Natalie Portman takes narration duties in Christopher Dillon Quinn’s documentary Eating Animals, based on a memoir by Jonathan Safran Foer. The IFC Films release, which examines dietary choices, opens with two exclusive engagements in New York before heading to L.A. next week. Lea Thompson makes her feature film directorial bow with The Year of Spectacular Men, written by her daughter Madelyn Deutch and starring Zoey Deutch. The trio appeared at the New York premiere of the film in New York for the Cinema Society Wednesday night ahead of its bow in a dozen cities this weekend via MarVista Entertainment. Rock band Deer Tick is at the center of Abramorama doc Straight Into a Storm by William Miller. And Mike Tyson stars in Cleopatra Entertainment’s China Salesman by Chinese filmmaker Tan Bing.

Gotti starring starring John Travolta as mob boss John Gotti is among other limited releases opening this weekend. Others include Strand’s Gabriel And the Mountain and GEM Entertainment’s Loving Pablo with Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz and Peter Sarsgaard.

Eating Animals
Director-writer: Christopher Dillon Quinn
Writer: Jonathan Safran Foer (book)
Narrator: Natalie Portman
Distributor: IFC Films

IFC Films co-president Jonathan Sehring saw Christopher Dillon Quinn’s documentary Eating Animals after being encouraged to catch the title at last year’s Telluride Film Festival. Famed advocate for locally sourced food, Alice Waters, though not formally involved with the film, also feted the film at the festival.

“I went to see it and was taken by the movie personally,” said Sehring. “One of my jobs in high school [exposed me] to slaughterhouses… It made an impression on me and it’s something you never forget.”

Adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer’s critically acclaimed book, Eating Animals reveals what has happened to America in the last 40 years as it moved away from traditional farming communities to massive industrial farming complexes that produce a seemingly endless supply of so-called “cheap” meats, eggs, and dairy. “Where does our meat come from?” quickly takes us on an exploration of the stakes of eating animals, the destruction of farming, and the complete unwinding of the American mythos.

“I think it’s a really important issue. I know others have covered this [topic] but this is done very smartly,” said Sehring. “You don’t have to be vegan to see this movie — it doesn’t [focus] on that. One person featured in the film raises ‘heritage poultry’ — the way they were farmed 100 years ago.”

The company is tying in with various grassroots agencies and community groups allied with locally sourced food as well as farm to table restaurants and vegetarian establishments.

The film also has a high-profile champion and collaborator, Natalie Portman, who serves as narrator and a producer. She will take part in weekend Q&As at IFC Center and the Landmark 57 West in New York where the title will launch this weekend.

“Natalie is doing in person with director in both theaters. Natalie is very passionate about this project. She optioned the book and produced,” said Sehring. “We have done a lot of regional screenings with special interest groups like agricultural farm organizations and parents groups.”

Among similarly themed documentaries, Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc., which opened nearly a decade ago via Magnolia Pictures, grossed over $4.41M.

Next week, Eating Animals will head to L.A. at the Landmark and will continue to add cities and locations from there. Added Sehring: “It’s a traditional release, which we do when we feel there’s the theatrical audience [in place] that are passionate.”

The Year of Spectacular Men
Director: Lea Thompson
Writer: Madelyn Deutch
Cast: Zoey Deutch, Madelyn Deutch, Avan Jogia, Nicholas Braun, Melissa Bolona, Jesse Bradford, Lea Thompson, Cameron Monaghan
Distributor: MarVista Entertainment

Distributor MarVista Entertainment said its weekend release, The Year of Spectacular Men is a “passion piece” for the company. The title is a family project of sorts. The script was written by Madelyn Deutch, who is also a cast member, and stars her sister Zoey Deutch. Their mother, Lea Thompson, is the director, and Howard Deutch is a producer.

The feature centers on Izzy Klein, a young woman fresh out of college as she strikes up and ruins relationships with several men, and struggles to navigate the failures of post-college adulthood, leaning on her mother and older sister for support.

“This is a great story about family secrets,” said MarVista SVP Marketing & Communications, Deena Stern whose company first caught the title at last year’s Los Angeles Film Festival. “The key focus is social media marketing with a millennial creative messaging, focusing on clips, funny quotes, custom Instagram GIFs, creative with GIPHY as well as a heavy focus on the sister and dating angles. We’ve been really pleased to see how press has responded to the film so far.”

As part of the push for the title, MarVista is focusing in part on Thompson’s feature film directorial debut (she’s directed a number of television projects) and are also doubling down on a press push Zoey Deutch is doing for her soon-to-be Netflix release Set It Up.

The Year of Spectacular Men connects with the MarVista values on so many levels, most importantly as a story that places women front and center,” noted MarVista CEO Fernando Szew about the title. “Combined with the authenticity of the story and the involvement of the whole Deutch family, this multilayered film has strong appeal across generations.”

MarVista will open The Year of Spectacular Men in 12 theaters in 12 markets Friday, including Cinema Village in New York and the Laemmle Monica in the L.A. area. The title also will play locations in Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, San Francisco, Orlando and Columbus, though the company said its “big push” will be on digital platforms. MarVista said it plans to do about up to five theatrical runs this year.

Straight Into a Storm
Director: William Miller
Distributor: Abramorama

Filmmaker William Miller was looking for new projects when he saw that American alternative rock band Deer Tick was doing a 10th anniversary show. He contacted a friend who is associated with the band who then put him in touch with its management group.

“They had seen my last film and we talked about ideas [for a documentary],” said Miller. “Originally, [the film] was going to be solely focused [on the concert], but then it evolved into something bigger. I thought it should be more than just this moment in time.”

Straight Into a Storm centers around Deer Tick’s 2014-15 10th anniversary run in New York City. A portrait of a hard rocking band known for their live performances, the film chronicles one of the greatest cult rock bands of our time. Anchored by a fan-chosen set list and New Year’s Eve performance, the film weaves in and out of time over the last 10 years utilizing never before seen archive footage from their booze drenched early days to the successful touring/recording band they are now – and everything in between.

Through the band, the filmmaking team made contact with other people who had worked with Deer Tick through the years.

“The biggest challenge was going through all these pieces [of film] people had shot of them,” said Miller. “I wanted to get ‘into the heads’ of what people were shooting and building off of their instincts.”

Miller had to put the project aside for eight months, but continued work on the feature up until about seven months ago. Initially, angel investors helped launch the project, while further on, additional money was raised through crowd sourcing platform PledgeMusic. Said Miller: “They knew the band and had connections there. That helped raise money — and then we also [tapped] favors from friends.”

The filmmaking team began working with Abramorama in November last year for the title’s release, which will play in cities on Deer Tick’s tour schedule. It opens June 15 in New York at Roxy Cinema.

China Salesman
Director: Tan Bing
Cast: Mike Tyson, Steven Seagal, Dong-Xue Li, Janicke Askevold, Li Ai, Eriq Ebouaney
Distributor: Cleopatra Entertainment

China’s Wanda Corporation produced action-drama China Salesman (aka Deadly Contract), featuring Mike Tyson, with a reported budget of over $20M. U.S. distributor Cleopatra Entertainment picked up the title for release on this side of the Pacific at AFM.

Based on a true story, China Salesman is a film about the dangerous and epic adventure to Africa of a Chinese engineer/salesman and a corrupt competitor over the contract for the first African mobile telecom technology. Local tribesman Kabbah (Mike Tyson) and mercenary Lauder (Steven Seagal) get drawn into the conflict while the entire country faces civil war battles.

A company spokesperson said that they altered the poster to appeal to Western audiences ahead of its release this weekend. The feature, which has already opened in China, has grossed $1.4M there. Ahead of its U.S. bow this weekend, the company has been engaging fans of martial arts and boxing. Cleopatra also created a 15-second YouTube spot, which it posted to fight channels on the platform. Cleopatra noted that Mike Tyson fans have been re-posting the spot.

Additionally, the company mixed Tyson’s own words from the film to an original DMX song, with permission by the filmmaking team. Cleopatra has utilized street teams to engage potential audiences at boxing establishments and casinos in Las Vegas where the title will have a premiere screening with Tyson Thursday evening. Cleopatra expects a core of Tyson fans, which typically fall in the 18 – 50 male demographic.

China Salesman will open this weekend at the Galaxy Cannery in Las Vegas as well as New York’s Cinema Village and Arena Cinelounge Sunset in L.A.