Fox Searchlight is opening My Cousin Rachel starring Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin in over five hundred locations this weekend, the widest of the upcoming weekend’s offerings. The feature by writer-director Roger Michell is the second big screen version of the title based on a novel by Daphne Du Maurier. Roadside Attractions and FilmNation are teaming on Sundance debut Beatriz At Dinner, starring Salma Hayek and John Lithgow. The film’s trailer has had 23 million views, in part pushed by a story of a Mexican immigrant who meets a brash self-absorbed billionaire. The Orchard is opening fellow Sundance premiere The Hero starring Sam Elliott ahead of its original fall release. The company is viewing Elliott’s performance as likely awards-worthy as it begins a slow roll-out over summer and into autumn. And Oscilloscope is opening documentary Night School Friday, with part of its proceeds going to an organization featured in the film about people trying to escape poverty through education.
My Cousin Rachel
Director-writer: Roger Michell
Writer: Daphne Du Maurier (novel)
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Holliday Grainger, Iain Glen
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
In 2014, writer-filmmaker Roger Michell read an old copy of Daphne Du Maurier’s novel My Cousin Rachel, which he found at his mother’s house. Initially, he did not read it with the possible intention of doing another big screen adaptation of the story, according to producer Kevin Loader, who is a partner of Michell’s in their London-based production company Free Range. But after reading the book, he saw a project opportunity.
“He came in and told me I should read it,” said Loader. “I hadn’t seen the original film (1952) with Richard Burton. We knew there were some Du Maurier revivals in the air, but we did think this could be a fabulous film. Fox, which did the original movie, still had the rights.”
Searchlight describes My Cousin Rachel as a “dark and layered romance” about a young Englishman who plots revenge against his mysterious and beautiful cousin, believing that she murdered his guardian. His feelings become complicated as he finds himself falling helplessly and obsessively in love with her.
“Fox didn’t want to release the rights, so we said that maybe we could make it for them,” said Loader. “We have a relationship with [former Fox exec] Claudia Lewis, and she pretty quickly said yes. Roger wanted to do the adaptation of the novel, which was something he hadn’t done in a while.”
Roger Michell wrote his adaptation for the latest big screen version of My Cousin Rachel about two years ago. Fox financed the project along with “their usual partners in the U.K.,” according to Loader. He said that there had been a false start to shoot in 2015, but because of talent availability, they had to hold off one year.
“Sam Caflin was lined up early,” said Loader. “Rachel had a very busy 2015 including The Lobster and Denial, so in the end, we missed a [seasonal] window. We wanted to shoot from winter into spring and into early summer. So after the 2015 window passed, we waited, but that worked for her schedule as well.”
The feature shot over nine weeks in various U.K. locations in addition to one week in Italy. “The shoot was very contained in some ways,” he added. “We shot a lot in a house near London, and then shot in the West Country. We were keen not to make it too traditionally gothic.”
Fox Searchlight will open My Cousin Rachel in 525 theaters across the U.S. and Canada June 9. The company said it is in a “great mixture of the best arthouse/specialty and upscale multiplexes available.”
Beatriz At Dinner
Director: Miguel Arteta
Writer: Mike White
Cast: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Chloë Sevigny, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, David Warshofsky, Natalia Abelleyra
Distributors: Roadside Attractions/FilmNation
Roadside Attractions and FilmNation picked up Miguel Arteta’s Beatriz At Dinner out of the Sundance Film Festival where it debuted. The two entities had worked in tandem on other releases, but previously Roadside spearheaded U.S. distribution while FilmNation handled other territories.
“They approached me before the festival and asked me if we should try and do this,” said Howard Cohen, co-president of Roadside Attractions. “They wanted to see what it’s like to be in the U.S. market.”
In the film, Salma Hayek plays Beatriz, an immigrant from a poor town in Mexico. She has drawn on her innate kindness to build a career as a health practitioner. Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), meanwhile, is a cutthroat, self-satisfied billionaire. When these two opposites meet at a dinner party, their worlds collide and neither will be the same.
“We launched the trailer in April and highlighted the contemporary, zeitgeist aspect [of the story],” said Cohen referring to the parallels between the Trump-esque character played by Lithgow and Hayek’s character who hails from south of the border. “The trailer exploded online. There were 15 million views of the trailer online soon after its release on Facebook and there are now up to 23 million. We think 40% of the views are the Latino audience but also the trailer is traveling beyond any one group. We’re fascinated to see how it translates into box office, but certainly it’s had a great life in the pre-marketing phase.”
Cohen added that Hayek, Lithgow and Connie Britton have made a number of appearances on late night shows. Additionally, Hayek and Miguel Arteta spent a day in Miami with Latino press.
Beatriz At Dinner will bow with three runs in Los Angeles Friday, including the Landmark and the Arclight Hollywood as well as two theaters in New York. Added Cohen: “We specifically wanted to go a bit wider in L.A. the first weekend, hoping to get a [big response] from Latino audiences.”
Director-writer: Brett Haley
Writer: Marc Basch
Cast: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman, Katharine Ross, Doug Cox
Distributor: The Orchard
The Orchard saw Sam Elliott’s performance in Sundance premiere The Hero as potentially awards worthy and went after the title with vigor. The company initially considered a fall release, but moved its roll-out to this weekend.
“We put in an aggressive offer and locked and loaded the movie [at Sundance] within 48 hours,” said The Orchard’s Paul Davidson. “[Filmmaker] Brett Haley had great success with his last movie, I’ll See You In My Dreams. The Hero potentially has a broader audience.” Released by Bleecker Street in May 2015, Brett Haley’s I’ll See You In My Dreams, which also featured Elliott, grossed over $7.44M.
In The Hero, Elliott plays a former Western film icon, living a comfortable existence lending his golden voice to advertisements and smoking weed. He receives a lifetime achievement award and a cancer diagnosis that prompts him to reexamine his past. But a chance meeting with a sardonic comic has him looking to the future.
Following Sundance, The Orchard played The Hero at a number of other North American film festivals to build word-of-mouth. Its showings at those festivals convinced the distributor, according to Davidson, to move up its release.
“We still believe it’s a performance that will generate tons of excitement,” said Davidson. “One we saw audience reaction, we thought this was a good opportunity for a long run in the summer, and then hit an awards run in the fall.”
In addition to festivals, the company has been working with AARP on tastemaker screenings nationwide. Film organizations including the American Cinematheque in L.A., the Quad in New York as well as the Seattle International Film Festival have been doing retrospective screenings of Elliott’s work.
“In addition to reaching out to the older demographic — the film’s sweet spot — we also have an ensemble cast that hits the younger audience as well,” said Davidson. “So we’re targeting through social media and digital.”
Davidson added that Elliott is doing a host of media appearances. Also, there’s an “alt trailer” that is playing in select pot dispensaries. There’s also installations at the Arclight Hollywood and AMC Lincoln Square in New York where crowds can do a “Stache Yourself” by taking pictures with an image of Elliott’s signature mustache or other iconic examples of upper lip hair.
The Hero will open in four theaters Friday including the Landmark and Arclight Hollywood and Angelika and Lincoln Square in New York. Elliott, Laura Prepon and others will take part in select post-screening Q&As on both coasts. The Orchard will expand the feature to about 30 theaters on June 16 and will reach about 100 locations June 23. The company says it should be in around 550 theaters by the July 4th weekend.
Director: Andrew Cohn
Night School distributor Oscilloscope said it plans to donate a portion of all proceeds from ticket sales to educational initiatives spearheaded by Goodwill Industries’ McClellan Scholars, the organization featured in the documentary. The title spotlights the struggles of a group of people facing down economic struggle to better themselves through adult education.
Night School is set in Indianapolis, which has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country. For adult learners Greg, Melissa and Shynika, finally earning their high school diplomas could be a life-changing achievement. Night School observes their individual pursuits, fraught with the challenges of daily life and the broader systemic roadblocks faced by many low income Americans.
“I thought there was something there about people going back and facing their fears,” said Night School director Andrew Cohn. “It’s not a film that has a big reveal. I knew it would live or die based on the access and intimacy I would get.”
After doing some initial research into adult education, Cohn saw a segment on PBS News Hour about a man who had not been in a formal educational setting for over thirty years at a school in an economically deprived area of Indianapolis. “It was very interesting because they provided all this support,” said Cohn. “I went to the school and I [ended up living near there] for eight months.”
The project received funding in part through bequests including a MacArthur grant as well as from Impact Partners.
“The broad idea was to show how hard it is to pull out of poverty,” said Cohn. “We had over 700 hours of footage. I like to shoot a lot. Halfway through we settled on some characters, and then lost one during the edit. My friend Zach and I did a bit of everything.”
The feature debuted at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. Oscilloscope boarded as distributor for Night School several months ago. The title will have limited runs beginning Friday at IFC Center in New York. The doc will also go to Laemmle’s Music Hall in L.A. Friday June 23 with further roll-outs to select theaters around the country.
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