Consistent with the season, the weekend continues to be fairly packed with newcomers, though a bit less crazed than last week. Screen Media Films is opening American Hero, starring Stephen Dorff as a slacker-cum-unlikely superhero in nearly 11 cities in a day-and-date roll out. GKIDS is hoping to capitalize on a successful festival run for its qualifying release of Brazilian animated feature Boy And The World, while Gravitas Ventures is opening The Bleeding Heart starring Jessica Biel and Zosia Mamet in theaters in the wake of its ultra-VOD release last month. Filmmaker Daryl Wein and co-writer/star Zoe Lister-Jones are taking their GMO narrative, Consumed, out via their film company and Gathr in “event screenings” over the next few months ahead of an on-demand release, while Factory 25 bowed cult drama Stinking Heaven Wednesday in New York before heading to Chicago Friday. And Paramount is taking The Big Short out to a short-list of theaters this weekend before going wide later this month. The title, which stars a dizzying number of big names, has packed on Awards recognition recently from SAG and National Board of Review as well as Thursday morning’s several Golden Globe nominations including one for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.

American HeroAmerican Hero
Director-writer: Nick Love
Cast: Stephen Dorff, Eddie Griffin, Bill Billions, Jonathan Billions, Andrea Cohen, Luis Da Silva Jr., Keena Ferguson
Distributor: Screen Media Films

British-born filmmaker Nick Love had long been a fan of superhero movies, but had an idea about focusing on “B-list superheroes.” “Chronicle (2012) was a big influence,” said Love. “I wrote a treatment based on the idea, but it didn’t quite work because it naturally asked, ‘then where’s Batman and Superman?'” Love then set out on a new treatment that takes a different approach to the genre. It does not have the seemingly required capes, masks or “toxic exposure” that leads to acquired abilities. Instead, the ‘superhero’ is a slacker.

In the film, Stephen Dorff plays reluctant hero, Melvin, who has been suppressing his telekinetic powers for years with booze, drugs and women. In the process, he has failed at practically everything, most of all as a parent to his son. After a brush with death, Melvin decides to use his powers for good and clean up the streets of New Orleans with the help of his best friend/definitely-not-a-sidekick, Lucille (Eddie Griffin).

“I sent my ten-page treatment to Stephen Dorff and he liked it,” said Love who met Dorff in NYC in January, 2014. “He’d seen some of my previous movies and liked their grit. After he said ‘yes,’ we immediately went into pre-production. There was no full script. The idea was to make the antithesis of a super-structured superhero movie. It was to be a journey of discovery.”

American Hero had a one million dollar budget that came via equity investors, pre-sales and tax credits for shooting in New Orleans. “When we arrived in New Orleans, Stephen asked a lot of questions about the character and the role, which is his right to do,” said Love. “So I wrote a couple of scenes so he could get a sense of it. I then gave the scenes to production and they liked what they read and asked for more, so I ended up writing a sixty-page script.” The production turned to Love’s written scripts for scenes involving special effects, but other scenes not involving effects continued to have the original loose form Love had initially envisioned. Added Love: “Originally it was meant to be a documentary style, but it became clear that it got in the way of the story, so we paired it back.”

Love showed a cut to filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron, who is a friend, ahead of the film’s Cannes premiere. Their subsequent conversation brought Love a bit back down to earth in terms of how the title would be released. “I mentioned having it roll out with 4 to 500 prints in America and he started laughing,” said Love. “He said, ‘the world has changed.’ That was quite an experience hearing that. He said that when you make a movie, you just want to get eyes on it and it doesn’t matter how you get those eyes. You don’t want to just do a small art house release and it doesn’t matter if getting eyes is through Apple or whatever.”

Screen Media Films saw the title in Cannes, picking up rights. The title will indeed have a day-and-date bow this weekend, opening at the Village East in New York and AMC Burbank as well as locations in Chicago, Phoenix, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Houston, Tampa, Philadelphia, Atlanta and New Orleans.

Boy and the worldBoy And The World
Director-writer: Alê Abreu
Voices: Marco Aurélio Campos, Vinicius Garcia, Lu Horta
Distributor: GKIDS

Distributor GKIDS picked up U.S. rights for Brazilian animated feature Boy And The World and gave it a healthy festival and word-of-mouth run before taking it out for a qualifying stint this weekend. The company is hoping the title will be in the running for animation awards as the season heads into its final stretch.

The feature centers on Couca, whose cozy rural life is shattered when his father leaves for the city, prompting him to embark on a quest to reunite his family. “The young boy’s journey unfolds like a tapestry, the animation taking on greater complexity as his small world expands. Entering civilization, industrial landscapes are inhabited by animal-machines, with barrios of decoupage streets and shop windows, and flashing neon advertisements that illuminate the night. The story depicts a clash between village and city, hand crafted and mechanized, rich and poor – and throughout the tumult, the heart and soul of the people beats on as a song. The film’s music is on equal footing with the stunning visuals, a soundscape of pan-flute, samba, and Brazilian hip-hop mixing with the whirling carnival colors and exploding fireworks.”

For us, [Boy And The World] was one of these true discoveries,” said GKIDS’ Dave Jesteadt. “We go to a lot of festivals and know a lot of filmmakers. We expect to release new projects from filmmakers we know, but every once-in-a-while, there will be [a gem]. With Boy And The World, we were transported and blown away.”

The feature has won a number of festival prizes including Audience nods at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival and the Mill Valley Film Festival, though it has broken with convention. It has no dialog and adults “speak” with a “backward Portuguese, like a backward ‘Peanuts,'” according to Jesteadt. “It’s a remarkable collaboration between music and image,” he added. “We’re heading into distribution after strong word-of-mouth screenings with influencers. There’s stiff competition in Awards season, but we believe when people see it, it will be [successful].”

Jesteadt said that the title will cross age barriers, noting the main character will be accessible to children, but there’s also a socio/political element that adults will find appealing. The title is rated PG. “It’s similar to Fantasia in that it can open eyes as to what can be done with animation,” said Jesteadt. “At the same time, it delves into deeper themes about factory farming and globalization. We hope it will bring an intergenerational audience.”

GKIDS is openingBoy And The World for a qualifying run at IFC Center and Laemmle Noho in New York and L.A. before going wider in January.

Bleeding HeartBleeding Heart
Director-writer: Diane Bell
Cast: Jessica Biel, Zosia Mamet, Edi Gathegi, Joe Anderson, Kate Burton, Harry Hamlin
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures

Tribeca Film Festival debut Bleeding Heart follows the story of May (Jessica Biel), a yoga instructor who finds herself behaving in ways she’d never have imagined herself, in an effort to protect her newly discovered sister, Shiva (Zosia Mamet) from a less than savory boyfriend.

Bleeding Heart is a very strong, cast-driven film,” noted Gravitas Ventures’ Julie Candelaria. “At Gravitas, we regularly look for cast-driven work where there’s an automatic fan base that will support it. Bleeding Heart has a ‘women power’ [aspect] that we have found success with in the past, including Jamie Babbit’s Addicted To Fresno (2015) and Desiree Akhavan’s Appropriate Behavior (2014).”

Gravitas is targeting a primarily female audience for Bleeding Heart, though Candelaria added that the title has a “great thriller-esque” element that the company hopes will expand the title’s appeal. Jessica Biel has done a round of press including interviews in larger publications like Marie Claire, while filmmaker Diane Bell has also been working the media circuit. The film’s trailer has played various platforms including iTunes, Nylon, and other outlets.

Bleeding Heart had an ‘ultra-VOD’ release in early November. Candelaria would not give exact figures, but said it is “performing well” on-demand. Theatrically, Bleeding Heart will open in 10 theaters in ten markets this weekend including Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta and other cities.

Director-writer: Daryl Wein
Writer: Zoe Lister-Jones
Cast: Zoe Lister-Jones, Victor Garber, Beth Grant, taylor Kinney, Kunal Nayyar, Anthony Edwards, Griffin Dunne, Danny Glover
Distributor: Mister Lister Films in partnership with Gathr

Filmmaker Daryl Wein and writer/actress Zoe Lister-Jones began reading articles about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) seven years ago. Though GMOs have been a subject of muted debate in the U.S. and much more intensive debate in Europe (where genetically modified food must be labeled unlike in America), the topic has not had a lot of attention on the big screen on the narrative front (there have been a few docs). “It had all the makings of a political thriller with real world politics [coinciding] with the ways small farmers are being bullied and spied on as well as how the biotech industry is engineering plants and animals though they’re not required to tell the consumer,” said Wein. “We thought this could be an interesting thriller that is also entertaining.”

Consumed is a dramatic thriller set in the complex world of GMOs. The story is anchored by a working-class, single mother who goes on a journey to uncover the cause of her son’s mysterious illness. Interwoven are the stories of an organic farmer in danger of losing his farm, the CEO of a biotechnology corporation trying to save the world, two scientists on the verge of a major discovery, and an ex-cop caught in the middle of it all.

“[Our film] Breaking Upwards came out in 2010, but we had already completed a first draft of Consumed by 2009,” said Zoe Lister-Jones who co-wrote and stars in both Consumed and Breaking Upwards. “But we ended up putting it aside for a couple of years to work on another project. [Afterward] we picked it up again to do more drafts because there were new real-world political elements that needed updating in the script.”

Wein noted that they tried to get Consumed “made through the system,” but found it particularly difficult to raise funds for a political thriller that also questions an institutional establishment. Instead, the two went the DIY route. “It was a real mom and pop situation,” said Wein. “We raised the financing privately and Zoe and I produced it. We shot in the Illinois heartland with an awesome Chicago crew.”

Wein and Lister-Jones were able to tap Danny Glover to join the cast in addition to other actors who Wein said were able to flex their talent in roles different from their previous work. Consumed shot over 25 days in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois with a lot of local support. “There were a lot of people wearing different hats,” said Wein. “It felt like the town rallied around the film with local people playing extras and helping us find locations. We had an organic farm do all the craft services, so there was great food for the crew.”

Wein added that while the support was strong, some of the local farmers were hesitant to talk much about the GMO industry around them. “Ninety-five percent of the crops around them are genetically modified,” he said. “They’re scared of losing their farms to genetically modified food contamination and they’re afraid to talk about it.”

Similarly to making the film ‘organically,’ Wein and Lister-Jones’ Mister LIster Films is spearheading the title’s release outside the traditional distribution system in partnership with Gathr Films in which local audiences have the chance to set up screenings in a model that’s not unlike TUGG. “We have over 100 screenings set up,” said Wein. “People can go on and put in their zip code and find a screening. If there isn’t one, they can request a screening if they get 50 – 60 of their friends together.”

“It democratizes the process,” said Lister-Jones. “For small films going up against a crowded marketplace, it taps into an audience that’s already interested. We’ve aligned and partnered with a number of interesting organizations like Just Label It and Food Democracy Now.” Consumed will be seen by audiences over the next three to four months via event screenings, followed by VOD and digital platforms including iTunes starting in March.

Stinking HeavenStinking Heaven
Director-writer: Nathan Silver
Writer: Jack Dunphy
Cast: Hannah Gross, Keith Poulson, Deragh Cambell, Eleonore Hendricks, Tallie Medel, Henri Douvry, Carl Kranz
Distributor: Factory 25

During the wrap party for his 2014 release Uncertain Terms, filmmaker Nathan Silver began talking with actors Keith Poulson and Deragh Cambell about a “cult” movie idea he had. “Keith had this Manson look,” said Silver. “It was originally supposed to take place in Texas, but then after speaking with him and [fellow actor] Hannah Gross, I had a [different] notion of what the film would be. We decided it would be [set] at a sober living facility. And then we began rehearsals.”

In Stinking Heaven, spouses Jim and Lucy (Keith Poulson, Deragh Campbell) run a commune in the early ’90s for sober living out of their suburban New Jersey home. The motley members eat, bathe and work together selling homemade “health tea” out of their van. Although there’s constant bickering and plenty of fires to be put out, Jim and Lucy have managed to establish a haven for these outcasts. But the harmony is interrupted when Ann (Hannah Gross), a recovering addict and the ex-lover of one housemate, arrives. Ann’s insidious presence sends the members spiraling out of control, resulting in paranoia, drug relapse and eventually death.

The original script was a 12-page outline, but after shooting began in New Jersey at the family home of producer/actor Carl Kranz, major changes were made to Stinking Heaven‘s outline. “We had to revise it completely after looking at the first week’s footage,” said Silver. “[Jack Dunphy], the producers and I decided to radically change the outline.” Silver worked on the script ahead of the next day’s shoots, though most scenes had a good amount of ad-lib dialog. “We’d arrive on set with scenes in hand, but I was fascinated to see how they would go with [the script] and push it,” said Silver. “[Editing] took place during the shoot.”

Principal photography took place in August, 2014 over 13 days with a day of pick-ups in September. A Kickstarter campaign provided half the film’s budget, with additional funds coming via private investors. The feature debuted at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Fandor came on board for the feature’s on-demand release and Factory 25 boarded for its limited theatrical run. The title played festivals in Wisconsin, Montclair, Maryland, AFI Fest, and Chicago ahead of this weekend’s day and date bow. The feature opened Wednesday in New York for a week run (where Silver will participate in Q&As) and will open in Chicago Friday before heading to L.A. next week.