Filmmaker Steven Shainberg tapped Noomi Rapace for the lead of his thriller Rupture, which had a quick turnaround shoot in Canada. The director said it was all “go go go” for the film, though he ran into a roadblock on the way to distribution. The film joins a somewhat sparse roll-out of new Specialties this weekend as the Tribeca Film Festival eyes its finale in New York. The festival is a launchpad for Well Go USA’s Buster’s Mal Heart with Rami Malek, which bows in New York before other cities following its Wednesday night premiere at Tribeca. Gunpowder & Sky is opening Toronto’s sexually charged Below Her Mouth by April Mullen day and date, while Oscilloscope is opening Cannes title One Week And a Day in a traditional roll out.

Also this weekend, Kino Lorber is opening New York Times doc Obit from Vanessa Gould, while Memento Films will bow French filmmaker Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay.

Ambi Pictures

Director-writer: Steven Shainberg
Writer: Brian Nelson
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Chiklis, Kerry Bishé, Peter Stormare, Ari Millen, Lesley Manville
Distributor: Ambi Pictures

Filmmaker Steven Shainberg found inspiration for his latest feature Rupture via one of his favorite films, Woman In the Dunes (1964) by Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara. The idea of captivity which evolves into a transformative love relationship became a basis for the thriller-sci-fi feature, opening this weekend.

“That movie has stuck in my mind and lead to the question of ‘what’s my captivity movie?’ That was floating in my head for a very long time,” said Shainberg. “Then I saw the first Paranormal Activity…and thought, ‘what if someone had been abducted by aliens and that was captured on camera?’ I had also been reading a lot from [Harvard Psychiatrist] John Mack. Those three things were Rupture’s main roots.”

In the film, Noomi Rapace plays Renee Morgan, a single mom who lives with her twelve-year-old son Evan in a quiet suburban home. Unbeknownst to both, their every move is being observed. While running her daily errands her car breaks down and she is violently kidnapped by a group of strangers. About 24 hours later, in an anonymous laboratory, she is tied up and questioned about her medical history, including her great fear of spiders. Soon her captors explain that her genetic abnormality can allow her to rupture, in which her own alien nature can be released.

After collaborating with an earlier co-writer, Shainberg ended up working with Brian Nelson, a veteran genre writer. At the same time, Shainberg had been trying to get another project off the ground, The Big Shoe, but was stymied, though that process had put him in contact with Noomi Rapace.

“We got along well,” said Shainberg. “She wanted to play the female lead and was the natural first choice for the film.” While putting together financing, a window in Rapace’s schedule seemed to be elusive, until one four-week window was found. “[Producer] Andrew Lazar called me up and said, ‘let’s get a crew together.’ I had already storyboarded the film, so I said, ‘let’s do it.’”

Added Shainberg: “This is a genre film we felt confident given Lazare coming off American Sniper. We felt we could finance the film and got it right away. That’s the nature of the beast at this moment. Every financier wants to be Jason Blum. It’s easier than the other stuff.”

Shainberg said there were four-and-a-half weeks of prep, no rehearsal time and “lots of effects.” He hired Canadian D.P. Karim Hussain, who he said kept the fast pace required running smoothly. “He came in like gangbusters — totally prepared,” he said. “Because of him, we survived the 29 day shoot. We had to move the hair and make-up trailer right next to where we were shooting because he was turning around so fast.”

The filmmaker added that Rapace also kept stride, doing mostly one to three takes. “We were fast and furious, go, go , go… We had an actress physically able to survive the day. My fear is that at lunch time the actress would come up to me and say, ‘I don’t think I can last throughout the day.’ Her energy is phenomenal. She has an intensity and drive and capacity to pay attention that was awesome.”

Rupture debuted at Fantasia International Film Festival and continued to play a slew of global genre/sci-fi events. Shainberg was forthcoming in what he envisioned for Rupture’s distribution vs. what actually played out. He said he saw the feature as “commercial,” but ran up against difficulty in finding distribution. “I thought we were making something that could have a total commercial life,” he said. “I’ve been perplexed that [few] saw it as such. I had considered a Rupture 2.”

Ambi Pictures, which also financed the title, took on distribution as well. It will open theatrically in New York, L.A. as well as in San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Philadelphia, Houston, Dallas and Cleveland in a day and date release Friday.

Well Go USA

Buster’s Mal Heart
Director-writer: Sarah Adina Smith
Cast: Rami Malek, Kate Lyn Sheil, DJ Qualls, Toby Huss, Lin Shaye, Mark Kelly, Teresa Yenque
Distributor: Well Go USA

Distributor Well Go USA saw mystery-thriller Buster’s Mal Heart at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The company said it had been anticipating director Sarah Adina Smith’s follow-up since viewing her previous feature The Midnight Swim (2014), which took an audience award at AFI Fest.

Buster’s Mal Heart follows an eccentric mountain man on the run from the authorities, surviving the winter by breaking into empty vacation homes in a remote community. Regularly calling into radio talk shows — where he has acquired the nickname “Buster” — to rant about the impending Inversion at the turn of the millennium, he is haunted by visions of being lost at sea, and memories of his former life as a family man. Buster (Rami Malek) was once Jonah, a hard-working husband and father whose job as the night-shift concierge at a hotel took its toll on his psyche and, consequently, his marriage to the sensitive Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil) — until a chance encounter with a conspiracy-obsessed drifter (DJ Qualls) changed the course of their lives.

“There’s a lot going on in the film, so it doesn’t lend itself to a typical linear campaign,” explained Well Go USA’s Dylan Marchetti. “It’s a bit twisty, so we didn’t want to [tailor the campaign] to one specific genre. We have done a lot of word-of-mouth screenings at regional festivals and had screenings at Tribeca on Wednesday and Thursday.”

Marchetti said it was not usual for the company to roll out a film following a festival debut, but that timing worked out well, adding: “It’s interesting me seeing it springboard from a festival and into a release.” Additionally the company is engaging in a social campaign across all platforms in the lead-up to its theatrical run, which will have a window a bit short of the traditional 90 days.

The company is hoping to maximize on actor Rami Malek’s (Mr. Robot) presence for the launch where he will take part in Q&As. “Rami is fantastic in this film,” said Marchetti. “He had a tough job. It’s part psychological thriller, dark comedy and sci-fi really. A lot of filmmakers could have dropped the ball on this, but [director Sarah Adina Smith] has a real vision for something like this and she nailed it.”

Theatrically, Buster’s Mal Heart will bow at the Angelika in New York Friday. It will expand to over a dozen theaters in San Francisco, L.A., Seattle and Boston next week, eventually going to about 40 to 50 theaters in markets around the country in the coming weeks.

Gunpowder & Sky

Below Her Mouth
Director: April Mullen
Writer: Stephanie Fabrizi
Cast: Erika Linder, Natalie Krill, Sebastian Pigott, Mayko Nguyen
Distributor: Gunpowder & Sky

Producers working on Stephanie Fabrizi’s script for Below Her Mouth watched filmmaker April Mullen’s 2015 feature 88. The group were lured by 88’s “bold visual style,” according to Mullen, who said she was thrilled to get a drama after having done a string of action-thriller films.

“The script has very little dialogue but intriguing sex and intimacy which scared me and excited me at the time,” said Mullen. “ I’ve always been supremely attracted to the law of attraction. [The two main characters in Below Her Mouth] change their entire lives. I really connected to the material. It was love for love’s sake with no political overtones. It has a female perspective, showing what women feel when they’re turned on and behind closed doors.”

Below Her Mouth follows Jasmine (Natalie Krill), a successful fashion editor living with her fiancé, Rile (Sebastian Pigott). On a night out in the city with her best friend, she meets Dallas (Erika Linder), a roofer recently out of a relationship. Jasmine is taken by surprise when Dallas confidently hits on her; she turns Dallas down, but can’t get her out of her head. Dallas continues her cool, self-assured advances. In a matter of days, Jasmine succumbs and the two women embark on a steamy affair. It feels like a fantasy world compared to Jasmine’s life and plans with Rile, but soon reality rears its head, and she will have to face the profound changes their sudden romance has wrought in her.

Mullen read the script three years ago, though the project held off while holes in financing were worked through. Telefilm Canada boarded the project along with other Canadian entities including production company Serendipity and distributor Elevation Pictures.

Noted Mullen: “[Telefilm Canada] was very supportive of what we were trying to do. They weren’t afraid of the content because it’s highly sexual.” While financing was being pieced together, the filmmaking team was also on the search for the two leads, central to the story. Mullen said that they had decided as a group that “if we couldn’t find the right two leading actors, we wouldn’t have a film,” adding: “We needed an ‘It’ factor between the two. That’s can’t just be created.” Casting took six months and extensive travel, the filmmaker said.

Producer Melissa Coghlan and her partner saw actress Natalie Krill, who came on board as Jasmine, performing at a small Toronto theater. The next key was to find the match. “I’d never believe Jasmine would leave the security of her world [without the right person],” said Mullen. “I was desperately Googling fresh faces and saw a picture of Erika Linder. She is the first female to do ‘male modeling…’ We tracked her down in L.A.”

The two read together and the project proceeded, with shooting beginning in September, 2015. Below Her Mouth debuted at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, while Gunpowder & Sky took on U.S. distribution about six months ago. The company will begin its limited theatrical release in New York and L.A. this weekend in a day and date roll-out.


One Week And a Day
Director-writer: Asaph Polonsky
Cast: Sharon Alexander, Shai Avivi, Evgenia Dodina, Uri Gavriel
Distributor: Oscilloscope

After seeing One Week And a Day just ahead of its Cannes premiere last year, Oscilloscope was ready to take on U.S. rights for the film, which in fact it did. Dealing with loss and grief, the company sees the feature as a “universal story,” noting that the first-time filmmaker handles it with a “beautiful, light touch.”

“He turns what could be a very grim story into something uplifting, unexpected and cathartic,” commented Oscilloscope’s Andrew Carlin. “It’s a total crowd-pleaser. Asaph’s voice and aesthetic as a filmmaker are so unique. I think everyone [at Oscilloscope] looked at One Week And a Day and pretty immediately said, ‘Yeah, we have to work with this guy.’ There’s no question he has an incredible career ahead of him and we’re proud to be working on his first feature.”

The title centers on Eyal who finishes the week of mourning for his late son. His wife urges him to return to their routine but instead he gets high with a young neighbor and sets out to discover that there are still things in his life worth living for.

“We don’t want to pigeonhole the audience as one type or another since it really is a relatable, universal story,” noted Carlin when asked about its marketing targets ahead of the film’s release. “Having said that, the Jewish faith figures heavily into the storytelling, so the film has had a long and successful run with Jewish and Israeli film festivals across the country. It was also nominated for numerous Ophir awards in Israeli which is an amazing accomplishment for a debut feature.”

Oscilloscope is opening One Week And a Day at the Angelika in New York, Laemmle Royal in L.A. as well as Laemmle Town Center in Encino Friday. The title will head to the rest of the top 25 markets including South Florida, Chicago, San Francisco and Minneapolis in the coming weeks.


Casting JonBenet
Director: Kitty Green
Distributor: Netflix

Wednesday night, New York event publicist Peggy Siegal hosted a premiere for Sundance doc Casting JonBenet, a non-fiction feature by Kitty Green.

The film recalls the lead-up to the mysterious death of six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey through a series of ‘casting sessions’ by locals in Boulder, CO near where the murder occurred. Using a similar template to her short, The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul, Green said the “emotional trajectory” was key in Casting JonBenet.

“The surprise for us was how honest and open these people were,” said Green about the locals in Boulder who are featured in the doc. “They were heartbreaking, which blew my mind.” Netflix will do a small theatrical component combined with its streaming platform.