Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
It’s probably fair to say that this weekend’s Specialty newcomers fall on opposite ends of the moral spectrum, at least for traditionalists. Roadside’s Gimme Shelter has received a friendly blessing from the Catholic Church ahead of its significant bow this weekend, something that is very unlikely to be enjoyed by Strand’s Stranger By The Lake, which will open in limited release. The Sundance Film Festival, however, gave it its thumbs up by programming it in its event, which is winding down in Park City. Roadside is also debuting Chile’s entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration, Gloria, with a traditional art house release, while Cinedigm will open doc feature Visitors, beginning its limited run Friday.
It’s somewhat rare when mainstream movies find an ally with the Catholic Church, but Gimme Shelter apparently has friends, even in the highest reaches of the Vatican. The drama centers on a pregnant teen who flees her abusive mother in search of her father, but is rejected by him once she finds him. She’s forced to survive on the streets until a compassionate stranger offers “a hopeful alternative.” “We are spending media dollars in both the mainstream and [art house] space on this film,” said Roadside co-president Howard Cohen. “We have gotten support in the Catholic community. Even the Vatican has mentioned the movie [positively] and U.S. bishops have also talked about the movie.” Star Vanessa Hudgens has also worked the various day time and night time talk show circuits including appearances on the Tonight Show, Chelsea Lately, Ellen and others. Roadside is also hoping to tap the social media popularity of some of its cast members in driving audiences to theaters this weekend. “Vanessa Hudgens has a huge following in [various social media outlets] which came out of her High School Musical roles, so we’re hoping they’ll come out,” added Cohen. Roadside will open Gimme Shelter in 380 screens this weekend across major markets and will spread from there.
Although Chile’s submission for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration didn’t make the final cut, the film had some awards buzz coming out of Toronto and then the New York Film Festival where it premiered last fall. The film revolves around a divorced mother of adult children who are moving along with their own lives raising their young children. One night out, she meets a man who she feels a connection with. As their attachment grows, however, something about his relationship to his former wife seems amiss. “It started with the natural question between my co-writer and me, ‘What are we going to write about now?,'” Chilean-born filmmaker Sebastián Lelio told me at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. “I said that I’d like to talk about our mother’s generation and [were excited] with that idea because there is something there. It’s not something you could automatically know would be great, but we felt intuitively that that world could have a great potential film.” Lelio said he and writing partner Gonzalo Maza wrote the part with Paulina García in mind. She is well known in Chile as is the actor who plays her fleeting lover, Sergio Hernández. “I had always wanted to work with her, so we called her the first day even before any words had been written,” said Lelio. “We only had some blurred ideas for a script. I said, ‘Hey Paulina, we’re going to make a movie and we want to write it for you…'”
The role requires both García and Hernández to take on some very intimate moments. The actress had not met Hernández before, so the two spent time together ahead of the shoot. “I knew him. He’s a famous actor in Chile and I’ve seen him in all the films he’s been in for Sebastián,” said García. “So I knew him as an actor, but I had never worked with him before, so this was our first time. Sebastián had us rehearse a lot and wanted us to get close before the shoot, so we went dancing together and spent a lot of time together.” While Gloria isn’t in the running for an Oscar this year (though García won an actor prize in Berlin and the film is nominated for a Spirit Award), Roadside is hoping its positive word-of-mouth and critical response during its festival run will nevertheless propel the title at the box office. The distributor will open the film in a classic art house bow in three theaters this weekend including the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza in New York and the Landmark in L.A.
A somewhat surprise hit at the Cannes Film Festival last year, French filmmaker Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger By The Lake won the Queer Palm and the Directing Prize in Un Certain Regard at the festival and then moved on to have a rousing premiere Stateside at the New York Film Festival. The film also received a slot at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, even though it had already premiered in the U.S. Set in a secluded lakeside beach (and the nearby woods) in rural France, the film follows Franck who falls in love with Michel at the beach, which is a cruising spot for gay men. Michel (who bares a striking resemblance to Tom Selleck) is potentially a lethally dangerous man, but Franck pursues him nevertheless. When it premiered in Cannes, festival-goers talked about whether the film could even have a U.S. release. That big MPAA no-no — male frontal nudity and sex — are abundant in Stranger By The Lake and any attempt to tone it down would be fruitless (there is also a small bit of violence, but that doesn’t tend to upset U.S. censors). Still, the film quickly had positive word-of-mouth and it did find a distributor through Strand Releasing. Filmmaker Alain Guiraudie wrote Stranger By The Lake after a previous project fell through. “I wrote a very ambitious script that was a love story between a man and woman without sex taking place in a city,” Guiraudie told me in Sundance over the weekend.
“Two of us worked on it for a year, but we weren’t pleased with the results, so I ditched the project and wrote Stranger By The Lake quickly. I went for the complete opposite with this film.” Guiraudie hoped to produce Stranger By The Lake quickly, but he was stymied by financing and the project took a year before it could move forward. Strand will open the film in two locations in New York including the Film Society of Lincoln Center uptown where the organization is tying the release with a retrospective of Guiraudie’s work as well as at IFC Center downtown. It will head to L.A. next weekend followed shortly by San Francisco, Seattle and Miami. It is booked to play 30-plus markets to date.
Producer Larry Taub has worked with writer-director Godfrey Reggio for nearly four decades. Their latest, Visitors, exposes humanity’s trance-like relationship with technology. The film reveals that when commandeered by extreme emotional states, the results are “massive effects far beyond the human species,” “I have been involved with all this film and this one was up to bat,” said Taub. “The idea of watching people watching screens goes back to a project we did in the mid ’90s in Italy called Evidence. [The concept] was in his mind for a number of years, so after a little time off it came back into focus for us. We were able to get the treatment together and got financial support.” In the summer of 2010, the filmmaking team raised funds to get initial filming underway, heading first to New Orleans. In spring 2011, they raised additional resources and later received completion money. The project wrapped up in 2013. “Fortunately between the Louisiana shoot, and later shoots in New York and in the studio, we were able to keep the momentum,” added Taub. “The hard part about [this film] were the nine or ten month gaps. There was always the chance that people might be off doing other projects.” Apropos to the project, technology played its part in moving the project along. “Fortunately we could use digital and were able to let the camera run,” said Taub. “Also the edit team went to New Orleans to see the ‘dailies’ and hone in on the effects. So everything went in measured order and once you’re in there, you’re in the trenches.”
Luck and six degrees of separation also helped out. An assistant editor had a high school friend who worked at Cinedigm. The friend was “begging” to learn more about the project and the filmmakers met with the distributor in 2012. “We had a quick repoire with them,” said Taub. “We showed them the locked cut in December 2012. Steven Soderbergh wanted to see it and was complimentary and he agreed to be the ‘presenter’ of the film.” There is also an accompanying live component to Visitors, which took place this week at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. Back in the U.S., Visitors will roll out in theaters in conjunction with Landmark, which Taub said is “committed to the release.” Cinedigm will first open the film at the Sunshine in New York as well as the Phi Centre in Montreal. It will head to additional cities including Santa Fe, NM, Toronto and Quebec City on January 31st followed by Seattle, London, ON and the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, NY in February.