A sizable group of Specialty films are heading into theaters over the Presidents Day weekend as distributors bring out new work beyond the glare of Awards Season. IFC Films is opening Tim Sutton’s Donnybrook with Jamie Bell, Frank Grillo and Margaret Qualley in theaters Friday, followed by on-demand platforms on February 22. Sony Pictures Classics is heading out with animated feature, Ruben Brandt, Collector. The company had become aware of the Hungarian feature after reading a review of the film out of last summer’s Locarno Film Festival. The Orchard picked up Colombia’s entry for Foreign Language Oscar consideration, Birds Of Passage by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, out of last year’s Cannes Film Festival where it opened Directors Fortnight. The title bowed Wednesday in New York and opens L.A. Friday. Also opening this weekend are Freestyle Digital Media’s The Maestro and Screen Media’s dog ‘rom-com,’ Patrick.

And among other limited releases in theaters over the holiday weekend are Strand Releasing’s Sorry Angel by French director Christophe Honoré and Cinema Guild’s Hotel By the River by Hong Sang-soo.

Donnybrook
Director-writer: Tim Sutton
Writer: Frank Bill (novel)
Cast: Jamie Bell, Frank Grillo, Margaret Qualley, James Badge Dale
Distributor: IFC Films

Drive and Night Crawler producer David Lancaster gave the novel Donnybrook by Frank Bill to filmmaker Tim Sutton in 2017. Sutton quickly returned with an outline for a big screen adaptation. He then gave the producer a first draft within three weeks, and by the third draft in Spring 2017 the project moved forward with casting.

“Frank’s writing style is sharp and also economical [as well as] all the way nihilistic,” said Sutton. “His world view is dark. As far as the adaptation goes, [my version] is about the journey to the violence [culminating] in the donnybrook.”

Donnybrook follows Jarhead Earl (Jamie Bell), who will do anything to keep his family together. After robbing a gun shop, he hits the road with his young son, determined to win big at the Donnybrook, a legendary bare-knuckle brawl where the last man standing in a brutal backwoods cage fight walks off with $100,000. But hot on his trail are Chainsaw Angus (Frank Grillo), a vicious drug dealer who wants Jarhead dead, and Angus’s conflicted sister Delia (Margaret Qualley), who is drawn to Jarhead’s inherent goodness.

Lancaster, Sutton and producer Stephanie Wilcox were very involved with casting. First on board was Frank Grillo, followed by Margaret Qualley. Jamie Bell joined last, coming through UTA. Paris-based Backup Media provided financing.

“They worked with David Lancaster before,” noted Sutton. “They weren’t just business guys imposing their will. They are also creatives. I’ve been told I was very lucky.”

Filming was based in Cincinnati, Ohio with a number of days spent in rural locations near the city, shooting over 21 days. “We had to be very efficient and I thank our cinematographer David Ungaro,” said Sutton. “The actual fight was choreographed throughout the shoot. We only had one day to record it… It was a long day.”

Added Sutton: “The type of movies I like to make have a lot of sets. Most of this movie is a road trip and I didn’t want to fake that. With the donnybrook, we put a lot of money into that build-up and it looks great, we had a limited amount of time in which to do it.”

A director’s cut was completed within 10 weeks and sent to festivals. The feature debuted at Toronto. “With the way it was written and storyboarded, there weren’t a lot of ‘different movies’ we could have created. We made it as ‘one film’ so the edit came together,” said Sutton.

IFC Films picked up the title following its Toronto launch. Donnybrook will roll out in select locations around the country on Friday and will be available on-demand beginning February 22.

Ruben Brandt, Collector
Director-writer: Milorad Krstić
Writer: Radmila Roczkov
Cast: Iván Kamarás, Csaba Márton, Gabriella Hámori, Katalin Dombi, Matt Revere, Henry Grant, Christian Nielson Buckhold
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

The U.S. release of animated feature Ruben Brandt, Collector owes much to the potential reach of film critics. Sony Pictures Classics became interested in the Hungary-produced film after reading a review of the title from the Locarno Film Festival last August.

“We found the review from Locarno fascinating,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. “Because of [the review] we asked for the film to be brought to us so we could screen it.”

Ruben Brandt, Collector centers on Ruben Brandt, a famous psychotherapist who is forced to steal 13 paintings from the world’s renowned museums and private collections to prevent his suffering from terrible nightmares he has as a result of subliminal messaging he received as a child. Accompanied by his four patients, he and his band of thieves strike regularly and with great success: the Louvre, Tate Uffizi, Hermitage, the Museum of Modern Art. “The Collector” quickly becomes the most wanted criminal in the world. Gangsters and headhunters chat him around the road while the reward for his capture keeps rising, approaching a hundred million dollars. A cartel of insurance companies entrusts Mike Kowalski, a private detective and leading expert on art theft, to solve the “Collector Case.”

“It is one of the most innovative animated films we’ve seen in a long time,” said Barker. “It combines genre, high art and action/adventure. And the animation is spectacular.”

Sony Classics has had a track record with adult-focused animation in the past, including Sylvain Chomet’s The Triplets of Belleville (2003, $7M), Vincent Paronnaud’s Persepolis (2007, $4.44M) and Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir (2008, $2.28M).

“[Fans] of high art and graphic novels will be among the audiences attracted [to the film],” said Barker. “We believe it will get both an older and younger audience.”

Sony Pictures Classics opens Ruben Brandt, Collector at the Angelika and Landmark 57 West in New York this weekend. The title will head to Los Angeles next weekend and then roll out into eight to ten additional cities the following week.

Birds Of Passage
Directors-writers: Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra
Writers: Maria Camila Arias, Jacques Toulemonde Vidal
Cast: Carmiña Martínez, Jhon Narváez, José Acosta, Natalia Reyes, José Vicente Cotes, Greider Meza, Juan Bautista
Distributor: The Orchard

The Orchard saw drug trade drama Birds Of Passage last May in Cannes where the title opened the festival’s Directors’ Fortnight section. The company had been fans of co-director Ciro Guerra’s Oscar nominated drama Embrace Of the Serpent. Birds Of Passage was Colombia’s entry for Foreign Language Oscar consideration.

“We were impressed with how big in scope it is,” said The Orchard’s Paul Davidson. “[Birds Of Passage] covers a chapter of the cartel story we haven’t heard before, from an indigenous point of view. We said this would be our awards focus of the year and it did land on the short list. Despite the fact it didn’t get nominated, we are extremely excited for its possibilities.”

The feature is set during the ‘marijuana bonanza’ over a violent decade that saw the origins of drug trafficking in Colombia. Rapayet and his indigenous family get involved in a war to control the business that ends up destroying their lives and their culture.

The Orchard said it is engaging with the potentially multi-pronged audiences that are potential advocates of Birds Of Passage, including core fans of Embrace Of the Serpent, foreign-language film fans, people who are interested in the cartel/drug culture and more broadly the Latino community.

“We’ve payed all over the place including Telluride and a ton of regional festivals, so it’s had a ton of word of mouth,” said Davidson. “There has been a significant amount of creative in social channels and there’s a lot out there to give audiences a sense of this world, which is very rich. We’ve spent a lot of time on this.”

The Orchard opened Birds Of Passage in New York at Film Forum on Wednesday, which the company noted mirrors the roll out of Embrace Of the Serpent in February, 2017 via Oscilloscope ($1.32M cume). The title opens at the Royal in Los Angeles on Friday. Next week the feature will expand out in the New York and L.A. areas and within the next four to six weeks, it will be in upwards of 200 locations.

The Maestro
Director: Adam Cushman
Writer: C.V. Herst
Cast: Leo Marks, Xander Berkeley, Jon Polito, Sarah Clarke, Mackenzie Astin, William Russ, Alex Essoe, Chris Redman, Joelle Sechaud, Raul S. Julia, Bobby Campo, Lenny von Dohlen
Distributor: Freestyle Digital Media

The Maestro producer David Phillips boarded the project after writer-director Adam Cushman and writer C.V. Herst had already fleshed out much of the script. The story is based on letters Herst found from the 1940s between his father, Jerry Herst, and his master teacher, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In addition to talking about music theory, these letters touch on both the benefits and hardships of pursuing an artistic career and developing one’s own voice in art and in life.

“Adam and I had come close to working on a couple of projects previously,” noted Phillips. “I was grateful he recommended me and I was brought on board for this adventure.”

The Maestro is set following World War II. Budding film composer Jerry West moves to Hollywood to study with master teacher Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

Funding for the project came via private sources, and shooting took place over just 16 days in 2017. “Our crew was incredible in pulling off this period piece in such a limited time,” commented Phillips. “The delay in releasing came as a result of a longer post production, due to additional issues getting some of the music rights we were finally able to get cleared. Some of the interesting anecdotes from the film is that the piano Jerry is training on is actually Mario’s real life one that the likes of John Williams used when studying with him.”

The majority of cast on The Maestro had worked with members of the filmmaking team previously. “What made things easiest was that Adam was a huge fan of the actors in my pool, just like I was a fan of the actors in his – including Leo Marks, the incredible Joelle Sechaud and Raul S. Julia, Bobby Campo, and many others,” observed Phillips. “Once we had those actors attached, it was much easier to approach the few actors we liked but didn’t know personally, such as Jon Polito and Lenny Von Dohlen.  It was truly a family affair that made shooting a lot easier – and I think these relationships are seen in the film.”

Freestyle came on for the release in August. The Maestro is opening theatrically in select New York and L.A. locations Friday with additional cities set. The title will also be on most on-demand platforms and DVD on February 19.

Patrick
Director-writer: Mandi Fletcher
Cast: Beattie Edmondson, Jennifer Saunders, Ed Skrein, Tom Bennett, Patrick
Distributor: Screen Media

Patrick the pub is at the center of Screen Media’s weekend roll out, Patrick, which will open day and date. The British-produced family title took in over $1.6M at home.

“At its heart, it’s an adorable dog movie,” said Screen Media’s Mike Messina. “It’s a family ‘rom-com’ about this woman and her dog. It’s incredibly relatable and really funny… The movie gives great dog.”

Patrick centers on Sarah (Beattie Edmondson) who is unlucky in love and a bit of a mess. The last thing she needs is a mischievous dog. When she inherits Patrick the pug, not only does he turn her life upside down, but he also changes it forever.

“Of course we looked at the trends as it relates to dog movies lately, such as A Dog’s Purpose or Benji on Netflix,” noted Messina. “It’s a stable product and the good ones do well. And the fact that this one is British makes it stand out.”

Messina added that Patrick is particularly “on brand” with Screen Media’s parent company, Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, which owns a pet food company. Ahead of its release, the distribution label engaged pet owners through Facebook and Instagram. Messina also gave kudos to its publicity team at Falco Ink for dressing up a pug for a “Build Brunch Series” recently in New York. The publicity effort was recorded for social media, which drove interest, according to Screen Media.

In addition to being on-demand, the title will play ten markets theatrically including New York, L.A., Boston, Houston and Dallas this weekend. Patrick will also have a one-day cinema event in 90 cities in the U.S. along with 30 in Canada on Tuesday through Trafalgar Releasing.

“The idea is we can build momentum for Tuesday,” said Messina. “It’s kind of a ‘girls night out’ movie and it certainly appeals to kids.”