Fox Searchlight has had two great box office wins with this year’s Grand Budapest Hotel and Belle, though some challenge with I Origins. Calvary from John Michael McDonagh with Brendan Gleeson and Chris O’Dowd will be the distributor’s next title opening this weekend in a summer season that has heated up in recent weeks among Specialties with films like Boyhood. Sundance documentary winner Rich Hill will also join this weekend’s newcomers with a New York bow via The Orchard, while writer-director-star James Franco‘s Child Of God will open in 10 locations courtesy of Well Go USA. KimStim will open German film The Strange Little Cat, a festival favorite that was made for about €13,000 in New York with a day and date release with Fandor.

Director-writer: John Michael McDonagh
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Isaach De Bankolé
Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Chris Clark and producing partner Flora Fernandez-Marengo first heard the idea for Calvary back when their company Reprisal Films produced filmmaker John Michael McDonagh’s previous project The Guard in 2011 (that film opened with a $19,209 PTA in four theaters in July 2011 in the U.S. via Sony Classics, going on to cume $5.36M domestically). “It came out of a conversation we were all having with Brendan Gleeson [who also starred in The Guard],” said Clark. “Nine months later, John [McDonagh] presented the script.”

The drama centers on a good-natured priest who is threatened during a confession and then must fight back the dark forces closing in around him. “Our priority was to make the film independently,” said Clark who added that the project did a round of initial pre-sales in addition to equity and soft money agreements. “We had early support from the British Film Institute (BFI) and the Irish Film Board. In Berlin [at the European Film Market] we made three strategic pre-sales in the UK, Australia and Germany.” Tax breaks in Ireland where the film shot also helped get production underway. Shooting began in Ireland in September 2012 over 29 days. “John is specific with what he wants and that [includes cast],” said Clark. “[Gleeson] was already on and Chris O’Dowd and Kelly Reilly were keen to do it. He had also written the part played by Isaach De Bankolé [with him in mind].” Scheduling was a challenge. While Gleeson’s character required him to to be there throughout production, others were not. “It was like a jigsaw puzzle figuring out how to schedule it all, but it came together,” added Clark. “Two-thirds of Calvary shot in the west of Ireland, which is like the wild west. There are gale force winds and rain. You go in sort of praying and watching the weather forecasts.” The weather mostly cooperated, but one critical scene taking place on a beach was purposely shot out of sequence to ensure that if the elements didn’t cooperate, there would be chance for a pick-up. “It turned out we were fine,” said Clark.

Production ended in time for Sundance where Fox Searchlight came on board for U.S. rights in addition to a number of territories abroad (eOne took Canada). On Friday, Searchlight will open Calvary in 4 theaters in Los Angeles and New York including the Arclight Hollywood, the Landmark West LA, the Angelika Film Centre and AMC’s Lincoln Square in New York. Calvary will be released over a 4-week period on a limited platform basis.

Rich Hill Poster 1Rich Hill 
Directors: Andrew Droz Palermo, Tracy Droz Tragos
Distributor: The Orchard

Rich Hill co-directors Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos have ties to the locale at the center of their Sundance-winning doc. Their grandparents lived in the town and Tragos’ father also lived in the Midwestern town. The film chronicles the turbulent lives of three boys living in poverty and the fragile family bonds that sustain them. “Andrew is my first cousin and his background is in cinematography…I wanted to get back to filmmaking and I was pursuing a couple of projects. He was visiting and we started talking about Rich Hill,” said Tragos who has produced television and video games but had directed one episode of Independent Lens. “I funded the first year of production on my credit card.” The project began in the summer of 2011 and after racking up debt on the credit card, Sundance Institute came along with resources. “I was in the carpool lane driving and got the call from them and I was like, ‘Thank god we can keep going,'” said Tragos. “And once you get that stamp of approval then others fall into place. McArthur gave us more money and we got money from Cinereach [and others].” The filmmakers also received additional funds via Kickstarter. Palermo and Tragos’ roots in Rich Hill helped them to fairly easily begin work with their subjects. They began talking to one of the boys after school who told them a “horrifying story” and saw a person asleep on a couch which was his de facto bed. “Trust and access was there from the get-go…,” said Tragos “The trust was ours to lose, you just have to be trustworthy in [making this kind of documentary].”

The filmmaking duo split filmmaking duties with Palermo spearheading cinematography while Tragos was the main point person working with the subjects. “The kids trusted me because I was a mother figure,” added Tragos. Though Palermo and Tragos are cousins, they did keep things official with contracts and delineating credits. The two also delved into initial editing before bringing on someone for the final editing. “We brought all the subjects to Sundance, it was bittersweet,” said Tragos who noted that one of the adults featured in the film had died a short time ahead of the festival. “We didn’t expect to be honored [there]. We were floored.” Rich Hill won the Documentary Grand Jury prize at the festival and has received honors at Sarasota and the Kansas City film festivals. The Orchard picked up Rich Hill at the event and will initially open the film at Village East Friday in New York. Tragos will take part in select Q&As over the weekend. The film will expand to additional markets August 8 with further cities added throughout August and into September. It will be available via VOD August 5.

Child Of GodChild Of God
Director-writer: James Franco
Cast: James Franco, Jim Parrack, Tim Blake Nelson, Scott Haze, Ciera Danielle, Vince Jolivette, Fallon Goodson
Distributor: Well Go USA

After writing the original story and appearing (but not directing) Palo Alto this past spring, James Franco is back for a latish summer film in which he stars, directs and is a co-writer. Crime-thriller Child Of God centers on a dispossessed, violent man whose life is a disastrous attempt to live outside the social order. After losing his parents, homes and with few other ties, he descends to the level of a cave dweller as he falls deeper into crime and degradation. “We saw it around the time of [the Venice Film Festival] last year,” said Well Go USA president Doris Pfardrescher. “It includes taboo subjects in a thought-provoking and interesting way. We were also impressed by the amount of press [generated] out of Venice.” The company decided to wait for its release, obviously hoping to accommodate Franco’s schedule so he’d have time to give Child Of God its full promotional potential. “He had Palo Alto coming out and so we didn’t want to flood the public with Franco,” said Pfardrescher. “He was also [on Broadway] doing Of Mice And Men and we wanted his un-divided attention for press and the talk show circuit.” Franco has been doing the television rounds including Jimmy Fallon, kelly and Michael and Stephen Colbert in the lead-up to the weekend’s release. “He’s been like a dream,” added Pfardrescher. “Child Of God is definitely an art house film and we’re gearing it in that way. But with James, of course, it has the potential to go a bit wider.” Franco’s last directorial, As I Lay Dying, grossed under $17K domestically after its October release last year.

Well Go USA will open the feature in about 10 theaters in its first week, likely about 8 locations over the weekend including New York at the Empire and Los Angeles at the Arclight. Franco will do Q&As at select L.A. screenings over the weekend while co-star Scott Haze will do the same in New York. There will also be a satellite plug-in with Franco in New York for at least one showing. The title will expand based on performance and a VOD/DVD release is set for late October.

strange little cat poster germanThe Strange Little Cat
Director-writer: Ramon Zürcher
Cast: Leon Alan Beiersdorf, Matthias Dittmer, Lea Draeger, Monika Hetterle, Mia Kasalo
Distribution: KimStim/Fandor (digital)

Writer-director Ramon Zürcher began work on what would be The Strange Little Cat out of a seminar with celebrated Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr. The Berlin 2013 title centers on siblings Karin and Simon who are visiting their parents and little sister. It plays out over a sequence of family scenes in a Berlin flat complete with cat and dog creates a wondrous world of the everyday: Coming and going, all manner of doings, each movement leading to the next, one word following another. “We had various Kafka texts to choose from, and I opted for The Metamorphosis,” said Zürcher. “The idea was to adapt the literary source very freely, without constraints, to look at the text and see what kind of cinematic universe might emerge.” Zürcher developed the script over five months, initially with a 40-page treatment which was re-written into a 170-page first draft which had to be cut considerably. Production began in spring 2011. “The most difficult thing was to find an apartment that fits to the script,” noted Zürcher. “Financing was actually very easy, as the film school DFFB, where we are studying, offered us about €10,000 to shoot the film. In all the film cost about €13,000.” The filmmaking team were also helped out with the use of post-production facilities at school including editing, color grading and sound design suits and sound mixing studio. The crew also worked for free. Rules about how long children can shoot gave some challenge to the production, though Zürcher said that “the dog and pigeon were very easy to work with,” adding, “but you can’t direct a cat which is not a professional ‘film-cat.’ We always
waited until the cat jumped to where it needed to be. The animals forced us to back off from the strict shooting rhythm. It was almost a meditative experience, waiting for the cat to jump onto the table.”

KimStim picked up The Strange Little Cat directly from producer Silvan Zürcher, filmmaker Ramon Zürcher’s twin brother, according to company’s co-founder Ian Stimler. “Business arrangements were made with DFFB German Film Academy under whose auspices the film was made,” said Stimler. “Since then it’s been screened in numerous festivals including new directors new films last spring and the European Union Film Festival in Chicago.” KimStim will open the film in NYC this weekend and has been booked in several others including Nashville, Philadelphia and Seattle. The film will open day and date via Fandor as well. “We hope the run in New York will help us continue to platform it to more markets over the next few months,” added Stimler. “It’s a small minimalist gem so it’s going to take time and work to get out.”