Sundance debut Sorry to Bother You opens in seven markets this weekend via Annapurna, which picked up the title out of the festival. Written and directed by Boots Riley, the genre-bending fantasy-sic-fi stars Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson. Cannes 2018 doc Whitney will go out in well several hundred locations, hoping to tap the momentum of docs RBG, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Three Identical Strangers, which have had robust theatrical runs this spring/summer. Time will tell whether the Whitney Houston pic can replicate the success of the 2015 Amy Winehouse doc Amy, which also spotlighted a musical sensation who died way too soon. That A24 release took in more than $8.4M and an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. And Breaking Glass Pictures is opening Daniel Peddle’s adventure-drama Moss in two New York and L.A. locations ahead of an on-demand release July 10.

Other limited rollouts this weekend include the 50th anniversary re-release of Yellow Submarine from Abramorama and Magnolia’s Under the Tree, which was Iceland’s entry for Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar consideration last year.

Sorry to Bother You
Director-writer: Boots Riley
Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Danny Glover, Terry Crews, Armie Hammer, Forest Whitaker
Distributor: Annapurna

Annapurna

Sorry to Bother You writer-director Boots Riley was introduced to producer Nina Yang Bongiovi along with Forest Whitaker via the San Francisco Film Society. The Sundance Institute also had been urging Yang to meet Riley. “We are Sundance alum, so they come to us with [projects] from filmmakers of color,” explained Riley. “Boots’ script was already completed and he was also going to the [Sundance] Labs. [Around that time] we decided to come on as producers.”

The fantasy/science fiction pic is set in an alternate reality of present-day Oakland, CA, where telemarketer Cassius Green finds himself in a macabre universe after he discovers a magical key that leads to material glory. As Green’s career begins to take off, his friends and co-workers organize a protest against corporate oppression. Cassius soon falls under the spell of Steve Lift, a cocaine-snorting CEO who offers him a salary beyond his wildest dreams.

“Boots comes from the music business and is a rapper, [plus] the subject matter is so unique and challenging because it’s genre-bending, so it was challenging for investors to back him,” said Bongiovi. “But we have had a track record selling [our projects] at a profit. [Our 2017 title] Roxanne Roxanne sold quite well, and we reassured our allies and [past] investors we’d be actively producing it.” Financing was secured in late 2016 and early 2017. Stanfield had already been attached to the project.

“Different actors and actresses floated in and out, and Boots was wondering why people weren’t confirming,” said Bongiovi. “But once we secured the production, people were reassured. I think there was prejudice because [Riley] comes from the music industry. Tessa Thompson came in next.”

Final cast was secured in the start of 2017 and pre-production began in April 2017. Filming began after Fourth of July and lasted 28 days. Originally, the shoot was slated for 25 days, but Bongiovi went back to investors to ask for three more days soon after principal photography began.

“I was trying to keep Boots’ momentum going,” she said. “Every film feels like the toughest thing ever, but this was especially challenging because of the special effects involved — but we did it. Boots was really a great captain. There was a lot of love behind this.”

Bongiovi said that Cinereach came in during the post-production process with funding as well as logistical support. She praised the multi-faceted film organization, saying: “They pulled every lever to help us get through it. They really did the heavy lifting, and they also invested in the film.”

Sorry to Bother You debuted at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where Bongiovi said the title proved inspiration to other filmmakers. “Nobody expected this kind of film from a filmmaker of color,” said Bongiovi. “There were filmmakers of color coming up to [Whitaker] and me in tears because they felt liberated creatively — not just having to do stories that are about police brutality, poverty and drugs. Annapurna saw this vision when other distributors may have not.”

Annapurna picked up the title out of the festival. The company will open the feature Friday in 16 theaters in seven markets. Sorry to Bother You will then expand on July 13.

Whitney
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Subjects: Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown, Bobbi Kristin Brown, Cissy Houston, Clive Davis
Distributor: Roadside Attractions/Miramax

Roadside Attractions/Miramax Films

Roadside Attractions and Miramax began their involvement in director Kevin Macdonald’s Whitney Houston documentary Whitney early on after the idea was pitched to them in Cannes in 2016. The title will have the widest release among the new specialties this weekend.

“It celebrates Whitney, and six years [after her death], it takes on a different meaning,” said Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen. “At the time of her death, people were talking more about the circumstances. But with the intervening years, you’re able to consider her whole life and focus on what an incredible singer she was. Her music was part of the soundtrack of our lives in the ‘80s and ‘90s, so it has a strong resonance for the baby boomer generation and some younger people too of course.”

Houston broke more music industry records than any other female singer in history. With more than 200 million album sales worldwide, she was the only artist to chart seven consecutive U.S. No. 1 singles. She also starred in three hit movies movies before her brilliant career gave way to erratic behavior, scandals and death at age 48. The documentary is an intimate, unflinching portrait the singer and her family that probes beyond familiar tabloid headlines and sheds new light on the spellbinding trajectory of Houston’s life. It uses never-before-seen archival footage, exclusive demo recordings, rare performances, audio archives and original interviews with the people who knew her best.

“We’ve been watching different cuts of the movie [through the process], and we were incredibly excited once we saw it,” said Cohen. “We’ve engaged very heavily with her fan base. She has millions of people who love her and are active online.”

Cohen said that the companies have been engaging with potential audiences with the release of a teaser trailer and clips, adding: “We’ve also been widening out to the considerable African-American and documentary audiences. Those are the three pods we’re [primarily] engaging.”

The documentary played a number of tastemaker screenings in June, with one particular event in Los Angeles on June 15 generating “a lot of press,” according to Cohen. The title had a New York premiere on June 27.

Roadside and Miramax will open Whitney in 452 theaters this weekend, followed by a limited expansion the following weekend based on performance.

Said Cohen: “We’re in a healthy mixture of art houses and commercial houses as well as theaters that [cater to primarily] African-American audiences. … She’s so well loved, and we’re orienting this film toward her fans. We’ve also had a huge amount of press on a movie about someone’s who’s no longer with us including pieces on GMA, Entertainment Tonight etc., so we want to make the movie available to fans right away.”

Moss
Director-writer: Daniel Peddle
Cast: Mitchell Slaggert, Christine Marzano, Dorian Cobb, Billy Ray Suggs, Erby Dalmus Burton, Cohen Bratcher, Hannah Johnston, Sue Philemon, Carlene Ferguson, William Rothwell
Distributor: Breaking Glass Pictures

Breaking Glass Pictures

Artist and filmmaker Daniel Peddle met the star of his second narrative feature, Moss, by chance while attending the Cucalorus Film Festival in Wilmington, NC, which screened his first film, Sunset Edge. Although he’d caught a glimpse of Mitchell Slaggert from the corner of his eye, Peddle felt compelled to meet the student. From that chance rendezvous, the lead for Moss, a script Peddle had been working on, was found.

Moss was a project that cemented together after I met Mitchell Slaggert,” said Peddle. “I knew when I was writing the script that I needed to find a young man that could do this animalistic performance. I met him halfway through [writing the script] and finished with him as a muse.”

In this Southern Gothic coming-of-age tale, an isolated and troubled young man, Moss, meets a mysterious and beautiful hiker on the banks of the river near his home on his 18th birthday. She guides him on a journey of self-discovery and helps him overcome the tragic death of his mother and the shadow it has cast on his relationship with his detached father.

Peddle said that casting an unknown in the starring role allowed him to get the kind of performance he needed from the part. “We have him in scenarios that many actors wouldn’t be comfortable doing,” he said. “He was training to be in the military, and he’d just approach things I’d give him like a soldier. He almost got bitten by a water moccasin.”

Peddle easily identified the location of the shoot. He wanted to engage the close-knit community of a small island off the North Carolina coast, which he frequented while growing up. He financed the project himself from revenue from his painting career in addition to an investor who gave funds for post-production. Peddle tapped Christine Marzano for the part of Mary, who flew in for a week from overseas from the set of Death Race 4. “She announced she couldn’t get any bug bites,” said Peddle. The part of the father was filled by non-actor Billy Ray Suggs, who Slaggert already knew well.

“I work with natural light, which immediately puts constraints on shooting,” said Peddle. “Getting around the island in the amount of time we had was complicated. There’s limited infrastructure.” The project shot over 25 days in May 2016.

Moss debuted at the 2017 Los Angeles Film Festival. Breaking Glass Pictures saw it during the Cannes Market this year. The title will bow at Cinema Village in New York as well as Laemmle Music House in L.A. It will be available via on-demand platforms July 10, while other select theatrical showings are planned for later in the summer.