Filmmaker Debra Granik made a splash at the start of this decade with Winter’s Bone and she finally returns to theaters with her Sundance debut Leave No Trace with Ben Foster and Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie. Bleecker Street hopes to replicate the box office success of Granik’s previous feature, which helped catapult the career of Jennifer Lawrence. The company is taking Leave No Trace in a number of cities this weekend. Jessica Chastain stars in A24’s Woman Walks Ahead, based on a true story. The feature was written by Who Wants to Be a Millionaire creator Steven Knight. Neon is heading out with Sundance doc Three Identical Strangers, hoping to tap some of the nonfiction success of fellow documentaries RBG and Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, both of which also debuted at the festival. And FIP is sending out bio-drama Sanju in 355 North American theaters this weekend, the widest to date for a Bollywood title.

Also opening in limited release is Kino Lorber’s Custody, the winner of the Silver Lion for Best Director (Xavier Legrand) and the Lion of the Future for Best Debut film at last year’s Venice Film Festival. Other Specialty newcomers include Abramorama’s This Is Congo, Strand’s The Cakemaker, Dark River from FilmRise and Love, Cecil via Zeitgeist.

Leave No Trace
Director-writer: Debra Granik
Writer: Peter Rock (novel), Anne Rosellini
Cast: Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Jeffery Rifflard, Peter Simpson, Derek John Drescher, Dana Millican
Distributor: Bleecker Street

Bleecker Street

Leave No Trace is filmmaker Debra Granik’s first narrative feature film since her 2010 acclaimed drama, Winter’s Bone, which starred a then relatively new discovery, Jennifer Lawrence. Like Winter’s Bone, Leave No Trace bowed at the Sundance Film Festival where Bleecker Street first saw the feature.

“The team was so moved that we had to rapidly acquire it,” said Bleecker Street president of Distribution, Jack Foley. “It’s the type of film you feel privileged to be associated with it. You can’t help but consider her past work on Winter’s Bone and Debra Granik has done it again with this film. She brought in a remarkably talented woman, Thomasin McKenzie who is a phenomenal actress. As a filmmaker she’s an extraordinary director that’s magical in finding talent.”

Released by Roadside Attractions in June 2010, Winter’s Bone grossed over $6.53M in theaters.

Leave No Trace centers on Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie). The pair have lived off the grid for years in the forests of Portland, Oregon. When their idyllic life is shattered, both are put into social services. After clashing with their new surroundings, Will and Tom set off on a harrowing journey back to their wild homeland.

“We’re opening the title a little differently than we usually do,” noted Foley. “It will open this weekend in New York and L.A., but also in Seattle and Portland, OR to take advantage of its local appeal. Winter’s Bone was also a big hit there.” Foley said they are also taking Leave No Trace to San Francisco, Boston and Phoenix to leverage the art house fans in those cities to be advocates for the film.

Foley noted the title has a 100% among critics on RT and 97% among viewers. “Those are great numbers to have at this stage,” added Foley. “We’ve been showing it to a lot of cinephiles and members of the industry. We hope to assert a positive voice among a group of astute moviegoers this weekend.

In New York, Leave No Trace will bow at Lincoln Square and the Angelika. In L.A., the title will open at the Landmark and Arclight Hollywood. Bleecker Street will add nine or ten markets next week before another expansion. It will continue to roll out based on performance.

Woman Walks Ahead
Director: Susanna White
Writer: Steven Knight
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Louisa Krause, Boots Southerland, Sam Rockwell, Michael Greyeyes, Monika Crowfoot, David Midthunder
Distributor: A24

A24

Woman Walks Ahead writer Steven Knight is best known as the creator of game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Only a few years after creating the original British quiz show, he sent over the script for Woman Walks Ahead to producer Rick Solomon.

“He came to L.A. in 2001 and we had a meeting,” said Solomon. “It was the kind of meeting that’s like a date where you wonder if it’s going to go anywhere.” Solomon said that the story had roots from when Knight was a boy and struck up a pen pal friendship with someone in the U.S. who lived on an Indian reservation. “He had fallen in love with [Native American] culture and later found this story about Catherine Weldon,” said Solomon. “He told us this story and it just knocked us out… He wrote a beautiful script and that began a crazy 17-year journey.”

Woman Walks Ahead centers on Catherine Weldon, a portrait painter from 1890s Brooklyn, who travels to Dakota to paint a portrait of Sitting Bull and becomes embroiled in the Lakota peoples’ struggle over the rights to their land.

The project had a number of false starts or near starts. At one point Ed Zwick was attached to direct and then over the course of time, there were various actors attached and then unattached to the project. “It was a classic Hollywood story where things don’t come together — until they do,” said Solomon. “Eventually, we were able to get Jessica Chastain [to play Catherine Weldon] and [director] Susanna White on board.”

Securing Chastain and White in 2015 also brought about financing. Producer Erika Olde’s company Black Bicycle funded the project. The filmmaking team also did a wide search around the country for someone to play a convincing Sitting Bull. Eventually they found Michael Greyeyes to play the role.

Woman Walks Ahead shot in central and northern New Mexico over 30 days in the fall of 2016, which Solomon noted was an ambitious schedule. “It was a crazy amount of time since it’s quite an epic,” he said. “The greatest thing was the involvement of the Native American people. A week before shooting, the demonstrations at Standing Rock began, which imbued a timeliness to [the project] even though our story takes place over 100 years ago. We had a lot of crew sending up care packages to Standing Rock.”

Post-production took place in London and Los Angeles. The title debuted at the Toronto Film Festival where A24 picked up the title along with DirecTV, which is streaming on demand. A24 is opening Woman Walks Ahead in New York and L.A. before platforming out in select cities.

Three Identical Strangers
Director: Tim Wardle
Distributor: Neon

Neon

Neon caught Tim Wardle documentary Three Identical Strangers at the Sundance Film Festival in January where it won a Special Jury Prize. The company called the title ‘jaw-dropping’ and a story that reveals itself like a series of ‘Russian dolls.’ “Tim has constructed a very complex story and the overall arc is amazing,” commented a Neon spokesperson. “Interest in the film has been very high and audiences who’ve seen it have reacted as we have. The testimonials of people reflects this fascination with the story.”

Three strangers are reunited by astonishing coincidence after being born identical triplets, separated at birth, and adopted by three different families. Their jaw-dropping, feel-good story instantly becomes a global sensation complete with fame and celebrity, however, the fairy-tale reunion sets in motion a series of events that unearth an “unimaginable secret…”

The company said that the “most important piece” for its release is to take Three Identical Strangers out very slowly in a methodical roll out throughout the summer to maximize word of mouth. Neon said it has set its sights “very conservatively,” but expects the film to be playing “well into the fall.” The company added that the film is “testing higher” than 2013 doc 20 Feet From Stardom, which grossed over $4.94M. That title was released by Radius, which Neon chief Tom Quinn headed with Jason Janego.

For Three Identical Strangers, Neon is expecting to capitalize on counter-programming and to tap some of the documentary momentum seen this spring/summer with box office hits RBG from Magnolia Pictures ($10.86M so far) and Focus Features’ Won’t You Be My Neighbor? ($4.9M so far). Both of those titles were also Sundance premieres.

Neon is opening Three Identical Strangers at the Arclight and Landmark theaters in Los Angeles, while in New York, the doc will bow at Landmark 57 West, City Cinemas 123 and the Angelika. Added Neon: “[We’ll be going] to traditional strong art house theaters in the coming weeks. We will have [select] Q&As this weekend with a few special guests. [Audiences] will be pleasantly surprised.” The company expects an opening weekend per theater average in the $9K to $10K range.

Sanju
Director-writer: Rajkumar Hirani
Writer: Abhijat Joshi
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Manisha Koirala, Anushka Sharma, Sonam Kapoor, Dia Mirza, Vicky Kaushal, Jim Sarbh, Boman Irani
Distributor: FIP

FIP

Bio-drama Sanju will break the record for widest Bollywood film opening in North America, with 355 locations featuring the title starting Friday. The film centers on one of India’s most famous actors and the director has broken Bollywood box office records with his past movies. It’s opening day and date worldwide this week.

“The film is directed by Raj Kumar Hirani, the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed director from India,” commented Rohit Sharma, Head of International Sales & Distribution Sales at Fox Star Studios India. “He has delivered five blockbuster hits over the last 12 years. His last two films such as PK and 3 Idiots were worldwide blockbusters. This film, Sanju, is the most eagerly awaited film for the Indian audiences across the globe.”

Few lives in our times are as dramatic and enigmatic as the saga of Sanjay Dutt. Coming from a family of cinema legends, he himself became a film star, and then saw dizzying heights and darkest depths: adulation of diehard fans, unending battles with various addictions, brushes with the underworld, prison terms, loss of loved ones, and the haunting speculation that he might or might not be a terrorist. Sanju is in turn an exploration of one man’s battle against his own wild self and the formidable external forces trying to crush him.

“The combination of the director, the story, the response to the trailer and promos as well as the general appeal of the film to Indian audiences across North America [influenced our decision] to take it this wide,” noted Sharma. “The film has a 360 degree marketing strategy where all media platforms targeting Bollywood audiences are covered. Print, OOH, digital, and TV are covered for the North American markets for Bollywood films.”

Sanju will open day and date across 66 countries with over 5,500 runs, capitalizing on awareness of the title among its core South Asian audience and to beat piracy.