Annapurna’s If Beale Street Could Talk from writer-director Barry Jenkins is among the headlining Specialty rollouts this weekend. Beale Street is the first title to come from Annapurna’s three-year production deal with Plan B Entertainment. The film will have a somewhat slow rollout before going wide later next month. IFC Films is going out day and date with Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier’s Cannes premiere The House That Jack Built, starring Matt Dillon. The film had select directors-cut showings one day last month, which resulted in an MPAA dressing-down. And Sony Pictures Classics is opening fellow Cannes premiere, Capernaum, which is Lebanon’s foreign-language Oscar entry. SPC is touting the performances of its young cast as among the “best ever” for child leads.

If Beale Street Could Talk
Director-writer: Barry Jenkins
Cast: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Aunjanue Ellis, Dave Franco, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, Emily Rios, Ed Skrein, Finn Wittrock, Bryan Tyree Henry, Regina King
Distributor: Annapurna Pictures

Annapurna Pictures

Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk is the first title to come out of Annapurna’s three-year production deal with Plan B Entertainment. It is also the feature follow-up for Jenkins after his 2016 box office hit, Moonlight, which took three Oscars, including Best Picture following an infamous onstage snafu in which La La Land was first named as the winning title.

Based on the novel by James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk is the story of Tish, a newly engaged Harlem woman who races against the clock to prove her lover’s innocence while carrying their first-born child. It is a celebration of love told through the story of a young couple, their families and their lives, trying to bring about justice through love, for love and the promise of the American dream.

“It’s basically a beautiful love story set against the backdrop of social injustice in the ‘70s in New York and how love finds a way to endure,” offered up Annapurna’s president of Distribution, Erik Lomis. “The Golden Globes acknowledged it and the critics are acknowledging it. There are standout performances in the movie and it will find its niche in awards season, but first and foremost, we want to get it out to audiences.”

Lomis said the initial target for Beale Street will be “upscale, discerning moviegoers,” this weekend when it opens in four New York and L.A. theaters. The title will expand out from there to broader audiences as well as art house crowds.

“You can call it ‘smart house’ appeal,” said Lomis. “But as it goes out, it [will generate] universal attention. When A24 released Moonlight, Barry was mostly unknown. He is known now and I think the market will embrace him. And of course, James Baldwin has a big following as well.”

Moonlight catapulted Jenkins to filmmaker stardom following its release in October, 2016. The title had a spectacular $100,519 per theater average from four opening weekend locations ($402K gross). The A24 release, which starred Mahershala Ali, went on to cume over $27.85M at the box office.

Following its opening four runs, Annapurna will expand If Beale Street Could Talk to the top 25 markets in between 65 and 70 theaters next weekend going into Christmas. The feature will then be in the top 75 markets January 4, followed by the top 150 by January 11. The feature will then go wide January 18.

The House That Jack Built
Director-writer: Lars von Trier
Cast: Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman, Bruno Ganz, Siobhan Fallon, Riley Keough, Sofie Gråbøl, Jeremy Davies
Distributor: IFC Films

IFC Films

Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built isn’t the first feature IFC Films has released stateside by the Danish filmmaker, but it is the first since his 2009 film, Antichrist. Ahead of the weekend rollout of The House That Jack Built, IFC Films gave a one-day slate of screenings of the director’s cut of the film November 28, prompting a brouhaha with the MPAA.

Looking ahead to its regular release this weekend, IFC Films said that it has championed filmmakers with a distinct point of view, including von Trier. “We have always supported films with a strong vision and Lars von Trier exemplifies that,” commented IFC Films exec Arianna Bocco. “We also strive to support the films of directors we frequently work with and saw the potential for a wide range of discussion.”

Unfolding through five episodes, the feature centers on failed architect and arch-sociopath Jack (Matt Dillon) who recounts the elaborately orchestrated murders – each, as he views them, a towering work of art – that define his “career” as a serial killer. The House That Jack Built mixes pitch black humor, transcendent surrealism, and renegade musings on everything from history to architecture to cinema. IFC Films notes that “von Trier fashions a radical, blazingly personal inquiry into violence, art, and the twin acts of creation and destruction.”

Von Trier has long cultivated a loyal following stateside, even while the director has frequently zeroed in on the less seemly side of America. IFC Films is expecting The House That Jack Built to lure audiences looking for something different that boasts great performances.

“Lars’ name is certainly one big piece of the marketing, however, we wanted to try and reach as broad an audience as possible and we think Matt Dillon’s performance is undoubtedly a career-best for him,” noted Bocco. “Ultimately, people are opinionated about this film regardless of what side they land on, so it becomes a must see. It is Lars’ ability to create these larger discussions that informed our decision to rely heavily on social strategy as opposed to traditional press reviews and place the discussion more in the hands of the general public.”

Bocco added that the film is “good counter-programming” to the season’s pack of awards and big studio fare currently playing in theaters.

The House That Jack Built will open theatrically in 20 theaters along with a day and date digital and VOD rollout. Added Bocco: “We think there is a high level of awareness of the film…We will look to expand theatrically from there.”

Capernaum
Director-writer: Nadine Labaki
Writers: Jihad Hojeily, Michelle Kesrouani|
Cast: Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Sony Pictures Classics

The winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Lebanese-born filmmaker Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum was made with a cast of non-professionals playing characters whose lives closely parallel their own. The story unfolds from a script, but the filmmaker placed the actors in scenes, while having them react spontaneously with their own words and gestures. The title is in the running for a Golden Globe in the foreign language category and is Lebanon’s Oscar foreign-language contender.

Capernaum (Chaos) tells the story of Zain (Zain al Rafeea), a Lebanese boy who sues his parents for the “crime” of giving him life. The film follows Zain as he journeys from gutsy, streetwise child to hardened 12-year-old “adult” fleeing his negligent parents, surviving through his wits on the streets, taking care of Ethiopian refugee Rahil and her baby son Yonas, being jailed for a violent crime, and finally, seeking justice in a courtroom.

“The kids in this film have the best child performances ever and Nadine Labaki is one of the best female directors working today,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. “She is the only female [film] director with a Golden Globe nomination. It’s an important film that helps change people’s views about children’s rights and immigration… And I really hope the Academy considers Nadine for Director.”

Along with its win in Cannes, Capernaum has picked up audience prizes and acting awards on the festival circuit. Though Sony Pictures Classics has long championed foreign titles for U.S. release, it does see the landscape for non-English-language fare as a challenging one.

“It is more difficult than ever theatrically and also difficult on the small screen as well,” said Barker. “You just hope that a film like Capernaum has the ability to cross over. That does happen two or three times a year.”

Barker added that releasing a foreign-language film should highlight its big screen attributes. “The key is to not sell as a foreign movie, but treat it as a great movie,” said Barker. “Capernaum is in this moment. It has also had incredible results in surprising ways. When it played in Cannes, the U.N. [became involved] and the Norwegian government offered [the stars] an opportunity to live in Norway. Zain is now 14 and living there.”

SPC released Labaki’s previous film, Where Do We Go Now?, taking in $532K in the U.S. box office. Sony Classics is opening Capernaum in select New York and Los Angeles theaters Friday. It will expand in Southern California and will open in the Bay Area in the latter part of December and will continue to rollout into 2019. The company expects the title to be at its widest by February 15.