Joaquin Phoenix stars in his second Specialty release in the last few months with Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far On Foot, with Jonah Hill and Rooney Mara. Amazon Studios is opening the title in several locations in New York and Los Angeles ahead of a wider roll out. The title will likely headline a fairly busy weekend of Specialty newcomers given the tentpole season. Rob Reiner put up his own money to finance, in part, his latest directorial effort Shock And Awe, a project that was twenty years in the making and takes a look at events precipitating the Iraq Invasion in 2003. PBS Distribution is opening Kimberly Reed’s doc Dark Money in New York ahead of a select national roll out. The feature examines the role of ‘dark money’ in U.S. politics. Among foreign-language titles, Cohen Media Group opened Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti about the French post-Impressionist’s time in the southern Pacific paradise.

Other limited release openers this weekend are A24’s Eighth Grade with Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton, and Janus Films’ re-release of 1970 Venice winner Wanda.

Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far On Foot
Director-writer: Gus Van Sant
Writer: John Callahan (book)
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black, Tony Greenhand, Beth Ditto, Kim Gordon, Ronnie Adrian, Udo Kier
Distributor: Amazon Studios

Joaquin Phoenix stars in his second Amazon Studios release this year with Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far On Foot. The actor topped writer-director Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, which Amazon opened in three theaters April 6, scoring one of the best opening per theater averages of the year at $44,276 in its debut weekend (nearly $133K gross). The opening frame was buoyed by appearances by Phoenix in post-screening discussions, which he will do along with Van Sant in Los Angeles this weekend for Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far On Foot. The feature is Amazon Studios’ tenth in-house production.

In the film, Phoenix plays Portland slacker John Callahan (the movie is based on his autobiography), who even after nearly losing his life in a car accident does not intend to give up drinking. When he reluctantly enters treatment – with encouragement from his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) and a charismatic sponsor (Jonah Hill) – Callahan discovers a gift for drawing edgy, irreverent newspaper cartoons that develop a national following and grant him a new lease on life.

“We launched the film at Sundance, but also played in Berlin and others like the San Francisco International Film Festival where it was the closing film, so it has had great festival coverage,” said Amazon Studios’ Marketing and Distribution head, Bob Berney. “I’m excited [for this film]. There is tragedy but it’s also hopeful. Gus is very legendary when looking at his whole body of work. We screened the film at BAMcinemaFest and it was interesting to see the broad age range of people there. He’s made such a variety of films from very experimental to studio [fare]. This is a perfect blend in style and very accessible.”

Amazon Studios launched trailers to tease the feature, while doing the festival rounds. Berney said he expects the film to continue the wave of Specialty releases that have found audiences this summer. “We are doing counter-programming to the studios and it’s heartening to see the business this summer,” he said. “Docs are doing very well, and I’m excited about the timing of this as well.”

Van Sant’s last seven-figure grosser was Promised Land, which Focus released at the end of 2012, eventually taking in nearly $7.6M. His 2016 title The Sea of Trees only made five figures theatrically. His latest, however, should do well in its opening frame and possibly beyond. The title will open at the Arclight Hollywood and The Landmark in L.A. as well as Lincoln Square and Union Square Stadium in New York. The title will then broaden out to other markets in the coming weeks.

Shock And Awe
Director: Rob Reiner
Writer: Joey Hartstone
Cast: James Marsden, Jessica Biel, Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Rob Reiner, Milla Jovovich, Richard Schiff, Teri Wyble, Al Sapienza
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment/DirecTV

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Rob Reiner had been looking to direct a film about the lead-up to the Iraq War since the 2003 invasion. He had a couple of false starts with scripts he said did not work. Then he watched a documentary by Bill Moyers, which featured a group of journalists who investigated the reasons behind the Bush Administration’s decision to go into Iraq.

“These journalists got the story right,” said Reiner. “So I thought this was a way I could do it.” Reiner began collaborating with Joey Hartstone, who wrote LBJ (2016) which Reiner also directed, to write the script. “During post on LBJ, he began talking to the journalists,” added Reiner. “We met with them many times and went over each draft.”

Shock And Awe tells the politically charged story about real-life Knight-Ridder journalists Jonathan Landay (Woody Harrelson), Warren Strobel (James Marsden), John Walcott (Reiner) and Joseph Galloway (Tommy Lee Jones), who first looked into the Bush Administration’s attempts to tie Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 terror attacks despite a lack of true evidence to support such false claims as weapons of mass destruction. The film follows the team’s efforts to defend their journalistic integrity against a raft of misleading stories from the White House.

LBJ producer Matthew George came on board with financing through his Acacia Filmed Entertainment group, while others including Savvy Media Holdings, Reiner and spouse Michele Singer Reiner added funds.

“We were cobbling together various revenue streams,” said Reiner. “My wife and I put in a huge stream of money to keep this going because I’ve been wanting to do this for almost twenty years. Nobody had done a film about how we got here and how they sold it to the public. I was willing to put in my own money and I don’t expect to get the money back.”

While the film recalls a different time period in history, Reiner says the themes in Shock And Awe are very prevalent today. “We didn’t set out to have it resonate because we were just telling this story, but the resonance fell on us because we now have even more resonance with the truth. The President of the U.S. calls the press ‘enemy number one’ and ‘fake news.’”

Shock And Awe shot over 26 days in Louisiana and Washington D.C. including about 10 days in an old newsroom in New Orleans. “You have to be really organized, since you only have a short time and don’t have a lot of money,” said Reiner. “The good thing for me is that I’ve been doing this for a long time and know how to use what is available.”

Reiner added that the tax breaks in Louisiana were crucial and hinted they were instrumental in choosing the location. The feature had its world premiere at the Zurich Film Festival where it was very warmly received.

“It had a standing ovation. I’ve never had that kind of response for a film I’ve done,” he said. “But it’s Europe, they got it. They were thrilled that someone in America acknowledged what happened.”

Reiner acknowledged that the film had a challenge in the domestic market, saying, “It’s very hard to sell a political film.” He said that Vertical Entertainment was one of two distributors to “step up,” including DirecTV, which aired the title during a window starting June 14. The film will have a limited run starting Friday followed by a further roll out.

Added Reiner: “I’m hoping people will realize we make good on the opening line in which Bill Moyers says democracy does not survive without a free and independent press.”

Dark Money
Director-writer: Kimberly Reed
Writer: Arthur Sterrenberg
Distributor: PBS Distribution

The roots of Dark Money came from the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, which the Supreme Court ruled 5 – 4 that the First Amendment prohibits limiting corporations and others from election-related expenditures. Dark Money filmmaker Kimberly Reed grew up in Montana which has had a long historical aversion to corporations, particularly mining companies, from influencing elections.

“Montana has a 100-year-old law called the Corrupt Practices Act that prohibits corporate spending on political campaigns,” explained Reed. “I think there would be surprise from people on the coasts that this kind of resistance [exists there] coming from a ‘red state.’ I knew I could make a film that would be a long haul, a slow burn. I just grabbed a camera in 2012 and began.”

The doc, which is also styled as a ‘political thriller,’ examines the influence of untraceable corporate money on our elections and elected officials. The film takes viewers to Montana – a frontline in the fight to preserve fair elections nationwide – to follow a local journalist working to expose the real-life impacts of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Reed self-financed the project initially, though her roots in Montana served as a key in gaining access. “I initially spoke with the state Attorney General and a lot of Republican state legislators who had been attacked by dark money coming from other Republicans,” said Reed whose first film, Prodigal Sons, features a central theme of her upbringing in Montana. “It was important to tell this story in a bipartisan way. There was broad opposition to Citizens United there that went across party lines.”

Reed received a grant from a Montana-based trust, which allowed the project to proceed. She shot over five years and spent another year in post. “I was bootstrapping most of it,” she said. “There was an element where I was flying solo and keeping it manageable. I was playing the long-game really.” The project later received funds through IFP’s The Good Pitch and via a Ford Foundation Grant.

The project took a turn after Reed spoke to a local reporter, John Adams, who was engaged in extensive reporting on the topic in the state. His work became a linchpin in structuring Dark Money.

“This happened about two years in the process,” said Reed. “It became apparent that telling stories through John Adams’ [work] lent a structure [akin to] All The President’s Men. Sometimes journalists don’t want to be a part of the story, but we were working in conjunction and following the same [leads].”

The film had its World Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival where PBS Distribution picked up the title. Dark Money will open at IFC Center in New York where Reed will take part in Q&As. On July 20, the feature will play at Washington’s E Street Cinema which also will host select Q&As. The title will then head to other cities throughout July and August in major markets.

Gauguin: Voyage To Tahiti
Director-writer: Edouard Deluc
Writers: Etienne Comar, Thomas Lilti, Sarah Kaminsky
Cast: Vincent Cassel, Tuheï Adams
Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Cohen Media Group began its involvement with Gauguin: Voyage To Tahiti at the script stage. The company said the feature, which opened stateside Wednesday and stars Vincent Cassel as Gauguin, is not a “traditional biopic,” but rather centers on the French post-Impressionist artist’s “time in Tahiti, a game-changing period of his life and career.”

“We knew Vincent Cassel would undoubtedly turn in an extraordinary performance,” commented Cohen Media Goup head Charles Cohen. “It was our interest in the topic as well as the central performance that drove our interest in the film.”

French artist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) was an innovator of modern art, known for experimenting with bold color and distorted proportions, along with his contemporaries Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne. By 1891, Gauguin was already well-known in artistic circles, but had grown tired of the civilized world and its political and moral conventions. Leaving his wife and children behind, he ventured alone to Tahiti, consumed with a yearning for new inspiration. Pushing deep into the Tahitian jungle, Gauguin meets Tehura, his muse, who will consume his mind and inspire his most iconic works of art.

“We are aiming at the foreign language arthouse audience, including those with an interest in the fine arts and French painters more specifically,” noted Cohen. “Our campaign has supported Vincent’s performance as well as the lushly photographed paradise of Tahiti as primary draws to the film.”

The company particularly wanted to play midtown Manhattan’s Paris Theatre, and a window including this weekend worked for the release. Added Cohen: “It is generally a quieter period of the summer for foreign language arthouse film as well.”

The title is also playing downtown at the Quad Cinemas, which Cohen Media Group owns. Gauguin is also at the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles. The feature will platform out to additional major markets throughout the country in the coming weeks.