Oscar nominee William Friedkin’s 1973 classic The Exorcist grossed nearly $233M stateside, spawned follow ups and imitations and is still a standard-bearer in horror. Now Friedkin is taking a look at real-life exorcisms in the documentary The Devil and Father Amorth, which The Orchard is opening Friday. Friedkin’s latest will be decidedly different from his narrative thriller, but will nevertheless be “unnerving,” according to the distributor, which will combine the film with a director’s cut of The Exorcist in key locations. The film is one of a number of mixed-genre Specialty newcomers making theatrical debuts this weekend, including Cohen Media Group’s Godard Mon Amour by writer-director Michel Hazanavicius and featuring Stacy Martin and Louis Garrel who plays the legendary director set against the backdrop of the student uprisings of 1967 France. Also opening is Vertical Entertainment’s sci-fi title Genesis as well as Passion River Films’ documentary After Auschwitz, which spotlights six survivors’ stories of their challenging lives after liberation.

Among other limited releases making theatrical launches this weekend are Zee Studios International’s Bollywood offering Beyond The Clouds in 40 U.S. theaters as well as IFC Films’ Ghost Stories, Zoo Wars from Parade Deck Films and Traffik via Codeblack Films.

The Devil and Father Amorth
Director-writer: William Friedkin
Writer: Mark Kermode
Subject: Father Gabriele Amorth
Distributor: The Orchard

The Orchard

Director William Friedkin received an Oscar-nomination for 1973’s The Exorcist, and the film still reigns as the most famous exorcist movie. Now Friedkin returns to the topic with a documentary showing a real-life exorcism. Fans of The Exorcist beware, however: The Devil and Father Amorth does not contain the same kind of hair-raising scares of the classic thriller, though both Friedkin and distributor The Orchard are being upfront about that. The company first saw the title around the time of its Venice Film Festival premiere.

What began as a brief conversation between Friedkin and Father Gabrielle Amorth – the head Exorcist for the Diocese of Rome for over 30 years – as two professionals who knew of each other’s work soon transformed into an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as Amorth agreed that Friedkin could film an exorcism. It would be the ninth exorcism for a painfully afflicted woman, Cristina (a pseudonym), who had already been under Father Amorth’s care – and it would be filmed by Friedkin alone, with no other crew allowed, no light other than the natural light in the room and a small digital camera-and-mic unit that could capture the ritual and its revelations. Combining the startling and singular footage from Cristina’s exorcism with interviews from priests and psychologists, neurosurgeons and non-believers, Friedkin guides viewers on a journey into the twilight world between the boundaries of what we know and what we don’t with a singular and startling guide in the form of the urbane, charming and self-deprecatingly funny Father Amorth, a man who laughs in the face of the Devil both figuratively and literally.

“He hadn’t set out to make a documentary. He spent time with Father Amorth, the chief exorcist of the Vatican,” said The Orchard’s Paul Davidson. “And from there, it morphed to filming an actual exorcism. This is a grounded look at what exorcisms look like today and what doctors and scientists have to say.” Davidson added that “well established people in the medical community can’t say it’s not real.”

Messaging the feature ahead of its release, The Orchard is maximizing the tie-in to The Exorcist. Earlier this week, the director gave a tour to journalists showing where he filmed parts of the classic in Washington, D.C. In select screenings, there will be a double feature with a directors cut of The Exorcist along with The Devil and Father Amorth.

“From a marketing standpoint, the tagline is clear: The director of the most famous movie about an exorcism actually films a real one,” said Davidson. “Billy was adamant from the beginning, that we’re not selling this as a horror movie. It’s approached in a grounded way. There’s no jump scares and heads spinning, but when you leave the theater, it’s unnerving. There are no answers.”

Along with Friedkin/The Exorcist fans, The Orchard is also reaching out to conservative religious communities who believe in possession and look to exorcisms as a means to rid people of demonic spirits. The company is also reaching out to documentary fans. Friedkin also recently did a two-hour podcast hosted by Guillermo del Toro.

The Devil and Father Amorth will bow at Metrograph in New York and Fine Arts in L.A. this weekend. It will then head to about 50 locations in the next couple weeks. The feature will also be available on digital platforms on April 24. Some select locations will also show a 20 minute-plus interview with Friedkin.

Godard Mon Amour
Director-writer: Michel Hazanavicius
Writer: Anne Wiazemsky (novel)
Cast: Stacy Martin, Louis Garrel, Bérénice Bejo
Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Cohen Media Group

Cohen Media Group first saw Godard Mon Amour (originally titled Le Redoutable) at a Paris screening preceding the Cannes Film Festival where it debuted last May. The company saw it as a ‘no-brainer’ to add to its releases.

“It is a natural fit for the CMG slate: one of our leading French directors taking on one of our most enigmatic,” commented Cohen Media Group’s Charles Cohen. “Michel Hazanavicius’ wit and style offer a fun and seductive way into a curious period of Godard’s life and work.”

Set in 1967, the film follows Anne, a rising star completing her starring role in “La Chinoise”, the eagerly awaited new work from the most renowned filmmaker in France, Jean-Luc Godard (Louis Garrel). The two have happily fallen in love, and are married in the summer. Making their home in Paris, Anne and Godard share adventures and cultivate creativity together. But as his new movie gets a divisive response and he staggers between projects, Godard reveals himself to his new wife as a walking mass of contradictions. Hailed as an icon, he is insistently iconoclastic; seen as a public figure, he does not enjoy being recognized by fans; and while in love with Anne he can also be aloof. With artistic ferment channeling into the societal activism surging across France, suddenly their married life includes street protests, political discussion halls, and a possible shutdown of the Cannes Film Festival. The nation-defining events that rock France in May 1968 lead to profound self-examination for Godard and strengthen Anne’s determination to preserve their marriage.

“With relatively little competition in terms foreign-language, it looks to be a great weekend to add a new French film to the Specialty release calendar,” noted Cohen. “A late April release also seemed appropriate given the lead-up to the 50th anniversary of ‘May ’68.’”

The company said the title is “at its heart, a film for lovers of cinema.” As such, Cohen Media Group has targeted fans of Jean-Luc Godard in particular and the French New Wave in general. The company is also messaging the film’s performances and its comedic aspects.

Godard Mon Amour will bow at two New York and two Los Angeles locations on today. The feature will then expand in both cities on April 27 while also opening in five additional markets. Cohen Media Group expects the title to be in up to 50 runs by May 11.

After Auschwitz
Director-writer: Jon Kean
Subjects: Eva Beckmann, Rena Drexler, Renee Firestone, Erika Jacoby, Lili Majzner, Linda Sherman
Distributor: Passion River Films

Passion River Films

Filmmaker Jon Kean’s doc After Auschwitz comes a decade after his previous non-fiction on Holocaust survivors, Swimming In Auschwitz. His 2008 release, Swimming in Auschwitz, features some of the same folks spotlighted in his latest film.

In After Auschwitz, Jon Kean examines the question, “What happens after surviving an unspeakable horror?” with six stories of remarkable women who survived the Holocaust and went on to build lives in the United States, but never truly found a place to call home. For survivors of the Holocaust, liberation was both an incredible moment and a devastating one. It marked the beginning of a life-long struggle. Most wanted to go home, but there was no home left in devastated post-war Europe. Many came to America and wanted to tell people about their experiences, but were silenced. “You’re in America now, put it behind you” is what they were told. The women Kean follows became mothers and wives with successful careers, but never fully healed from the scars of the past.

“One advantage of this being a sequel of sorts was that Swimming with Auschwitz was good, so we were able to get [some of the same backers],” said Kean. “This [film] took three years to figure out the story through the editing… I don’t know that I’ll be able to do a film of this scale again…”

Kean pulled together many hours of footage he had from the first film as well as new footage of the women, who were all Los Angeles residents at the time of filming (some have since passed away). Dean first found his subjects in the early 2000s sending out 1,200 letters to survivors of which he received 300 responses. From there, he did phone interviews and eventually identified the six seen in After Auschwitz.

“You can get lucky when doing phone interviews,” said Kean. “One woman said, ‘Your premise is interesting — we will talk,’ and then [promptly] hung up. We got lucky with the ladies in the film.”

Stylistically, Kean considered a few approaches including jumping around with time, but ultimately decided on a straight linear telling of their stories. Added Kean: “Once we decided to go linear, it was much quicker.”

The filmmaking team had approached The Orchard to handle theatrical, but the company was not able to take on the title. They also had a plan to do a one-day event screening in about 500 locations, but the company that they were working with on that idea went under — though they didn’t hear about it until a few months after the fact. Kean said The Orchard had suggested speaking to Passion River Films to handle theatrical. They were already connected with the latter to handle ancillary, so also working with the label for a big screen release fit nicely.

“We’re in 20 different cities and hopefully that will grow,” said Kean. “That’s great for a small documentary and that will be great when we go to ancillary. The title opens in New York this weekend. It’s also slated for six Florida cities and will add other markets as well. Kean is particularly looking forward to its Los Angeles bow on May 4.

“This is an L.A. story,” he said. “These women went to L.A. in 1955. I’m hoping this will have a long life in L.A.” The title will open at the Laemmle there.

Directors-writers: Freddie Hutton-Mills, Bart Ruspoli
Cast: Olivia Grant, Chiké Okonkwo, John Hannah, Warren Brown, Rick Warden, Ed Stoppard, Willian Snape, Wendy Glenn
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

Vertical Entertainment

Vertical Entertainment first saw sci-fi title Genesis early last year. The company said “genre films are universally liked,” which drew its attention. Added Vertical’s Hannah Lawrence: “I especially liked that John Hannah is part of the cast. [The film] incorporates many relevant elements relating to what’s happening [in the world] now.”

Deep in a subterranean silo, the last remnants of humanity is divided by a caste system that keeps the politicians and scientists away from the rabble and crowd. While the civilians starve, freeze and are forced to work in a hazardous, chemically lethal environment above ground, all resources are dedicated to the construction of Abel. A humanoid life form designed to forage, search, recover and make contact with any other survivors. Dr. Eve Gabriel, lead scientist, works with the huge burden of the fate of mankind on her soldiers. But when a civilian rebellion spills over into her lab and she is injured, Eve makes a shocking discovery. A discovery about herself, her mind and her fate…

“For this weekend in particular, we are looking for Genesis to be counter-programming to I Feel Pretty, so it seemed like the right time to release it,” said Lawrence. “We were a bit worried about The Avengers because it was moving around a bit.”

The company said its connecting with genre sites “to build hype” among their audiences. Vertical will do a day and date release for Genesis. “We’re targeting the top 10 theaters among the top 20 DMAs,” added Hannah. “But we’re [focused] on VOD customers specifically.”