Safdie Brothers Take On Addiction And Obsession In ‘Heaven Knows What’ — Specialty Preview

Well-known American indie filmmakers are making their theatrical bows this weekend, hoping to shake up some of the studio dominance of the past few weeks. They will go up against the next round of summer juggernauts, Warner Bros.’ San Andreas and Sony’s Aloha. The Safdie’s Heaven Knows What will have a traditional theatrical window via RADiUS this weekend. The film’s vérité style story of heroin-fueled romance on the streets of New York, based on the life of the film’s lead actress, has been a hit on the festival circuit. Austin-based filmmaker Andrew Bujalski returns to the big screen with what some have called his most accessible film of late, Results, starring Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders and Kevin Gorrigan. Magnolia will open the title on-demand and in limited showings beginning Friday. Also opening is The Orchard’s Club Life, a feature about the inner-world of night clubs, and also based on a figure connected to the feature behind the scenes. An Indian indie makes its way to America after being banned at home courtesy of its filmmaker who launched a new distribution label that will continue to showcase the sub-continent’s non-Bollywood movies. And Music Box Films is opening French-language feature Gemma Bovery in limited release.

Heaven Knows Whatheaven knows what poster
Directors: Ben Safdie, Joshua Safdie
Writers: Joshua Safdie, Ronald Bronstein
Cast: Arielle Holmes, Caleb Landry Jones, Necro, Buddy Duress, Eleonore Hendricks
Distributor: RADiUS-TWC

Joshua and Ben Safdie met Arielle Holmes in the diamond district in New York, while doing research for another film. The filmmakers were intrigued by her, and followed up a week later. Slowly, they realized she was a homeless 19-year-old with a heroin addiction and a mysteriously evil boyfriend named Illya.

Fascinated by her story, they commissioned her to write about her life, which she did using computers at various Apple stores throughout New York. The result was a 150-plus page document that further intrigued the filmmaking duo (the memoir is a soon-to-be published memoir, Mad Love In New York City). The result is Heaven Knows What, which also stars Arielle Holmes in a character based on herself.

The feature centers on Harley and Ilya. He gives her life purpose and sets her passion on fire. So when he asks her to prove her love by slitting her wrists, she obliges with only mild hesitation — and likely fueled by her all-consuming obsession, heroin. Filmed in a vérité style on the streets of New York, the story follows the young smack-addicted Arielle as she tries to salvage her love for Ilya and her addiction.

“This is one of the most important works of the year,” said RADiUS’ co-president Tom Quinn. “This is true auteur American cinema. We typically look to places like France for those kinds of movies. It was extraordinarily difficult to execute and it ticks all the boxes for me. For that reason, I simply decided we were going to release it in a traditional window.”

Heaven Knows What has also caught the attention of high-profile allies like Lena Dunham who will moderate a Q&A at the Sunshine in New York this weekend. Others are set to take part in post-screening discussions at the Arclight in L.A., Heaven Knows What‘s other engagement this weekend.

The film will continue to roll out in other markets slowly, heading into June and summer. “We’re going to build every single engagement as if it were its own release,” said Quinn. “They’ve invested a lot in it and they expect us to do the same.” Continuing Quinn added: “There’s a lot of bullshit in what people think is auteur but they’re the real deal. I dare people not to see this movie… I think it’s that important.”

Director-writer: Andrew Bujalski
Cast: Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan, Giovanni Ribisi, Brooklyn Decker, Anthony Michael Hall, Tishuan Scott, Zoe Graham, David Bernon
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Filmmaker Joe Swanberg facilitated an introduction with his Drinking Buddies producer Paul Bernon of Burn Later Productions and filmmaker Andrew Bujalski, who had just finished a draft of Results and was looking for financing. The feature centers on Danny (Kevin Corrigan), a newly-rich and divorced man who is miserable. He makes a trip to the local gym where he meets self-styled guru/owner Trevor (Guy Pearce) and irresistibly acerbic trainer Kat (Cobie Smulders). Soon, their three lives are inextricably knotted, both professionally and personally, and wrinkles turn into complications, then blow up into full-fledged issues.

“We were fans of his and started talking,” said Bernon who met Bujalski in February, 2014. “As with our previous [projects] we put up the financing and referred out Line Producer whom we’ve worked with [previously] to the project.” Bujalski already had Kevin Corrigan in mind for the role of Danny when Bernon joined the project, and later Cobie Smulders was referred for the role of Kat. The shoot took place last July in Austin, TX and even came in a bit under budget, according to Bernon.

“It went really well,” he said. “Our line producer and Houston King, who [also] produces Andrew’s films were very efficient. Andrew is also very efficient and careful with his time.” The shoot included a couple of days in Marfa, TX as well as a couple days in New York with a skeleton crew.

Magnolia Pictures bought Results ahead of its Sundance premiere after ICM reached out about a pre-sale. “We sold Drinking Buddies to Magnolia, so we already had a relationship there,” added Bernon. Results will open in New York at IFC Center as well as two locations in Austin and a single run in Toronto this Friday. Magnolia will add a dozen locations including Los Angeles’ Nuart Theater June 5 with more cities added throughout the month.

Club Life
Director: Fabrizio Conte
Writers: Danny A. Abeckaser, Ryan O’Nan, Ryan Vallan
Cast: Jay R. Ferguson, Jerry Ferrara, Jessica Szohr, Robert Davi, Busta Rhymes, Al Sapienza, Ryan O’Nan, Allegra Carpenter, Jennifer Missoni, Malea Rose
Distributor: The Orchard

The Orchard became enthralled with Club Life‘s look behind the scenes of a night club operator. It is also expecting the connections and marketing prowess of its producer Danny A. Abeckaser, whose life the story is based on, to help carry the title to a glittering finish at the box office and on-demand.

Entourage star Jerry Ferrara and Jessica Szohr (Gossip Girl) star in this drama that goes behind the velvet ropes of the Manhattan club scene to tell the story of a young promoter looking to make a name for himself. He soon finds there’s a price to the glitz and glam.

“We picked up Club Life about 10 or 11 months ago. We liked that it was a view into a world you don’t usually get to peel back the curtain and see behind,” said The Orchard’s SVP Paul Davidson. ” It was also compelling to us because it’s based on the true story of Danny A. who is a producer of the film. He’s the epitome of a connected man in the club world. It’s like a scene out of Good Fellows minus the mobsters.”

Danny A. brings connections that most lower budget films can only dream of. The likes of P. Diddy, DJ David Guetta and other A-listers are friends and are lending their social media reach ahead of the film’s release this weekend. “Danny is also tapped into supermodels with millions of followers,” said Davidson. “And Jerry [Ferrara] is also promoting Entourage and is able to also mention Club Life, so it made sense for us to take a swing at getting it out now. This is a smaller movie that truly feels big.”

Club Life will open in New York and L.A. and throughout the top 10 markets initially. Then the plan is to watch how it performs. “If we can platform into a larger release pattern, we will,” added Davidson. “We think it will do solid business in those markets, but we believe it will prove very strong on digital and cable.”

Director-writer: Raj Amit Kumar
Writers: Damon J. Taylor, Adam Davis, Kamran Iqbal
Cast: Victor Banerjee, Adil Hussain, Bhanu Uday, Preeti Gupta, Bhavani Lee, Ankur Vikal, Seema Rahmani, Samrat Chakrabarti, Danae Nason
Distributor: Dark Frames

Indian-born filmmaker Raj Amit Kumar opened his own distribution outfit to release his film Unfreedom. Kumar, however, is not stopping at the DIY release approach that a number of indie filmmakers have taken on in recent years. He’s also planning to release similar Indian independent films in North America in the near future.

But first-up is Unfreedom. The feature is described as “an urgent contemporary thriller” about a society torn apart by political, religious and sexual turmoil. Shifting between New York and New Delhi, the film juxtaposes two powerful and unflinching stories about religious fundamentalism and intolerance, one of which follows a Muslim terrorist attempting to silence a liberal Muslim scholar, while the other is about a young woman who defies her devout father and escapes an arranged marriage because she is secretly embroiled in a taboo lesbian romance. All four characters go to their absolute limit-and beyond-in their struggle to defend their deeply-held and conflicting viewpoints on freedom, faith, family and love.

“Raj has acquired another Indian film called I.D. and is in active negotiation on two additional titles,” said Mark Urman, who heads distribution label Paladin, but is separately consulting with Dark Frames on Unfreedom‘s release. “They’re Indian independent films, not big Bollywood Films. Very few of these films are distributed in the U.S.”

Raj Amit Kumar grew up fascinated with Bollywood productions, but after studying for his Masters and PHD in film stateside, his sensibilities evolved. “I couldn’t imagine myself doing that sort of film,” said Kumar. “When the time came to do my first project, I saw that violence in the name of religion and [the struggle with] LGBT issues in India. Those issues troubled me and I wanted to address them in my filmmaking.” Unfreedom was financed through a combination of friends, private investors and Kumar’s own money. “The film is graphic and has violence, so it wasn’t easy to convince known actors [to join],” said Kumar. I had approached popular Indian cinema actors. “But Victor Banerjee was an exception. He saw the script and just said, ‘When are we shooting it?'” Casting females proved especially difficult since Indian actresses face heightened ridicule for exposing too much skin.

The film has not screened in India and for the time being, only the Indian diaspora may have the chance to view it on the big screen. The country’s censors asked for changes and Kumar appealed. According to the filmmaker, the censors hoped the movie would disappear. “They didn’t want to approve a film dealing with homosexuality, and Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism,” he said. “And the irony here is that the film deals with freedom of expression.”

Mark Urman added that though the film may not screen in the world’s largest democracy, it did capture headlines on the sub-continent. That in turn has fueled interest from the South Asian community in the U.S. and beyond. “It made the film a real hot potato,” Urman said. “It got so much front page and prime time media coverage in India. “It’s forbidden fruit…The Indian censors have given us a marketing gift.”

Unfreedom will open at the AMC Empire in New York as well as the Laemmle Noho in L.A. The film will add eight additional markets the following week. The film will open in the UK next month and there are plans for a an international digital release. Said Urman: “We’re hoping for a large global awareness.”

Gemma Bovery
Director-writer: Anne Fontaine
Writers: Pascal Bonitzer, Posy Simmonds (novel)
Cast: Fabrice Luchini, Gemma Arterton, Jason Flemyng, Isabelle Candelier, Niels Schneider, Mel Raido, Elsa Zylberstein, Pip Torrens
Distributor: Music Box Films

Music Box Films initially viewed French title Gemma Bovery at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. “We fell for it along with the audience,” said Music Box’s Director of Marketing and Publicity, Lisa Trifone. “Anne Fontaine’s track record as a filmmaker, the captivating Gemma Arterton in the title role and our success in releasing French-language films convinced us we could build a strong release around this movie.”

Life begins to imitate art in the feature, when British beauty Gemma (Gemma Arterton) and her furniture restorer husband Charles Bovery (Jason Flemyng) move to the very same Norman village where the novel was written. Local baker and Flaubert fan Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini) falls for the charming newcomer and sets out to be her mentor. It doesn’t take long before his wild imagination leads him to draw parallels between the literary and real life woman, as he insinuates himself into her life. She soon finds herself at a crossroads that seems to be fulfilling Joubert’s worst fears that her destiny is mirroring that of Flaubert’s doomed heroine. Director Anne Fontaine’s adaptation of the graphic novel is at once a cheeky literary mash-up of romance, feminist commentary, and a celebration of French provincial life.

“We launched the film with a U.S. trailer premiere on, and through their social and site traffic alone the trailer received millions of impressions. That allowed us to immediately tap into the female audience this film speaks to,” said Trifone. “The film also screened at COLCOA in Los Angeles this spring, garnering additional coverage and awareness, particularly with Francophiles. Our strategy leading up to release includes traditional media buys and strong PR support from both Fontaine and Arterton.”

Trifone added that the film’s bucolic French countryside setting complete with outdoor markets, meadows and spring colors made a release ahead of summer an ideal start for Gemma Bovery. The company expects it to be a different big screen experience for this time of year. “Providing alternate art house programming to summer blockbuster programming was also a consideration,” she added.

Gemma Bovery opens in New York and L.A. Friday with the top 10 markets to follow in an art house roll out. Music Box plans 20-plus additional cities opening through early July with home entertainment and digital/cable on-demand set for the fall.

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