful to be able to complete the Vogels’ life story. My goal was to document the ‘full story’ of these rare art patrons, whose passion and love for art contributed so much to art in America.”

Director: Jeremy Seifert
Subjects: Dennis Kucinich, Jeremy Seifert
Distributor: Submarine Deluxe

Submarine Deluxe’s Dan Braun met GMO OMG director Jeremy Seifert after being introduced by the producer of Chasing Ice, Paula Dupres Pesmen at the Berlin International Film Festival. The film doc delves into the transformation over the last 15 years of America’s agricultural industry which is now dominated by genetically modified product. The film calls the transformation the “largest experiment ever conducted on human beings because each of us unknowingly consumes genetically engineered food on a daily basis” with the health and environmental effects “largely unknown.” “I knew very little about GMOs and the film really opened my eyes and made me a lot more aware of the issue,” said Braun. “I found myself caring about something that really wasn’t on my radar before I saw the film.” The topic is a wide-ranging one, touching everyone which is a marketing challenge since it is so broad. “GMO OMG is for people who don’t know and maybe don’t even naturally care about the food we eat and the industry producing it,” said Braun. “The challenge during editing the 150 hours of footage was to remember my own process of discovery when I began filming two years before, and then to take the audience on a similar journey.” Submarine Deluxe identified “a very loyal core” audience that are active in the GMO labeling initiatives happening in many states ahead of the film’s roll out this weekend.

Added Braun: “We already have significant group sales which will be a strong foundation for the run of the film and we do expect to have a strong showing on our opening weekend… We have marketing support from some great partners such as Nature’s Path who have agreed to put messaging about the films release on almost every box of cereal that they sell which will be a huge awareness builder and may convert to ticket sales as their customer is right in the bullseye of the target we are aiming for.” The doc will platform release beginning in New York this weekend followed by Los Angeles and Seattle over the following two weeks.

Sample This
Director-writer: Dan Forrer
Subjects: Gene Simmons, Ahmir-Khalib Thompson, Roosevelt Grier, Grandmaster Caz, Freda Payne
Distributor: GoDigital

Beverly Hills-based entertainment law firm Reder & Feig sent GoDigital a screener of documentary Sample This last spring, prompting the company to take on the film which features Gene Simmons from Kiss. The doc follows how a forgotten record by the Incredible Bongo Band helped cement the foundation of hip hop when DJ Herc extended its percussion by playing them back to back, creating an anthem on the streets of the Bronx. “We wanted to take on the title right away because it was an incredible story that we had never heard and wanted to spread the word,” said GoDigital CEO Logan Mulvey. “We believe this film can stand out as far as audience awareness and commercial success because it has very identifiable audiences that we feel we can engage through a blend of social promotion, grass roots marketing, traditional PR, and merchandising on all the retail platforms.” Identifiable audiences include music lovers generally, DJs, Urban and Gene Simmons fans as well as documentary loyalists.

“Initially the film will be released theatrically in 15 markets in the US and 1 theater in Toronto Canada,” said Mulvey. “Once we see the first week numbers we’ll look into expansion into more markets. On the same day of theatrical release the film will be live on all transactional Cable VOD platforms as well as all digital platforms.”