A week ahead of Fathers Day weekend, Gunpowder & Sky is opening Hearts Beat Loud starring Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons as a dad/daughter musical duo. Also featuring Ted Danson and Toni Colette, the title will open in New York and L.A. before expanding next week. Focus Features is opening Mr. Rogers Sundance fest doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor? in what will very likely be a formidable contender for documentary kudos come Awards season. The title is heading to over two dozen theaters in a dozen markets Friday.

Going out to theaters with a bit more contention is fellow Sundance doc Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist from Greenwich Entertainment. The company acknowledged it has been hamstrung at least somewhat by the woman at the center of the story, fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood. It opens in New York before heading to L.A. next week. And after a long absence from the big screen, veteran indie filmmaker Jim McKay is back with his Brooklyn-set En el Séptimo Día just ahead of World Cup.

Other films going out in limited release this weekend include Samuel Goldwyn Films’ mystery-thriller Nancy starring Andrea Riseborough, Steve Buscemi, Ann Down and John Leguizamo. Also on tap is Magnolia doc The Quest of Alain Ducasse.

Hearts Beat Loud
Director-writer: Brett Haley
Writer: Marc Basch
Cast: Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson, Toni Collette, Sasha Lane, Blythe Danner
Distributor: Gunpowder & Sky

Filmmaker Brett Haley said the story behind Hearts Beat Loud had been gestating for “a long time.” The filmmaker worked with actor Nick Offerman on his 2017 feature The Hero, and talked to him about playing the role of the dad at the center of the new project.

“He committed upon seeing the first draft,” said Haley. “He kept the window open. Nick also reached out to Ted Danson since they’re friends and he also [boarded].”

Hearts Beat Loud follows single dad Frank Fisher who prepares to send his daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), off to college while being forced to close his decades-old record store in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Hoping to reconnect with his daughter, he urges Sam to transform their impromptu “jam sesh” into a father-daughter musical act. After their first song turns into an unexpected hit, they are forced to embark on a journey of love, family, and self discovery through music.

“Kiersey was the last to come on,” explained Haley. “We were [seeing] a lot of people for that role… I had done some research and found out that [Kiersey Clemons] could sing.” Clemons joined soon after meeting with Haley. Clemons also tapped a friend to join the cast — Sasha Lane.

Haley and Toni Collette met at a party at Sundance. Though he didn’t think he would be able to cast her, he decided to reach out. “I sent her the script assuming she’d be too busy, but to my surprise she did it.”

For financing, Haley tapped investors and producers from his previous projects, including Park Pictures and Burn Later. One group did drop out which threatened the production temporarily.

“It’s a scary time right now,” noted Haley. “You want to make a movie in a way that you can get your investors their money back. Thankfully, we were able to, but at this level, it’s touch and go. Luckily we [sold the film] to Gunpowder & Sky.”

Hearts Beat Loud shot over 19 days in various Brooklyn neighborhoods including Red Hook. Despite the ambitious timetable, Haley said that he kept it at a civilized pace. “I do five day weeks and I give the crew the weekends off. With 18-19 days, you have to put your eggs in certain baskets. We had to ensure [the actors] had the time to do their best performances. We had to work quickly, but we had a lot of fun. I am a big collaborator on set. It went by in a flash, and then we were editing and we then were off to the races. Thankfully Kiersey and Nick were up to the task of doing these live musical performances. It was insane but also the best insane ever.”

The premiere was Haley’s third at Sundance, which kicked off a good festival run. “It’s my favorite festival — they gave me a career. I’m very thankful. Once we sold the movie, it was really great. We screened at the Paramount at SXSW, so that really solidified it for us… After the movie comes out, we’ll do the U.K. premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival [later this month].”

Hearts Beat Loud will open in four locations Friday including the Landmark 57 West and Regal Union Square in New York as well as The Landmark and Arclight in L.A. Cast and Haley will take part in select Q&As. The title will then expand to between 50-70 theaters next Father’s Day weekend. The soundtrack with original songs is also available starting this weekend.

Added Haley: “I’ve had luck with ’slow burning’ movies over the summer. I think people will want to see a feel good [film]… I hope it plays throughout summer.”

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Director: Morgan Neville
Subjects: Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, McColm Cephas, Jr., François Scarborough Clemmons
Distributor: Focus Features

Documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? has already generated Oscar talk from insiders. Filmmaker Morgan Neville is familiar with the awards circuit, having won Best Documentary at the Academy Awards in 2014 for 20 Feet From Stardom (RADiUS). That title was also a winner at the box office, grossing $4.9M stateside.

“We worked on the development of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” said Lisa Bunnell, Focus Features president, Distribution. “Reaction at Sundance [where it premiered] was terrific. Everyone who’s seen [the movie] loves it.”

For over thirty years, Fred Rogers, an unassuming minister, puppeteer, writer and producer was beamed daily into homes across America. In his beloved television program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred and his cast of puppets and friends spoke directly to young children about some of life’s weightiest issues, in a simple, direct fashion. There hadn’t been anything like Mr. Rogers on television before and there hasn’t been since.
Though he may be best known today as a soft-spoken, cardigan-wearing children’s television host, in reality, Fred Rogers’ career represents a sustained attempt to present a coherent, beneficent view about how we should best speak to children about important matters and how television could be used as a positive force in our society.

“Exhibitors are coming to me to ask for it which is unusual for a doc,” said Bunnell. “The film highlights the humanity of people — treating someone the way you want to be treated. People come out feeling better about life in general having spent time with Mr. Rogers. This is somebody who embodies all that was good [and believed that] everything in the world is about love — or the lack of it…”

Focus is ready to give the title an awards push, though of course the starting point is the doc’s theatrical release starting this weekend. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? will bow in 29 theaters across the country in 12 markets Friday including Lincoln Square, the Angelika and East 86th St. Cinema in New York as well as The Landmark and Arclight in Los Angeles. The film will also open in Fred Rogers’ hometown of Pittsburgh this weekend.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is set to then roll out slowly from there going into the summer. Added Bunnell: “Whenever you have Morgan doing a documentary, you’re going to get awards conversation…”

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist
Director: Lorna Tucker
Subject: Vivienne Westwood
Distributor: Greenwich Entertainment

Greenwich Entertainment caught Lorna Tucker’s documentary on fashion designer Vivienne Westwood at Sundance. Noteworthy though is that Westwood has turned her back on the film because she contends it was meant to concentrate on her activism.

“Amusingly and almost predictably as the film makes clear about the quirks of her personality, Dame Westwood has publicly disavowed the film over her allegation that the film was to be primarily about her environmental activism,” commented Greenwich Entertainment’s Ed Arentz. “We feel bad for Lorna Tucker who’s been placed in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between her obligation to present a truthful and entertaining portrayal with what had once been her friendship with Vivienne.”

Since igniting the punk movement with ex-partner and Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren, Dame Vivienne Westwood has been redefining British fashion for over 40 years, creating many of the most distinctive looks of our time. Blending archival footage, crafted reconstruction, and interviews with Westwood’s network of collaborators, the documentary guides viewers on her journey from her humble beginnings in postwar Derbyshire to the runways of Paris and Milan. Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist shows how Westwood fights to maintain her brand’s integrity, her principles and her legacy in a business driven by consumerism, profit and global expansion.

Arentz acknowledged that Westwood’s non-participation has proven to be a hurdle to promote the title. Still, the company is looking to females and people into fashion and pop culture to be its core audience. He said that though Westwood is not on board, there is interest in the film.

“Luckily, despite Vivienne’s fatwa, there were still many fashion world organizations and university fashion programs that have been supportive and have been actively encouraging attendance. Given SVOD commitments, we did need to open in early summer and also wanted to not overlap with the two other fashion docs this summer: The Gospel According to André and McQueen.”

Greenwich Entertainment will open Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist at IFC Film Center this Friday in New York, followed by the Nuart in L.A. on June 15. The title will then head to the next top 25 markets in the following weeks.

Added Arentz. “Not having Vivienne available for interviews was a big loss and her displeasure has cooled the interest we may have expected from her celebrity followers and social media influencers. But we knew what we were getting into. As critical as the issue is, we would almost certainly not be distributing a feature length documentary about Vivienne’s positions on global warming which most people would agree are given an appropriate and balanced treatment in Lorna’s account of her life and career.”

Cinema Guild

En el Séptimo Día
Director-writer: Jim McKay
Cast: Fernando Cardonal, Gilberto Jimenez, Abel Perez, Genoel Ramírez, Alfonso Velazquez
Distributor: Cinema Guild

Filmmaker Jim McKay wrote an early draft of En el Séptimo Día over a decade ago while completing his last feature film, Everyday People. He has since spent time doing work for television, but a few years ago, he contacted producer and collaborator Caroline Kaplan about the idea.

“He called me three years ago and said, ‘remember that script?,’” recalled Kaplan. “So ten years from that initial draft, we jumped back in. He revisited the script and looked around and decided to do it in Sunset Park, Brooklyn… We’ve reached such a critical point about immigration and at the same time it’s about a character and his community. And [timing wise] it’s also good with World Cup since it’s [in part] a soccer movie. Jim had his heart in this for so many years…”

En el Séptimo Día fetes bicycle delivery guys, construction workers, dishwashers, deli workers, and cotton candy vendors, who work long hours six days a week and then savor their day of rest on Sundays on the soccer fields of Sunset Park. José, a bicycle delivery worker, is the team’s captain – young, talented, hardworking and responsible. When José’s team makes it to the finals, he and his teammates are thrilled. But his boss throws a wrench into the celebration when he tells José he has to work on Sunday, the day of the finals. José tries to reason with his boss or replace himself, but his efforts fail. If he doesn’t work on Sunday, his job and his future will be on the line. But if he doesn’t stand up for himself and his teammates, his dignity will be crushed.

The filmmaking team spent “a long time” casting the movie among residents in the community. Kaplan said, “friends and family” were among the “select group” of people who provided financing for the project.

“We worked with our casting director [Jodi Angstreich] to put together this great group,” said Kaplan. “Fernando [Cardonal] has had a great response to his performance and it’s his first acting job. We’ve been excited by how critics have embraced him.”

En el Séptimo Día shot in summer, 2016 in Brooklyn over 20 days and had its World Premiere at BAMcinemaFest last year. “We wanted it to be in Brooklyn where we made the film,” said Kaplan. “We started to work with Cinema Guild who loved the movie and were excited about their passion for it.”

En el Séptimo Día will bow at IFC Center in Manhattan Friday as well as BAM Rose Cinemas in Brooklyn. IFC Center hosted a retrospective of McKay’s work leading up to the title’s theatrical bow. Next weekend, the feature will head to Laemmle Music Hall in L.A. before adding locations in San Francisco and other cities the following week. The film will continue to roll out in select markets further into July and August.