January continues its slow roll on the Specialty side this weekend with very few anticipated limited releases. IFC Films has the headliner of the weekend with political thriller An Acceptable Loss starring Tika Sumpter and Jamie Lee Curtis. Chicago Fire director Joe Chappelle wrote and directed the title after finding inspiration from two documentaries by Errol Morris. Brooklyn-based Distrib Films believes it found an under-the-radar gem in last year’s Berlin Film Festival with The Heiresses, which took two Silver Bears at the event in the German capital.

Other openers this weekend include Screen Media’s 2016 Tribeca Nora Ephron prize-winner Adult Life Skills, as well as Freestyle Digital Media’s I Hate The Kids and RLJE Films’ The Standoff at Sparrow Creek.

An Acceptable Loss
Director-writer: Joe Chappelle
Cast: Tika Sumpter, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Tavassoli, Jeff Hephner
Distributor: IFC Films

Veteran TV director Joe Chappelle had the idea for a narrative feature film after watching two Errol Morris documentaries, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003) and The Unknown Known (2013) which focuses on former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. From there he and his filmmaking team added a twist.

“Each man looks back at the wars they orchestrated,” observed Chappelle. “I was fascinated by their approach. In The Fog of War, you can tell McNamara was haunted and feels guilt. In The Unknown Known, I was struck by how Rumsfeld was straightforward and said he’d do it again. I felt there was a movie there.”

Chappelle said that he took the idea to his producer (and spouse) Colleen Griffen who suggested making it about two women, which he liked. “I had to come up with a central component, and in this case, it’s a fatal blow to terrorists.”

The film follows Libby Lamm (Tika Sumpter), a former top national security advisor who, while working with Rachel Burke (Jamie Lee Curtis), a ruthless, steely political veteran, signed off on a controversial military action that was supposed to end the war on terror. The problem: thousands died under false pretenses. Haunted by what she knows, Libby sets out to tell the truth, risking treason — and her own life — to expose a cover-up that stretches all the way to the highest levels of government. This gripping saga of lies, conspiracy, and betrayal is an explosive look at what it takes to do the right thing — even if that means going up against your own country.

Chappelle wrote a number of drafts through 2016 and by the end of the year, he felt comfortable to send a version out to actors. Jamie Lee Curtis was the first to board at the beginning of 2017 and through her participation, private equity investors came on as well.

“Colleen met executive producer Candy Straight at an [IFP event] and she said she was looking for a female-driven political thriller,” said Chappelle. “We sent her the script and she liked it. Then they raised money.” With Curtis already in place, the filmmaking team went on the search for her counterpart, eventually tapping Tika Sumpter.

An Acceptable Loss shot over 30 days in the Chicago area. “We live in Illinois,” said Chappelle. “So I wrote for locations that I am familiar with. I’ve shot in Chicago for Chicago Fire for a few years, so I was able to tailor the script to what would be practical.” The project used locations in the city’s downtown and North Side as well as the northern suburbs and Waukegan, Illinois, near the Wisconsin border, which doubled for the Illinois state capital Springfield.

“For a shoot, it went well,” said Chappelle. “Everyone came in prepared and the weather was thankfully not a factor.” The title was edited over the fall on evenings and weekends while Chappelle continued with his day job. Picture was locked in late 2017, while the project was completed in April 2018 after adding music and effects.

IFC Films came on board in fall of last year in a sale via CAA. The film will open IFC Center in New York in addition to VOD platforms Friday. The title will also open in L.A. and other select cities January 25.

The Heiresses
Director-writer: Marcelo Martinessi
Cast: Ana Brun, Margarita Irún, Ana Ivanova
Distributor: Distrib Films

Director Marcelo Martinessi’s drama The Heiresses
won two Silver Bears including Best Actress for Ana Brun at last year’s Berlin Film Festival where Brooklyn-based company Distrib Films saw the feature. The title is also Paraguay’s entry this year for foreign language Oscar consideration, though it’s not on the short list.

The Heiresses centers on Chela and Chiquita who have been romantic partners for decades and lifelong members of Paraguay’s elite – until the money runs out. Now they spend their days selling their furniture, glassware and silver to anyone who will make them an offer. When Chiquita, the more garrulous and resilient of the two women, is sent to prison, Chela has to cope with loneliness and incipient poverty. Then surprising new options develop for Chela, both personally and professionally.

“It was a very different movie from all the others I was seeing,” explained Distrib Films’ François Scippa Kohn. “It is very human. It’s LGBT without being the central [component of the story]. It reminded me of [Chilean film] Gloria from [2013].”

Scippa Kohn said he saw the “tiny Paraguayan” movie early on during the festival and was able to jump on it while “prices weren’t high.” He noted there has been “a lot of inquiry” about the film since Distrib along with an Italian partner took various rights.

“When you’re at a festival seeing a bunch of movies, you can get a gut feeling and that’s [what happened for me] with this film,” he said. Distrib’s core content has been French films for U.S. release, but Scippa Kohn said they have “enlarged our horizons” with films from other regions, including Latin America. The company teamed with New York-based non profit media and arts organization, Cinema Tropical, which champions Latin American film stateside to help spread the word.

“They do great outreach with Latin American press and audiences,” said Scippa Kohn. “They’re also very good with grassroots work. For this, they are specifically [targeting] Paraguayans living [here].” He added that the organization is also reaching out to the LGBT community.

Last year, Distrib Films released five films with traditional theatrical runs beginning in New York and L.A., but additionally, the company released more titles outside that traditional NYC/Los Angeles template. Said Scippa Kohn: “If we think New York is going to be tough, we won’t push for it. We’d rather go to other larger cities in the U.S. if we think they will be more successful [locally].” The exec said he expects its release slate to be approximately the same number for 2019.

The company said it’s banking on a “good New York Times review” to help propel The Heiresses beyond its New York bow this weekend at Film Forum. The feature will also head to L.A., Boston, Miami, Chicago and other cities.”

Adult Life Skills
Director-writer: Rachel Tunnard
Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Lorraine Ashbourne, Edward Hogg, Breet Goldstien, Rachael Deering
Distributor: Screen Media

Filmmaker Rachel Tunnard won Best Debut Screenwriter at the British Independent Film Awards for her work on Adult Life Skills (she also won the Tribeca Film Festival’s Nora Ephron Prize when the film debuted there in 2016). The movie is based on Tunnard’s short film Emotional Fusebox, which was nominated for both a BAFTA and BIFA. Screen Media picked up the feature late last year and will have a day and date roll out this weekend.

The film centers on Anna, who feels stuck as she approaches her 30th birthday. Regressing to a teenager and living like a hermit in her mother’s garden shed, she wonders why the suffragettes ever bothered. She spends her days making videos using her thumbs as actors, but Anna doesn’t show these videos to anyone. A week before her birthday, her mother serves an ultimatum — she needs to move out of the shed, get a haircut that doesn’t put her gender in question and stop dressing like a homeless teen. When her friend comes to visit, Anna’s self-imposed isolation becomes impossible to maintain. Soon she is entangled with a troubled eight year old boy obsessed with Westerns, and the local real estate agent whose awkwardness continually undermines his attempt to seduce her.

Funding for the project came via private investors as well as a number of foundations and groups including Creative England, Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme, Film Vast in Sweden and Wellcome Trust in addition to pre-sales in the U.K. and Sweden.

While financing was being sorted, Tunnard received word that her lead, Jodie Whittaker — Adult Life Skills was filmed the year prior to Whittaker joining the cast of Doctor Who — was pregnant. “We had to make a decision to either shoot immediately in six weeks, delay the film for a year or recast,” said Tunnard via notes sent from Screen Media. “I had written the film for Jodie and she is one of my best friends, so the decision was pretty straightforward.”

In addition to being on demand, Screen Media is opening Adult Life Skills theatrically in select locations in New York, L.A., San Francisco, Austin, Cleveland, Seattle , Denver, Detroit, Minneapolis and Phoenix.