As distributors digest the latest films at the Cannes Film Festival that will likely make their way to this side of the Atlantic one way or another, a new slate of specialty newcomers are making their way to theaters for the Memorial Day weekend. The summer crowds will no doubt flock to Tomorrowland and Poltergeist — at least relatively speaking — though counter options are out there.
Jennifer Connelly, Cillian Murphy and Mélanie Laurent star in Sony Pictures Classics’ Aloft, which will begin its theatrical outing in New York and Los Angeles. The “extreme sport” of BASE jumping made headlines this past week after the death of one of the sport’s most high-profile figures. Somewhat eerily coincidentally, the documentary Sunshine Superman that has been years in the making about one of its early enthusiasts hits theaters this weekend via Magnolia Pictures. GKIDS, which found box office and award-season success with Japanese animation The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya is opening When Marnie Was There from the same studio that created the applauded Oscar-nominee. And Samuel Goldwyn Films will bow Israel’s The Farewell Party in New York before heading to L.A. in early June.
Among other limited-release bows this weekend are Strand’s Love At First Sight, Freestyle Releasing’s Chocolate City and IFC Midnight’s The Human Centipede Part III Final Sequence.
Director-writer: Claudia Llosa
Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Cillian Murphy, Mélanie Laurent, Oona Chaplin, Ian Tracey, Peter McRobbie, Zen McGrath
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Writer-director Claudia Llosa intermittently worked on the script for Aloft as she was promoting her 2010 feature The Milk Of Sorrow. “I didn’t work on writing [Aloft] the whole time, I’d been with it for five years with a pregnancy in the middle,” she said. “It’s a very organic process. The Milk Of Sorrow felt very natural because it follows the mystical undertones and talks about what is unspeakable…It was the beginning of the process for Aloft. It took me awhile because I became a new mother and then there was finding financing.”
Aloft follows a mother (Connelly) and her son (Murphy) whose lives have been marred by an accident that tears them apart. She will become a renowned artist and healer, while he grows into his own as a peculiar falconer who bears the marks of a “double absence.” In the present, a young journalist (Laurent) brings about an encounter between the two that puts the very meaning of life and art into question.
Llosa shared the initial script with producer José María Morales (Winged Migration), who told her they’d have to reinvent their process from Milk Of Sorrow. Breaking Bad producer Mark Johnson also came on board to define the strategy and help with casting. The project found co-production partnerships with Catalunya in Spain as well as Canada. Financing was augmented by private financing and TV sales. “Mark was very helpful in getting Jennifer Connelly and Cillian Murphy,” said Llosa. “It was my first time to work with actors. I didn’t expect my film to be with such a wonderful cast. I was thinking I’d do my typical ‘street casting.’… I knew I needed to lock the first main actor because her look would influence the [film’s aesthetics]. After she was cast, the other characters happened fast.”
The film shot in February 2013 in Manitoba, Canada. “It was hard work with animals, children and weather, but we had so much fun,” said Llosa, who showed the film to Tom Bernard and Michael Barker at SPC, which acquired U.S. and Latin American rights. The pic ill open in three theaters this weekend and expand to major markets in the coming weeks.
Director-writer: Marah Strauch
Subjects: Carol Boenish, Jean Boenish
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Sunshine Superman filmmaker Marah Strauch and producer Eric Bruggemann started their eight-year project after Strauch found extensive 16mm BASE jumping footage made by her uncle that included material with Carl Boenish, considered a “father of the BASE jumping movement.” “Marah and I started off down the path from the very beginning,” said Bruggemann. “Her uncle [Mike Allen] was a second-generation BASE jumper and was a filmmaker, and had all this amazing footage. So, we started tracking down many of the people he worked with.” A breakthrough came when Strauch and Bruggemann found Boenish’s widow Jean in moving the story forward.
BASE jumping made headlines this week following the death of extreme sports legend Dean Potter, one of two BASE jumpers found dead in Yosemite National Park after attempting an aerial descent from Taft Point. The film, meanwhile, is a documentary portrait of Boenish, whose early passion for skydiving led him to ever more spectacular – and dangerous – feats. He and Jean set the BASE jumping world record in 1984 on the Norwegian “Troll Wall” mountain range. Within days, triumph was followed by disaster. The film is told through a mix of Boenish’s archive footage, re-enactments and state-of-the-art aerial photography.
Raising money was also a feat that took time, but a financial breakthrough came when Strauch met a rep from the Western Norway Film Council at AFM, who encouraged them to look into a co-production. “This was a big lynchpin in getting this film made,” said Bruggemann. “We received equity and some public funding from Norway. We used equity from the U.S. to leverage getting funding in Norway and then money from there to leverage getting more funding out of the U.S.” The pair showed a 20 minute segment of Sunshine Superman to Universal Pictures, which lead to the company picking up international rights. “We were then able to finish the film,” he added. The film debuted at the Toronto Film Festival where Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films picked up North American rights.
Magnolia will open its theatrical run at the Empire 25 and Sunshine Cinema in New York and The Landmark in West Los Angeles. It will expand in Southern California on May 29 in addition to opening a dozen-plus cities, with major markets to be added throughout June.
When Marnie Was There
Director-writer: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Writers: Joan G. Robinson (novel), Keiko Niwa, Masashi Ando
English voice cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Kiernan Shipka, Geena Davis, John C. Reilly, Vanessa Williams
When Marnie Was There is the latest animated feature from Japan’s Studio Ghibli, which produced The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya ($703K cume in the U.S.). That film received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature this year.
Based on the young-adult novel by Joan G. Robinson, the story follows shy, artistic Anna who moves to the seaside to live with her aunt and uncle. She stumbles upon an old mansion surrounded by marshes and its mysterious inhabitant, the young Marnie. The two girls instantly form a connection and friendship that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. Over the subsequent days, she is drawn back to the Marsh House again and again as she pieces together the truth surrounding her strange new friend.
“This is the continuation of a great relationship we’ve had with Studio Ghibli. We were in Japan presenting our campaign plans for The Princess Kaguya when we saw When Marnie Was There,” said GKIDS’ Dave Jesteadt. “There’s typically a delay between the Japanese release of [their films] and a foreign release, but when they saw the success of The Princess Kaguya, they were into doing it sooner [here].”
Jesteadt said Studio Ghibli is “very close” to their films’ overseas releases though their longtime relationship has given GKIDS credo when it comes to crafting the U.S. campaigns. “They give us wide [breadth] to come up with a strategy and over the years, we’ve built up trust,” he said. “They also produce the English-language version of their films.” One thing Ghibli guards closely is securing a big-screen release for their titles: Day and date is not in their wheelhouse, at least yet. Jesteadt said the studio did finally come around to DVD releases following their theatrical frame.
In the case Marnie, Jesteadt said, test screenings revealed a “secondary audience” for the title from a group that may not have seen Ghibli’s previous work. “It does very well with pre-teen and teen girls,” he said. “They respond to the character who is isolated and has health issues. She spends time with her aunt and uncle to recuperate and finds that she can make friends and be a friend. It’s interesting because they’re not the obvious art house crowd we go to, so we have gone to social media to push the film to that audience.”
When Marnie Was There will open in one theater each in New York and L.A. on Friday, expanding to a few additional primary markets May 29. The main expansion will take place June 5 in most of the top 40 markets. The film is available in English or Japanese with English subtitles.
The Farewell Party
Directors-writers: Tal Granit, Sharon Maymon
Cast: Ze’ev Revach, Levana Finkelstein, Aliza Rosen, Ilan Dar, Raffi Tavor, Yosef Carmon Hilla Sarjon
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon based the story around The Farewell Party on their personal experiences caring for a loved one. The film centers on Yehezkel and his wife Levana, who live comfortably inside a Jerusalem retirement home. Their contented lives are interrupted when their friend, Max, is diagnosed with an irreversible illness. Max asks Yehezkel for help to end his suffering. A longtime amateur inventor, Yehezkel builds a machine that would allow Max to self-administer a dose of tranquilizers. Levana, however, believes that such a device is immoral, and expresses her passionate disapproval. But when Levana begins to face a serious health issue, Yehezkel finds that his feelings about his new contraption become increasingly complicated.
“What makes it a good fit for Samuel Goldwyn Films is that it is an original — it’s not something you see every day,” said Goldwyn Films’ Peter Goldwyn. “It’s an entertaining, funny gem of a film that is not easily categorized. We think that there is an audience who is looking for original voices…”
Goldwyn said the title’s comedic elements should play beyond its art house/foreign-language core, and the distributor has played a number of word-of-mouth screenings and festivals. “We have also played many Jewish film festivals around the country for the past several months to increase awareness,” added Goldwyn, who said that May has shown itself to be a good month for releasing art house fare.
Farewell Party opens Friday at the Angelika and City Cinemas 123 in New Yorkbefore opening in L.A. locations June 5, and into the top 20 markets throughout the month.