Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio is wasting no time getting his next project into theaters — or at least distributor Bleecker Street isn’t. Just over a month after his last film, A Fantastic Woman, took the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, his latest, Disobedience with Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz rolls into theaters, only days after its Tribeca Film Festival bow. The film joins a pretty packed lineup of new Specialties that will go head to head with Disney’s sure-fire Avengers installment. Sundance Selects is rolling out French filmmaker Claire Denis’ Let the Sunshine In with Juliette Binoche, one of a few foreign-language offerings this weekend including Grasshopper Films’ drama Ava by Sadaf Foroughi. Shout! Studios is opening The House of Tomorrow by Peter Livolsi with Asa Butterfield, Nick Offerman and Ellen Burstyn in several markets, while Cleopatra Films is opening Daniel Jerome Gill’s music-romance, Modern Life is Rubbish.
Other limited release openers include The Orchard’s crime-drama Kings with Halle Berry and Daniel Craig. Janus Films is opening a 4K restoration of Olivier Assayas’ Cold Water, long unavailable in the U.S., and Abramorama is opening doc Love & Bananas: An Elephant Story in select locations.
Director-writer: Sebastián Lelio
Writer: Naomi Alderman (novel)
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Rachel Weisz, Alessandro Nivola
Distributor: Bleecker Street
Straight off of its Tribeca Film Festival premiere this past week, Bleecker Street is launching Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio’s Disobedience in theaters Friday. Lelio definitely has momentum in his favor. His previous film, A Fantastic Woman, won Best Foreign Language film last month at the Oscars.
Disobedience follows a woman as she returns to the North London Orthodox Jewish community where she grew up after the death of her estranged rabbi father in New York. Once back home, she stirs up controversy when she shows an interest in a female childhood friend.
“Obviously we were taken aback by its artistry — it’s totally original,” said Bleecker Street’s Jack Foley. “The acting really brings such a power to the story that it’s something we couldn’t bypass. It is new and original and I think [that aspect] has been noticed by critics. Sebastián may work a lot, but he’s turning out some fine cinema.”
Bleecker Street is targeting the Jewish and art film communities as well as LGBT audiences ahead of its release Friday. Rachel Weisz, who is a producer of the film, has participated significantly in its promotion, according to Foley, along with Rachel McAdams. The company is also looking for word-of-mouth to drive audiences to theaters.
“The portrayals of the lesbian relationship is above reproach,” said Foley. “At its heart, this is a love story… We were thrilled with Sebastián’s success at the Oscars because that’s solidified his credentials.”
Foley said that in addition to its launchpad at Tribeca, the company has been working with various groups in the art world as well as LGBT organizations. Added Foley: “It’s an authentic piece of filmmaking that stands up at this time.”
Disobedience will bow at the Arclight and Landmark in Los Angeles as well as the Angelika, Lincoln Square and City Cinemas in New York. It will then head to nine additional markets May 4 including the Bay Area, Washington, D.C. and others. On May 11 it will go to more cities and will expand in existing markets. Foley noted that some select showings with audience Q&As have already sold out.
Added Foley: “We are targeting art houses across the board and then will see how the business dictates to push it further out.”
Let The Sunshine In
Director-writer: Claire Denis
Writer: Christine Angot
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Gerard Depardieu, Xavier Beauvois, Philippe Katerine, Josiane Balasko
Distributor: Sundance Selects
IFC Films quickly snapped up French filmmaker Claire Denis’ latest, Let The Sunshine In, following its premiere in Cannes last year. The distributor, which will release the title through its Sundance Selects banner starting Friday, is no stranger to Denis, having worked with the director on previous titles including Bastards (2013) and White Material (2009).
“She’s one of the top filmmakers in the world and [Let the Sunshine In] was a top priority,” said IFC Films’ Arianna Bocco. “I think it’s a very timely, female-centric story about a woman navigating the world of love in her older age. [Juliette Binoche] is phenomenal in the film.”
Binoche plays Isabelle, a divorced Parisian painter searching for another shot at love, but refusing to settle for the parade of all-too-flawed men who drift in and out of her life. There’s a caddish banker (Xavier Beauvois) who, like many of her lovers, happens to be married; a handsome actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who’s working through his own hang-ups; and a sensitive fellow artist (Alex Descas) who’s skittish about commitment.
“The idea is we’re going for their combined fanbase which is quite large,” said Bocco about how the company is messaging the title ahead of its day and date release Friday. “But we also think there’s crossover due to the subject matter and because of the strong reviews that came out of Cannes and [others] more recently.”
Bocco echoed what many in the industry have said is a challenging atmosphere for foreign-language fare, acknowledging the narrowing appeal of non-English-language films in the U.S. in recent years, but added: “We expect this to shine.”
Claire Denis will take part in Q&As in New York this weekend at select showings, while Juliette Binoche will take over the following weekend in New York, chatting with audiences. Noted Bocco: “The fact they’re both coming and supporting the film is indicative of their backing and belief in the quality of [Let the Sunshine In]. Claire Denis is not only one of the best female directors, but one of the best directors in the world right now.”
Though the title will also be available on demand, Bocco said the company is pushing its theatrical roll out, starting at IFC Center and the Film Society of Lincoln Center in Manhattan this weekend. The feature will head next to the Royal in L.A. and is slated for other markets in the coming weeks.
The House of Tomorrow
Director-writer: Peter Livolsi
Writer: Peter Bognanni (novel)
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Alex Wolff, Nick Offerman, Ellen Burstyn, Fred Armisen, Maude Apatow
Distributor: Shout! Studios
Producer Tarik Karam went to school with The House of Tomorrow author Peter Bognanni, while Karam also attended AFI with filmmaker Peter Livolsi. Karam shared the book with Livolsi in 2012.
“Tarik loved the book and pitched it to them as a fun thing for all of us to work on together,” said Livolsi. “I first started writing the [the screenplay] in 2013.”
The House of Tomorrow tells the story of a sheltered teen raised inside a geodesic dome who befriends a rebellious kid and forms a punk band to escape an oppressive grandmother, an overprotective father, and the looming legacy of renowned futurist Buckminster Fuller.
“I started with the mindset of connecting with the characters in the book and figured it would fit into a 90 minute movie,” said Livolsi. “There are differences between the novel and the [film].” In addition to some character changes, the big screen version of The House of Tomorrow has a different climactic ending.
“Ellen Burstyn was the first person we approached. She was at the top of our list to play the grandmother character,” said Livolsi. “Two weeks after sending her the script, my agent wrote back and said she wanted to meet.” Much to Livolsi’s surprise, Burstyn revealed she had been friends with Buckminster Fuller and showed him footage of the two together in the video, which was incorporated into the film. Nick Offerman joined and passed along the script to others. A formal casting process rounded out the rest.
Superlative Films and Water’s End Productions came in with financing. The House of Tomorrow shot over 18 days in the summer of 2016.
“The shoot was very challenging. Any movie shooting in 18 days would be challenging,” noted Livolsi. “We had several large crowd scenes, live music performances and an ensemble cast. But, we also had a lot of fun. We didn’t get a lot of time for rehearsal, but everyone really connected and were there for the right reasons. Considering the insanity of our schedule, it went smoothly.”
The title played at festivals in Tokyo and San Francisco. Shout! Studios announced its acquisition of the title last fall. The House of Tomorrow will bow in several cities including New York, L.A. this weekend, followed by additional markets the following weekend.
Modern Life is Rubbish
Director: Daniel Jerome Gill
Writer: Philip Hawthorne
Cast: Freya Mavor, Josh Whitehouse, Will Merrick, Matt Milne, Tom Riley, Daisy Bevan, Sorcha Cusack, Jessie Cave, Steven Mackintosh, Ian Hart
Distributor: Cleopatra Entertainment
Modern Life is Rubbish began as a play and then a short film. Producer Dominic Norris saw the story’s big screen potential and joined the filmmaking team to spearhead a feature. “We worked on the script a lot, but it’s in the first draft where you see the potential,” said Norris. “It needed tightening up.” The British Film Institute (BFI) gave some initial resources for the project to begin casting as the script was continuing to be refined in the lead-up to its eventual shoot in London in late 2015.
Modern Life is Rubbish centers on Liam and Natalie. The couple were first brought together by their shared love of music, but ten years later they have reached a breaking point. Opposites attract, but aren’t necessarily working long-term. Liam, a struggling musician, cannot let go of his vinyl collection and refuses to adapt to a world of smartphones and instant downloads. Natalie has let go of her dream of designing album covers and has become a rising star at her advertising firm. As they make the difficult decision to separate, they start by splitting their prized music library, but the soundtrack that defined their relationship keeps pulling them back together.
“It took time to cast. The lead actor had to be able to sing and play instruments which can be a complicated thing to find,” said Norris. “We were looking for an ensemble cast, but once we found Freya [Mayor] and Josh [Whitehouse], we were convinced that that relationship would work.”
Daniel Jerome Gill came on board to direct. He had been a veteran assistant director on features and “high-end television,” according to Norris. Universal acquired a majority of territories worldwide, while London-based Lipsync Productions kicked in financing and took part in the U.K. production rounding out the project’s 2M pound budget.
“It was quite a challenge filming,” said Norris. “There’s a ten-year span in the film and we wanted to capture that time and their lives together. We also wanted to have scenes where a lot of [Londoners] go to see live music. We were not still for very long.”
The feature shot in 55 locations across London, including some famous markets in the British capital. Added Norris: “We did pull above our weight considering our tight budget and we didn’t have quite the personnel you may find on other films… But we had a great team who went with it and were very flexible.”
Norris said there was a balancing act between the feature’s dramatic and comedic elements. In post, many funny scenes had to be cut and ultimately, it was decided to make the relationship the primary focus of the story. “We had to balance between comedy and drama,” said Norris. “We had to cut some gags. It’s ultimately a story about a boy and a girl, so we had to cut some scenes with the band.” Music nevertheless plays a focal point in the title, with music from well known bands as well as original tracks included.
Cleopatra Entertainment caught the Modern Life is Rubbish at the Edinburgh Film festival. The title will bow stateside in select locations this weekend.
Director-writer: Sadaf Foroughi
Cast: Mahour Jabbari, Bahar Noohian, Vahid Aghapour, Shayesteh Sajadi, Sarah Alimoradi
Distributor: Grasshopper Films
Based on her own adolescent experiences, Sadaf Foroughi’s Ava centers on a young girl’s coming-of-age in a strict, traditional society. Grasshopper Films first saw the title in Toronto last year and were drawn by the story of conflicting cultural values.
“It’s an extraordinary debut,” commented Grasshopper’s Ryan Krivoshey. “It manages to confront important cultural and social issues, but is, at its core, an incredibly suspenseful and entertaining film.”
Living with her well-to-do parents in Tehran, Ava is a bright and focused teen whose concerns — friendships, music, social status, academic performance — resemble that of nearly any teenager. When Ava’s mistrustful and overprotective mother questions her relationship with a boy — going as far as to visit a gynecologist — Ava is overwhelmed by a newfound rage. Formerly a model student, Ava begins to rebel against the structures imposed by her parents, her school, and the society at large.
“We’re targeting an older demographic. In its setting and subject matter, it shares certain similarities with the films of Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi,” noted Krivoshey. “So we’re looking to reach the audiences who’ve watched and enjoyed those films.”
The company eyed the weekend as a chance to provide an alternative to The Avengers for audiences not seeking to ride the well-traveled path. The company also said this time of the year can be a good one for non-English titles. “Late spring and early summer can be a nice time to program smart, challenging, entertaining foreign fare,” explained Krivoshey.
Ava opens at the Quad Cinemas in New York Friday and will continue to roll out slowly to other cities in the coming weeks.