Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate is opening Blindspotting with Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal in limited locations this weekend ahead of a wider roll out. Starring Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, who co-wrote the comedy/drama, the feature came together after a decade of planning. Blindspotting is the highest-profile narrative opening in select locations this weekend. Friday will also see the arrival of several documentaries. Bleecker Street is opening McQueen by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui; the Alexander McQueen bio is the company’s first doc release. And Sundance Selects will roll out Far From the Tree, based on the book by Andrew Solomon, while Amazon Studios is launching Generation Wealth by Lauren Greenfield.
Director: Carlos López Estrada
Writers: Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs
Cast: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Chephas Jones, Ethan Embry, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Wayne Knight
Distributor: Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate
Dramedy Blindspotting has been in the works for over a decade. Producer Jess Calder had the idea to riff off the traditional musical genre, but Instead of characters breaking into song during an emotional moment, they would go into verse. She and fellow producer Keith Calder were not quite sure about format until she saw a YouTube video featuring poet/performer Rafael Casal.
“I did more research online and found his email and wrote him cold saying I’d like to translate his poetry into a script,” said Jess Calder. “I was super surprised that he responded and said he’d like to talk. We went up to the Bay Area and sat down for three hours talking about movies and ideas of how we might translate [his work].”
Following the meeting, Casal sent a poem to Calder that dealt with the deaths of many young friends in Oakland, CA. The poem formed a cornerstone of the film, opening Friday.
Blindspotting follows Collin (Daveed Diggs) who must make it through his final three days of probation for a chance at a new beginning. He and his troublemaking childhood best friend, Miles (Casal), work as movers, and when Collin witnesses a police shooting, the two men’s friendship is tested as they grapple with identity and their changed realities in the rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood they grew up in.
Challenges with the script, according to Calder, included figuring out a way to add the verse without it sounding “strange.” About a year later, the Calders did a screening of their 2010 doc, Thunder Soul, about music education. “I wanted [Casal] to come down and perform, but he wasn’t able to do it,” said Calder. “So he suggested his friend Daveed Diggs, who freestyles verse. After I saw him perform, I suggested they both write the script.”
Added Keith Calder: “They went through different versions of the script; for some of the scenes, 90% of what you’re seeing onscreen was in the original script. We wanted the script to be current to the time, so we evolved it all the way up to the shoot.”
The project had some false starts due to scheduling conflicts. One big obstacle came after the Calders attended an Off Broadway production featuring Diggs. The duo realized that Hamilton was about to present some challenges.
“Half-way through seeing him in Hamilton, we realized he wouldn’t be available for a long time,” said Jess Calder. “He blew up in the meantime, and we were surprised when we found out that he was still very much into making the film. None of us wanted to let the project go.”
Financing came through the Calders company Snoot Entertainment. The producers, including Casal, recruited Carlos López Estrada to direct, and the script was updated.
Keith Calder said that they “pulled a lot of favors” with veteran crew to join the project. “Most of the cast were people we had already worked with before, though we did have auditions, working with our casting director, Kim Hardin,” he said. “And luckily the script spoke to a lot of the department heads we’ve worked with in the past.”
Blindspotting shot over 22 days in 27 locations during June of last year. The title was an opening night feature at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival where Lionsgate saw the film. “We had an amazing meeting with Lionsgate,” said Keith Calder. “We knew after that they were the right distributor.”
Lionsgate label Summit Entertainment will open Blindspotting in select locations this weekend ahead of going wide on July 27.
Directors-writers: Ian Bonhôte, Peter Ettedgui
Subjects: Alexander McQueen, Gary James McQueen, Janet McQueen
Distributor: Bleecker Street
Bleecker Street is making its first foray into non-fiction film with McQueen by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui. The company, in fact, put in some financing for the project about the late British fashion designer Alexander McQueen. The title had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April.
“Alexander McQueen is one of the great artistic icons of the late 20th century and 21st century,” said Bleecker Street’s president of Distribution, Jack Foley. “The Alexander McQueen show at [New York’s] Metropolitan Museum had a million people attend, and that certainly influenced us to [make this film] our first documentary. This is a unique documentary…watching a genius find himself, and also the troubles he had.”
Not surprisingly, Bleecker Street is reaching out to various fashion-related groups, including doing a contest with the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. The company released a thirty-second teaser for fashion blogs and has done tastemaker screenings for influencers inside and outside the fashion industry.
“We have the trailer playing in front of all these [successful docs] like RBG and [Won’t You Be My Neighbor?],” said Foley. “If we can get these people in, then the word of mouth will be terrific.” Foley touted the movie’s 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating (as of Wednesday) among top critics.
Foley expects the film to have a robust start in New York and L.A. where McQueen was particularly well known. The company hopes the good fortune that other docs have seen this summer will continue with McQueen.
“Fortuitously, it seems to be the year of documentaries,” he said. “When you pick one up, you sort of know what you’re getting into, but hopefully this will be swept up in it.”
Bleecker Street will open McQueen “very slowly,” according to Foley. Following its New York and L.A. bows this weekend, the title will go to San Francisco, then Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Dallas followed by Seattle and Portland.
Added Foley: “We’re going to play to the core and hopefully that will validate the film to that group and then it will hopefully go from there to [bring in a broader audience].”
Far From The Tree
Director: Rachel Dretzin
Writer: Andrew Solomon (based on the book)
Distributor: Sundance Selects
Sundance Selects doc Far From The Tree is based on the popular non-fiction work Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon, who is featured in the film directed by Rachel Dretzin. The IFC Films label announced its acquisition of the film from Participant Media, in association with Flux Films and Ark Media, ahead of its world premiere at DOC NYC.
Far From the Tree is an intimate look at families raising children society deems “abnormal.” Included are a mother and son determined to show the world that his Down syndrome does not define him, as well as a couple learning to communicate with their bright but nonverbal autistic son. Meanwhile, a young woman is dealing with what it means to be the only little person in her family, and there’s a spotlight on parents whose deep love for their son persists even after he has committed an unspeakable crime. The film traces the joys, challenges, tragedies and triumphs while exploring what it means to be a “normal family.”
“It’s a documentary you fall in love with. If you’re a parent of a kid, it’s a very special film,” said IFC Films co-president Jonathan Sehring. “Andrew is an amazing individual who has put so much of himself into this, and I think the film captures his book. It’s a positive message about family, humanity and what unites us all.”
Sehring said that the film was “the fastest sell-out” in the history of the non-fiction film festival DOC NYC. The book has created built-in awareness, which the company has seen through advanced showings.
“The people who’ve come out to word-of-mouth screenings have been incredible,” said Sehring. “We’re doing a lot of grassroots work with various special interest groups as well as high schools, universities. Andrew is also doing a lot with Rachel Dretzin.”
Sehring said one high-profile advance screening was hosted by Diane Sawyer in New York, and NBC’s Megyn Kelly devoted a half-hour of airtime to the film recently. “We’re thrilled with the response.”
Solomon and Dretzin will take part in select opening weekend Q&As at New York’s IFC Center and JCC Manhattan. The feature will open in Los Angeles next weekend, followed by other select cities including Boston and Chicago where Solomon will take part in Q&As. The feature will also be available via limited on-demand platforms later in the month.
Director-writer: Lauren Greenfield
Distributor: Amazon Studios, Magnolia Pictures
Filmmaker Lauren Greenfield is not a stranger to the gilded lives of the one percent (and above). She made a splash with her 2012 Sundance debut The Queen of Versailles about a billionaire couple who begin construction on a mansion that was inspired by Versailles only to face ruin when the bottom drops out of the real estate market. After that film, she turned the spotlight on the Chinese moneyed elite in Bling Dynasty. She returned to Sundance earlier this year with her latest documentary Generation Wealth.
The feature is an investigation into the pathologies that have created the richest society the world has ever seen. Spanning consumerism, beauty, gender, body commodification, aging and more, Greenfield has created a “cautionary” tale about a culture viewed by many as heading “straight for the cliff’s edge.” Generation Wealth witnesses the global boom-bust economy, the corrupted American Dream and the human costs of capitalism, narcissism and greed.
As with Bleecker Street and McQueen, Amazon Studios is hoping to capitalize on the success of Sundance docs Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, RBG and Three Identical Strangers. The company has played the trailer before the films ahead of its release.
“We’re living it with this movie,” said Amazon’s head of Marketing and Distribution, Bob Berney. “The trailer for Generation Wealth has been on all the docs that are doing well. The Queen of Versailles was championed by critics and audiences. What I’ve noticed is that [audiences] may not know Greenfield’s name, but when they see [the connection] to The Queen of Versailles, there’s great buzz. Hopefully some discussion comes out of this.”
Generation Wealth’s fellow three Sundance docs have amassed impressive box office. Magnolia Pictures opened RBG in 34 locations in early May, grossing over $578K in its opening frame for a $17K first weekend average. RBG, about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has cumed over $12.78M to date, the highest-grossing film in Magnolia’s history. Focus Features’ Fred Rogers doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor? played 29 theaters its opening weekend in early June, grossing over $475K for a $16,394 average. The title has gone on to be the biggest non-fiction film of the year at over $16.1M so far. Three Identical Strangers opened in late June, the Neon/CNN Films title playing just five theaters in its debut weekend, grossing $171,503 for a $34,301 average. Three Identical Strangers has cumed over $2.53M to date.
Amazon has been working with photography groups as well as political organizations that focus on wealth issues ahead of the title’s release.
“When good films are in the marketplace, expansion is limitless,” said Berney. “It’s not just a film about economic inequality, but also the cost to families and how children are effected by wealth. The film comes at an interesting time given our current leader.”
Amazon Studios will open Generation Wealth at the Angelika and Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York as well as The Landmark and Arclight Hollywood in L.A. this weekend. The title will go on to a platform release in the coming weeks.