Fresh off its Tribeca Film Festival premiere, Jason Bateman’s The Family Fang, starring himself along with Christopher Walken and Nicole Kidman, begins its theatrical run. This is Bateman’s second directorial feature, following his 2014 debut, Bad Words. Fang joins a hefty crowd of Specialty newcomers this weekend, including IFC Films’ Toronto feature The Man Who Knew Infinity starring Jeremy Irons and Dev Patel, which had its theatrical premiere and party in New York’s Chelsea Wednesday night. Two very different films set and filmed in Cuba are also hitting the big screen. Yuri Film Group is releasing its Key West Film Festival opener Papa Hemingway In Cuba in 300 theaters, while Magnolia is opening Irish-produced Spanish-language feature Viva in over a dozen locations. And Oscilloscope is heading out with L’attesa (The Wait) starring Juliette Binoche in a traditional rollout.
Also heading into limited release this weekend are Focus World’s Term Life, opening in 46 markets through a variety of AMC locations and independent theaters, along with Big World Pictures’ Viktoria. Abramorama’s The Barber Of Seville opened on Tuesday, as did A Beautiful Planet from Buena Vista. And Zeitgeist bowed Eva Hesse on Wednesday.
The Family Fang
Director: Jason Bateman
Writers: Kevin Wilson (novel), David Lindsay-Abaire (screenplay)
Cast: Christopher Walken, Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Marin Ireland, Harris Yulin, Eugenia Kuzmina, Jason Butler Harner
Distributor: Starz Digital
Starz Media’s Ryan Heller and Michael Messina caught Jason Bateman’s sophomore feature directorial The Family Fang at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
Based on the 2011 novel of the same name by Kevin Wilson, the feature centers on two siblings, Baxter and Annie Fang (Bateman and Nicole Kidman) who return to their family home in search of their world famous parents (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett) who have disappeared. Initially, Annie believes her parents, who are performance artists, are engaged in an elaborate prank., though Baxter believes something else is afoot. During their investigation, the two begin to confront unresolved issues from their non-traditional upbringing.
“Ryan and I saw the premiere in Toronto and fell in love with it immediately as did the rest of the Starz team,” said Messina. “We thought Jason did an amazing job and we were impressed with Nicole’s job…It was a big priority title for us.” Focus Features opened Bateman’s feature directorial debut, Bad Words, in six theaters in March, 2014 with a healthy $113,301 gross ($18,884 average). It went on to cume over $7.77 million.
Heller said The Family Fang’s core audience will be in the 35- 54 range with a “good split,” though skewing female. The feature had a high-profile U.S. Premiere at the recent Tribeca Film Festival, bringing out cast who gave it a push ahead of its theatrical rollout this weekend. Bateman appeared on the Today show and did other studio appearances. The title is also being featured in magazine spreads in both long-lead press as well as weekly and dailies. “It’s a good grown-up movie, which is evident in the theaters we’re playing,” said Heller. “We’ll have a quick VOD window, which will help us grab a broader audience for the movie.”
Start Digital will open The Family Fang exclusively at the Angelika in New York this weekend. Next Friday, the title will head to about another 40 markets, reaching around 50 markets by May 13. The feature will also be on-demand beginning May 6. Added Heller: “We’re also hoping for a strong performance at the Angelika this weekend, which should open the door to additional engagements.”
The Man Who Knew Infinity
Director-writer: Matthew Brown
Writer: Robert Kanigel (novel)
Cast: Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, Malcolm Sinclair, Stephen Fry, Devika Bhise, Raghuvir Joshi, Toby Jones, Dhritiman Chatterjee
Distributor: IFC Films
Writer-director Matthew Brown and executive producer Tristine Skyler were visiting Brown’s aunt in Big Sur when Skyler noticed a book in her library. Thinking it would be of interest to Brown since he was researching the WWI era, she showed him The Man Who Knew Infinity by Robert Kanigel since it was set during the era. Brown was immediately intrigued by the story of the person at the center of the novel, mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, and reached out to the author with the idea of adapting it to the screen. After meeting, Brown took the project to producer Sofia Sondervan who submitted it to Edward Pressman, who boarded the project as producer.
The Man Who Knew Infinity is the true story of friendship that forever changed mathematics. In 1913, Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel), a self-taught Indian mathematics genius, traveled to Trinity College, Cambridge, where over the course of five years, forged a bond with his mentor, the brilliant and eccentric professor, G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons), and fought against prejudice to reveal his mathematic genius to the world. This is Ramanujan’s story as seen through Hardy’s eyes.
“The movie plays great,” said IFC Films president Jonathan Sehring at the film’s NYC premiere Wednesday night. “It’s an audience movie with two major stars and one who is up and coming. Jeremy Irons is ‘art house catnip’ as [my colleague John Vanco] would say. [Irons and Patel] both are very supportive of the movie. It’s a unique film that captures genius, and spirituality.” IFC Films is expecting “educated audiences” including mathematicians, Silicon Valley-oriented groups and others who enjoy cerebral storytelling to find appeal in The Man Who Knew Infinity. The company first saw the title at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival where it had its World Premiere.
“I don’t want to call it a rags to riches story, because I don’t think Srinivasa Ramanujan ever enjoyed riches, but for someone of his background to end up at Cambridge during that [time period] is remarkable,” said Sehring. “And it has a producer like Ed Pressman behind it who had the vision to make it happen is special.” The film had its theatrical premiere Wednesday night, hosted by New York publicist Peggy Siegal, who brought out a nice guest list including Gabriel Byrne, J.C. Chandor, Joanna Coles, Steve Kroft, Bennett Miller, Emily Mortimer and Lawrence O’Donnell. at the Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas, along with principles from the film.
IFC Films will open The Man Who Knew Infinity in six theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco this Friday. It will head out wider in the coming weeks.
Papa Hemingway In Cuba
Director: Bob Yari
Writer: Denne Bart Petitclerc
Cast: Adrian Sparks, Giovanni Ribisi, Joely Richardson, James Remar, Minka Kelly, Mariel Hemingway, Shaun Toub, Anthony Molinari, Daniel Travis
Distributor: Yari Film Group
Papa Hemingway had its debut as the Opening Night film of the Key West Film Festival in November where the legendary writer lived part of his life. The feature then screened at the Havana Film Festival in December, not far from another place Hemingway called home. Filmmaker Bob Yari had first read the story a decade ago, and acquired the script from writer Denne Bart Petitclerc’s widow in 2009.
Set during the onset of Cuban Revolution, Papa Hemingway In Cuba is the true story about the relationship between Miami journalist Ed Myers (Giovanni Ribisi) and Ernest Hemingway (Adrian Sparks). In 1959, Myers set out on a mission to meet his idol. Hidden away at a private estate with his wife Mary (Joely Richardson), the elusive author mentors Myers in fishing, drinking, and finding his voice, while the Cuban Revolution boils around them. In this turbulent landscape, beholding an icon in his twilight years, Myers discovers his strength, while recognizing that all of our heroes are human.
“Bob wanted to shoot this in Cuba,” said producer Amanda Harvey who said that those leading the project’s initial attempt had planned to shoot in Portugal. “[Petitclerc] passed away in 2006 and the rights reverted back to his wife. After a year of passionately telling her he wanted to make this film, she agreed to let him take the reins around 2009. Bob decided he’d direct Papa with Denne’s vision untouched.”
By the time the filmmakers went to the Department of Treasury in 2012, more restrictions were in place for permission to be granted to film in Cuba than exist today. They made the case that it mirrored a documentary (an acceptable category for permission in 2012) because the script was a straight retelling of Hemingway’s life in Cuba. After an initial decline by the U.S. government, the filmmaking team brought on lawyers and were then given permission, though with the caveat of a restricted amount of money that could be spent in the Caribbean country. “We had a Canadian financier, but because we had a cap, we decided to hire an international crew,” said Harvey. “So we ended up with a crew that was ten percent American and 90 percent Cuban and South Americans.”
The Cuban government reviewed the script and gave its blessing. Officials also arranged use of Hemingway’s estate, Finca Vigia for the shoot, a coup for the production. Since his death, the estate has been used as a museum, though visitors are normally only allowed to look through windows. “We were honored that they gave us unprecedented access,” said Harvey. “We shot in the home for two weeks. We didn’t change Denne’s words. This really is the historical reenactment.”
Papa shot over six weeks, finishing in May, 2014 with locations in Cuba actually doubling for scenes set in Miami — likely a first. Though production had access to the estate, infrastructure did pose a challenge, according to Harvey. “Once you walk out of a hotel down there, there’s no internet. It teaches you to find solutions with the resources that are right in front of you. You have to be very creative. The Cubans are very resourceful.”
Following its debut at Key West Film Festival (with a party at his home on the island), the title screened at the Havana Film Festival, filling the 1,600-seat Yara theater. Yari Film Group is releasing the title itself. The feature will open in more than 300 theaters in a traditional window this weekend.
Director: Paddy Breathnach
Writer: Mark O’Halloran
Cast: Héctor Medina, Jorge Perugorría, Luis Alberto García, Renata Maikel Machin Blanco, Luis Manuel Alvarez, Paula Andrea Ali rivera, Laura Alemán Oscar, Ibarra Napoles, Mark O’Halloran
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Irish producer Rob Walpole went to Cuba in the mid-90s sowing the seeds for this weekend’s release of Viva. Walpole went with friends to a club and was suddenly transfixed by a drag performer who appeared. “I was captivated,” said Walpole. “It was just one of those things. Our experience of drag in Ireland or England is of ‘high camp.’ But in Cuba, there were these deep emotional songs. Homosexuality was still [little heard of] there at the time, so it was amazing that this was going on. We always knew there was something in this story.”
Viva follows Jesus who does makeup for a troupe of drag performers in Havana, but dreams of being a performer. When he finally gets his chance to be on stage, a stranger emerges from the crowd and punches him in the face. The stranger is his father Angel, a former boxer, who has been absent from his life for 15 years. As father and son clash over their opposing expectations of each other, Viva becomes a love story as the men struggle to understand one another and become a family again.
“After many years — and many films — went by, we got into contact with [writer] Mark O’Halloran about the story. He went down to live in Cuba on and off for about a year before writing the first script. He’s not someone who turns around screenplays very quickly, but you can tell there’s a lot of craft and ingenuity that goes into it.”
Walpole and producing partner Rebecca O’Flanagan decided to make the film in Spanish, but although they had contacts throughout the industry through their previous projects, most were skeptical an Irish filmmaking team would be able to tell a Cuban story in Spanish. “Rebecca and I decided maybe we could just make it form what we could raise from the Irish Film Board and [other] Irish sources,” said Walpole. “No international marketplace wanted to give us money. We are incredibly lucky we live in Ireland where it’s possible to get something funded when the marketplace says, ‘No.’ So we went to the Irish Film Board and [received funds] from them along with Irish TV and others.” The script went through several drafts to properly convey O’Halloran’s English script in Spanish.
In 2014, the filmmaking team headed to Cuba to find a producing partner and begin the casting process. They quickly began working with local outfit, Island Films, as co-producer. There was a process of script approval, though Walpole said that there was “no question about material having to be altered.” Aside from the producing team, director Paddy Breathnach as well as DP Cathal Watters and a designer, the crew were Cuban. Casting was done locally.
“We shot in November over four weeks,” said Walpole. “It was the most amazing experience. We were operating without email. We had a 1964 Chevrolet limousine, so fifteen of us would get into it and go to work every day. There was something joyous about pairing everything back to the bare essentials.”
Viva debuted at the 2015 Telluride Film Festival, followed by Palm Springs and Sundance. Walpole has a standing relationship with Magnolia president Eamonn Bowles, going back to the latter’s previous tenure at the Shooting Gallery. “We have done maybe six films with him,” added Walpole. “They’re very creative. The poster and trailer for [Viva] are absolutely fantastic in our view.” Magnolia will open Viva in 16 locations in North America this weekend, including several theaters in the Los Angeles area as well as the Angelika in New York in addition to 8 runs in the Miami area. The title will head to several other cities the following week including San Francisco and Chicago, with further expansions throughout May and into June.
L’attesa (The Wait)
Director-writer: Piero Messina
Writers: Giacomo Bendotti, Ilaria Macchia, Andrea Paolo Massara, Luigi Pirandello
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Giorgio Colangeli, Lou de Laâge, Domenico Diele, Antonio Folletto, Corinna Locastro, Giovanni Anzaldo
Oscilloscope’s L’attesa (The Wait) boasts the attention to aesthetic evident in Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty. Not coincidentally, L’attesa’s filmmaker, Piero Messina, served as Sorrentino’s assistant director on the Oscar-winning film.
Set in Sicily, L’attest navigates a range of emotions in telling the strange story of the relationship between two women from different generations. Academy Award-winner Juliette Binoche stars as Anna, who is meeting her son Giuseppe’s French girlfriend, Jeanne (Lou de Laâge), in the lead-up to Easter festivities. Young and enchanting, Jeanne arrived with excitement before Giuseppe, whose continued delays and lack of presence cast a dark, mysterious shadow over the household. Why is Giuseppe not here and when will he appear? As Anna and Jeanne wait, they grow closer than either imagined they would, despite the secrets they’re harboring from one another.
“It’s a very striking piece of filmmaking,” said Oscilloscope exec Andrew Carlin. “Piero Messina is a protege of Paulo Sorrentino…which is obvious when you see the film. Juliette Binoche and Lou de Laâge are great. The film encapsulates what we want to see when we go to the movies.”
Oscilloscope is going after the core art house audience who are loyal to French-born actress Juliette Binoche. The company is opening at the Royal in Los Angeles and at the Sunshine in New York this Friday. L’attesa (The Wait), as it’s officially titled stateside, will head to the Bay Area next Friday before heading to the top 20-25 cities in mid to late May. Added Carlin: “It’s going to have a very traditional theatrical platform release.” Digital/VOD will follow this summer.