Alexander Skarsgård is doing double time this weekend. The actor stars in two new Specialty titles heading out into a crowded field, including The Aftermath from Fox Searchlight and The Hummingbird Project from The Orchard. The Aftermath, starring Keira Knightley and Jason Clarke, heads to New York and L.A. Friday ahead of a target of a few hundred theaters by early next month. Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård and Salma Hayek front The Hummingbird Project from The Orchard, launching in four New York and L.A. theaters, while Focus Features is bowing Sundance’s The Mustang with Matthias Schoenaerts, Connie Britton and Bruce Dern. Cohen Media Group is taking Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke’s Cannes debut Ash Is Purest White to select locations on both coasts. The company is hoping to take advantage of the Lunar New Year and slow slate of foreign fare. Oscilloscope picked up doc Combat Obscura out of the True/False Film Festival, taking the look at Marines in a war zone day and date.

Also opening in limited release is Pantelion/Lionsgate’s No Manches Frida 2 in several hundred locations, and Rialto Pictures is taking Idris Elba’s Yardie, based on a best-selling novel, to New York and L.A. along with other select cities.

The Aftermath
Director: James Kent
Writers: Rhidian Brook (novel, script), Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse
Cast: Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgård, Jason Clarke
Distributor: Fox Searchlight

The genesis of post-war drama-romance The Aftermath stretches back to 2010. Writer Rhidian Brook shared the story idea with producer Jack Arbuthnott. BBC Films provided funds to write the script, but along the way, Brook received a deal to write a book based on his story.

“He needed to finish the novel before going back to the script,” said Arbuthnott. “It caused a delay but the novel itself helped substantiate the project. We [then] brought in Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse with the adaptation in 2013.”

The Aftermath is set in postwar Germany in 1946. Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley) arrives in the ruins of Hamburg in the bitter winter, to be reunited with her husband Lewis (Jason Clarke), a British colonel charged with rebuilding the shattered city. But as they set off for their new home, Rachael is stunned to discover that Lewis has made an unexpected decision: They will be sharing the grand house with its previous owners, a German widower (Alexander Skarsgård) and his troubled daughter. In this charged atmosphere, enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal.

James Kent boarded the project as director in 2015, while Searchlight came on with financing. “We were figuring out the financing and then Searchlight came in and took control in a wonderful way,” said Arbuthnott. “That’s when it all got real.”

The script was sent to Keira Knightley in 2016, which catapulted the projects casting. “We met her and had a wonderful two hour meeting and decided to do it,” said Arbuthnott. “From that moment, everything fell into place. We met with Alexander Skarsgård and others.”

The Aftermath shot over eight weeks, with exteriors in the Czech Republic and interiors in a house an hour north of Hamburg, Germany. “We found amazing places [in the Czech Republic] to build sets that could fit for a ruined Hamburg,” said Arbuthnott. “We also received money from the German Film Fund and Hamburg Film Fund… I haven’t been involved with such a collaborative process with the crew coming together from all over Europe. Most of us hadn’t worked together before, but we fell into a rhythm.”

The Aftermath opens at the Cinema 1,2 & 3, the Angelika and Lincoln Square theaters in New York as well as Arclight Hollywood and The Landmark in Los Angeles this weekend. The film will roll out on a limited platform over the next four weeks to get to approximately 325 theaters by April 4.

The Hummingbird Project
Director-writer: Kim Nguyen
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård, Salma Hayek, Michael Mando
Distributor: The Orchard

The Orchard caught writer-director Kim Nguyen’s thriller, The Hummingbird Project, at its Toronto premiere last fall. The company was attracted to the box office potential of the film starring Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård and Salma Hayek.

“For us, it was one of the most commercial films at the festival,” said The Orchard’s EVP of Film and Television, Paul Davidson. “We loved the performances of the trio. Also, [as a counter] to the genre of Wall Street dark comedies, this has two cousins trying to engineer the best lives for themselves. And it’s an outdoor film and not set in offices and in front of computers screens.”

The Hummingbird Project centers on cousins from New York, Vincent (Jesse Eisenberg) and Anton (Alexander Skarsgård) who are players in the high-stakes game of High Frequency Trading, where winning is measured in milliseconds. Their dream? To build a fiber-optic cable straight between Kansas and New Jersey, making them millions. But nothing is straightforward for this flawed pair. Anton is the brains, Vincent is the hustler, and together they push each other and everyone around them to breaking point on their quixotic adventure. Constantly breathing down their necks is their old boss Eva Torres (Salma Hayek) a powerful, intoxicating and manipulative trader who will stop at nothing to come between them and beat them at their own game.

“We spent the last six months screening the film at festivals across the country, [spotlighting] the David vs. Goliath aspect of [facing] Wall Street,” said Davidson. “This is a human drama about the little guy getting his due and we’re playing that up.”

Davidson added that the film’s story plays off the current consciousness that “the rich are getting richer” and how the “little guy can get themselves onto the heap.” The company has used that messaging, while the actors have also spread the word through social media. Eisenberg did press from the floor of a stock exchange.

Davidson said that when they originally targeted this weekend for The Hummingbird Project’s release, there were fewer titles slated, but in the interim, it became more crowded. “Originally this weekend was much quieter, but March still represents a good time to get content out. We’re happy with this weekend, even with the inordinate amount of movies this weekend. We have great locations in New York and L.A. and we have great reviews in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times.”

The Hummingbird Project is opening at The Arclight and The Landmark in L.A. as well as Landmark 57 West and the Angelika in New York. Over the next month, the title will roll out to 300-plus theaters across North America. Added Davidson: “I think it’ll be a solid weekend for the film.”

The Mustang
Director-writer: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
Writers: Mona Fastvold, Brock Norman
Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Connie Britton, Bruce Dern, Jason Mitchell, Gideon Adlon, Josh Stewart
Distributor: Focus Features

Focus Features is setting out with drama The Mustang this weekend as part of a slow roll out. The company is expecting word of mouth to mount attention on the Sundance 2019 debut, starring Matthias Schoenaerts, Connie Britton and Bruce Dern.

The film centers on Roman, a convict in a rural Nevada prison who struggles to escape his violent past and is required to participate in an “outdoor maintenance” program as part of his state-mandated social rehabilitation. Spotted by a no-nonsense veteran trainer and helped by an outgoing fellow inmate and trick rider, Roman is accepted into the selective wild horse training section of the program, where he finds his own humanity in gentling an especially unbreakable mustang.

“We’re going really slow with this because we believe it’s going to get great word of mouth,” said Focus Features president of Distribution, Lisa Bunnell. “We fell in love with the project and [director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre] is someone we wanted to work with. She’s a first-time filmmaker who went through the Sundance Lab and Robert Redford executive produced because it’s a subject that’s near and dear to him. We’re optimistic about its prospects.”

Bunnell added that the company is pushing actor Matthias Schoenaerts’ performance as well as its message of personal reinvention. “It’s a drama about someone finding himself and finding redemption,” added Bunnell. “It’s also about love between humans and animals. There’s an unconditional love that everyone can identify with.”

Focus Features is opening The Mustang at Landmark 57 West and AMC 19th Street in New York and the Arclight Hollywood and The Landmark in L.A. The title will continue to add markets over the next five weeks and beyond.

Ash Is Purest White
Director-writer: Jia Zhang-ke
Cast: Zhao Tao, Liao Fan Diao Yi’nan
Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Cohen Media Group screened Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke’s epic Ash Is Purest White at the Cannes Film Festival last year. The title, which blends the gangster genre with romance and social critique spans two decades in contemporary China. Jia Zhang-Ke has been the subject of several retrospectives at venues including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, London’s British Film Institute, and Paris’ Forum des Images.

A tragicomedy initially set in the jianghu (criminal underworld) Ash Is Purest White begins by following the quick-witted Qiao (Tao Zhao) and her mobster boyfriend Bin (Fan Liao) as they stake out their turf against rivals and upstarts in 2001 postindustrial Datong before expanding out into an epic narrative of how abstract forces shape individual lives.

“Jia is one of the most important and prolific directors working today, and indeed has a strong following amongst cinephiles,” commented Cohen Media Group’s Charles Cohen. “We are aiming to bring the film to the U.S. arthouse audience as well as Chinese and Chinese-American audiences. We have been working with a number of organizations to bring the film out to this demographic, including goldopen.com.”

Cohen noted that the weekend is “relatively quiet” for foreign language releases. The company is also hoping to capitalize on the title’s release to maximize its Chinese roots. “We hope to make the most of the film’s substantial festival run and use the timing of the Lunar New Year to kick off the campaign for the film’s release.”

Ash is Purest White opens in New York, L.A. and San Francisco this weekend. Cohen Media Group noted the three cities’ “strong market for Asian cinema.” From there, the company will take the title to the top markets around the country, “aiming to as many as possible,” according to Cohen.

Combat Obscura
Director: Miles Lagoze
Distributor: Oscilloscope

Oscilloscope was impressed with the look at the daily life of Marines in a war zone in documentary, Combat Obscura. The feature, which debuted at last year’s True/False Film Festival, centers on the daily life of the soldiers in a war zone as told by the Marines themselves.

Just out of high school, at the age of 18, Miles Lagoze enlisted in the Marine Corps. He was deployed to Afghanistan where he served as Combat Camera — his unit’s official videographer, tasked with shooting and editing footage for the Corps’ recruiting purposes and historical initiatives. But upon discharging, Lagoze took all the footage he and his fellow cameramen shot, and he assembled quite simply the very documentary the Corps does not want you to see.

“We were at the film’s premiere at True/False last year and it left us pretty stunned,” noted Oscilloscope president Dan Berger. “[It was] like being punched in the gut — but in a good way. The intensity in the room was palpable.”

The company is relying on word of mouth to find its audience as it heads to theaters and on-demand. “Combat Obscura is a film that needs to be seen,” commented Berger. “We’ve never seen such an unvarnished look at the realities of being in a war zone, both during and not during combat. Even films with embedded journalists are subject to someone signing off on the footage. This film was shot by a Marine and the footage was not held up for scrutiny and okay by the military.”

Oscilloscope is opening Combat Obscura day and date. The title will bow theatrically in a dozen major cities around the country simultaneously with digital platforms. Added Berger: “We have a really vast and geographically dispersed audience so we want to make sure we are bringing it to as many people as we can at the outset.”

Bruce!!!
Director-writer: Eden Marryshow
Writer: Jesse Wakeman
Cast: Eden Marryshow, Jason Tottenham, Jade Eshete, Mle’ Chester, Michael Coppola, Andrea Izzy Anthony
Distributor: Global Digital Releasing

Writer-director Eden Marryshow had written comedy Bruce!!! with Jesse Wakeman “years earlier,” with the challenge of making “unlikeable characters likable.” The draft was 143 pages long, and according to the filmmaker, all 143 pages were shot, though about “an hour” ended up on the cutting room floor.

Financing was very grassroots, with everyone in the film chipping in, while others brought more resources. “Producer Sasha Lewis had a bunch of equipment at his house that we used, and he also paid for most of the meals,” noted Marryshow. “After production, Gene Pope who plays Bruce’s dad asked to see some dailies. After seeing the footage he put up the money to have an editor he’s collaborated with many times, Maria Cataldo [board for the project] and after seeing the edit, he put up the rest of the money for post-production.”

The title centers on Bruce, who is always tight on money, but has a self-inflated view of his own “genius.” An egocentric, self-professed writer, director, artist and playboy who damages all of his relationships, romantic or otherwise, he cons his way through his self-obsessed existence with a mixture of swagger and deeply insecure neuroticism. On the heels of his parents cutting him off, his free ride comes to an abrupt end after his roommate informs him he’s moving in with his fiancé. Desperate to keep his apartment and stay afloat financially, Bruce concocts a plan to run an ad for a hot female roommate and charge her 80% of the rent. When Bruce falls for one of the applicants, he tries to turn his life around.

Bruce!!! shot in Brooklyn and other areas of New York City over 21 days using a three-person crew including D.P. Juan Carlos Borrero, gaffer Sasha Lewis and Marryshow. “When you shoot a 143 page script in 21 days with a three man crew and an extremely limited budget time can be an issue,” observed Marryshow. “My friends were giving us their time so we couldn’t say, ‘We are paying you this much and we have you for the day.’ Folks were doing favors. We had to shoot it almost like a documentary. Juan created general lighting set-ups and we would just pick the camera up and swing it to the next set up quickly.”

Marryshow added that everyone did their own hair and make-up. “When you don’t have a lot monetary-wise, you have to be creative. I learned that in film school. We didn’t have much in the way of equipment. I’m so grateful that we didn’t. What we did have though, which is immensely more powerful, was a group of people that loved each other and wanted to do something special, together.”

Global Digital Releasing boarded the project for its release two months ago, according to Marryshow. Bruce!!! will open in 23 cities in 24 theaters this weekend.