Neon and 30West made waves in Toronto when it landed Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya over the competition earlier this fall. The title is getting a late but extensive qualifying release, closing out 2017 before the film, starring Margot Robbie as infamous Olympic skater Tonya Harding, rolls out further in the new year.

I, Tonya headlines a decidedly slower roster of Specialty newcomers this weekend after many weeks of packed, often high-profile newbies bowing in theaters. Saban Films and Lionsgate is taking Paul Solet’s Bullet Head to 10 cities Friday. Bullet Head stars Adrien Brody, Rory Culkin, Antonio Banderas and John Malkovich in a feature the filmmaker says is a “love letter to animals.” Among other openers are Vertical Entertainment’s Hollow in the Land with Dianna Agron as well as First Run Features’ documentary Naples ’44 featuring Benedict Cumberbatch.

I, Tonya
Director: Craig Gillespie
Writer: Steven Rogers
Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, McKenna Grace
Distributor: Neon, 30 West

Neon/.30 West

Neon and 30West tag teamed in Toronto to pick up Craig Gillespie’s dark comedy I, Tonya in what Deadline reported at the time was a deal reaching the $5M range, fending off competition from the likes of Netflix and other heavyweights. The distributors are planning a very limited “deluxe” qualifying run for the title this month before going wide in January. Neon considers the feature a great “capper” to its first year, following in the wake of its earlier releases including Colossal, Risk and Ingrid Goes West.

“Director Craig Gillespie, and writer Steven Rogers and the incredible ensemble have created an uncompromising, poignant and instantly classic piece of American cinema,” commented Neon Founder and CEO Tom Quinn. “The film dares to talk about class and redemption without compromising its sharp, comedic edge. That’s why it stays with you long after the credits roll.”

I, Tonya is a darkly comedic tale of American figure skater, Tonya Harding, and one of the most sensational scandals in sports history. Though Harding was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition, her legacy was forever defined by her association with an infamous, ill-conceived, and even more poorly executed attack on fellow Olympic competitor Nancy Kerrigan.

Neon has been working to exploit I, Tonya’s awards prowess since its acquisition in September. The company is opening the film at the Arclight and Landmark in L.A. as well as the Angelika and Lincoln Square in New York. Unlike many of its awards competition titles that have opened recently in limited venues, I, Tonya is currently poised to play a more limited schedule, aside from the Arclight playing mostly single screens at its opening venues. Neon acknowledged the crowded marketplace with the likes of Call Me by Your Name, The Shape of Water and others playing prime locations, often in more than one auditorium, so its per theater average will not hit the stratosphere of other anticipated recent openers.

“Entering the marketplace amidst high-performing Oscar contenders and right before The Last Jedi comes with its own degree of difficulty, however, we believe wholeheartedly in I, Tonya’s ability to stand out amongst the crowd,” added Quinn. “So we’re opening with aggressive qualifying runs in New York and L.A. before expanding into the rest of the country come January.”

I, Tonya will likely play for an audience that’s 35 and over, while also gaining crossover as it slowly makes its way into wider release going into 2018.

Bullet Head
Director-writer: Paul Solet
Cast: Adrien Brody, Rory Culkin, Antonio Banderas, John Malkovich, Alexandra Dinu
Distributor: Saban Films, Lionsgate

Saban Films/Lionsgate

Bullet Head is a project that has been on filmmaker Paul Solet mind for around ten years. Solet said he considers it a “love letter to animals,” and is working with two organizations that work in animal welfare, New York Bully Crew and Pawsitive Change in tandem with the movie. The project was on and off a number of times until it found a production company that went with it full throttle.

“I’m a huge dog lover and this is dedicated to my dog,” said Solet. “The script has been there, and had been optioned a number of times over the years, but it didn’t get made until Millennium came on board. We were going to make the film entirely independently and raise the money ourselves, but they came on and helped with the cast.”

With a cast that includes Adrien Brody, Rory Culkin, Antonio Banderas and John Malkovich, Bullet Head centers on three career criminals who find themselves trapped in a warehouse with the law closing in and an even worse threat waiting inside.

“It is a dream cast. Any young filmmaker would be thrilled with just one of them,” said Solet. “John was attached for a year-and-a-half.” The film shot in Sofia, Bulgaria at Nu Boyana film studios over 30 days. Solet praised the facility for its availability of top notch equipment and ease. “Their equipment room has anything you could possibly want,” he said. “All those things were sort of a fight in the past. And their sound stage is really incredible. I also love Eastern Europe.”

The script included dozens of pages of animal work, which made for logistical challenges in terms of training while also working on actors’ scheduling. “We put a team of trainers together and broke down the scenes and all the ones involving animals and assigning to trainers with specialties,” said Solet. “That was a real triumph for everyone. All of the cast really love animals and so they got what was under the hood.”

Solet noted that Adrien Brody grew particularly close with one dog, forming a bond that was more usual for trainers. “It almost seems like he was in the training department. Seeing how he works with dogs the way he works with other actors is a really beautiful scene to see. You could watch the dogs move into the tone of the scene.”

Bullet Head was edited in L.A. Solet met with Jonathan Saba of Saban Films about the title. Saba had worked with Solet’s previous title, Grace, while at Anchor Bay Films. “He’s known about the script over the years,” added Solet. “When he heard that Millennium were going to make the movie, he initiated conversations with them to come on for domestic distribution.”

Bullet Head will open in ten cities Friday including Laemmle NoHo in L.A. as well as Village East in New York in addition to locations in Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit, Austin, Austin, Phoenix, Houston and Kansas City.

Hollow in the Land
Director-writer: Scooter Corkle
Cast: Dianna Agron, Shawn Ashmore, Rachelle Lefevre
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

Vertical Entertainment

The producing team that joined Hollow in the Land joined the project shortly after reading the script. The group were particularly attracted to the setting of the story and its main character.

“[We] involved with the project after reading the script,” commented Marlaina Mah. “We already knew Scooter and were a fan of his work and had been looking for a project to work on together. We were excited by Scooter’s vision for Hollow in the Land, the strength of which was really illuminated in the setting of story, being Scooter’s hometown Castlegar. In addition to the raw small town feel, we loved the central character, played by Dianna Agron.”

The film centers on Alison Miller, whose father is in jail, while her mother had left when she was young. Alison is thus, the matriarch of the family watching over her only sibling Brandon. But on the anniversary of their father’s crimes, their family is pushed to its limits: a dead man has been found in a trailer park and Brandon is missing from the scene of the crime.

The project received financing first through Telefilm Canada and Elevation Pictures, followed by Narrative Capital. Hollow in the Land shot in Castlegar, B.C.

“Since it’s Scooter’s hometown, he already knew the area extensively, and the script effectively acted as a location roadmap,” noted Mah. “With a tremendously supportive town, everyone from local pub owners to the mayor’s office, we were able to secure locations easily, including shooting the police station for itself.” Dianna Agron received the part as the feature’s lead after sending the script out to “a number of performers,” according to Mah who added: “Dianna Agron blew everyone away and we were thrilled to make the film with her.”

The producing team had worked with Vertical in 2015 on a film. The company saw the title at a market screening earlier in the year. Hollow in the Land will bow in ten cities and theaters Friday at Cinema Village in New York as well as AMC CityWalk in L.A. in addition to locations in Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and Atlanta.

Naples ’44
Director: Francesco Patierno
Participants: Benedict Cumberbatch, Adriano Giannini, Alan Arkin
Distributor: First Run Features

First Run Features

The filmmaking team behind post-WWII documentary Naples ’44 approached First Run Features about releasing the film this past June. The company was attracted to the fact that the film already had a commitment from an established New York exhibitor.

“It came to us with Film Forum already attached, so that meant a lot to us,” said First Run’s Marc Mauceri. “We set up Los Angeles and other markets as well. We came up with new art work for the U.S. This is a very unusual documentary. It’s very cinematic and a bit of a memoir. It’s evocative in an experimental way.”

In the doc, Oscar-nominated actor Benedict Cumberbatch gives life to the words of British soldier Norman Lewis, whose remarkable memoir of post-World War II Naples form the basis for this haunting evocation of a ravaged land, and later a city of infinite charm. Lewis entered Naples as part of an invasion of Nazi-occupied Italy.

“It’s a highly unusual film that will find a lot of interest from people interested in World War II and modern-day Italy,” added Mauceri. In addition to Film Forum, Naples ’44 will bow at the Laemmle Monica in the L.A. area this Friday. First Run Features expects the title to play “one or two dozen other cities” as well, according to Mauceri.