As a new post-Oscars cycle begins, Specialty winners should see a bump in the box office this weekend with added runs while new titles enter theaters with audiences looking to spring and beyond. IFC Films is rolling out comedy The Death of Stalin, which had a fall festival run. Starring Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale and Andrea Riseborough, the feature takes a crack at one of the last century’s most notorious dictators and his cronies. On a comparatively more sober note, Charlotte Rampling stars in fellow Toronto Fest feature Hannah, which Parade Deck Films opens on both coasts Friday before heading to other markets. Also this weekend are two documentaries about artists: Greenwich Entertainment is opening Itzhak by Alison Chernick spotlighting celebrated violinist Itzhak Perlman, while Magnolia Pictures is bowing Leaning Into the Wind. The feature, about Andy Goldsworthy, comes 16 years after a documentary about the British artist by Thomas Riedelsheimer.
Also among other limited releases this weekend is Sony Pictures Classics’ The Leisure Seeker starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland.
The Death of Stalin
Director-writer: Armando Iannucci
Writers:David Schneider, Ian Martin
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Olga Kurylenko, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough
Distributor: IFC Films
IFC Films picked up BAFTA nominee The Death of Stalin when it was still in the script stage. The distributor worked with filmmaker and Veep creator Armando Inannucci with his 2009 political satire In The Loop, which took in $2.4M in the U.S and received an Oscar nomination.
His latest is set in Moscow in 1953 when dictator Joseph Stalin dies. His parasitic cronies square off in a frantic power struggle to be the next Soviet leader. Among the contenders are the dweeby Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), the wily Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), and the sadistic secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale). But as they bumble, brawl, and backstab their way to the top, just who is running the government?
“We’ve been very confident in the film all along,” said IFC Films co-president Jonathan Sehring. “The first screening [in Toronto] played better than we thought. It’s a comedy that is about one of the most notorious figures of the 20th century, but he more than pulled it off.”
After the Toronto Film Festival, IFC Films took it to the thriller-filled Fantastic Fest where Sehring said it played “very well” to its younger audiences. “Younger people really like the humor though they may not be very familiar with Stalin,” he said, adding that despite the fall festival run, they wanted to get past the Oscar season to roll out The Death of Stalin.
“We love this date. We didn’t open coming out of Toronto, but we figured the ‘Russian thing’ would still be in the news, and of course it is. Armando is best to talk about this, but when you look at a leader like Stalin and see what power does to a leader and what it does to the people around him, it [has relevance to] what you see today.”
Sehring said the company has done a mix of traditional marketing along with social media and online as well. IFC Films is expecting a mix of younger and older crowds to head to theaters for the feature, which will open at the Arclight and the Landmark in L.A. as well as IFC Center and Lincoln Square in New York.
The Death of Stalin will head to the top ten markets in its second weekend, followed by the top 25 in week three. “It’s a pretty aggressive platform roll-out,” said Sehring. Armando Iannucci will take part in post-screening Q&As on both coasts and will do additional press in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco ahead of its launch in those cities. Said Sehring: “We think audiences are going to respond very well there. The ‘fake news,’ Russian influence is very much a part of the [conversation] in the Silicon Valley and I can’t think of anyone better to speak to that audience than Armando.”
Director-writer: Andrea Pallaoro
Cast: Charlotte Rampling, André Wilms, Stéphanie Van Vyve, Simon Bisschop, Jean-Michel Balthazar, Fatou Traore
Distributor: Parade Deck Films
Hannah is an intimate portrait of a “woman’s loss of identity as she teeters between denial and reality.” Distributor Parade Deck Films caught the drama at the Toronto Film Festival in September on the heels of its Venice debut. Charlotte Rampling’s performance as the lead was a big selling point for the company.
In Hannah, the British-born actor plays a woman who is left alone to grapple with the consequences of her husband’s imprisonment. She begins to unravel. Through the exploration of her fractured sense of identity and loss of self-control, the story investigates modern-day alienation, the struggle to connect and the dividing lines between individual identity, personal relationships and societal pressures.
“[Fimmaker] Andrea Pallaoro ability to trust his audience to be patient with his slow-moving, minimalist approach was what really got to me,” said Parade Deck Films’ Michael Ingram. “You could tell from the audience [at the P&I screening in Toronto] the people who loved it and the ones who despised it.”
Ingram noted that “most critics” loved the film, while fellow industry colleagues who saw the feature in Toronto were mixed. In the lead-up to its release, Ingram noted the film is a New York Times critics pick and was praised by the Los Angeles Times.
“We’re hoping to roll off the backs of the critical [momentum],” he said. “We’re also doing a lot of social media to older audiences, but definitely relying on critics and word-of-mouth. As we expand, we’ll do direct marketing in those particular areas including NPR in [individual markets], targeting a primarily female audience. At its core, the film deals with grief and [is natural] for anyone who has felt alienated in the world.”
Ingram said that Rampling has only minimally promoted the feature in the lead-up to its U.S. release, noting she’s been busy with her turn in Red Sparrow. “What she’s been able to give us is very kind,” he added. “I’m sure as she sees how it is going, she’ll do more.”
Andrea Pallaoro has been active in the lead-up to this weekend. He’ll also be doing select Q&As following screenings in New York and L.A. He’s also been talking to film schools in New York, L.A. and Chicago ahead of the release. Following its weekend launch, Hannah will expand to ten additional markets next weekend and up to 100 heading into spring and beyond.
Director: Alison Chernick
Subject: Itzhak Perlman
Distributor: Greenwich Entertainment
Greenwich Entertainment picked up doc Itzhak from sales outfit Submarine. The feature, by Alison Chernick, was the opening night film at the Hamptons International Film Festival and won ‘best of the fest’ at the Palm Springs International Film Festival earlier this year.
Itzhak Perlman’s violin playing transcends mere performance to evoke the celebrations and struggles of real life. Alison Chernick’s documentary looks beyond the sublime musician to see the polio survivor whose parents emigrated from Poland to Israel, and the young man who struggled to be taken seriously as a music student when schools saw only his disability. Itzhak himself is funny, irreverent and self-deprecating, and here his life story unspools in conversations with masterful musicians, family and friends, and most endearingly his devoted wife of 50 years, Toby. Itzhak and Toby’s lives are dedicated to their large, loving, Jewish family in NYC and their continual support of young musicians.
“It struck me as crowd pleasing and a completely charming portrait of a guy who has overcome a lot in his life to become one of the world’s greatest violinist,” said Greenwich Entertainment’s Ed Arentz. “Itzhak Perlman is such a mensch. He’s an enlightened and wise but wears his virtuousness lightly. He’s completely approachable.”
Greenwich Entertainment is primarily making outreach to Jewish audiences, but also of course fans of Itzhak Perlman. In addition to its festival run, the company has done a fair share of word of mouth screenings. “The P&A budget is fairly limited but we did dedicate a good deal of our advertising budget to reach out to Jewish audiences [in addition to] doing aggressive social media. Itzhak also has a lot of active followers on Facebook and Instagram, so we’re trying to leverage that built-in audience and expand.”
This is the first 2018 release for Greenwich Entertainment, with seven additional titles planned for the year so far — some of which are yet to be announced. Next up for the company is documentary Mountain in May.
Itzhak will bow at the Landmark 57 West and the Quad theater in New York. Alison Chernick and Itzhak Perlman will also take part in select Q&As this weekend. The title will next head to L.A. next weekend as well as Houston where it recently played at a festival there to “sold-out shows,” according to Arentz, who added: “We have 50 markets set. We’re play about 75 to 100 engagements.”
Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy
Director: Thomas Riedelsheimer
Subject: Andy Goldsworthy
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Documentary Leaning Into the Wind comes sixteen years after the release of Rivers and Tides, filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer’s 2002 documentary about British land artist Andy Goldsworthy. Magnolia Pictures caught the current doc at the San Francisco International Film Festival last year, calling it a “beautiful, meditative film that works equally well for people that re fans of Andy Goldsworthy and those discovering his work.”
Leaning Into the Wind takes a look at the artist and his exploration of the layers of his world and the impact of the years on himself and his art. As Goldsworthy introduces his own body into the work it. Becomes at the same time even ore fragile and personal and also serener and tougher, incorporating massive machinery and crews on his bigger projects.
“We are marketing the film to admirers of Andy Goldsworthy and people who were fans of River and Tides,” commented Magnolia’s Matt Cowal. “There’s a solid fanbase for that film, which was a nice theatrical hit in 2002. Andy’s focus has obviously evolved significantly over the years, although he’s still dealing with similar themes, and we believe that people who enjoyed Rivers And Tides will also find this film moving and transporting. There is also a meditative quality to Andy’s work and the film, so we’ve been marketing to various organizations in the wellness industry.”
Magnolia has had experience with artist docs, with work from Chris Burden last year as well as releasing docs on photographers Harry Benson and Mick Rock. Later this year, the company will release Kusama about the artist Yayoi Kusama.
Leaning Into the Wind will have a traditional roll out, opening in New York and Film Forum as well as locations in Los Angeles and San Francisco. It will expand to other major markets throughout March.