A number of films about women, and even from women, are among the heavy slate of new Specialty features taking their bow this weekend. Carey Mulligan is getting Awards attention for Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette, also starring Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep, I SMILE BACKwhich Focus Features will open in four New York and Los Angeles venues tomorrow. The film, about the fight for women’s right to vote and beyond, also managed to break a filmmaking barrier getting unprecedented access to a British institution. Streep is also supporting another weekend bow, India’s Daughter, which Paladin’s Mark Urman is guiding as it heads out into theaters in New York and L.A. Broad Green is supporting Sarah Silverman’s performance in I Smile Back, opening theatrically in a collapsed window ahead of its digital/VOD start November 6. The distrib initially planned to do a straight day and date release, but altered course in order to support Silverman’s potential in the awards arena. Angelina Jolie, meanwhile, is “presenting” Ethiopia-set Difret, which Amplify Releasing is spearheading as it begins a limited release in New York. Kristen Wiig stars in Chilean-born filmmaker Sebastián Silva’s Nasty Baby via The Orchard, and FIP will open Bollywood wedding drama, Shaandaar in 136 theaters.

Also opening in limited release this weekend are FilmBuff’s Wonderful Cloud, Abramorama’s doc Heart of a Dog (opened on Wednesday) and New Films International’s The Sound and the Fury, directed by James Franco.

Director: Sarah Gavron
Writer: Abi Morgan
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Ben Whishaw, Natalie Press, Brendan Gleeson, Adrian Schiller, Anne-Marie Duff
Distributor: Focus Features

SuffragetteGavron had wanted to make a film about Suffragettes, the women’s organizations in the 19th and early 20th centuries, which advocated for the extension of the right to vote to women in Great Britain. “I had been researching it and then had a conversation with Alison [Owen] at Ruby Films [in 2007] and we [later] started talking with [writer] Abi Morgan,” said Gavron. “We started diving into the story which is compelling, heartbreaking and a part of history.”

By 2008, the fledgling filmmaking team began doing its extensive research into the Suffragettes who are credited for being the first foot soldiers for a movement that was forced to go underground to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an increasingly brutal state. Radicalized and turning to violence as the only route to change, they were willing to lose everything in their fight for equality – their jobs, their homes, their children and their lives. Maud [Carey Mulligan] was one such foot soldier.”

FilmFour and Focus were on board with the project in its early stages, then Pathé took over the project. The filmmaking team felt the central character of Maud made the screenplay pop. “In the UK, people know the polite, sanitized version of the movement, but we told [financiers] it’s not going to be what you may expect,” said Gavron. “What helped us was that the tide was turning. The world and industry were becoming more aware of feminism. There has been a lack of movies by women… Four or five years ago, this may have not happened.”

landscape-1429108291-elle-suffragetteThe filmmaking team sent Mulligan the script and heard back from the actress almost immediately. After she was secured as Maud, the plan was then to build a cast around her. Bonham Carter joined the cast, and, at the urging of Mulligan, the script was sent to Streep who also boarded.

Suffragette shot over 45 days, which Gavron nevertheless described as “tight,” shooting in and around London. “It was meant to be London of 1912, but some of that was destroyed during the blitz [in World War II],” said Gavron. “The coup of the shoot was getting access to the Houses of Parliament, which had never been done before.” Prime Minister David Cameron also visited “the set,” where Mulligan’s character gives testimony in front of a hundred men. “I think it was an acknowledgment of the [film’s] importance and we were lucky in terms of timing,” said Gavron.

Since its release in the U.K., earlier this month, Suffragette has grossed over $4.5 million. Expansion to other markets will occur in the weeks to come.


I Smile Back
Director: Adam Salky
Writers: Paige Dylan, Amy Koppelman
Cast: Sarah Silverman, Josh Charles, Skylar Gaetner, Shayne Coleman, Nick Taylor, Mia Barron, Thomas Sadoski
Distributor: Broad Green Pictures

I Smile BackSilverman plays Laney Brooks who has a proclivity to engage in bad choices. Married with kids, she takes the drugs she wants, sleeps with the men she wants, disappears when she wants. Now, with the destruction of her family looming, and temptation everywhere, Laney makes one last desperate attempt at redemption.

“The most important element is Sarah Silverman’s performance and we’re getting [that feedback from] critics and word of mouth screenings,” said Travis Reid, president of Theatrical Distribution at Broad Green Pictures. “Press has said it’s worthy of Academy consideration [and] because we think it’s a contender, we wanted to figure out how to get the widest audience possible in this competitive [season].”

Instead of going straight day and date, Broad Green is going to concentrate I Smile Back‘s initial release with a collapsed theatrical window, opening the film at the Sundance Sunshine theater in L.A. and at the Angelika in New York. “We want to support the picture and the fact it has a prestigious feel to it,” said Reid. “We’re putting the film in theaters particularly where Academy members and influencers can see it. Our strategy is to put it in the right places.”

Reid expects I Smile Back will be in 10 to 12 markets by the time it heads out on-demand November 6. On the box office side, he said the company expects that the film’s theatrical run will ultimately support its overall  on-demand reach.

“The theatrical will support the VOD where the vast majority of the audience will be,” he said. “Our release theatrically is much less about the gross we get as it is about getting reviews etc. We’ll be happy with what we get. We’re hoping to get $4-5000 per location [opening weekend]. We’re looking to maximize viewership and revenue on VOD and the theatrical drives that. We’ll see very positive reviews in LA and New York.”

Reid said Silverman and Salky have been actively promoting the film with Silverman appearing on various shows including the Late Show, Ellen, Charlie Rose and others. The company sees the film’s “core audience” as the 35-plus crowd, equally split between male and females. Added Reid: “Her audience is spread across the U.S. They’re not just in LA and New York and we want to make sure they have a chance to see it soon too.”


Nasty Baby

Director-writer: Sebastián Silva
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Alia Shawkat, Mark Margolis, Reg E. Cathey, Sebastián Silva, Tunde Adebimpe, Judy Marte, Neal Huff, Anthony Chisolm, Agustín Silva
Distributor: The Orchard
Chilean-born New York-based filmmaker Sebastián Silva began formulating the idea for his sixth feature, while shooting in Chile and dealing with an “annoying neighbor.”

Nasty Baby Film - 2015Nasty Baby centers on Freddy (Silva), a Brooklyn-based artist who, with his boyfriend, Mo (Tunde Adebimpe), and their best friend, Polly (Kristen Wiig), is trying to have a baby.  As this trio deals with the complications of conception and creating the “new normal” family, their bliss is clouded by a series of confrontations with an annoying neighbor who just might be a madman.

“I started writing the screenplay six months before we shot,” said Silva who also stars in the film. “It’s a [combination of my life [dual experiences] in Chile and New York. The screenplay was 20 pages. We decided it would be a small, privately financed film with quick turnaround.”

Alia Shawkat had suggested tapping Kristen Wiig to play the part of Polly. After Wiig boarded, prep was quick. Silva didn’t want to overly formulate their characters. “We talked a bit about the story and characters, but I wanted them to be themselves,” said Silva. “The way we interacted together was the same dynamic I wanted for the film. I didn’t really want them to have ‘characters,’ obviously if you give them a different name they have a ‘character,’ but there was no exact discussion of ‘character.'”

Nasty Baby shot over 21 days with private financing coming from France and Chile. The Orchard came on as distributor after its debut at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The Orchard will open the title limited release in New York and L.A. Friday, followed by on-demand on October 30.


Director-writer: Zeresenay Berhane Mehari
Cast: Meron Getnet, Tizita Hagere, Abel Abebe, Shitaye Abraha, Genene Alemu, Haregewine Assefa, Yeneneh Engedawok
Distributor: Truth Aid/Amplify Releasing

Angelina Jolie raised the profile of Difret in a story that deals with the crisis of kidnapping of young girls in some regions.

Difret opens three hours outside of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where a bright 14 year-old girl heading home from school is swept up Difretby men on horseback. She grabs a rifle and tries to escape, but ends up shooting her would-be husband. In her village, the practice of abduction into marriage is common and one of Ethiopia’s oldest traditions. Meaza Ashenafi, an empowered and tenacious young lawyer, arrives from the city to represent Hirut Assefa and argue that she acted in self-defense. Meaza boldly embarks on a collision course between enforcing civil authority and abiding by customary law, risking the continuing work of her women’s legal-aid practice to save Hirut’s life.

“[Zeresenay Berhane Mehari] approached me in 2009 at a health and human rights conference. She had seen a film I had done and brought me the script. I was blown away,” said producer Mehret Mandefro. “At that point, we had gotten an offer of a bunch of money, but they wanted it to be shot in English with famous actors. we said, ‘no’ to that because it was a very different film than [the filmmaker] wanted to make. So we began a three-year process to find financing. We’d often make it to final rounds with possible financiers, but we were told it was too ambitious of a project.”

After the fourth rejection, Mandefro said the filmmaking team said they knew they had to “do something different. EP Julie Mehretu came on board and the team launched a Kickstarter campaign. From that, they created a trailer and raised additional financing through various means including art auctions in London and New York.

Casting took place over eight months filling the 71 speaking roles, many of them first-time actors. The most difficult part was finding the main girl, but only two weeks out from the shoot, the filmmaking team heard of a theater actor, Tizita Hagere, who won over the director and producers.

“We shot over 34 days in 2012 on 35mm film,” said Mandefro. “It went well considering there were so many challenges. Just getting insurance was hard because we were told there were pirates. Plus we were sending film to India to be processed. We had to try to get security not to X-ray the film and our runner would get stuck in airports for hours.”

Amplify Releasing is handling the theatrical release for Difret, which bows at Lincoln Plaza in New York Friday. It will head to other markets including Washington, D.C., Scottsdale, Atlanta, San Diego and Pittsburgh with other cities to follow. Difret was Ethiopia’s pick for Oscar consideration last year, so it already had an L.A. qualifying run. Further showings there are pending. Digital will begin in January with VOD to follow. “We’ll have the real-life heroes of the movie at the opening night Q&As,” added Mandefro.


India’s Daughter
Director-writer: Leslee Udwin
Distributor: Paladin

Meryl Streep and Sean Penn backed this doc, hosting tastemaker screenings in New York and L.A. ahead of the film’s theatrical release this weekend.

india's daugtherThe film spotlights the short life of Jyoti Singh, documenting her brutal gang-rape and murder in Dehli in December, 2012. The feature, which was banned in India soon before its scheduled release, examines the mindset of the men who committed the rape, and it sets these specifics against a wider in-depth exploration of the patriarchal society and culture which seeds and encourages violence against women. The focus of the film’s exploration is on the compelling human stories behind the incident in the context of a world in which brutality against women is so commonplace.

Veteran exec Mark Urman had been approached by someone working with filmmaker Leslee Udwin. After seeing the film, he entered an agreement to handle its release. “I felt the [feature] was significant and excellent and that it should be groomed for consideration [for Awards including] Oscar,” said Urman. “It took a couple of months of just circling the supporter community to pull together an appropriate campaign… It didn’t come off of the top tier festival circuit, so we had to migrate the film into the cinema space, though it was established in moving the needle in a political way.”

While India’s Daughter was banned shortly before its scheduled release in India because the country said it would “cause too much outrage,” it did move forward in other countries, including the U.K. where it was broadcast following a limited theatrical release. “[The ban] created magnetism to the film,” added Urman. “It’s been screened around the world and at the U.N., but always under the guise of women’s rights. So, we’ve wanted the film to be redefined for the American marketplace as a fine documentary and not just as a document.”

India’s Daughter will open in New York and L.A. in limited release at the Village East and Sundance Sunset 5. PBS will air the documentary in November, but it will continue to add theaters beyond that. Added Urman: “It will doubtlessly intensify as national press like NPR, Christiane Amanpour and national television cover the film.”


Director-writer: Vikas Bahl
Writers: Chaitally Parmar, Anvita Dutt
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Shahid Kapoor, Kumud Pant, Pankaj Kapur, Sanjay Kapoor, Sanah Kapoor
Distributor: FIP

FIP boarded England-set Bollywood film Shaandaar after initial shooting was completed. Its release stateside will coincide with a worldwide bow in 44 countries October 22.

shaandaarposter759The feature centers on a wedding taking place in a castle. Mrs. Kamla Arora, the grandmother of the Arora family, is the sole owner of the billion-dollar business and the property, has planned their wedding. Kamla Arora treats everyone like her servants including her three sons, Bipin (the eldest), Vipul and Vinay. Mr. Fandwani, the groom’s father, is a loud Sindhi businessman who is the counter to Kamla Arora: The Fandwanis dress in gold, accessorize in gold and if possible they drink and eat gold. Based against the backdrop of the Shaandaar wedding is a love triangle between the protagonists – Alia and Jagjinder Joginder and Bipin (Alia’s father). Bipin believes there’s no guy that will be good enough for his daughter while Alia is a dreamer and Jagjinder Joginder is a doer that can make anything happen. Bipin hates Jagjinder Joginder. The journey of Alia, Jagjinder Joginder and Bipin in the chaotic and lavish wedding is the story of Shaandaar.

“The film is a musical rom com with universal appeal and was a perfect fit in our slate of films for 2015,” said Rohit Sharma, Head of International Sales & Distribution Sales at Fox Star Studios India. “It had a fresh pairing of Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt and is directed by Vikas Behl whose last film – Queen was acclaimed by the critics and a great success at the box office.”

Not surprisingly, FIP is targeting a primarily South Asian audience as the feature makes its way into theaters in North America, focusing on Indian pay television channels for promotion in addition to radio and online platforms that are popular with that audience. Talent also are appearing on popular Indian talk shows and serials – and these shows are also seen by South Asian who have access to the Indian pay TV channels in the U.S…,” added Sharma.

Shaandaar opened today in 132 North American theaters and will add four more theaters tomorrow. “The release is simultaneous across the world as we need to counter piracy and the audiences of Bollywood films prefer to watch the film the same weekend it releases in India,” said Sharma. “For most of the Indian audiences across the world – watching  Bollywood films are a way of connecting back to their country and its culture.”