Apple TV Plus only launched yesterday, but the tech giant’s new streaming service is already home to some awards-contending films.
Hala, from writer-director Minhal Baig, tells the story of a Pakistani-American girl named Hala (Geraldine Viswanathan), who struggles to forge her own identity and explore her sexuality while growing up in a traditional Muslim family that’s coming apart at the seams.
Baig told the Contenders Los Angeles today that there are autobiographical elements to the story.
“There’s a couple of moments in this movie… where things were pulled very much verbatim from my life,” she acknowledged, but added the script evolved over time. “At a certain point it ended up being less about my life, but it was sort of letting it be Hala’s story and her journey and constantly asking whether it’s true to her.”
The film opens theatrically in limited release on November 22 and hits the Apple TV Plus platform on December 1.
Moviegoers and Apple TV Plus subscribers will have to wait a bit longer to catch The Banker, directed by George Nolfi. The drama starring Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, Nicholas Hoult and Nia Long opens theatrically December 6, with a debut on the Apple streaming platform expected in January.
Based on a true story from the 1960s, The Banker revolves around Bernard Garrett (Mackie) and Joe Morris (Jackson) who devise a novel plan to help African Americans get access to bank loans at a time when it was exceedingly difficult. They deputize a white man (Hoult) to front their business, secretly running the operation while one poses as a janitor and the other as a chauffeur.
“[The film] was made completely independently on a small budget,” Nolfi commented. “Apple, I think, just believed in the story…They came in early and hard, and who doesn’t want to have Apple release their first big film? That’s exciting.”
Long plays the wife to Mackie’s character and the emotional anchor in the film.
“I’ve been wanting to do sort of a period piece from this era,” Long told the Contenders audience. “I just love the way women dressed in that period. We were such ladies — not that we aren’t now…I actually wore the real girdle that women would wear back then, mostly because I needed it, but also because it helped me get into character.”
Nolfi said he anticipated a “nice theatrical run” for his film, but confessed, “I don’t think I’m allowed to say exactly how long.”
“It’s a long time,” Long jumped in, “but get there quick. First week is what matters. Don’t wait until we stream. Get there.”
There wasn’t enough room on stage at the DGA Theatre to welcome the star of The Elephant Queen, an enormous pachyderm named Athena.
In the documentary directed by Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone, the matriarchal Athena faces the challenge of guiding her herd to safety in Africa, as their watering holes shrink in a drought.
“We worked with a tiny team of about four or five people,” Stone noted, “living in the wild in Kenya for four years to make the film.”
Deeble also shot the film. To get ground-level shots required sacrifice, Stone commented.
“We put him in all sorts of places. Probably the worst was a metal box which we then buried,” she revealed. “We left him baking in the African sun. The worst, I think was when we did it for 30 days consecutively from dawn ’til dusk until literally he wasn’t really making sense anymore, so we thought we’d done enough.”
Deeble appears to have been a good sport about it, sacrificing for his art.
“The lovely thing was I had a little slit in the front [of the box] where I put the lens and that gave me the view,” he said. “I was at elephant toenail height so I could see all the beetles and the geese and get that sort of low, really intimate angle.”
The Elephant Queen opened in select theaters October 18, and became available for viewing on Friday.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.