Focus Features is confident that crowds will know the man at the center of its weekend documentary release, Pope Francis: A Man of His Word. The film by Wim Wenders will have a fairly wide bow by nonfiction standards, in about 300 locations in North America this weekend. Bleecker Street is going with a more traditional limited-release pattern for On Chesil Beach, starring Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle and Emily Watson. Sundance Selects is opening That Summer, a documentary that captures the Beales pre-Grey Gardens and famous faces of pop culture from the early ‘70s in Long Island.

Other limited releases this weekend include Abramorama docu The Most Unknown, A24 thriller First Reformed and Vertical Entertainment’s The Hollow Child.

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word
Director-writer: Wim Wenders
Writer: David Rosier
Subjects: Pope Francis, John Kerry, Barack Obama, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Angela Merkel
Distributor: Focus Features

Focus Features

Focus Features is going fairly wide to 300 runs for documentary Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, no doubt expecting the wide profile of the film’s central subject, His Holiness Pope Francis, will draw a cross-section of audiences. The feature is directed by veteran filmmaker Wim Wenders, who also has his own following. Focus Features says the title is “not a biography about the pope, rather a film with him.” The company joined the project from its start.

On March 13, 2013, the Cardinal/Archbishop of Buenos Aries, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, became the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. As Pope Francis, he has made communication a vital element of the Church and a key component of his work of reform. In the film, he responds to questions submitted from around the globe. Exclusive footage from the Vatican’s archive shows the pope on journeys, sharing his ideas and ideals in different parts of the world.

Focus said that Wenders was free to do what he wished. On the marketing side, the company said this doc is easier to market in the sense that its main subject is already very well known.

“We pretty much had free rein. The Catholic Church didn’t stop us from doing anything,” said Focus head of Distribution Lisa Bunnell. “This is different from [most] documentaries. Usually, you have to set up the story in order for it to be released properly, but this is a man everyone knows. So, we decided to take this everywhere. We feel everyone should have access to it.”

Also at its core are topics important to Pope Francis’ conscience including immigration, poverty and, as Bunnell described, “treating our neighbors the way you would want to be treated.” She added: “The film brings hope, and ‘hope’ itself is a huge selling point. The country is in a place of negativity, and youth groups are very interested. They are growing up under circumstances in which they can use some guidance, hope etc. Having the pope speak so directly is beautiful.”

The company said the documentary will reach virtually every area in North America where audiences can access it and will expand based on performance beyond its 300 locations starting Friday.

On Chesil Beach
Director: Dominic Cooke
Writer: Ian McEwan
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, Emily Watson, Anne-Marie Duff, Samuel West, Billy Howle
Distributor: Bleecker Street

Bleecker Street

The big-screen version of drama-romance On Chesil Beach was adapted by Ian McEwan based on his best-selling novel. Bleecker Street picked up the film out of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. It is the directorial debut of veteran British theater director Dominic Cooke.

The drama centers on a young English couple of drastically different backgrounds in summer 1962. Following the pair through their idyllic courtship, the film explores sex and the societal pressure that can accompany physical intimacy, leading to an awkward and fateful wedding night.

“It’s a film we feel confident about our ability to market and distribute well,” said Bleecker Street’s president of distribution Jack Foley. “We’ve done Saoirse Ronan and Ian McEwan films in our ‘past lives,’ and we know who this audience is.” Foley, along with Bleecker Street chief Andrew Karpen, helped spearhead Atonement, based on McEwan’s novel, while at Focus Features. While at the company, they also released Hanna, which starred Ronan.

“Having Saoirse Ronan in a film is an exciting opportunity, but particularly in a film like this,” he added. “The audience target is an urbane, core art house crowd. Knowing that [allows us] to manage the film into the marketplace.” Foley said that crossover is still TBD, but the company does expect a strong result from its core audience. “We’ll see how it expands commercially,” he added.

On Chesil Beach bows Friday in New York at Lincoln Square and the Angelika as well as the Arclight and The Landmark in Los Angeles. It will head to select cities in the coming weeks.

That Summer
Director: Göran Olsson
Subjects: Peter Beard, Lee Radziwill, Edith Bouvier Beale
Distributor: Sundance Selects

Sundance Selects

Coming of age in the late ‘70s in northern Sweden, filmmaker Göran Olsson obsessed over the New York art and late-night scene. He’d make a regular trek to the public library to read the latest issue of Interview magazine. He also was a fan of film from the era, including the Maysles’ brothers famous 1975 documentary, Grey Gardens, which captured Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and sister Lee Radziwill’s cousins, Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, living in East Hampton, NY. Cut to the middle of this decade, and a friend told Olsson about the existence of film material owned by artist Peter Beard that pre-dated Grey Gardens and included the Beales and others from the era that fascinated him. Olsson set out to create a film using the footage after gaining access.

“In the end we created a framework that ‘reflected’ 1972 [in eastern Long Island],” said Olsson. “We let the material show Lee and Peter and their relationship with the Beales. It’s an organic entry into the world.”

In 1972, Beard initiated a film project with Radziwill about her relatives, the Beales of Grey Gardens, for which they hired filmmakers David and Albert Maysles to help out. For various reasons, this project never did see the light of day — though the Maysles returned of their own accord to the same material to make their now-legendary documentary Grey Gardens, which made icons out of Big and Little Edie. As fashioned into a feature by Göran Hugo Olsson, this footage re-emerges in a film that focuses on Big and Little Edie before the cleanup that rendered Grey Gardens more livable, as they interact with Radziwill and reflect upon their past.

“I saw the material and saw it was amazing,” said Olsson, who received rights from Beard in addition to material from Jonas Mekas and the Andy Warhol Foundation. “The challenge for us was how to put it in a [feature film] and structure it and keep the intentions of its originators. There are also a lot of creators [who filmed the footage], so we wanted it to have a framework that allows the audience into the work, but not with too much cutting, arcs and offensive editing. … That doesn’t mean we didn’t do a lot of editing, but I wanted to have the ‘batter’ and not the ‘cake.’”

That Summer took two years to edit. Financing came via American, Swedish and Danish sources and selling television rights overseas. IFC Films picked up the title out of last year’s Telluride Film Festival, where it debuted. The feature opens Friday at IFC Center in New York.

Sollers Point
Director-writer: Matthew Porterfield
Writer: Amy Belk
Cast: McCaul Lombardi, Jim Belushi, Tom Guiry, Zazie Beetz, Marin Ireland
Distributor: Oscilloscope

Oscilloscope

This is actually the second outing for drama Sollers Point, following its debut last weeked in Baltimore, where the film is set. It makes its bow today in New York and L.A.

“We saw a locked cut of Sollers Point last summer prior to its world premiere at San Sebastian. Matthew represents the type of filmmaker that has always been very important to Oscilloscope,” said the company’s Andrew Carlin. “Matthew really established himself with Putty Hill and I Used to Be Darker, so when we learned Sollers Point was happening, we leaped at the opportunity to work with him.”

The feature tells the story of Keith, a 24-year-old who is newly released from prison and living with his father under house arrest in Baltimore. Keith is struggling to re-establish himself and break free of the bonds forged behind bars, within a community scarred by unemployment, neglect and deeply entrenched segregation. His intentions are in the right place and he possesses an aggressive desire to get back on his feet, but as he taps into all of his familiar resources, he finds that he might be reverting to his old ways.

“Baltimore really exceeded our expectations,” Carlin said. “Given that it’s a local film — and Matthew is a hometown celebrity — we knew it would be good, but the opening was phenomenal. Its first-weekend gross was more than double the next-highest release since the New Parkway re-opened a year ago. It will definitely become that theater’s best-grossing film to date and we think the strength of that number indicates it’s more than just a ‘regional film.’ We’re confident it’ll travel and open other top markets well.”

Porterfield will participate in Q&As at select screenings in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.