Inauguration and demonstrations aside, the Specialty focus is of course on the Sundance Film Festival this weekend where distributors load up on titles for the year. At the box office, though, Specialty newcomers are rather thin heading into the weekend. A24’s Trespass Against Us with Brendan Gleeson and Michael Fassbender headlines the list of openers, bowing stateside ahead of its U.K. roll-out in March. Sony Pictures Classics is opening Cannes ’16 prize-winning animation feature The Red Turtle in limited release. Bond360 is opening doc Strike a Pose, following an extensive festival run. The company said it has received a lot of interest from exhibitors at the Art House Convergence, the annual meet-up near Park City of various Specialty indie execs preceding Sundance. And Strand Releasing will bow French filmmaker Alain Guiraudie’s Staying Vertical in New York ahead of a national roll-out.


Trespass Against Us
Director: Adam Smith
Writer: Alastair Siddons
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Michael Fassbender, Lyndsey Marshall, Sean Harris, Rory Kinnear, Killian Scott
Distributor: A24

While working on a documentary in the U.K. about a pirate radio station 15 years ago, filmmaker Adam Smith met Alastair Siddons who had been working on a non-fiction project about a charismatic family named Johnson. Smith had been asked to direct a doc about the family, but ultimately didn’t do so. “He showed me amazing footage of them,” said Smith. “I said for [Alastair Siddons] to write down stories [about them] and that we should do a movie on them one day.”

Trespass Against Us is set across three generations of the Cutler family who live as outlaws in their own anarchic corner of Britain’s richest countryside. Chad Cutler (Michael Fassbender) is heir apparent to his bruising criminal father, Colby (Brendan Gleeson) and has been groomed to spend his life hunting, thieving and tormenting the police. But with his own son, Tyson (Georgie Smith) coming of age, Chad soon finds himself locked in a battle with his father for the future of his young family.

Initially Smith and Siddons had looked for someone to write the script inspired by the Johnsons for Trespass Against Us, but ultimately Siddons bunkered down to do it himself. “He decided to do it over the space of 12 years,” said Smith. “It was inspired by this family and was truthful and authentic. This story hones in on the father-son relationship. I read a lot of scripts, but this was so exciting and fresh. It’s a real ‘slap in the face.’”

The project was developed with Film4 in the U.K. Initially, Smith and Siddons had envisioned a younger person to play Chad, but Michael Fassbender, though a bit older than what the initial conception of Chad would be, was eventually given the role. The script had made its way to Fassbender’s agent and the actor read it immediately. “When Michel heard it was about a band of traveling outlaws, he read it in two days,” said Smith. “He understood Chad on a personal level. He had grown up near a similar family.”

Smith met with Fassbender, who boarded the project immediately, though he wouldn’t be available for a year. Smith said that with Fassbender playing Chad, his casting informed the rest of the roles. “Since there was a bit of an older Chad, we had to have a bit of an older Colby,” said Smith. “Chad’s father has to be a very powerful figure for you to believe he’d stay with him into his early 30s. Brendan Gleeson has that gravitas.”

The setting for Trespass Against Us was in the Cotswolds in the English countryside, an area where the Johnsons had resided. “It’s a rich area, but production-wise, we were told we couldn’t afford to have the whole shoot there because of costs,” said Smith. “So we shot two weeks in the Cotswolds and then partly in the Chiltons [in England].” The film shot over a total of seven weeks. Smith asked the Chemical Brothers to do the film’s score. Smith had shot a number of music videos with the group, though he was looking for something different for Trespass Against Us.

“Their music has an energy and an anarchy to it, but also a deep emotional connection,” said Smith. “But I didn’t want a ‘Chemical Brothers’ soundtrack. I wanted it to [be right for the film]. The process was interesting.”

Trespass Against Us debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival and later played festivals in Chicago, Austin, Virginia and Denver. A24, which picked up the title in late 2014, will open it in over 20 markets Friday including Cinema Village in New York and Laemmle Music Hall in Los Angeles.

Sony Pictures Classics

The Red Turtle
Director-writer: Michael Dudok de Wit
Writer: Pascale Ferran
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Studio Ghibli invited Michael Dudok de Wit to propose a feature film in late 2006. The venerable Japanese animation studio had been a fan of de Wit’s short animated films, particularly Father and Daughter (2000), which won Best Short Animated film at the Oscars. The Red Turtle is the director’s first feature animation. “I’m a huge fan of their films and I know them all,” said the Dutch-born filmmaker. “I know them all. It was too good to be true and I immediately said, ‘yes.’”

De Wit, however, didn’t have a particular story in mind, but instead a ‘theme’ that is quite a popular one among children’s tales and beyond, though he thought of doing his with a twist. “It is of a castaway on a deserted island,” he explained. “It’s a popular theme for reality shows and I remember watching Robinson Crusoe on French television. I found that to be quite a profound story of [survival]…, but this wasn’t going to be my main motivation. The main theme here is more about who you are and your relationship with nature when you’re alone for a very long time.”

De Wit’s castaway revolves around a man shipwrecked on a tropical island inhabited by turtles, crabs and birds, The Red Turtle recounts the milestones in the life of a human being without dialogue.

De Wit wrote a script over about six months. After completing a workable draft, he headed to Tokyo where he presented it to Studio Ghibli. “They thought about it for one night and then they said, ‘Let’s go ahead,’” he said. Studio Ghibli had Paris-based film outfit Wild Bunch board the project and later French production companies Prima Linea and Why Not Productions also joined.

Animation took between June, 2013 and April, 2016 to complete. De Wit and the film’s producers hoped to complete it in time for it to play in Cannes. The Red Turtle won a Special Jury prize in the festival’s Un Certain Regard section.

The Red Turtle opened not long after Cannes in France and a few other European territories. The number of admissions in France is about 400,000, according to de Wit. Sony Classics will open the title in limited release beginning Friday.


Strike a Pose
Directors: Ester Gould, Rijer Zwaan
Subjects: Luis Camacho, Oliver Crumes, Salim Gauwloos, Jose Xtravaganza, Devin Alexander Stea, Carlton Wilborn, Madonna
Distributor: Bond360

Documentary Strike a Pose debuted at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival and later at Tribeca. The title not-so-coincidentally played a heavy festival circuit over the year, marking the 25th anniversary of Madonna’s Truth Or Dare, the seminal documentary about the pop star, her dancers and the singer’s controversial early ‘90s concert tour, directed by Alek Keshishian.

Strike a Pose captures the lives of seven of Madonna’s young male dancers who in 1990 – six gay, one straight – joined Madonna on her most controversial stage tour, Blonde Ambition. Now, 25 years later, they reveal the truth about life during and after the infamous tour.

Strike a Pose was picked up by Netflix for worldwide rights and we picked up a theatrical window and sold a short television window to Logo,” said Bond360’s Elizabeth Sheldon. “I had been tracking it for a long time. We acquired the film because it’s smart and not ‘tabloidy’ or voyeuristic. It’s about the dancers and their stories. Madonna’s Blonde Ambition Tour was very cutting edge. Strike a Pose is very personal, but it’s also about the larger picture of what was going on then. It doesn’t just re-tread what Truth Or Dare did. There has been a death from AIDS, and the tour was at the height of the fear from the epidemic and taking place when people were retracting.”

Sheldon added that Bond360 is looking for more LGBT films, during a chat at the Art House Convergence ahead of Sundance. She said that she’s had a number of inquiries about the film during the three-day event, which brings together art house operators along with festival organizers and distributors. For now, Strike a Pose opened at IFC Center Wednesday and will head to Los Angeles next week. It is booked in about 20 cities with more pending.

Strike a Pose will be shown on Logo April 6 and be available via Netflix April 9.

Strand Releasing

Staying Vertical
Director-writer: Alain Guiraudie
Cast: Damien Bonnard, India Hair, Raphaël Thiéry, Christian Bouillette, Basile Meilleurat, Laure Calamy
Distributor: Strand Releasing

French director Alain Guiraudie shocked some audiences with his 2013 title Stranger By the Lake ($325K-plus domestic gross). Distributor Strand is releasing his follow-up, Staying Vertical, which screened in competition at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, where the company first saw the film, and later played the New York Film Festival.

Described as a “surreal black comedy,” Staying Vertical centers on Léo (Damien Bonnard), a blocked filmmaker seeking inspiration in the French countryside for an overdue script, begins an affair with a shepherdess (India Hair), with whom he almost immediately has a child.

“Cinephiles and fans of Guiraudie’s work along with Francophiles and art house fans who like edgy cinema are [Staying Vertical’s core audience],” noted Strand’s co-president Marcus Hu. “There’s a post-Academy lull and we’ve opened films successfully that have a pedigree in the marketplace [during this time period] with good results.”

Strand said it plans to release 12 to 14 titles theatrically in 2017, which is on par with recent years.

Staying Vertical will have a traditional platform release in New York and Los Angeles Friday followed by a roll-out around the country.