After the onslaught of limited-release films during the fall, 2016 seems comparatively light so far, though that likely will be short-lived. Perhaps it’s an interim calm before the Sundance and Phase Two Awards storm. But audiences looking to get their fill of new indies in theaters this weekend will have a choice of features starring a bevy of stars. Actor Ross Partridge went both in front and behind the camera for Lamb, in which he stars with Scoot McNairy, Tom Bower and Jess Weixler. The Orchard release rolls out the film with a short exclusive window in theaters before becoming available on-demand. IFC Films is opening thriller Anesthesia starring Sam Waterston and Kristen Stewart in a day-and-date bow. The company also is opening Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu’s The Treasure under its Sundance Selects label in limited release. And First Run Features will bow documentary Troublemakers: The Story Of Land Art in New York ahead of a select run around the country.
Director-writer: Tim Blake Nelson
Cast: Sam Waterston, Kristen Stewart, K. Todd Freeman, Jessica Hecht, Gretchen Mol, Glenn Close, Gloria Reuben, Tim Blake Nelson, Corey Stoll, Mickey Sumner
Distributor: IFC Films
IFC Films picked up Tim Blake Nelson’s drama Anesthesia following last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, where it premiered. Set during a snowy night in New York City, the feature “pieces together the puzzle of a man’s life just before it changes forever.” While on his way home one evening, Walter Zarrow (Sam Waterston), a popular Columbia University philosophy professor, is violently attacked on the street. The feature flashes back one week, tracing the domino effect of events that led up to what appears to be a senseless assault. Along the way, hidden connections emerge among a seemingly disparate group of people —including a self-destructive student (Kristen Stewart), a hard-drinking suburban housewife (Gretchen Mol) and a desperate junkie (K. Todd Freeman) — forming a complex, engrossing mosaic of lost souls united by tragedy.
The Anesthesia shoot took place in New York in November 2013. Veteran actor Nelson’s previous directorials include 2002’s The Grey Zone from Lionsgate and starring David Arquette, which grossed nearly $518K, and Leaves Of Grass with Edward Norton, Keri Russell, Richard Dreyfuss and Susan Sarandon. The First Look release grossed a little more than $70K at the box office.
IFC Films head Jonathan Sehring said Nelson will have select in-person appearances at screenings this weekend. This is the fourth title featuring Stewart that IFC Films has released in the past several years, following On The Road (2012), Camp X-Ray (2014) and Clouds Of Sils Maria (2015). Stewart won a César for best supporting actress for Clouds, starring opposite Juliette Binoche.
“She’s a really good,” said Sehring. “When people get the Twilight movies out of their heads, they see she’s a great actress. She’s making smart, intelligent choices.” Anesthesia opens day-and-date today at IFC Center and on-demand, with added theatrical playdates in the coming weeks.
Director-writer: Ross Partridge
Writer: Bonnie Nadzam (novel)
Cast: Ross Partridge, Oona Laurence, Jess Weixler, Tom Bower, Scoot McNairy, Lindsay Pulsipher, Jennifer Lafleur, Joel Murray
Distributor: The Orchard
Actor-filmmaker Ross Partridge wandered into a bookstore and happened upon Bonnie Nadzam’s novel, Lamb. After reading it for an hour at the store, he bought it and showed it to his then-girlfriend, who encouraged him to make it into a film. “This was about June 2013,” said Partridge. “I inquired about the rights to the book, but another actor had already optioned it. But his option came up that October, so I met with the author and acquired it in December of that year, and I finished a draft in February 2014.”
Lamb traces the self-discovery of David Lamb in the weeks following the disintegration of his marriage and the death of his father. Hoping to regain some faith in his own goodness, he turns his attention to Tommie, an awkward and unpopular 11-year-old girl. Lamb is convinced that he can help her avoid a destiny of apathy and emptiness and takes Tommie for a road trip from Chicago to the Rockies, planning to initiate her into the beauty of the mountain wilderness.
“I was working on another movie in January in Michigan, so it was the perfect environment in which to write script,” said Partridge, who also is a producer of the film. “I worked with Mel Eslyn and Taylor Williams, who came on as producers, and we discussed next steps. We put the wheels in motion, and things happened quickly.” Partridge said one financier came in to fund the project, which was shot over 18 days in Denver and Laramie, WY. He also tapped actor friends to come on board including Scoot McNairy, Jess Weixler and Tom Bower. Oona Laurence, who plays the key role of Tommie, came though a casting process. “We started combing through 11-year-old girls in New York,” said Partridge. “Oona is an [award-winning] talent and when I met her, you could see she was a rarity. She’s intoxicating.”
One stumbling block the production faced was finding a crew available for the June shoot. Partridge turned for help to social media and contacts he had met. “Crews we knew were already booked, so we were literally putting notices on our Facebook and asking friends of friends,” he said. “I remembered I had met someone at a cocktail party at SXSW who had said to contact him if I ever needed someone. He lived in Seattle, and [by chance] we needed someone there to bring a camera from there to Denver in literally a day.” The SXSW contact worked out and joined the project.
Lamb debuted at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival and played festivals in Sarasota, Montclair, Seattle and Woodstock. The Orchard came on board soon after SXSW. The distributor opens Lamb today in New York and Los Angeles, with a further theatrical rollout to follow. The film will be available via iTunes/VOD on January 12.
Director-writer: Corneliu Porumboiu
Cast: Toma Cuzin, Adrian Purcarescu, Corneliu Cozmei, Radu Banzaru, Dan Chiriac, Iulia Ciochina
Distributor: Sundance Selects
Veteran Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu initially had planned to do a documentary about his friend, director Adrian Purcarescu, who was not able to finish a film he had begun working on 10 years earlier because of a lack of funds. An attempt was made to work together to finish the project, but Porumboiu became fascinated by a different story — a local legend — that Adrian Purcarescu told him about.
From that story came The Treasure, which centers on Cotsi. At night he likes to read his 6-year-old son stories to help him sleep. Their favorite is Robin Hood. Costi sees himself as the hero — righter of wrongs and defender of the oppressed. One evening, his neighbor pays him an unexpected visit and shares a secret: He’s sure there’s treasure buried in his grandparents’ garden. If Costi will hire a metal detector to help locate it, he’ll give him half of whatever they get. Skeptical at first, Costi ultimately can’t resist. The two accomplices have one weekend to locate the loot. Despite every obstacle in their path, Costi refuses to be discouraged. For his wife and son, he’s a real hero – nothing and no one is going to stop him.
“We love working with the same directors, especially ones we think are extremely talented,” said IFC Films President Jonathan Sehring. “We’re not anticipating a big theatrical [gross] for this film, but considering the great critical response to this [movie], we think it more than deserves a [theatrical] release. We’ll open at art houses around the country.”
The Treasure is a day-and-date release, so Sundance Selects clearly is banking on its on-demand performance. Theatrically, the feature opens today at IFC Center and the Royal in Los Angeles this weekend. Added Sehring: “We have great bookings for The Treasure already. We’re relying on its critics response to help the release.”
Troublemakers: The Story Of Land Art
Director: James Crump
Subjects: Michael Heizer, Lawrence Weiner, Pamela Sharp, Dennis Oppenheim, Carl Andre, Walter De Maria, Willoughby Sharp, Germano Celant
Distributor: First Run Features
The documentary unearths the history of land art in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when a cadre of renegade New York artists sought to transcend the limitations of painting and sculpture by producing earthworks on a monumental scale in the desolate desert spaces of the American Southwest. Today these works remain impressive not only for the sheer audacity of their makers but also for their out-sized ambitions to break free from traditional norms.
The film casts these artists as iconoclasts who changed the landscape of art forever. These revolutionary, antagonistic creatives risked their careers on radical artistic change and experimentation and took on the establishment to produce art on their own terms. The film includes rare footage and interviews featuring the enigmatic lives and careers of storied artists Robert Smithson (Spiral Jetty), Walter De Maria (The Lightning Field) and Michael Heizer (Double Negative).
“We were a bit familiar with the filmmaker and immediately loved the film,” said Marc Mauceri, VP of First Run Features. “One of our many focuses is films about art. Like our previous film Levitated Mass, this one also features Michael Heizer.” Sales company Submarine first showed First Run the title last summer. The screening provided something of an education for Mauceri: “It was important for me because I was always skeptical that you can draw a line in the sand and call it art, but this film addresses that directly.”
Mauceri said First Run has “historically” had an affinity for opening titles in the first or second weekend of a new year. It opened 49 Up and 56 Up in previous years. “It also happened that IFC Center had an opening slot,” he said. “[Director] James Crump was anxious to get the ball rolling, but we didn’t want to open Troublemakers during the mess of December. We’ll open the film at the Laemmle in Los Angeles in February, and we have an extensive list of bookings around the country so far.” He added: “This film will appeal to art aficionados and audiences into architecture and design. It will hit the home entertainment, VOD/digital and iTunes market in May.”