Just in time for the Cannes announcements, Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, which debuted at last year’s event, is headed to U.S. theaters. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, the Amazon Studios feature had a solid opening in the U.K. last month. The title headlines a fairly wide pack of newcomers this weekend, including A24’s Lean On Pete by British filmmaker Andrew Haigh and starring Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny and Charlie Plummer. Great Point Media/Paladin are launching Where Is Kyra? with Michelle Pfeiffer and Kiefer Sutherland in roles the director, Andrew Dosunmu, swears fans of the two will be surprised by. And Well Go USA is opening Tribeca ’17 thriller, The Endless in New York before heading to L.A. next week.
Also opening in limited release is Warner Bros.’ Pandas. Other titles making bows this weekend include Sweet Country with Sam Neil and Bryan Bishop as well as Shout! Factory’s Big Fish & Begonia and Abramorama’s thriller The Heart of Nuba.
You Were Never Really Here
Director-writer: Lynne Ramsay
Writer: Jonathan Ames (book)
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Ekaterina Samsonov, John Doman, Alex Manette, Dante Pereira-Olson and Alessandro Nivola
Distributor: Amazon Studios
Amazon Studios first talked to the producers of You Were Never Really Here at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, a full year before its premiere at the festival last May. After a successful roll-out in the U.K. and a pre-U.S. theatrical bow at Sundance in January, the title is heading out to three New York and L.A. locations this weekend.
In the film, Joaquin Phoenix stars as a traumatized veteran who is unafraid of violence and takes on tracking down missing girls for a living. When a job spins out of control, Joe’s nightmares overtake him as a conspiracy is uncovered leading to what may be his death trip or his awakening.
“For us, the excitement was the combination of Lynne Ramsay and Joaquin Phoenix,” said Bob Berney, head of Marketing & Distribution at Amazon Studios. “When talking to them both, we felt they had an amazing take on the novella [by author Jonathan Ames] and they delivered. Critics have talked about their amazing collaboration.”
The feature was barely completed before its Cannes bow last year. Since then, Ramsay has worked on a new sound design, according to Berney. Amazon wanted to wait for the U.K. launch before taking the title out for its U.S. theatrical run.
Studio Canal opened the film in the U.K. in early March, grossing over $1.3M through last month. “The U.K. opening is giving it buzz before it opens here in the U.S.,” said Berney. “It’s a cool, elevated genre film. We think it can break through to the genre crowd.”
Berney said that the music in the film has been a “real driver” for the title’s momentum. In addition to fans of Ramsay and Phoenix, Amazon is expecting fans of the novella and Jonathan Ames to be another core attracting audiences opening weekend.
Amazon Studios will open You Were Never Really Here exclusively at the Arclight in Los Angeles. In New York, it heads to the Angelika and AMC Lowes Lincoln Square. Plans are for the film to be in 15 theaters in its second frame ahead of going wider to between 150 to 200 locations by its third weekend.
Lean on Pete
Director-writer: Andrew Haigh
Writer: Willy Vlautin (novel)
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny, Charlie Plummer, Travis Fimmel
Filmmaker Andrew Haigh read the novel Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin “by chance,” according to producer Tristan Goligher, and was subsequently moved to bring it to the big screen. The feature is the first feature-length project since Haigh’s 2015 title 45 Years starring Charlotte Rampling on the heels of his critically acclaimed 2011 film, Weekend.
“For me the the novel and the film is about how we have forgotten the most vulnerable people in our societies,” commented Goligher. “That sentiment was important when Willy wrote the book in 2010 and is even more so now. It’s about human endurance, and the need for even the smallest acts of kindness.”
Lean on Pete centers on 15 year-old Charley Thompson, who arrives in Portland, OR with his single father Ray. Both of them are eager for a fresh start after a series of hard knocks. While Ray descends into personal turmoil, Charley finds acceptance and camaraderie at a local racetrack where he lands a job caring for an aging Quarter Horse named Lean On Pete. The horse’s gruff owner Del Montgomery and his seasoned jockey Bonnie help Charley fill the void of his father’s absence—until he discovers that Pete is bound for slaughter, prompting him to take extreme measures to spare his new friend’s life. Charley and Pete head out into the great unknown, embarking on an odyssey across the new American frontier in search of a loving aunt Charley hasn’t seen in years. They experience adventure and heartbreak in equal measure, but never lose their irrepressible hope and resiliency as they pursue their dream of finding a place they can call home.
“The novel was not only set in Portland, but also written there,” noted Goligher. “Once Andrew started working on the script he went out to Oregon and spent some time with the author Willy Vlautin. He then set off on the same journey Charley takes in the story, writing the first draft over the course of that journey. When it came to production we were very singular about the fact we would go back to the source and film in as many of the real locations Willy referred to in the book.”
Film4 joined the project early on, helping to develop the material with the filmmaking team. The British Film Institute (BFI) boarded in the script stage, as did A24. The shoot took place over 40 days, using about 20 horses and various locations including a very hot desert with temperatures hovering over 105 degrees.
“A24 were onboard from before production so we were talking to them very early on, but of course that conversation sharpens once festival premieres become clear,” noted Goligher. “The Venice premiere was extraordinary. There was a very special standing ovation and as it’s the first ever public screening those moments were always emotional.” Charlie Plummer won the Marcella Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor in Venice. The feature then screened at the Telluride Film Festival.
A24 will open the feature in select locations Friday ahead of a national roll out.
Where Is Kyra?
Director-writer: Andrew Dosunmu
Writer: Darci Picoult
Cast: Michelle Pfeiffer, Kiefer Sutherland, Suzanne Shepherd, Sam Robards
Distributor: Great Point Media/Paladin
The erosion of “human values” motivated filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu and writer Darci Picoult to start work on the script, Where Is Kyra? starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Kiefer Sutherland, three years ago. Dosunmu was also looking to do something following his last feature, Mother of George (2013).
Where Is Kyra? tells the story of Kyra Johnson, a middle-aged divorcee who moves into her elderly mother’s Brooklyn apartment while she looks for work and tries to get back on her feet. When her mother suddenly dies, Kyra is left without any support, both emotional and financial, and finds herself with very few options–none of them good. Despite a blossoming affair with a sympathetic neighbor with struggles of his own, Kyra can’t accept that her once-tidy life has fallen apart, and she resorts to increasingly desperate measures to hold onto what little she has left.
“Darci and I wrote two drafts over a period of [about] six months,” said Dosunmu. “I then shared it with my agent and talked about how to get it made. Michelle [Pfeiffer’s] name came up among a few people. I knew I wanted to find someone that the audience could relate to and Michelle is someone [a lot of us] have grown up watching.”
Dosunmu also was looking for someone the audience could find empathy with. “You don’t see her in this kind of role,” added Dosunmu. “Kiefer Sutherland came on afterward. [Audiences] often see him in action-packed movies, but I wanted to do something very subtle with him — a guy next door who is working class. Doing this is part of why I wanted to be a director. I like working with actors doing things they haven’t done before.”
Dosunmu’s agent sent the script to Killer Films which boarded the project and contacted Great Point Media which came on with financing. Where Is Kyra? shot over 18 days in areas around Queens and Brooklyn, New York. “I’ve lived in New York for 30 years so I like to do my films here,” said Dosunmu. “There wasn’t that much time, so the challenge was getting as much as I could. I’m not sure that Michelle has done an independent film like this before, so I’m sure it was a challenge for her as well.”
The feature debuted at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and traveled to other events including BAMCinemaFest. Dosunmu said other distributors courted the feature early on, but eventually went with Paladin for its theatrical release, noting: “People aren’t used to seeing Michelle in this way, but Paladin was brilliant in letting the audience get a sense of the film instead of simply pushing it out in a way that doesn’t make sense.”
Where Is Kyra? will bow at the Quad Cinema in New York ahead of rolling out to select locations around the country.
Directors: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Writer: Justin Benson
Cast: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez, Emily Montague, Lew Temple, Tate Ellington, James Jordan
Distributor: Well Go USA
Filmmaking duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead were looking to get a new project moving to follow up to their 2014 feature Spring. They had other possibilities on the docket for both the big and small screen, but dove into The Endless since it felt like a relatively easy project to get underway.
“There were slightly bigger budget projects, which would take longer, so we conceived of something, that no matter what, we could make,” said Benson. “We had in mind locations that would be available to us and what visual effects Aaron would like to try out. We also thought we could just put ourselves into the film which would [make casting easier].”
The thriller follows two brothers who receive a cryptic video message inspiring them to revisit the UFO death cult they escaped a decade earlier. Hoping to find the closure that they couldn’t as young men, they’re forced to reconsider the cult’s beliefs when confronted with unexplainable phenomena surrounding the camp. As the members prepare for the coming of a mysterious event, the brothers race to unravel the seemingly impossible truth before their lives become permanently entangled with the cult.
“We take inspiration from the Duplass brothers,” said Moorhead. “Whether we knew it or not, we were developing this script for seven years. It takes place in the same sort of world as [our 2011] film, Resolution.”
Initially, they had planned to finance the feature themselves, but then their producer, David Lawson, stepped in to nix that idea. “He told us, ’I can’t work for free again,’” said Moorhead. Lawson did a post on Reddit which happened to be read by prospective financiers. What then transpired was something of an indie magical scenario.
“We had a call with them, and then we had the money in our account just days later,” added Moorhead.
The Endless shot over 17 days in Descanso, in San Diego county. In addition to Benson and Moorhead, other friends and acquaintances filled roles in the feature, while casting director Mark Bennett brought on actors Callie Hernandez, Lew Temple and others.
“Our movies are very low budget and go quickly which can be a recipe for disaster, but we planned this to a ’T,’ with intense on-location rehearsals,” said Benson. “The only thing that can get in the way is weather. It was tiring as shoots are, but surprisingly smooth.”
The Endless debuted at Tribeca where they had premiered their first feature, Resolution. Said Benson: “It felt like going home. Our last film, Spring, went to Toronto, but getting to go back to Tribeca [with this film] and also being the first genre film in competition in a very long time felt great. It felt familiar though the shine hadn’t been dulled.”
Well Go USA came on board out of the Tribeca Film Festival. The Endless will open at IFC Center in New York Friday and will head to L.A.’s Sunset 5 on Friday, April 13 before expanding to select locations across the country April 20.