On tap this weekend is German Foreign Language contender Labyrinth Of Lies, which distributor Sony Classics is hoping to follow the Oscar (and box office) success of 2008’s The Counterfeiters and 2007’s The Lives Of Others. The title will join a crowded weekend of newcomers, many eyeing their share of Awards Season cache. Just weeks after its Toronto debut, Lionsgate’s Freehold, starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page, is set to bow this weekend, while Fox Searchlight is taking out doc He Named Me Malala. Both will have limited runs before going wider later this month. Kino Lorber will park Jafar Panahi’s Taxi in an exclusive run before going fairly wide. Panahi, a celebrated Iranian director internationally, is a pariah at home — at least to the government — who has nevertheless managed to keep making films despite interference. Well Go USA, meanwhile is bowing Partisan with Vincent Cassel in a dozen locations, and indie This Is Happening is going mostly DIY with runs in L.A. ahead of adding other cities.
Also heading out in theaters this weekend is TWC’s Shanghai with John Cusack and Gong Li as well as International Film Circuit’s Shout Gladi Gladi and Reliance Films’ Talvar. Also in “limited” release in IMAX 3D is TriStar’s The Walk, ahead of its wide bow in both 2D and 3D October 9.
Labyrinth Of Lies
Director-writer: Giulio Ricciarelli
Writer: Elisabeth Bartel
Cast: Alexander Fehling, Andre Szymanski, Friederike Becht, Johannes Krisch, Hansi Jochmann, Johann von Bulow, Robert Hunger-Buhler
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
SPC picked up Giulio Ricciarelli’s directorial debut, Labyrinth Of Lies, just ahead of its world premiere at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and it is eyeing Awards Season as it makes its way into theaters this weekend. The title is Germany’s pick for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration.
Set in Frankfurt in 1958, the film is set in a time when few want to look back on the Nazi era. Young public prosecutor Johann Radian comes across some documents that help initiate the trial against some members of the SS who served in Auschwitz. But the horror of the past and the hostility shown towards his work bring Johann close to a meltdown. It is nearly impossible for him to find his way through this maze and everybody seems to have been involved or guilty.
“It works as an important piece of history that many of us didn’t know existed post-war Germany, and it also plays as a thriller,” said Sony Classics co-president Michael Barker. “It has done very well in Germany ($866K) and is also a hit in France ($547K).” Barker likened the film to two of its past foreign-language box office hits including 2008 Oscar-winner The Counterfeiters ($5.488M gross) and fellow Oscar-winning The Lives Of Others (2007, $11.28M) in terms of its potential audience appeal, and noted early positive reviews as indicating its momentum.
“Anyone interested in that period of history will like this movie, but it also works on an entertainment level,” added Barker. “I find that young people really like the film because it shows a younger generation forcing the older generation to confront its past. People have been going to this type of film for years, and yet it’s also the birth of a really fine, new director. We really hope it gets into the [Oscar] short list because it’s a deserving film.”
Sony Classics will open Labyrinth Of Lies in limited New York and Los Angeles locations this weekend, slowly adding more runs and markets throughout October and beyond.
He Named Me Malala
Director: Davis Guggenheim
Subjects: Malala Yousafzai, Ziauddin Yousafzai, Toor Pekai, Khushal Yousafzai, Atal Yousafzai
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Originally, a big screening re-counting of Malala Yousafzai’s story was envisioned as a narrative by producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald when they approached the family about a movie. Soon after meeting the family, living in Birmingham, England, and only seven months after Malala was shot by the Taliban, they re-approached the family about doing a documentary.
Titled He Named Me Malala, the feature is a portrait of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai who was targeted by the Taliban and severely wounded by a gunshot when returning home on her school bus in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The then 15-year-old was singled out, along with her father, for advocating for girls’ education, and the attack on her sparked an outcry from supporters around the world. She miraculously survived and is now a leading campaigner for girls’ education globally as co-founder of the Malala Fund.
“About eighteen hours after we met [the Yousafzai family] we decided it should really be a documentary,” said producer Laurie MacDonald. “So, we had to go back and re-negotiate. But considering what a big figure she is, casting seemed impossible. We thought it would be better to tell a story through her survival and what was happening with her life at the moment, which is fascinating.”
Image Nation Abu Dhabi put up financing for the title, while Participant Media and others also joined the project. “We didn’t realize at the time, but the government of Abu Dhabi had sent a plane to get [the Yousafzai family] out of Pakistan,” said Parkes. “Image Nation’s participation also had the [added benefit] of providing a comfort level for the family because of the fact they come from a Muslim country…We [also] wanted to depict a devout Muslim family that anyone would be happy to have as neighbors.”
Parkes and MacDonald approached veteran documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim whose 2010 doc, Waiting For ‘Superman’, ($6.4M gross) focused on the plight of education in the U.S. His Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth grossed over $24.1M in 2006.
“This all happened very quickly,” said Parkes. “We met Malala in first week of May 2013, by her birthday in early July, we were shooting her speech in the UN. It was all about 9 weeks.”
MacDonald and Parkes said that they were “initially going to take it to Sundance,” but then ended up showing the film to a small group of distributors. Fox Searchlight won out. “They were aggressive and not just in a financial way,” said MacDonald.
Fox Searchlight will open He Named Me Malala in four theaters in two cities this weekend including the Sunshine and Lincoln Square in New York, and the Landmark West L.A. and Arclight Hollywood in the Los Angeles area. On October 9 Searchlight will open in national release across North America and will expand to over 400 theaters to coincide with the International Day of the Girl which will be celebrated on October 11.
Director: Peter Sollett
Writer: Ron Nyswaner
Cast: Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Michael Shannon, Steve Carell
Starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page, Toronto ’15 feature Freehold is based on the Oscar-winning short documentary of the same title by Cynthia Wade.
Freeheld is the true love story of Laurel Hester [Julianne Moore] and Stacie Andree [Ellen Page] and their “fight for justice.” A decorated New Jersey police detective, Laurel is diagnosed with cancer and wants to leave her hard-earned pension to her domestic partner, Stacie. However the county officials, Freeholders, prevent Laurel from doing this. Hard-nosed detective Dane Wells [Michael Shannon], and activist Steven Goldstein [Steve Carell] unite in Laurel and Stacie’s defense, rallying police officers and ordinary citizens to support their struggle for equality.
Lionsgate and cast have been ramping up a media campaign for Freeheld post-TIFF with a dozen magazine covers and many more features in prominent magazines in the mainstream and gay press in addition to broadcast appearances on GMA, Ellen, The Talk, Jimmy Fallon and others. Word-of-mouth screenings with LGBT influencers including Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD and GLSEN have also been in the mix.
The distributor also launched a TV campaign September 28 in Los Angeles and New York ahead of its rollout this Friday. Lionsgate will open Freeheld in 5 locations in New York and L.A. October 2, with a wide release planned for October 16, which will coincide with heavy social media support from Page, Moore, Miley Cyrus and more across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Jafar Panahi’s Taxi
Director-writer: Jafar Panahi
Cast: Jafar Panahi
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Acclaimed as a star of the Iranian New Wave movement, Iranian director Jafar Panahi has not received the same treatment his name receives around the world. In fact, Panahi was arrested and essentially banned from making any films. The result was a documentary about his house-arrest called, This Is Not A Film (2011), which was smuggled out of Iran and shown at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and later at the New York Film Festival and others. Panahi is back with Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, which debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year.
In the film, Panahi drives a yellow cab through the vibrant streets of Tehran, picking up a diverse, and yet representative, group of passengers in a single day. Each man, woman, and child candidly expresses his or her own view of the world, while being interviewed by the curious and gracious driver/director. His camera, placed on the dashboard of his mobile film studio, captures a spirited slice of Iranian society while also brilliantly redefining the borders of comedy, drama and cinema.
“I saw Taxi in Berlin and was completely bowled over,” said Kino Lorber chief Richard Lorber. “It has charm, wit, and amiability you expect from Panahi and at the same time, it is really a breakthrough film for him. It’s a seditious critique of Iranian society and political development with such a marvelous tone.”
Lorber said that the film has received “great response” from the media and is maximizing that attention ahead of this weekend’s U.S. theatrical rollout. They’re also planning to take the film out fairly wide compared to many of the boutique distributors’ recent titles. “I haven’t seen so many people attend our media screenings,” said Lorber. “And it had a terrific response in Telluride and Toronto. It’s become the event film of the year. We have high hopes and, hopefully, not too high expectations.”
The title will have an exclusive run at IFC Center in New York this weekend before heading out to other markets, with many showings at Landmark theaters.
Director-writer: Ariel Kleiman
Writer: Sarah Cyngler
Cast: Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara
Distributor: Well Go USA
Australian filmmaker Ariel Kleiman’s journey to making his feature-length debut, Partisan, began after debuting his 2009 short, Young Love, at Sundance. “That caught the attention of producers back in Australia and after I got back to Melbourne, they asked if I had any feature ideas up my sleeve,” said Kleiman. “I sort of cockily said I did, though I didn’t really.” Kleiman’s girlfriend (and Partisan co-writer) Sarah Cyngler had read an article about child assassins in Colombia, and from that came the seeds of the feature making its U.S. bow this weekend.
Partisan is centered on the edge of a crumbling city, where 11-year-old Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel) lives in a sequestered commune, alongside other children, their mothers, and charismatic leader, Gregori (Vincent Cassel). Gregori teaches the children how to raise livestock, grow vegetables, work as a community – and how to kill. As Alexander nears his first job as an assassin, he begins to question the ways of the commune, particularly Gregori’s quiet but overpowering influence. Threatened by Alexander’s increasing unwillingness to fall in line, Gregori’s behavior turns erratic and adversarial toward the child he once considered a son. With the two set dangerously at odds and the commune’s way of life disintegrating, the residents fear a violent resolution is at hand.
Kleiman and Cyngler moved to London for the next two years writing the script and also began casting for the main roles. “I had actually sent the script to Vincent early on, but he was busy and didn’t read it,” said Kleiman. “I had to move on to others and [eventually] met Oscar Isaac. After he was cast, we got financing and moved back to Australia to start preproduction.”
Isaac, however, had to drop out of the role after 2013 feature, Inside Llewyn Davis, began gaining momentum on the Awards Circuit, causing a bit of a scramble. “[Isaac] had to drop out and then Vincent came on board. We had lost our main actor and the financiers had given their money based on him.” The crisis was alleviated, however, after Cassel joined the cast as lead. Warp Films Australia, Animal Kingdom Films in New York, the UK’s Protagonist and a mixture of Australian government sources financed the project, which shot five weeks in Australia in addition to the country of Georgia.
Well Go USA will open Partisan in a dozen markets this weekend including New York’s Village East and the Laemmle Noho 7 in addition to locations in San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Columbus, Denver, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Erie, Winchester and Phoenix. It will head to San Diego October 9.
This Is Happening
Director-writer: Ryan Jaffe
Cast: James Wold, Mickey Sumner, Rene Auberjonois, Judd Nelson, Cloris Leachman
Distributors: Seed & Spark, Paladin
Two years ago, Ryan Jaffe wrote a personal short story about a road trip to visit his dying grandmother. Jaffe had been writing scripts he’d sell, but his then manager, turned producer, Matt Weinberg encouraged Jaffe to create a script out of the story, and about 2 years ago, Jaffe and Weinberg decided to pursue it as a project.
“I wrote 11 drafts over the course of a year…” said Jaffe. “Directors had approached me about the script, but it was personal for me. This Is Happening shot over 11 days in Los Angeles in the summer of 2014 and financing came from a combination of friends and family.
The feature follows an estranged brother and sister (James Wolk and Mickey Sumner) forced to go on the road together to track down their fugitive grandmother (Cloris Leachman). What begins as a comedic tale of a broken family forced to come together under the pressures of an absentee father (Judd Nelson) evolves into “a journey about learning to find your family in order to find yourself.”
“When it came to distribution, I found so many roadblocks,” said Jaffe. “We crowd-funded for a theatrical release, then Mark Urman from Paladin came on as consultant. He had been helping us with the process of getting it to distributors and festivals, but we saw what he did for the release of What We Do In The Shadows and were very impressed with that mode.” Unison and Paladin released the New Zealand vampire feature in February of this year, grossing over $3.46M to date.
Following a soft launch in Detroit last weekend, This Is Happening is heading to L.A.’s Laemmle Town Center and Laemmle Fine Arts in Beverly Hills and then expanding from there in a 60-day dedicated theatrical release, according to Jaffe. “From a distribution point of view, what we’re doing is unique and new. I don’t know if it will be successful or not, but I’m proud of the team that’s putting together something different and thinking outside the box.”