Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall star in Bleecker Street’s Denial, opening this weekend only weeks after its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival. The New York-based distributor is targeting its core adult audience for the bio-drama based on a true story. A24, meanwhile, will bow filmmaker Andrea Arnold’s Cannes Jury Prize-winner American Honey, starring newcomer Sasha Lane along with Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough. After a raucous party in Toronto, the title debuted at the Landmark Sunshine in New York the other week with Arnold, cast and a cadre of stars partying at nightspot DL Rooftop. The title will head nationwide in October. FIP will open M.S. Dhoni — The Untold Story about India’s most celebrated cricket player in North America alongside its roll out in the subcontinent, while Music Box is debuting Sweden’s pick for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration, A Man Called Ove. And Magnolia Pictures is opening doc Danny Says about “underground mayor of New York” Danny Fields in a day and date release.
Also among limited release debuts this weekend are China Lion’s I Belonged to You, Well Go USA’s Operation MeKong, First Run’s Among the Believers, Freestyle Releasing’s Clinton, Inc., Starz Media’s Flock of Dudes and FilmRise’s Harry & Snowman. Shout! Factory Films opens animated feature Long Way North today in Los Angeles and New York, with additional cities to follow in October.
Director-writer: Mick Jackson
Writer: Deborah Lipstadt (book), David Hare
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, Jack Lowden
Distributor: Bleecker Street
Bleecker Street boarded bio-drama Denial over a year ago based on the script, and provided financing. It debuted at the recent Toronto International Film Festival, where exhibitors expressed enthusiasm for the title, according to the distributor.
Based on the book Denial: Holocaust on Trial, Denial recounts Deborah E. Lipstadt’s (Rachel Weisz) legal battle for historical truth against David Irving (Timothy Spall), who accused her of libel when she declared him a Holocaust denier. In the English legal system, in cases of libel, the burden of proof is on the defendant, therefore it was up to Lipstadt and her legal team, led by Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), to prove the essential truth that the Holocaust occurred.
“We planned for this weekend to be the roll out,” said Jack Foley, president of Distribution at Bleecker Street. “It’s a good time of the year for high-end films, so it was a double benefit to use Toronto to set it up and send it off… [October] has more and more become a stronger [time] for adult films.”
Foley gave kudos to fellow releases Sully and Snowden for stimulating audiences looking for adult fare. He also said the competition in the genre has not been as “cut-throat” as it has been in years past, adding: “There are important wide releases like The Accountant, The Girl On the Train etc., but for that adult core, we’ll be playing with great visibility.”
Foley added that the film itself has various layers of support as it heads out this weekend, including the high regard for the book, telling the true story as well as its tense court room drama.
“This film is also very close to home for the Jewish community,” added Foley. “There’s been a tremendous outpouring of interest, which we have seen in group sales all around the country…” The upcoming Jewish holidays, Foley acknowledged, may result in a pause from members of that community, but expects word-of-mouth to drive interest afterward. “Hopefully people will be talking about it at synagogues between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,” he said.
Bleecker Street will open Denial in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, followed by 10 additional markets October 7 including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Minneapolis, San Diego, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. It will then head to about 16 other cities October 14 ahead of going nationwide in late October. Added Foley: “It’s exciting to be a part of this film. It deals with truths. The Jewish Congress in New York is already all over this film. It’s that important.”
Director-writer: Andrea Arnold
Cast: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough
Producers Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy met British-born filmmaker Andrea Arnold in Cannes and then followed up with her a few months later in New York, while she took part in a program run through the Film Society of Lincoln Center called Filmmaker in Residence, which allowed her to concentrate on developing her American-set project.
Cast with a mixture of non-professional actors along with some pros, American Honey revolves around Star (Sasha Lane), a teenage girl from a troubled home who runs away with a traveling sales crew that drives across the American Midwest selling magazine subscriptions door to door. Finding her feet in this gang of teenagers, one of whom is Jake (Shia LaBeouf), she soon gets into the group’s lifestyle of hard partying, law-bending and young love.
“I came to the project when I joined [Knudsen and Van Hoy’s company] Parts and Labor two and a half years ago,” said producer Julia Oh who had also worked with the two producers previously. “When Jay told me they were going to do Andrea’s movie, I said I’d join the company… She had come to the states to write this movie, and her Residency helped speed up that process.”
Arnold had a unique approach to the feature’s development in that she wanted to street cast many of the characters in the script. She worked together with two casting directors, Lucy Pardee and Jennifer Venditti, and put together a series of short road trips over the course of 14 months. “They’d go to a small town Andrea had visited once in West Virginia, or to Panama City, FL, then Tennessee or Texas,” said Oh. “[The locations] were a combination of where the ‘magazine crew’ would be from. We also cast [a lot of] the kids through Facebook. Many of them didn’t have cell phones, so [Facebook] was also a way to keep in touch with them…”
Arnold had financial support from Film4 and the British Film Institute (BFI), which supported Arnold’s vision, including its unusual approach to casting. Additional support came via Maven Pictures as well as U.K. tax credits for post work.
Principals Riley Keogh and Shia LaBeouf came on early, while Arnold found Sasha Lane on a Florida beach while the then soon-to-be actor was on Spring Break.
“Andrea’s process set the tone for how we produced it,” said Oh. “She wanted us all to go on a road trip and live like the ‘mag crew’ and keep it as authentic as possible… Four weeks before the shoot, a smaller advance team [traveled with] Andrea and they drove to find which locations would be right.”
Oh added that the lifestyle of the production needed to mirror the magazine kids in the feature. Nobody was allowed to fly between locations and crew stayed in the same motels that the ‘mag crew,’ as Julia Oh called them, had to stay in. “We wouldn’t have big film production vehicles, so people had to caravan in SUVs and little mini-vans,” added Oh. “I think this enhanced the style and helped us find the story. We’d also cast locals as much as possible when filming in a particular town.” American Honey shot over seven and-a-half weeks.
A year later, American Honey debuted in Cannes (this past May), which Oh said was a “family reunion of sorts.” A24 picked up the title ahead of its premiere. Parts and Labor had worked with the distributor on The Witch not long before. Added Oh: “The fact they reacted with such passion for the film and Andrea, we felt we were in the rights hands.”
A24 will open American Honey in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles this weekend ahead of adding more locations in the coming weeks.
M.S. Dhoni — The Untold Story
Director-writer: Neeraj Pandey
Cast: Sushant Singh Rajput, Kiara Advani, Anupam Kher
In 2015, producers from Inspired Entertainment approached Fox Star Studios India about a biopic on the life of M.S. Dhoni, a national icon in the sub-continent who is considered the most successful Indian cricket captain.
M.S. Dhoni – The Untold Story chronicles the journey of a man who India has come to see as the one who shaped the collective dreams of a billion countrymen – and the world has come to applaud as a master cricketer and a gentleman of the game. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was born in a middle class family, with a father who nurtured the dream of his son securing an adequate education and a stable job. Mahi’s dexterity on wicket keeping was first spotted by his school teacher. From that stage on, Mahi encountered an array of people – coaches, mentors, friends and even enemies – all of them who shaped the incredible journey of an ordinary teenager from a small town of eastern India to the most successful captain of team India.
“[Dhoni] was clear that [it be about] the journey of a professional sportsperson and that’s what it should depict,” said Rohit Sharma Head of International Sales & Distribution Sales at Fox Star Studios India PVT Ltd. “Cricket is a religion amongst Indians. The two most popular forms of entertainment for Indians across the globe are Bollywood movies and cricket. This film is a combination of both and was a perfect fit for our 2016 lineup.”
In order to spread the word leading up to this weekend’s North American release, FIP is employing an “aggressive marketing plan” across different media platforms starting from Indian pay TV channels and social media platforms. The campaign’s kick off included a press conference with Dhoni in New York on September 15.
“We have done various contests with the Dhoni merchandise to target the loyal cricket fans,” added Sharma. “We have also targeted all the popular Indian sport channels in the US to get maximum visibility for the film.”
Generally speaking Sharma said that the top 30 releases in India, “Do well in the U.S.,” adding: “The Indian diaspora audience in the U.S. has similar tastes in films. There is a huge Indian audience in the U.S. that is watching Indian films on a regular basis. The majority of Indian films are released day and date in the U.S. along with India.” M. S. Dhoni – The Untold Story will open in about 260 North American theaters this Friday.
A Man Called Ove
Director-writer: Hannes Holm
Writer: Fredrik Backman (novel)
Cast: Rolf Lassgård, Filip Berg, Ida engvoll, Bahar Pars, Tobias Almborg, Klas Wiljergard, Chatarina Larsson, Borje Lundberg
Distributor: Music Box Films
A Man Called Ove is Sweden’s entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration this year. The title won three nods including the Audience Award and Best Actor Award at the Guldbagge Awards — Sweden’s equivalent to the Oscars. Distributor Music Box Films caught the title earlier this year at the Berlinale where Trust Nordisk was selling world rights.
The feature centers on an isolated retiree with strict principles and a short fuse. He spends his days enforcing block association rules that only he cares about, and visiting his wife’s grave. Ove has given up on life. Enter a boisterous young family next door who accidentally flattens Ove’s mailbox while moving in and earning his special brand of ire. Yet from this inauspicious beginning an unlikely friendship forms and we come to understand Ove’s past happiness and heartbreaks. What emerges is a heartwarming tale of unreliable first impressions and the gentle reminder that life is sweeter when it’s shared.
“The film had already become one of Sweden’s all time local hits. It is based on a book that had become an international best seller and was already on the New York Times Best Seller list,” said Music Box’s Ed Arentz. “We’ve had some significant success with past Swedish box office hits based on popular novels [such as] The Dragon Tattoo trilogy in 2010 and The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared in 2015, so this film was obviously on our radar.”
Since acquiring A Man Called Ove, the book has reached number two on the New York Times trade fiction list, so the company has targeted its marketing to reach the novel’s nearly one million readers. Music Box worked with 360 Degree Communications to communicate with this crowd.
“[We’ve] worked closely with the publisher, promoted the film release on popular websites for book lovers where the book was first championed, doing a lot of old fashioned outreach to sellers, libraries, clubs and bloggers. We’ve provided book marks and posters and the enthusiasm has been really encouraging,” said Arentz. “There are in-store and in-library displays at locations in all of our initial markets and this will be repeated throughout the release.” The company has combined reader outreach with festival and word-of-mouth screenings. Director Hannes Holm is currently on a multi-city personal appearance tour.
“Simply being an official selection is not a significant factor for audiences,” commented Arentz about the relationship at this stage with the film’s Awards prospects and its influence on reaching audiences. “People only begin to pay attention once a film becomes a nominee but that’s still a ways off in mid-January. In theory a successful theatrical release in the fall that generates positive reviews, great word of mouth and stays on screen for a significant period, which should help raise the profile of a film… Beyond that it comes down to the reactions of the voters in the foreign language Oscar screening committees…”
Music Box will have a traditional roll out for A Man Called Ove, opening in locations in New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Seattle and Chicago in a total of nine theaters. Added Arentz: “Minneapolis, Seattle and Chicago have a definable Scandinavian-American presence and over-performed on our past Swedish hits so these were naturals to add to the break. In the next several weeks and through early November we will expand steadily into the top 100 plus markets.”
Director-writer: Brendan Toller
Subjects: Danny Fields, Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Judy Collins, Tommy Ramone, Justin Bond
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Once dubbed the underground “mayor of New York,” Danny Fields played a pivotal role in the music and culture of the late 20th century, working for The Doors, Cream, Lou Reed and Nico, and managing groundbreaking artists like The Stooges, MC5 and The Ramones. The feature follows Fields from Harvard Law dropout to “hippie yenta” at Warhol’s Factory, to Director of Publicity at Elektra Records, to punk pioneer and beyond. Led by Fields’ own droll commentary and largely crafted from over 250 hours of interviews and items from his immense archive including thousands of photographs, audio cassettes and ephemera, the film features anecdotes recounted by Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Judy Collins, Tommy Ramone, Lenny Kaye, Wayne Kramer, and John Cameron Mitchell among many others.
“We are huge fans of Danny Fields. He is a NYC legend, the hero of one of our favorite books, Please Kill Me, and the guiding force behind several of the greatest and most important rock bands of all time,” said Magnolia’s Matt Cowal. “He was a participant in some of the most important cultural moments of the 20th century. Also, he was responsible for the ‘bigger than Jesus’ uproar that basically ended the Beatles touring career…”
Danny Says participated in the inaugural Art House Theater Day last Saturday as a featured film in the program, playing a single showing in many of the leading art houses cinemas across the country. The company saw this as a boon in getting the word out ahead of its regular release this weekend. “We viewed this as a paid word of mouth opportunity leading us into our theatrical and VOD launch this Friday,” said Cowal. “The core audience for this film is rock music fans, and we’ve had some great publicity hits with Danny that we hope are going to reach that audience.”
Magnolia is no stranger to music-themed docs. It has released The Wrecking Crew (2015, $801,606 theatrical gross), Muscle Shoals (2013, $696K), Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (2013, $106K) and Marley (2012, $1.41M).
Magnolia will open Danny Says day and date in limited theaters as well as on-demand via Amazon and iTunes Friday.