Three years in the making, Joe Cole starrer A Prayer Before Dawn will start its theatrical release this weekend. The A24 title, which debuted at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, is based on a non-fiction book written by Billy Moore, played by Cole in the feature, which opens in select cities Friday. The Wolfpack filmmaker Crystal Moselle returns with her narrative feature debut, Skate Kitchen, which premiered at Sundance where Magnolia Pictures caught the film in January. The film follows a group of young women who she met on the subway in a story that has some parallel to their real lives. And Oscilloscope is opening Madeline’s Madeline with newcomer Helena Howard along with Molly Parker and Miranda July. Also a Sundance debut, the company said it has been championed by critics, which it hopes will overcome skepticism by some exhibitors. The company said its trailer, however, has reached ‘cult’ status.

Other new limited releases this weekend include Well Go USA’s The Island along with Along Came the Devil and What Still Remains from Gravitas Ventures.

A Prayer Before Dawn
Director: Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire
Writers: Jonathan Hirschbein, Nick Saltrese
Cast: Joe Cole, Billy Moore, Nicolas Shake, Panya Yimmumphai, Vithaya Pansringarm, Pornchanok Mabklang
Distributor: A24

Crime-bio A Prayer Before Dawn, opening via A24 this weekend in limited release, is based on a memoir by Billy Moore, A Prayer Before Dawn: A Nightmare in Thailand. Moore became involved in the scriptwriting for the feature.

A Prayer Before Dawn centers on Moore, a young English boxer incarcerated in two of Thailand’s most notorious prisons. He is quickly thrown into a terrifying world of drugs and gang violence, but when the prison authorities allow him to take part in the Muay Thai boxing tournaments, he sees his chance to get out. Billy embarks on a relentless, action-packed journey from one savage fight to the next, stopping at nothing to do whatever he must to preserve his life and regain his freedom.

The British Joe Cole is the only professional actor in the feature aside from Vithaya Pansringarm (Only God Forgives). The mostly Thai cast features non-professionals, and most were ex-prisoners and boxing champions, some having been incarcerated for murder or drug possession with ten or twenty-year sentences. Casting took over a year in Bangkok, while Cole came on board after others were considered. Funding and support came by way of HanWay, Señorita Films, Symbolic Exchange and Meridian Entertainment along with Canal+. The project took three years to complete.

“After my exit from Focus, I set up my little shop [Symbolic Exchange] and put together financing [with Meridian] and received a lot of submissions,” said executive producer James Schamus, who served as chief of Focus Features until his departure in 2013. “This ‘crazy’ genre script came in and I called [filmmaker] Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire about it. It was a crazy idea and I thought it was just perfect. By that time, he had already attached Joe Cole who I adore.”

Schamus noted that the project only had a minimal non-Thai crew. He encouraged Sauvaire to “lay out his vision” when taking on the project. “One of the things I encouraged Jean Stéphane to do was to assiduously make his own movie based on the script,” he said. “A lot of [the shoot] took place in 100 degrees and [high] humidity, but it was also an efficient shoot. We didn’t have huge resources for this one. It’s a remarkable work of art — very original.”

The filmmaking team cut a commercial trailer and A24 came in on the project just as the feature was being completed. It debuted at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. “There was the classic 10 minute standing ovation and everyone was crying,” recalled Schamus this week about the premiere in Cannes. “It was a fantastic [screening].”

The title played international festivals last fall and into 2018, including SXSW in March. A Prayer Before Dawn played an exclusive window on DirecTV July 12 and will open in over a dozen cities Friday including New York and L.A. at the Village East and Arclight Hollywood as well as locations in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Cleveland, Houston, Detroit and other major markets.

Skate Kitchen
Director-writer: Crystal Moselle
Cast: Rachelle Vinberg, Jaden Smith, Dede Lovelace, Nina Moran, Kabrina Adams, Ajani Russell, Jules Lorenzo, Brenn Lorenzo, Elizabeth Rodriguez
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

2018 Sundance Film Festival debut Skate Kitchen is the first narrative feature for Crystal Moselle. The filmmaker’s previous film, The Wolfpack, won the Documentary Grand Jury prize in 2015 at Sundance. Magnolia Pictures, which is opening Skate Kitchen this weekend, released The Wolfpack later that year, eventually grossing $1.3M, one of the year’s best non-fiction showings at the box office.

Skate Kitchen follows Camille, an introverted teenage skateboarder from Long Island who meets and befriends an all-girl, New York City-based skateboarding crew called Skate Kitchen. She falls in with the in-crowd, has a falling-out with her mother, and falls for a mysterious skateboarder guy (Jaden Smith), but a relationship with him proves to be trickier to navigate than a kickflip.

Moselle met the actors in Skate Kitchen in a similar way in which she met the subjects of The Wolfpack. “She met them on the [New York] subway,” said producer Izabella Tzenkova who also served as a producer on The Wolfpack. “She knew she wanted to do something with them, and then the opportunity came to [feature them] in a short film. It became a proof of concept.”

The short premiered in Venice and the filmmaking team met with investors at Sundance early the next year. The feature would then premiere at the festival the following year.

Added fellow Skate Kitchen producer, Lizzie Nastro: “People were excited to see what she was doing next because of [the success] of The Wolfpack. Shooting in the summer made the most sense since the girls weren’t in school.”

“Crystal was living with the girls in New York,” said Nastro. “She had been recording a lot of their conversations so that they could form the basis of the script, and there was six weeks of intense writing. The [script] would include themes from their conversations and then she would do rehearsals with the girls. It was a very ‘alive’ process.”

Skate Kitchen shot 31 days spread throughout June and August of last year. Crystal Moselle would at times be inspired by kids she would happen to see nearby skating in a park and would decide to incorporate them into the day’s shoot. “There was a lot of on the fly shifting,” said Tzenkova. “It was tricky with the [fairly large] crew… We had a lot of footage of skating which is mostly what the girls wanted to do.” The shoot took place in a wide swath of various New York City neighborhoods.

Some editing took place in New York but then Moselle worked with editor Nico Leunen in Belgium. Magnolia Pictures first saw the title at Sundance. The feature will open in select locations this weekend.

Madeline’s Madeline
Director-writer: Josephine Decker
Cast: Helena Howard, Molly Parker, Miranda July
Distributor: Oscilloscope

Oscilloscope picked up Josephine Decker’s drama-mystery Madeline’s Madeline following its premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. In the lead-up to its release this weekend, the company had released a trailer, which it says is giving the title a nice push to audiences.

“It’s impossible to talk about the the marketing without mentioning the trailer, which has become a cult sensation online,” shared Oscilloscope’s Andrew Carlin. “We collaborated with Winston Hacking, a collage artist and phenomenal filmmaker in his own right. We needed something that embodied the spirit of the film, not a traditional trailer that bends over backwards to describe a plot… Instead, the end result is enigmatic and trippy and hypnotic in a way that shows but doesn’t really tell. It’s just cool as hell.”

The title centers on Madeline (Helena Howard) who has become an integral part of a prestigious physical theater troupe. When the workshop’s ambitious director (Molly Parker) pushes the teenager to weave her rich interior world and troubled history with her mother (Miranda July) into their collective art, the lines between performance and reality begin to blur. The resulting battle between imagination and appropriation rips out of the rehearsal space and through all three women’s lives.

Carlin said that while the film has had some difficulty finding a sweet spot with some exhibitors, it has been championed by critics.

“The Sundance premiere obviously gave it a huge shot in the arm and was the ideal platform to introduce Madeline’s Madeline to the world. The reviews that came out of there were positive to the point of hyperbole,” noted Carlin, referencing IndieWire which called it, “One of the boldest and most invigorating American films of the 21st century.”

Said Carlin: “So while some exhibitors, who will remain nameless, looked at it somewhat skeptically, we could point at the reviews and say, ‘These guys get it…’ Ultimately, critics are going to drive people to see Madeline’s Madeline.”

Oscilloscope said that New York and Los Angeles pre-sales “are very strong,” adding: “Our goal is for Madeline’s Madeline to post one of the top opening weekend grosses at the Quad [in New York] since they reopened… We pick these release dates six months or more in advance, so it’s very difficult to predict what the landscape will look like and what you’ll be competing against. Ultimately, if we’ve done our job, the actual date is somewhat secondary.”