Viggo Mortensen’s ‘Captain Fantastic’ Opens Against Norman Lear & Cyberwarfare Docs – Specialty Preview

Mark Mann

After mostly taking a pause on Fourth of July weekend, specialty distributors appear to be kicking in with summer alternatives for the second weekend of the month. Bleecker Street is heading out with Sundance debut Captain Fantastic starring Viggo Mortensen. Following today’s start in New York and Los Angeles, the company eventually will take the title to about 500 theaters before the summer is out. Two documentaries by veteran nonfiction filmmakers also are on the weekend docket. Oscar winner Alex Gibney’s Zero Days will open via Magnolia Pictures, while Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing’s Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You bows in two NYC locations initially. The film had its theatrical premiere Thursday night at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center with a prominent contingent in the audience including The Daily Show’s Hasan Minhaj, who moderated a conversation with the filmmakers and TV legend Lear. And Sony Pictures Classics is opening Japanese master Hirokazu Kor-eda’s Our Little Sister on both coasts ahead of a slow rollout throughout summer.

Also bowing today are Zachary Treitz’s Men Go to Battle via Film Movement and First Run’s Indian Point. Sultanm from Yash Raj, debuted Thursday.

Captain Fantastic
Director-writer: Matt Ross
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Frank Langella, Missi Pyle
Distributor: Bleecker Street

Bleecker Street

Bleecker Street has been involved with Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic since the company’s inception. Deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father (Viggo Mortensen) who is devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and enter the outside world, beginning a journey that challenges his idea of what it means to be a parent.

“This is the right time to release this relative to the content of the film — it takes place in what appears to be the summer,” said Jack Foley, Bleecker Street’s president of distribution. “Had it been done last summer, we would have opened it then. It’s luxurious in its imagery about [this family] living out in the wild, and then there’s a road trip. The tonality is perfect.”

Bleecker Street is targeting its usual older art house audience but also is going to go after a younger crowd for Captain Fantastic. “The [older audience] is a critical component to the movie,” said Foley. “The rollout will [start primarily with] the art house, but the other audience we’re going to try and pick up is the younger, liberal and iconoclastic crowd. The family in the film are outsiders, being home schooled in the wilds of the Northwest, but they also come to grips with the reality of the world.”

Foley added that the company will target pockets of young progressives throughout the country including such cities as Portland, Austin, Seattle, Madison, Santa Fe, Boston, San Francisco as well as the same in New York and L.A. where the film will debut.

“The older audience will be key because it is about parenting, stimulating thought about how to bring up kids properly,” said Foley. “We think among the art house folks there will be the word-of-mouth about that topic and among the ‘outlier crowd’ it will be about [living outside the system].”

Bleecker Street will open Captain Fantastic, actor-filmmaker Matt Ross’ second directorial feature, at Lincoln Square and the Sunshine in New York as well as the Landmark and ArcLight in L.A. The company will then take the feature to 10 additional markets as well as expanding a bit in the New York and Los Angeles areas the following week. Added Foley, “We’re hoping to be in 100 markets in about 500 theaters by July 29.”

Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You
Directors: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
Subjects: Norman Lear, Rob Reiner, John Amos, Bea Arthur, George Clooney, Sally Struthers, Esther Rolle
Distributor: Music Box Films

Music Box Films

Veteran documentary filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady were working on something for PBS when they first contacted maverick television producer Norman Lear on a topic related to their project. Their calls at first were not returned, but they continued to pursue. “We called him a bunch of times because we wanted to get his perspective,” said Ewing, who first contacted Lear about two years ago. “He was in the middle of writing his autobiography, but his people finally said that, ‘If you can get [to L.A.] quickly, you can talk to him for about 20 minutes on one topic.’”

The meeting was set, though it lasted much longer, and their initial conversation turned into an unplanned undertaking. “We got along like a house on fire and talked for like three hours,” said Ewing. “He was showing us all this archival material. I had asked him why there were no docs about him and, said, ‘How old are you?’” Lear was 92 when contacted, and Ewing responded at the time — jokingly or not quite so) — “We need to get this going.” Lear already was familiar with their work. His progressive advocacy group People for the American Way had given a grant to Ewing and Grady’s Oscar-nominated Jesus Camp (2006).

“It seemed like he was ready to give his life over to a filmmaker,” said Ewing. “He had previously pulled out of some projects. We read the book and told him what our take would likely be, but we didn’t want to give over editorial control. We were careful that he understood this would be our version of his story. You think he’d be a big control freak, but as long as his book was finished and [available] before the film, his version of events would be out there, so he felt comfortable.”

American Masters/PBS came up with the majority of the budget. The filmmakers raised additional money from a private investor, though shooting already had begun before securing the final budget. Similar to their typical style, the duo approached the project from an observational point of view, but soon noticed their usual modus operandi wasn’t quite working.

“Norman is very conscious of the camera and observational material. He couldn’t really let go,” said Ewing. “We got far more intimate with him sitting and chatting with him. He’s been famous for 50 years, so he’s answered a lot of questions, and [our initial questions] sounded like he had answered them before. Meanwhile, we went through his book and noticed there’s a lot of music references. So we put together a playlist and we’d play them and he’d start singing and he’d open up about things he hadn’t talked about.”

Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You shot over a year and a half, which was “quite a quick turnaround for us,” added Ewing. Also working as the shoot took place were two editors as well as people going through Lear’s extensive archive. The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where Music Box Films picked it up. Ewing and Grady have since tweaked the feature. It has gone on to play True/False, Miami, Sarasota, Hot Docs, Seattle, Nantucket, SeriesFest, AFI Docs and others. Music Box will open the title at IFC Center and the Film Society of Lincoln Center this Friday before heading to Los Angeles next week, followed by other markets. The title will hit Netflix following American Masters later this year.

Zero Days
Director-writer: Alex Gibney
Subjects: Colonel Gary D. Brown, Eric Chien, Richard Clarke, General Michael Hayden, Olli Heinonen, Chris Inglis, David Sanger
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Magnolia Pictures

Zero Days is the eighth film Magnolia Pictures has released by prolific documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney, who won as Oscar for 2007’s Taxi to the Dark Side. The company became involved with the title prior to its world premiere at Berlin in February.

The feature is a comprehensive accounting of how a clandestine mission hatched by two allies with clashing agendas opened forever the Pandora’s box of cyberwarfare. Through accounts from high-echelon players in the U.S. and Israeli secret services, journalists, analysts and whistle-blowers, Zero Days uncovers new information about the operations and U.S. cyberweapons programs and demonstrates the profound risks this brave new world of digital warfare poses to the safety of the planet. In milliseconds, these weapons have the capacity to shut down or destroy infrastructure – including power grids, hospitals, transportation systems, water treatment plants – from any distance and without the target being able to find out who was responsible.

“The most recent release [we did of an Gibney film] was Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, last year, which was very successful for us,” said Magnolia’s Matt Cowal. “Alex is one of our very favorite filmmakers and collaborators, and this film ranks alongside his strongest work. We also have a long and fruitful relationship with Participant, who produced the film.” Cowal added that Participant has been supporting the release with their own outreach and marketing efforts.

Magnolia bowed the Jobs docu in September, eventually grossing close to a half-million dollars in theaters, and presumably that total went higher on-demand. Also released last year was Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, which had a short theatrical window before heading to HBO, where it was apparently one of the most popular documentaries broadcast on the channel this decade. Gibney’s Taxi to the Dark Side, grossed less than $300K in theaters. The Armstrong Lie (2013) grossed nearly $383K stateside, while We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks cumed just over $166K domestically the same year.

“[Zero Days] was the opening night feature at the AFI Docs Festival in Washington, D.C., this year, which we thought would be a great springboard for launching the film,” said Cowal. “We’ve found success with our docs in this window as counterprogramming to summer blockbuster fare.”

Magnolia bows Zero Days today as a day-and-date release, opening theatrically in the top 15 markets alongside digital and cable on-demand. The title will continue to expand to additional theaters throughout July.

Our Little Sister
Director-writer: Hirokazu Kor-eda
Cast: Sachi Koda, Yoshino Koda, Chika Koda, Suzu Asano
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Our Little Sister is the first feature Sony Pictures Classics has released from Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kor-eda. The company picked up the title prior to its world premiere at Cannes last year.

Sony Pictures Classics

The film revolves around three sisters – Sachi, Yoshino and Chika – who live together in a large house in the city of Kamakura. When their father dies, after being absent from the family home for the past 15 years, they travel to the countryside for his funeral and meet their shy teenage half-sister. Bonding quickly with the orphaned Suzu, they invite her to live with them. She eagerly agrees, and a new life of joyful discovery begins for the four siblings.

“[Kore-eda] is one of the world’s masters,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. “We felt it was time to have him in our library. It’s a very emotionally satisfying movie that will stand the test time.” Barker added that the company sees Our Little Sister’s July release as “perfect counter-programming” from the summer blockbusters. The company is looking for the title’s long-term prospects at the box office and beyond.

“It will stand the test of time, and will work over a long period,” said Barker. “It’s a movie that people will want to own at some point.” Theatrically, Kore-eda’s previous title, Sundance Selects’ Like Father, Like Son (2013) grossed $278K in the U.S. His 2011 film I Wish, released by Magnolia, grossed $146K, while 2004’s Nobody Knows took in $684K via IFC Films.

SPC gave the Our Little Sister a long festival life, playing throughout the year in Toronto, Vancouver, AFI Fest, the Film Comments Selects series, Seattle and Provincetown film festivals leading up to today’s release. “We’ve been screening a lot for film clubs, and it’s played many festivals,” added Barker. “We’ve also pushed the trailer, which is on [a lot of] websites.”

Sony Classics opens the film in New York and Los Angeles today, continuing on to major cities including San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Chicago next week, followed by eight to 10 additional markets the following week. It will continue to slowly expand throughout the summer.

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