Long in the making, Blind starring Alec Baldwin and Demi Moore makes its way to theaters Friday. The Vertical Entertainment release is the directorial debut of veteran producer Michael Mailer, and joins a fairly packed lineup of new Specialty releases this weekend, marking the midpoint of July. Roadside Attractions is hoping to emulate some of the success of its 2010 film Winter’s Bone for Lady Macbeth starring dynamic newcomer Florence Pugh.
Other features making their way to theaters include Netflix’s documentary Chasing Coral, which will follow the company’s usual pattern of small big-screen bows as it begins its availability via the streaming service, as well as fellow doc Bronx Gothic from Grasshopper Film, a portrait of writer and performer Okwui Okpokwasili and her acclaimed one-woman show. And Monument Releasing is rolling out French feature Footnotes just in time for Bastille Day.
Other limited release debuts this weekend include Alejandro Jodorowsky’s bio-drama Endless Poetry from ABKCO, Abramorama’s Birthright: A War Story, Almost Sunrise from Argot Pictures, Man Underground from Indican, Vertical Entertainment’s The Possession of Janet Moses and Big World Pictures’ False Confessions.
Director: Michael Mailer
Writers: Diane Fisher, John Buffalo Mailer
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Demi Moore, Dylan McDermott
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Blind is veteran producer Michael Mailer’s directorial debut. The roots of the story came from an experience that producer Diane Fisher had while spending time at an institute for the blind in New York. While volunteering there, reading to people, she was introduced to a man who was blind that fell in love with her and subsequently sent her romantic letters.
Explained Mailer, “Nothing came of it, but when telling us the story, my brother and I developed a script [around the idea]. It’s not true, but it developed from there beginning about 13 years ago.”
The film opens five years after bestselling novelist Bill Oakland (Alec Baldwin) loses his wife and his sight in a vicious car crash. Socialite Suzanne Dutchman (Demi Moore) is forced to read to Bill in an intimate room as a plea bargain for being associated with her husband’s (Dylan McDermott) insider trading. A passionate affair ensues, forcing them both to question whether it’s ever too late to find true love. But when Suzanne’s husband is let out on a technicality, she is forced to choose between the man she loves and the man she built a life with.
The project had some false starts over the years before Mailer returned to it during a lull, eventually regaining momentum to push the project forward.
“I got the script to Mike Nichols,” he said. “For a nano-second, he considered directing, but then dropped out. But in the meantime, the machinery was going in our favor. It had higher budgets and cast, but then it [ultimately] didn’t work. We came close many times through many incarnations, but then over the years, I got tired of it and put on shelf.”
Several years ago, Mailer hit what he called “a creative wall,” and decided he needed something to stimulate him. Since Blind had already been developed “so thoroughly with his brother,” as he described it, it became the natural go to.
“I had worked with Alec Baldwin in Seduced and Abandoned, so when I decided to pick up [Blind] again, I approached him and he took a shine to it,” said Mailer. “We took another shot at the draft. There have been countless number of drafts on the piece. Every incarnation had a re-write. We tailored the characters to Alec and Dylan [McDermott], and they had good suggestions.”
Financing came via executive producers Mailer has worked with in the past. Martin Tuckman was a lead investor.
“I loved directing. I had worked with so many sets with first-time directors,” revealed Mailer. “As a producer, you can leave the set, but as a director you’re there. You can’t leave. I found the immersion creatively stimulating. I’m not letting go of my day job, but I intend to do this again. I have other projects in mind with me as director. And working with world class actors helped me to achieve something I wouldn’t have been able to do with less qualified actors.”
Blind shot over 22 days in New York. Mailer credited extensively planned pre-production for keeping the project on pace. Post-production took place over several months. Vertical Entertainment picked up the title in January after negotiations that took place over the holidays with Vertical and other companies.
Blind will open in 11 markets including Los Angeles and New York in over a dozen theaters in a day and date release via VOD/digital.
Director: William Oldroyd
Writers: Nikolai Leskov (original), Alice Birch
Cast: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie, Christopher Fairbank
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Lady Macbeth is the debut directorial feature film from British theater director William Oldroyd. It is adapted by Alice Birch, from the 19th Century novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov. Roadside Attractions picked up the title out of its Toronto premiere.
Set in Victorian-era England, the drama centers on Katherine, a young woman stifled by her loveless marriage to a bitter man twice her age, and his cold, unforgiving family. When Katherine embarks on a passionate affair with a young worker on her husband’s estate, a force is unleashed inside her so powerful that she will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
Lady Macbeth is only star Florence Pugh’s second film, following The Falling (2014), which paired her with Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams.
“It’s intense, and I think stylistically it’s one of the edgier films we’ve done,” said Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen. “I liken it to Winter’s Bone in that it’s by a great new filmmaker and features a new fantastic actress.”
Roadside Attractions released Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone in 2010. The Sundance debut was only director Granik’s second film. It grossed over $6.5M in theaters. The film also starred a still relatively unknown Jennifer Lawrence, whose role in the film brought a great deal of luster to her rising star.
“It is very different from Winter’s Bone, but in terms of a great discovery it is similar,” added Cohen. “We picked Lady Macbeth up in Toronto, but then it played very well at Sundance and at New Directors/New Films. It has a 92% on RT and it also did very well in the U.K. and France.” Lady Macbeth has cumed over $1M since opening in early July in Great Britain.
“Here, we’ve been chasing the young cinephile demographic and have done a lot more online [marketing] than we’d normally do for a period film,” added Cohen. “We’ve also pushed some of the [thriller] elements of the film. Rolling Stone calls it a ‘great erotic thriller,’ and we embrace that description… It’s also summer counter-programming. It’s a period costume movie in a time of superheroes and broad comedies.”
Roadside Attractions is opening Lady Macbeth in five New York and Los Angeles theaters today. The title will expand to about 40 locations next week with further markets set for later in the month and into August.”
Director-writer: Jeff Orlowski
Writers: Davis Coombe, Vickie Curtis
Subjects: Richard Vevers, Zackery Rago, Andrew Zckerman, Trevor Mendelow
Larissa Rhodes worked with filmmaker Jeff Orlowski on his 2012 documentary, Chasing Ice. Rhodes, who served as a production coordinator on that project, was working on outreach for Chasing Ice, when Richard Vevers approached about possibly doing a similar documentary focusing on the underwater crisis of dying coral.
“He contacted us in 2013,” said Rhodes who served as a producer on Chasing Coral. “He sent us two photos. One showed a healthy reef and another was a dead one. We realized that if we didn’t know this was happening, others didn’t either. We knew we wanted to get time-lapse photography [of the phenomenon].”
Chasing Coral goes around the world to reefs, which are in various stages of vanishing — though mostly at an unprecedented rate. In the film, a team of divers, photographers and scientists set out to discover why and to reveal the underwater mystery to the world.
“We began by going with Richard to document the changes in 360 degree panoramas,” said Rhodes. “Coral bleaching occurs because of rising temperatures. We saw it play out visually, but had to find a way to capture it. [When we started] there were time-lapse cameras above water, but not for underneath. But then we met Zackery Rago and he had the technology.”
A group of producers who funded Chasing Ice also came aboard to finance Chasing Coral. Additionally, the project found support via the Sundance Documentary Fund and BritDoc. “We thought we’d be done with the film in 2015, but in 2016, a mass bleaching event [took place] so we thought we should be there. It is an elusive thing, but it’s happening worldwide. You had to be there at the right time. Jeff was in Australia at the time.”
The filmmaking team also reached out to scientists in other parts of the world. The documentary includes footage from their work in various locales.
Chasing Coral debuted at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. “It was the first time we were able to meet some of the people we worked with around the world,” said Rhodes about Sundance. “It was momentous for our team. Sundance is a dream. Jeff calls it a bucket-list item.”
Netflix picked up the title. As with most of their titles, Chasing Coral will have a very limited theatrical run as it begins its availability on the streaming service. Added Rhodes: “We’re excited it will be in limited release on big screen, but we’re excited that they can [make the film available] around the world and in different languages. It definitely brings added value to the film that otherwise may not be possible. There’s no better time than now to get this message out there.”
Director: Andrew Rossi
Subjects: Okwui Okpokwasili, Ralph Lemon
Distributor: Grasshopper Film
Grasshopper Film saw Andrew Rossi’s sixth documentary feature, Bronx Gothic, ahead of its premiere at the Full Frame Documentary Festival in April. The filmmaker approached Grasshopper asking them to view it. “Being great admirers of his previous documentaries, we were eager to watch it,” commented Grasshopper exec Ryan Krivoshey. “And of course we loved it.”
Bronx Gothic is a portrait of writer and performer Okwui Okpokwasili and her acclaimed one-woman show Bronx Gothic. Rooted in memories of her childhood, Okwui – who’s worked with conceptual artists like Ralph Lemon and Julie Taymor – fuses dance, song, drama and comedy to create a mesmerizing space in which audiences can engage with a story about two 12-year-old black girls coming of age in the 1980s. With intimate vérité access to Okwui and her audiences off the stage, Bronx Gothic allows for unparalleled insight into her creative process as well as the complex social issues embodied in it.
“Bronx Gothic certainly has strong appeal to the dance audience and the entire team has been working extremely hard pushing this,” explained Krivoshey. “But at its core, the film is a great documentary with a powerful, uplifting story that is certainly timely, but also cuts across demographics. So we’ve been trying to go pretty wide.”
The woman at the center of the film, Okwui Okpokwasili, was “integral in the creation of the film itself,” according to Grasshopper Film, and not “just a documentary subject.” She served as a producer and has been “front and center in promotion” of the film ahead of its release this weekend.
Rossi’s previous doc, The First Monday in May, grossed over $527K in the theatrical box office, while his 2011 release, Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times cumed over $1M.
The company collaborated with downtown Manhattan exhibitor Film Forum for its initial release on Wednesday of this week. Grasshopper felt a summer release was good for the title. Following its New York debut this week, the film will have a slow build to other cities throughout summer and into early fall. VOD and DVD will be available later this year.
Directors-writers: Paul Calori, Kostia Testut
Cast: Pauline Étienne, Olivier Chantreau, François Morel, Loïc Corbery, Julie Victor
Distributor: Monument Releasing
French feature Footnotes is inspired by the films of Jacques Demy and Stanley Donen. Stateside, the film premiered at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, which caught the attention of Monument Releasing after screening at the January event.
“We read about it out of Palm Springs and felt it was still undiscovered,” said Monument Releasing’s Ryan Kampe. “It felt like it was still undiscovered. It’s not like going to a Cannes or Berlin fighting [everyone] for the same thing. The fact that it played there caught our interest.”
The musical comedy follows Julie, a young woman struggling to make ends meet in France’s radically changing economy. Living out of a backpack, Julie spends her days jumping from job to job until she’s finally offered a temporary stockroom job at a women’s luxury shoe factory. After making friends with the boss’s spunky receptionist Sophie and the ever-charming factory truck driver Samy, Julie thinks the hard times are behind her. But Julie’s dreams of stability collapse when management threatens to close down the factory. As her intrepid group of female colleagues get together to go on strike, Samy and the other truck drivers decide to side with the company’s scheming CEO. Julie must choose whether to keep a low profile (and a shot at permanent employment) or to resist and fight back on the picket line.
“By [rolling it out] this weekend, we want to [distinguish the film] from the fall, art house releases. And it’s a counterpoint to the bigger summer blockbusters,” said Kampe. “Footnotes is a bit lighter, but it has a brain behind it. It has a feminist side, but also has themes about the labor [movement]. And with it being Bastille Day on Friday, that’s a natural tie-in. These are working people standing up for their traditional French values.”
Ahead of the release, Monument is reaching out to outlets that traditionally promote French cinema in addition to working with various groups around New York that are organizing Bastille Day events to promote word-of-mouth. Monument is also going after fashion publications, blogs and New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology since the central setting of Footnotes is in a factory producing luxury brand shoes. Monument has also hosted word-of-mouth screenings and released clips and trailers through iTunes.
Monument will open Footnotes exclusively at New York’s Village East today, followed by a slow roll-out from there. Kampe said it will likely play about 20 cities around the throughout the summer.