Argentina’s Foreign-Language nominee Wild Tales won’t be getting an in-theater bump for its Oscar run, with the Academy Awards arriving this weekend just behind the U.S. debut of the film by Damián Szifrónis. Other than Wild Tales, however, Oscar weekend is light on new and notable specialty titles as the seemingly endless awards season grinds to a merciful end.
There are a couple of options: Screen Media is opening All The Wilderness with Kodi Smit-McPhee, Virginia Madsen and Danny DeVito in a day-and-date debut on both theatrical and on-demand. Sundance ’14 alumnus Drunktown’s Finest will open in NYC via the Film Collaborative. And Outsider Pictures will bow Big In Japan in Seattle as it begins a ‘film tour.’
Director-writer: Damián Szifrón
Cast: Ricardo Darín, Oscar Martinez, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Érica Rivas, Rita Cortese, Julieta Zylberberg, Darío Grandinetti
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
SPC is releasing Wild Tales on Friday, just hours before the Academy Awards on Sunday when the Oscar-nominated film will face off against another of Sony’s films, Golden Globe winner Leviathan (Russia), among others. Leviathan opened on Christmas, while nominees Ida (Poland) and Timbuktu (Mauritania) opened earlier. The remaining Foreign-Language nominee, Tangerines (Estonia), was recently picked up stateside by Samuel Goldwyn Films. It will get a theatrical run later this year.
Vulnerable in the face of “a reality that shifts and suddenly turns unpredictable,” the characters of Wild Tales cross the thin line that divides civilization and barbarism. A lover’s betrayal, a return to a repressed past and the violence woven into everyday encounters drive the characters to madness as they cede to the undeniable pleasure of losing control.
“We first produced [Szifrón’s] second film Tiempos de Valientes (On Probation), which was a flagship movie for our company,” said Matias Mosteirín, whose K&S Films produced Wild Tales. “[Tiempos] had the energy and creativity with commercial value we wanted and we knew afterward that we wanted to do [Szifrón’s] next project.”
Wild Tales took several years to take shape, but the company waited until Szifrón was ready.
“We moved forward in 2012 and Pedro and Augustín Almodóvar came on to produce as well,” said Mosteirín. “They became very fond of Damián after seeing Tiempo de Valientes and are now friends and they were determined to be a part of Wild Tales.”
K&S Films went to its “usual sources” for financing, as well as the National Institute of Cinema. Warner Bros. came on board, acquiring the Latin American, French and Spanish rights.
“The most important step was to have [actor] Ricardo Darín on board,” said Mosteirín. “He’s a big star and his schedule is difficult, but his decision was key for us. We owe him a lot.”
Shooting took 10 weeks in Buenos Aires and in Argentina’s north in 2013.
“The shoot was challenging and amazing,” added Mosteirín. “We knew we had to shoot each story one by one. That obligated us to be very much on schedule and not change our plans to avoid an adverse cascading effect.”
After the Cannes Film Festival chose the film for competition last year, K&S contacted Sony Classics.
“They wanted to have a deal in place before Cannes,” said Mosteirín. “We never hesitated.”
All The Wilderness
Director-writer: Michael Johnson
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Isabelle Fuhrman, Danny DeVito, Virginia Madsen, Evan Ross, Hannah Barefoot, Tabor Helton, Jacob Block
Distributor: Screen Media
Producer Glenn Howerton had been friends with aspiring feature writer-director Michael Johnson for years in Los Angeles’ Venice neighborhood before he broached the topic of filmmaking. Howerton asked Johnson, who had already made commercials and music videos, what he’d like to do down the road, then showed the script for All The Wilderness.
The story centers on James (Smit-McPhee), an emotionally troubled boy whose connections with a mysterious kid (Ross) and a fellow patient of his therapist (Fuhrman) help him wrestle with the death of his father.
“Michael [Johnson] sent me the script and I was blown away,” said Howerton. “I hadn’t produced a film, but figured if I did, it would be something I’d act in.”
The script’s main challenge were the teenage leads, a potential financing obstacle unless a teen with an established name could be recruited, Howerton said.
The group teamed up with indie veterans Jonathan Schwartz and Andrea Sperling at Super Crispy, who helped develop the script. Both Howerton and Johnson had their collective eye on Smit-McPhee.
“He said ‘yes’ and that was the first big step in getting the project going,” said Howerton.
He had also known Danny DeVito and asked him to take a look at the script to get feedback, but didn’t want to do the hard sell.
“I’ve known him a long time,” said Howerton. “I didn’t want to pressure him. Just like I was reticent to read a friend’s script, I’m sure he felt the same.”
DeVito, nevertheless, came on board and the project shot in 2012 in Portland, Ore.
“It was awesome,” Howerton said. “Michael had been working in Portland for years. [Video and commercial] company Kamp Grizzly were great in hooking us up with a great crew.”
All The Wilderness debuted at the SXSW Film Festival last March and Screen Media picked up North American rights in November. The film will do a limited theatrical run Friday and simultaneous release on on-demand platforms.
Director-writer: Sydney Freeland
Cast: Jeremiah Bitsui, Carmen Moore, MorningStar Angeline
Distributor: The Film Collaborative
Drunktown’s Finest began its journey to the big screen back in 2005.
Filmmaker Sydney Freeland decided to create an onscreen story depicting the people living near her on a Navajo reservation. The three story lines follow the lives of a trio of young Native Americans including an adopted Christian girl, a rebellious father-to-be and a promiscuous transsexual as they try to escape the hardships of reservation life.
“I was born and raised on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico and I didn’t see the people and places that represent the community (in movies),” said Freeland. “I wrote a first draft in film school in ’05 and (did) re-writes through 2013.”
Freeland also sent the script to Sundance Institute for its screenwriting lab. There it was turned down initially because the story might be too expensive to shoot. Sundance’s Bird Runningwater, however, asked Freeland what else she had written, encouraging her to cut Drunktown’s Finest to less than 120 pages. Sundance’s Native Lab accepted what resulted, sending Freeland to Sundance’s Directors’ Lab in 2010.
“In 2011, we almost got our funding,” said Freeland. “We needed 100 things to go right, but in the end we only had 90 things go right.”
Sundance founder Robert Redford subsequently signed on with the project and producer Chad Burris joined, finding the resources to begin production.
The film shot over 15 days with only six weeks of post before delivering a working cut for Sundance Film Festival consideration.
“There wasn’t a lot of time to be precious,” said Freeland. “We were in and out and onto the next thing. We had an amazing crew and mostly a cast of non-actors. For the most part, we cast people who could play themselves. Of the 36 speaking rolls, 32 are Native American.”
Bitsui (Breaking Bad) was among the professional actors in the cast. The film screened at Sundance last year and then at the Sundance London Film Festival. It also played at the Provincetown International Film Festival and at Frameline. The film debuts Friday at the Quad in New York, and heads to the Arena Cinema in L.A. February 27 with other cities to follow.
Big In Japan
Director-writer: John Jeffcoat
Cast: David Crury, John Jeffcoat, Sean Lowry, Tiffany Lowry, Kailena Mai, Robin Marsh, Philip Peterson, Adam Powers, Alex Vincent
Distributor: Outsider Pictures
Filmmaker John Jeffcoat shot a series of documentaries for MTV and hung out with bands shooting in small clubs with a bare-bones crew of two cameras and an audio engineer.
“I thought it would be fun to take this small documentary crew and shoot something dramatic in the rock and roll scene,” said Jeffcoat. “I was introduced to the band Tennis Pro and the drummer Sean Lowry had pitched the idea of shooting a reality show following the band from Seattle, where they have been unable to land an audience, to Tokyo where they felt audiences would better appreciate their music.”
Jeffocat liked the concept, but opted against shooting the project as a documentary.
Jeffcoat and the band made the first of two trips to Tokyo in 2010, financed by a Kickstarter campaign as well as donations of airline miles.
“None of us had ever been to Tokyo other than Alex and I didn’t feel comfortable writing a script set in a country I’d never been to,” Jeffcoat said. “I put together a rough outline of what I thought the trajectory of the band would be, and we lined up a series of shows for the band. We used this trip as a casting, location scout, and a playground for improv and we shot all of the live music performances. “
From the first trip, Jeffcoat edited together footage used to attract investors for finishing funds. He also began scripting the film, basing it on their experiences on the initial trip, building out improvised scenes they had done.
“It wasn’t until 2012 that we were able to make it back to Tokyo so there are literally scenes where the reverse angle was shot two years previous in the same scene,” he said. “Phase one was crowd sourcing and some financing through my production company Strangelife. For phase two, we brought in [producer] Jannat Gargi to help us reel in the financing we needed, which came from a handful of private sources. We tried to keep it as simple as possible.”
In all, Big In Japan shot two weeks in Tokyo with an additional “relaxed week” in Seattle. Paul Hudson of distributor Outsider Pictures boarded the project early on. Big In Japan will open at the Northwest Film Forum for a two-week run in Seattle Friday, followed by the Regal Cinema there before heading to San Diego’s Digital Gym Cinema. The film will continue to go to venues around the country, “essentially putting the film on tour,” Jeffcoat said. A VOD launch is scheduled for summer.