Following a late summer trickle of new Specialties, distributors are releasing a torrent of limited releases just as the Toronto Film Festival heads into its finale this weekend. Roadside Attractions/Saban Films have teamed on psychological thriller Lizzie with Chloë Sevigny and Kristen Stewart based on the famous New England murder of the 1890s; the film opens in New York and L.A. before going to the top 50 markets next weekend. Producer-director Jim Stern launches his documentary American Chaos, spotlighting the 2016 presidential election, via Sony Pictures Classics. Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe star in Bel Canto, based on a novel of the same title by Ann Patchett. The general election also forms the backdrop to romance A Boy. A Girl. A Dream from Samuel Goldwyn Films, which hits five dozen theaters Friday. Sundance and SXSW favorite Science Fair begins its theatrical run via National Geographic Documentary Films. And Cranked Up Films, the genre label of Good Deed Entertainment, is opening writer-director Michael Tully’s Don’t Leave Home in a day and date roll out.

There are a number of other limited releases making their starts this weekend including A24 drama The Children Act with Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci and Ben Chaplin. Cinema Guild bows doc Hale County, This Morning, This Evening, while fellow doc The Public Image is Rotten about former Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd frontman John Lydon heads to theaters via Abramorama. Other openers include The Orchard’s The Dawn Wall, Vitagraph Films’ Museo with Gael Garcia Bernal and Vertical Entertainment action-horror Patient Zero as well as Where Hands Touch from Vertical. The film had its world premiere in Toronto last weekend.

Lizzie
Director: Craig William Macneill
Writer: Bryce Kass
Cast: Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jay Huguley, Fiona Shaw, Jamey Sheridan, Kim Dickens, Denis O’Hare, Jeff Perry
Distributor: Roadside Attractions/Saban Films

Chloë Sevigny adds feature film producer to her list of credits with Lizzie, a project she has been working on for ten years. The thriller, in which she also stars with Kristen Stewart, had its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January where Roadside Attractions and Saban Films viewed it. The two companies, which collaborated on Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman and Tom Tykwer’s A Hologram For the King, are releasing the film with Roadside spearheading theatrical and Saban on ancillaries, though Roadside co-president Eric d’Arbeloff said both companies are involved with “all aspects” of the title’s roll outs.

Lizzie is a psychological thriller that reveals many layers of the strange and fragile Lizzie Borden, who stood accused of the 1892 axe murder of her family in Fall River, Massachusetts. An unmarried woman of 32 and a social outcast, Lizzie (Chloë Sevigny) lives a claustrophobic life under her father’s cold and domineering control. When Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart), a young maid, comes to work for the family, Lizzie finds a sympathetic, kindred spirit, and a secret intimacy soon blossoms into a wicked plan.

“Chloë has been amazing and is the big champion of the film,” said d’Arbeloff. “The New York Times did a big feature on her, but what really opened our eyes was the reaction to the trailer.” Eric d’Arbeloff said the Lizzie trailer dropped in August, timed to the 126th anniversary of the murders.

“It has been viewed seven million times,” added d’Arbeloff. “Kristen’s fanbase is of course huge. There’s a feminist bent to the story and it provides for great nuance. We’ve been pushing about why this story is important in 2018 and people have been responding to it.”

Lizzie opens in four theaters this weekend in New York and L.A. and will head to 250 locations in the top 50 markets the following week.

“It’s going to expand pretty aggressively,” noted d’Arbeloff. “We’ve also been doing some fun [promotion] leading up to this weekend. There’s a big display at the Arclight Hollywood with a dress and hatchet. It’s probably the bloodiest display they’ve had there. It is the kind of movie you can have fun with.”

American Chaos
Director: Jim Stern
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Six months prior to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, director Jim Stern set out to travel through red states to interview and spend time with Donald Trump supporters from various regions and backgrounds. While many on the opposing side considered a Trump victory a long shot at the beginning of summer that year, Stern felt that there was a decent chance that the reality star/real estate developer could reach the White House.

“In May 2016 when Trump won the delegates to win the nomination I was struck by all my friends in the echo chamber who thought it was great because he would be easy to beat,” said Stern. “From a historical perspective, I felt strongly he could win especially since there had only been one time in my lifetime when a party won three presidential elections in a row.”

American Chaos is a road movie of discovery, that stretches from Trump’s adopted home state of Florida to Cleveland and the Republican National Convention, to the coal mines of West Virginia to an Arizona town bordering Mexico, and then finally back to Florida for the election. It is a fish-out-of-water film where Stern talks to everyone from a wealthy Floridian to a Cuban ex-mayor, to direct descendants of the Hatfields and McCoys, to a man who wants to convict and kill Hillary Clinton for treason, to a rancher on a lonely night on the Arizona border. In all, through the twenty-some-odd characters Stern meets, he gains empathy for his subjects’ wish to go back to America before globalization even if he doesn’t sympathize with the solutions offered by Donald Trump.

“We went to Florida first and then planned location by location. I wanted to do the movie in a way that allowed for visiting as many regions as possible,” said Stern who also produced the documentary. “I wanted to go to Florida first because [Trump estate] Mar A Lago is there and it’s a state that has a history of election controversies.”

Stern financed the project through his company, Endgame Entertainment. Stern traveled to different regions, spending several days in one location, then returning home. To find his subjects, he’d reach out to local Republican Party offices and inquire about people who would be interested in talking.

“What I found amazing was that nobody was suspicious,” said Stern. “They weren’t skeptical. Only one person asked me who I was voting for. People were trusting and I did make a commitment to let them speak, which I did. The majority of the time, I liked the people I spoke with and I did have empathy for their [problems]. I just didn’t agree with their solutions.”

Stern shot through the inauguration over a six month period. He then spent a considerable amount of time in post. “In documentary, you write [the story] in the edit room where the film [evolves],” said Stern. “In all, post did take a long time — about eight months.”

Throughout the process, Stern had been speaking with Sony Classics about the project. Stern has worked with the distributor for a number of projects, including his previous big screen feature documentary directorial, Every Little Step (2008).

Sony Pictures Classics is opening American Chaos in 25 cities this weekend, including New York and Los Angeles.

Bel Canto
Director-writer: Paul Weisz
Writers: Anthony Weintraub, Ann Patchett (novel)
Cast: Julianne Moore, Ken Watanabe
Distributor: Screen Media

Drama-thriller Bel Canto is based on the 2001 best-selling novel of the same title by Ann Patchett. Taking place during the Japanese embassy hostage crisis in Lima, Peru in the mid ‘90s, distributor Screen Media screened the film by Paul Weisz at the European Film Market earlier this year. Noted Screen Media: “We believed in the tremendous upside potential of the impressive star power coupled with the popularity of Patchett’s beloved book — and we were hooked.”

Bel Canto follows a famous soprano (Julianne Moore) who travels to a military dictatorship in South America to give a private concert at a party for a wealthy Japanese industrialist (Ken Watanabe). Just as the glittering gathering of diplomats and politicians convenes, the mansion is taken over by a guerrilla rebel group demanding the release of their imprisoned comrades. Threats are made, lives are lost, a tense negotiation begins, and a month long standoff ensues. While they are confined to the house, the hostages and their captors, who speak different languages, are forced to find ways to communicate.

“The first thing we wanted to do was engage with this audience and we were thrilled that the book’s publisher Harper Collins was eager to work with us,” commented Screen Media. “They published a media tie-in edition of the book which hit stands about a week ago and features our stunning key art and gave the movie a physical presence in the market prior to our release. They’ve also been instrumental in helping us to market and reach the book crowd through social media.”

Screen Media has also connected with opera societies around the country who have helped them reach fans of the music of Bel Canto. The company also released a trailer with Vanity Fair, targeting kindred audiences.

Added Screen Media: “Each of our stars have been very generous with their time and support of the movie and the release. They’ve completed print and online interviews with major outlets and while Ken Watanabe is currently working overseas, Julianne Moore will be supporting the movie next week on several talk shows.”

Bel Canto opens in New York and L.A. exclusively at Cinepolis Chelsea and Laemmle Monica respectively. In the coming weeks, the distributor expects the title to expand to an additional 25-plus markets.

A Boy. A Girl. A Dream
Director-writer: Qasim Basir
Writer: Samantha Tanner
Cast: Omari Harwick, Meagan Good, Jay Ellis
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Samuel Goldwyn Films picked up worldwide rights to Sundance’s A Boy. A Girl. A Dream last spring. The title will be one of the widest roll outs among this weekend’s crop of specialty newcomers.

A Boy. A Girl. A Dream is set on the night of the 2016 Presidential election. Cass, an L.A. club promoter, takes a thrilling and emotional journey with Frida, a Midwestern visitor. She challenges him to revisit his broken dreams – while he pushes her to discover hers.

“I think this is a unique film with an amazing cast that is on the rise,” said Samuel Goldwyn Films’ Peter Goldwyn. “It’s a romance with young African American stars at the center, which differentiates this film from a lot of other movies in the marketplace. You just don’t see a lot of [features like this in release].”

Goldwyn added that exhibitors were clamoring for the film. Additionally, he added that A Boy. A Girl. A Dream’s festival debut gave it a good push and momentum has kept on pace leading up to this weekend’s roll out.

“It’s amazing. Coming out of Sundance alone was huge,” added Goldwyn. “As soon as we started dropping materials and doing press, fans just ate it up.”

Audiences will get a chance to see stars Omari Hardwick and Meagan Good during select Q&As this weekend. A Boy. A Girl. A Dream will open in about 65 locations including New York and Los Angeles — two in NYC and six in L.A. — along with other major markets this weekend. Added Goldwyn: “We have more theaters interested but we’ll expand based on performance. We’re expecting to do well.”

Science Fair
Directors-writers: Cristina Costantini, Darren Foster
Distributor: National Geographic Documentary Films

Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster’s doc Science Fair won audience prizes at the Sundance and SXSW Film Festivals earlier this year, and is the first release for National Geographic Documentary Films since Brett Morgen’s 2017 box office success, Jane.

Science Fair follows nine high school students from around the globe as they navigate rivalries, setbacks and, of course, hormones, on their journey to compete at The International Science and Engineering Fair. As 1,700 of the smartest, quirkiest teens from 78 different countries face off, only one will be named Best in Fair.

“What ignited our interest is the buzz right out of Sundance,” said National Geographic Entertainment CEO Courteney Monroe. “We fell in love in the exact same way audiences fell in love with it. It’s inspiring and uplifting and put a smile on our face… It also aligns with the [Nat Geo] brand, celebrating achievement, while also being global in nature, and that’s the very much part of the DNA of National Geographic. When I see it, it restores my hope in the future — we’re going to be OK.”

Science Fair is somewhat of a departure from the distribution label’s most recent projects. LA 92 (2017) and Jane were produced by Nat Geo. “It arrived differently, but we’re [releasing it] similarly,” said Monroe. “We’re opening in New York [at Landmark 57 West] this weekend, then going to L.A. September 21 followed by thirty-plus markets September 28.”

Following its initial theatrical run, Nat Geo will take the film into classrooms in addition to working with Picture Motion for a community screening tour in November, coinciding with National Education Week. Added Monroe: “We want the infectious nature of the film to ignite curiosity and drive, so we want teachers to show [the film] to their students. We will then do broadcast in spring.”

Following its New York exclusive this weekend, the title will head to L.A. Live, Laemmle Music Hall and the Arclight Sherman Oaks next weekend. It will then head to major markets around the country the following week and into October.

Don’t Leave Home
Director-writer: Michael Tully
Cast: Anna Margaret Hollyman, Lalor Roddy, Helena Bereen, David McSavage, Karrie Cox
Distributor: Good Deed Entertainment/Cranked Up Films

Good Deed Entertainment first saw writer-director Michael Tully’s Don’t Leave Home at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival where it debuted. The company acquired it for release under its genre label, Cranked Up Films.

Noted Kristin Harris, VP of Acquisitions and Distribution at Good Deed: “We had been on the lookout for an elegant, filmmaker-driven genre film to launch the Cranked Up label, and felt that the film really represented the type of thoughtful content that we wanted to bring to audiences.”

The film centers on artist Melanie Thomas, who after recently unveiling her new sculptural exhibit on Irish urban legends, is contacted by Father Alistair Burke, a reclusive Irish priest who, legend has it, once painted the portrait of a young girl who later disappeared on the very day her image vanished from the painting. Now, summoned by Burke and his cohort to the Irish countryside for a special art commission, Melanie eagerly accepts the offer, never stopping to consider that some urban legends might be true.

Harris said that since Don’t Leave Home’s SXSW premiere, the film has played festivals in addition to other screenings where the company has launched, “fun initiatives” surrounding the Irish urban legend that make up the film’s central storyline. Additionally, the company is also going the route of traditional digital and grassroots marketing.

“The film plays incredibly well to genre-film-lovers who appreciate Michael Tully’s nods to 1970s European gothic-horror films, but also plays well to a broader audience who enjoy sophisticated genre films that force the audience to think a bit more than your typical slasher-fare…,” she added. “Our aim is to foster a sense of intrigue and mystery around the film – to get under our audiences skin, so to speak, so that they’re thinking about the picture long after they leave the theater.”

As the company looks ahead to the film’s release, Good Deed is also taking cues from a successful studio thriller that lured sizable audiences following its launch last spring.

“If the success of A Quiet Place has shown us anything, it’s that audiences are craving smart, high-concept genre films,” commented Harris. “Don’t Leave Home is precisely that sort of film. As such, we felt it appropriate to release towards the beginning of fall, which puts us in a release slot in near proximity to Halloween, yet allows us a little breathing room for audiences to discover the film ahead of the glut of October horror releases.”

Don’t Leave Home will open theatrically in 12 markets and will also be available on-demand day and date.