The Magnolia Pictures-Participant Media documentary RBG already has lured crowds with targeted buyout screenings and looks ready for a strong debut as it begins its regular run in theaters this weekend. Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s Sundance premiere about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is opening Friday in nearly three dozen locations, ready to peel off some audiences looking for an alternative to the second weekend of Avengers: Infinity War and other big holdovers. New limited releases this weekend also include foreign-language fare. Music Box Films is opening The Guardians, a drama starring Nathalie Baye from French filmmaker Xavier Beauvois that begins its stateside run with an exclusive showing in New York this weekend before heading to select markets. And KimStim is opening Vivian Qu’s Angels Wear White at New York’s Metrograph before heading to other cities. The film was the only feature directed by a woman in competition at last year’s Venice Film Festival.
Other limited releases beginning their theatrical runs include Vertical Entertainment’s The Cleanse with Johnny Galecki, Oliver Platt and Anjelica Huston; Strand Releasing’s The Desert Bride; and TriCoast Worldwide’s Ray Meets Helen.
Directors: Julie Cohen, Betsy West
Subjects: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Gloria Steinem
Distributors: Magnolia Pictures, Participant Media
Magnolia and Participant acquired RBG — one of the most anticipated documentaries this spring — from producer CNN Films following its premiere at Sundance in January. Magnolia is taking a page out of the playbook it used for the successful rollout of its 2017 doc I Am Not Your Negro, which grossed $7.1M in theaters.
“The Magnolia and Participant teams fell in love with this moving and inspirational film and felt that it had very strong potential in the marketplace,” Magnolia’s Matt Cowal said. “Justice Ginsburg is a cultural and historical icon whose story is so important and relevant in today’s political climate, and the filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen were able to get the kind of access to her that makes this doc tremendously compelling.”
At the feature’s center, of course, is U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. At age 85, Ginsburg has developed a breathtaking legal legacy while becoming an unexpected pop culture icon. But without a definitive Ginsburg biography, the unique personal journey of this diminutive, quiet warrior’s rise to the nation’s highest court largely has been unknown, even to some of her biggest fans — until now.
“We have a history of working with Magnolia and have enjoyed working with them — Zero Days [and others],” said Participant Media CEO David Linde. “We’re often at festivals looking for opportunities together. RBG leapt off of the screen — they loved it and we loved it. The film is a celebration, not just about an incredible woman but about people who believe in the things she believes in: equal rights and gender equality. That falls right into our bucket list.”
Ahead of the film’s theatrical bow this weekend, Participant has worked with 60 organizations around the country to secure more than 70 theater buyouts. Additionally, Participant and Magnolia worked with Lyft to create an “in-app experience” for audiences seeing the movie on opening weekend.
“We’re treating it as a celebration for organizations and individuals working on behalf of women’s rights and gender empowerment,” Linde said. “Some of the organizations include advocacy, law firms, corporations such as Bank of America, Salesforce, Morgan Stanley, the American Bar Association and the ACLU.”
Linde added that Participant also has worked with the University of Oregon Law School, where his dad taught law. “We have over 100 buyouts in total between us and Magnolia,” he said. “Theater buyouts give people an opportunity to engage in conversation around the movie [and spread the word].”
For opening weekend, Participant is helping to mobilize local community leaders in San Francisco, Chicago and Boston to rally around the film’s launch with on-site activations in select theaters, including merchandise giveaways and interactive, pop-up RBG-themed photo booths. The film is getting a traditional rollout, opening at 34 theaters in 10 markets Friday. The current plan is to be in 120 locations by May 11 and 300 by May 18.
Added Cowal: “We timed the release with the Mother’s Day weekend expansion in mind and have been encouraging mothers and daughters to watch the film together.”
Director-writer: Xavier Beauvois
Writers: Marie-Julie Maille, Frédérique Moreau, Ernest Péocon (novel)
Cast: Nathalie Baye, Laura Smet, Iris Bry
Distributor: Music Box Films
Music Box’s acquisitions team caught French drama The Guardians at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, picking up the title for this side of the Atlantic shortly afterward.
“The Guardians struck us as exactly the kind of high-end art house release which we’d released to great success in the past — a historical subject that people think they know but has been opened up to suggest a new dimension and perspective, namely the plight of women on the home front during World War I,” noted Music Box Theatrical sales coordinator Kyle Westphal. “We also felt that The Guardians — with its cast of strong women, its gorgeous cinematography from veteran D.P. Caroline Champetier and the multi-faceted contributions of editor and co-screenwriter Marie-Julie Maille — was the right movie for this moment, a tribute to the resilience of women in the face of extraordinary circumstances.”
The Guardians follows the women of the Paridier farm, who, under the deft hand of family matriarch Hortense (Nathalie Baye), must grapple with the workload while the men, including two sons, are off at the front. Hortense reluctantly brings on an outsider, hardscrabble teenage orphan Francine (Iris Bry,) to help her daughter Solange (Laura Smet, Baye’s real-life daughter). New tools allow the women to triumph over the land ang newfound independence is acquired, yet emotions are stirred, especially when the men return from the front on short leaves.
It’s no surprise that Music Box is messaging The Guardians to the art house crowd. The company also is tying the title to the same Francophile and cinephile audience that have gone to latest offerings by the film’s director Xavier Beauvois’ peers, including Claire Denis (whose Let the Sunshine In had a robust start last weekend stateside) as well as Arnaud Desplechin and Cedric Klapisch.
“We were, of course, conscious of the great success of Xavier Beauvois’s Of Gods and Men ($3.95M), which Sony Classics released stateside in 2011,” commented Westphal. “Beauvois’s credibility as an auteur was a major factor. Audiences who loved Of Gods and Men will find a similar nuance and patience in the construction of The Guardians. Like the monks in Of Gods and Men, the women of The Guardians cannot overcome their place in history — but they can transcend it.”
Music Box will bow The Guardians exclusively at New York’s Quad Cinema this weekend, followed by a slow rollout throughout the summer. Los Angeles as well as a few suburban New York locations will open in its second weekend, with other major markets set for later this month and into June.
Added Westphal: “I can’t emphasize enough that The Guardians is a movie made for the big screen. We’re committed to traditional theatrical releases, and The Guardians, with its painterly vistas and skillful evocation of a precise historical moment, is the perfect demonstration of why that’s so important.”
Angels Wear White
Director-writer: Vivian Qu
Cast: Vivain Chen, Zhou Meijun, Shi Ke, Ging Le, Liu Weiwei
Mandarin-language drama Angels Wear White by Vivian Qu also was a Toronto pickup, and distributor KimStim will give it a New York exclusive launch this weekend.
The feature centers on teenager Mia, who works the graveyard shift at the reception desk of a sleepy maritime motel. The job offers little excitement, until one night she becomes the sole witness to an assault on two schoolgirls by a middle-aged man. Fearing the consequences of speaking up, Mia decides to keep quiet on the matter. Twelve-year-old victim Wen, however, quickly realizes that the violence she endured that night is only the first in a litany of troubles. With seemingly nowhere to run, Mia and Wen find themselves caught in an ever-tightening net that they alone can free themselves from.
“It’s a powerful statement in the #MeToo zeitgeist happening now, though the film was pre-Weinstein,” said KimStim’s Ian Stimler. “It’s a stunning picture of how things are stacked against girls in the face of social conformity. It’s this biting social critique that’s stunningly shot.”
Stimler noted the feature’s cinematographer, Benoît Dervaux, is a veteran of the Dardenne brothers’ films and touted his work on Angels Wear White. He also noted that the title was “a hit” in the indie space in China, grossing $3.4M. “It wasn’t in the multiplexes there,” he said. “Vivian Qu has broken a lot of great ground. She is the first woman to win [Taiwan’s] Golden Horse Award for best director and the only woman to compete in Venice last year.”
KimStim is targeting the core Chinese community ahead of the film’s release this weekend and later in other markets, with an emphasis on Chinese student groups as well with organizations that fight sexual assault. Said Stimler, “We’re also working with a grassroots coordinator who has been messaging the film to various [related] chat groups.”
The feature bows Friday at the Metrograph in New York and will head to Laemmle’s Music Hall on May 18 followed by a national release to 25-30 cities.