Fox Searchlight is taking Wilson, starring Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern and Judy Greer, to more than 300 theaters this weekend. The title, which debuted at Sundance in January, is one of a slew of specialty newcomers. Spring tends to usher in more limited releases, which would be welcome following a mostly slow start of 2017. FIP is taking Indian fantasy feature Phillauri to 74 locations today. Submarine Deluxe and FilmRise are bowing their docu I Called Him Morgan about jazz musician Lee Morgan with an exclusive New York run, while Gravitas Ventures is opening Charlie Siskel’s American Anarchist, which spotlights The Anarchist Cookbook author William Powell. And distribution newcomer Shudder is going out day-and-date with comedy-thriller Prevenge following a long festival run, including most recently at SXSW.
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Other limited releases this weekend include River Rain’s sports drama Slamma Jamma and Monterey Media’s The Levelling.
Director: Craig Johnson
Writer: Daniel Clowes (screenplay and novel)
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Judy Greer, Cheryl Hines, Isabella Amara
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Producer Jared Ian Goldman and filmmaker Craig Johnson made The Skeleton Twins (2014), and following that film, Johnson took a meeting with Fox Searchlight to discuss a possible next project. The company had the rights to Wilson, written by Daniel Clowes, who penned the screenplay as well as the novel it is based on.
In the film, Woody Harrelson stars as Wilson, a lonely, neurotic and hilariously honest middle-aged misanthrope who reunites with his estranged wife (Laura Dern) and gets a shot at happiness when he learns he has a teenage daughter (Isabella Amara) he has never met. In his uniquely outrageous and slightly twisted way, he sets out to connect with her.
Johnson pushed for Harrelson in the title role. After some internal finagling, the actor was in. “Once Woody was on board, there was a window of time [to make the project],” said fellow producer Mary Jane Skalski. “So with that, things started to fall into a schedule. He joined in January 2015, and we shot that summer.”
“Because financing was already in place, we concentrated on location scouting and finding cast [and crew] simultaneously,” added Skalski. “It all came together in February and March. Usually when you’re [still finding financing] you can’t do it that way.”
Dern joined the cast, and Frederick Elmes came on as cinematographer, which ended up being a reunion of sorts for the two.
“Laura and Fred worked on David Lynch’s Wild at Heart and Blue Velvet, so when she showed up [on set] and they saw each other, they were so excited,” said Goldman. “It was great listening to them talk about their stories from those movies.”
Shooting took place in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area over 30 days. Two-thirds of the film’s speaking roles were filled by local actors. The city also became very aware that a film was being shot in the metro area. “We’d turn on the radio and the [DJs] would be talking about Woody Harrelson sightings,” said Goldman. “That would never happen in New York or L.A.”
Another local touch was when the producers befriended a resident who helped with locations, sparking a friendship and some getaways. “We met this guy who was our connection to the city,” said Skalski. “We even went to his lake house on weekends, so we’d be by the lake then and then shoot a movie during the week.”
Wilson debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The title opens today in 300-plus theaters across the U.S. and Canada.
Director: Anshai Lal
Writer: Anvita Dutt
Cast: Anushka Sharma, Diljit Dosanjh, Suraj Sharma, Mehreen Pirzada
FIP became involved with fantasy feature Phillauri during the script stage. The company will release the title simultaneously across 30 countries including North America day and date with its Indian release.
Set in Punjab, Phillauri is about an NRI Punjabi boy named Kanan who returns to India to get married to his childhood sweetheart. As luck would have it, his horoscope reads that he is a Manglik and that he would need to marry a tree before he can marry Anu to ward off any threat to his love life. Grudgingly he gets married to the tree and to his shock, he finds himself being trailed by an unearthly entity who is revealed as Shashi, the friendly spirit. Shashi used to live on the tree and when Kanan married the tree and then the family chopped it down as a ritual, she finds herself in the world of Kanan not knowing what to do and figuring how she is facing such a predicament. But during the course of journey, a backstory of an unfulfilled romance is revealed.
“The window between February and March is not a busy period and is a perfect date for good word of mouth films ensuring a long play-out,” explained Fox Star Studios India’s head of International Sales & Distribution, Rohit Sharma. “In 2016, we released hits such as Neerja and Kapoor and Sons during this period and have followed this up in 2017 with Jolly LLB 2 and Badrinath ki Dulhania in the last 2 months and now are looking forward to the release of Phillauri this weekend. This is a concept driven film and seemed perfect for our current slate of films for 2017.”
FIP is promoting the film across all Indian pay TV channels that “are available across North America,” according to Sharma, in the lead-up to its release this weekend. They are also engaged in an “aggressive campaign” across other media platforms in print, radio, online and local cable channels that target Indian/South Asian audiences.
“Family based films work well in the US for the Indian audiences,” noted Sharma. “The presence of an A-list actress like Anushka Sharma ensures star power to draw in the audience. Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi) and Daljit Dosanjh, a popular Punjabi film actor, have their fan base audience which would further enhance the appeal of the film.”
Phillauri will open across 74 screens in North America, which is a mid-size release for an Indian film, and will expand depending on the opening weekend performance.
Director-writer: Charlie Siskel
Subject: William Powell
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
The political upheaval of the late 1960s and early 1970s has been a source of fascination for filmmaker Charlie Siskel. The director links the period to today’s volatile political climate in which the most extreme voices, he believes, “commands the most attention.” That interest lead him to an infamous author of the period who fueled, some claim, the tools for domestic terrorism.
“William Powell wanted to be part of what he and many others thought would be a revolution. I think many people today wish for change but feel powerless,” commented Siskel, son of the late film critic Gene Siskel. “These themes interest me, but it is Powell’s individual, human story that I find most compelling.”
Set in 1970, the doc centers on William Powell who wanted to help build a new society so he taught the world how to blow up the old one. As the heady days of the late ‘60s counterculture and political upheaval turned darker, Powell, at 19, wrote one of the most infamous books ever published: The Anarchist Cookbook. Part manifesto, part bomb-making manual, it went on to sell over 2 million copies and it’s been associated with decades of anti-government attacks, abortion clinic bombings, school shootings and homegrown domestic terrorism. Now 65, Powell, haunted by his creation, struggles to make sense of the damage it’s done. After writing it, he left the US, leading an itinerant life, teaching kids with special needs.
“I tracked down and contacted Bill and we spoke via Skype about two years ago,” explained Siskel. “He was skeptical about participating in a film. He wondered whether his story was worthy of a film. I told him I thought it was and that young people in particular could learn from his cautionary tale…He was at times a ‘reluctant witness’ during our interviews and I had to press him to discuss difficult moral questions about his past. When we first spoke I told him I wanted to present a fair but complex portrait and I am grateful that he was willing to participate in that.”
Filming took place over the course of several months in a remote area of France in addition to Hong Kong and Kenya. The project was financed independently via Bow and Arrow and later Gravitas joined for the title’s release ahead of its festival run. American Anarchist debuted at the 2016 Venice Film Festival before screening at the Hamptons, Chicago, DocNYC and Cleveland film festivals.
“I believe that when it comes to addressing social problems sunlight is the best disinfectant and documentaries have always played a role in shining a light on ugly truths about society,” noted Siskel. “We live in a violent world and America has a long history of violence in many forms. To the extent this film says anything about The Anarchist Cookbook itself, the film is an indictment of the book even if it isn’t an indictment of the man who wrote it at 19. I think most people agree that Bill is to be forgiven for his youthful mistakes. People can judge for themselves his conduct since writing the book [including] the fact that he continued to profit from the book, the fact that he avoided speaking out about the book publicly until 30 years after writing it…”
Gravitas will open American Anarchist Friday in about a dozen cities including Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and will expand to over 20 cities in the following weeks.
I Called Him Morgan
Director-writer: Kasper Collin
Subjects: Lee Morgan, Helen Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Judith Johnson, Larry Reni Thomas
Distributors: Submarine Deluxe, FilmRise
Swedish filmmaker Kasper Collin cold-pitched Submarine Deluxe about his documentary that spotlights jazz musician Lee Morgan, who was shot dead by his common-law wife Helen in 1972 during a gig at a New York City club. Submarine Deluxe’s Dan Braun eventually watched the film and decided to take on the feature, joining as executive producer.
I Called Him Morgan debuted in Venice, then headed to Telluride, Toronto, New York and London film festivals. “After we did a streaming deal in Toronto, the wrap around rights including theatrical rights were available so we brought it to FilmRise who we knew wanted to collaborate with Submarine Deluxe and we put the team together,” said Braun. “Conventional wisdom is that jazz based films don’t do well, so that dictated that we should go broad and hope we would catch the jazz crowd in the broad marketing. But I decided that we would tightly focus on the music and jazz audience and plan for the reverse to happen, that a broader audience would emerge in marketing to the hardcover jazz audience which in New York is a cross section of race, but pretty male skewing.”
In the wake of the title’s release, the distributors are engaged in grass roots and social media. Additionally they have a “robust outreach” to jazz schools in New York as well as jazz clubs, music stores, bookstores and coffee houses. Noted Braun: “We partnered with jazz organizations who did blasts to their lists and an organization called Jazz Corner posted the Village Voice review on Facebook and we got 32,512 likes in one day.”
Submarine/FilmRise picked this weekend, sandwiched between the post-Oscar season and the start of the Tribeca Film Festival in April. “The 24th turned out to be a busy release weekend but based on our reviews and buzz, I expect a good turnout,” added Braun. “I don’t feel that Power Rangers is our competition, and going into the weekend with a 94 on Rotten Tomatoes and a 96 on Metacritic isn’t the worst way to open.”
I Called Him Morgan will bow exclusively at Lincoln Center this weekend before heading downtown next week to Metrograph. The doc will head to L.A., Pasadena and Washington, D.C. on March 31, followed by Portland, Seattle, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Santa Fe April 7.
Director-writer: Alice Lowe
Cast: Jo Hartley, Gemma Whelan, Alice Lowe, Kate Dickie, Tom Davis, Kayvan Novak
Comedy-thriller Prevenge is newbie distributor Shudder’s first day and date release. Recent and upcoming films in the company’s roster include horror mashup Sadako vs. Kayako and meta-slasher Lake Bodom. Prevenge is also the directorial debut of Alice Lowe, who starred and co-wrote Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers. Lowe received a British Independent Film Award nomination for best directorial debut.
The feature follows Ruth, a pregnant woman on a killing spree. It’s her misanthropic unborn baby dictating Ruth’s actions, holding society responsible for the absence of a father. The child speaks to Ruth from the womb, coaching her to lure and ultimately kill her unsuspecting victims. Struggling with her conscience, loneliness, and a strange strain of pre-partum madness, Ruth must ultimately choose between redemption and destruction at the moment of motherhood.
“We first saw Prevenge in the Midnight Madness section at the Toronto International Film Festival, and immediately fell for director Alice Lowe’s ability to transform fears of childbirth and society’s reaction to pregnancy into something both frightening and funny,” commented Shudder SVP Linda Pan. “Our target audience for Prevenge is anyone interested in seeing a truly original concept turned into a terrifically entertaining movie. The horror genre is stronger than it has ever been, and Prevenge stands distinctly on its own.”
The film debuted in Venice and screened in November at AFI Fest and the recent SXSW Film Festival. After SXSW, Lowe began a week-long press tour. Shudder is playing Prevenge at IFC Center in New York and Cinefamily in Los Angeles in addition to on-demand platforms.
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