“It was under the radar, though it won an award in Palm Springs,” said Music Box’s Ed Arentz. “We weren’t sure if we’d have room in our slate [but] found an opportunity to get another film at the Paris [in New York] and the Royal [in Los Angeles] this fall. Then it became Spain’s official selection, so we felt we had a chance in that race as well.”
Music Box is targeting the traditional older female audience for Flowers, which Arentz said is an “acting showcase” that’s “beautifully directed.” He said the film does not have a plethora of obvious affinity groups to tap to attract audiences aside from the Spanish consulate and the Cervantes Institute, but the company hopes that some of the momentum the title saw this summer in Miami will translate to this weekend’s bow at the Paris theater in NYC.
“It’s a quiet movie we don’t see that much of, so we’re hoping there’s an audience that appreciates that kind of subtly,” said Arentz. “Our hope is the reviews and box office from the Paris will tip the film over to exhibitors who are sitting on the fence. We’re guardedly optimistic.”
Flowers will open November 6 in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., before heading to the Royal on November 27. Added Arentz: “It’s a late entry into the fall release schedule. Under ideal circumstances, it will become nominated and play into the spring.”
The film offers a primer on the Spanish colonization of California and the Mexican-American War alongside intimate reflections on “nostalgia, butch identity, the pursuit of unavailable women and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo” — all against a contemplative backdrop of 16mm urban California landscapes and featuring a voice-over cameo by Tony Kushner. California urban landscapes serve as the framework for the film’s lyrically written voice-over, which combines extensive historical research with a stream-of-consciousness personal monologue and relates these seemingly disparate stories from an intimate, colloquial perspective to tell a one-of-a-kind California tale.
“I’ve been making these kind of 16mm urban landscape films since my first short in 1997,” said Olson, who began work on The Royal Road seven years ago. “I have a unique working method and reservoir of this landscape footage. I then write voice-over scripts to accompany the images.” California’s historic El Camino Real (Spanish for “the royal road”), which marked the path leading to the missions established by Junipero Serra during the colonial era, serves as “the device,” as Olson describes it, for the feature’s story. “It’s a minimalist plot of me in San Francisco pining for this woman in Los Angeles,” said Olson. “I follow the royal road to her door. … And I always say living in San Francisco is like living on the set of Vertigo, so that also became an integral component of the script.”
Olson received financial support for the project through various Bay Area organizations including the San Francisco Film Society in addition to a Kickstarter campaign that raised $24K (with a goal of $20K). The filmmaker said the project’s budget came in at $75K, sans any payment to the director herself. The Royal Road debuted at Sundance, which Olson has attended with previous titles, though this time around, she decided to strategize differently.
“The significant difference for me [at Sundance] this time was to hire a publicist, and it made a huge difference in how the film was positioned,” said Olson, who worked with Matt Johnstone Publicity at the festival. “It got written about a lot with some amazing reviews.” Kevin Iwashina’s Preferred Content represented the title, which, she added, gave the title cachet out of Sundance even if it wasn’t ultimately acquired there. “It’s a small, noncommercial film,” said Olson. “They didn’t get any takers, but it was nice getting it out there, and I think it makes people take it more seriously.” Olson said that she’s currently in “serious negotiation” for a VOD/DVD release with a distributor, and it will continue to other festivals and special runs in the coming weeks.
“It is an art film,” added Olson. “I wasn’t thinking of the market when making it, but I’m grateful for places like Fandor and Mubi. I’d imagine it will reach an audience that is a ‘special’ audience of people interested in much more ambitious viewing of films that are genuinely not commercial.”