November’s first weekend is usually a crowded one at the Specialty box office, and this year is no different. Lucas Hedges stars with Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and director Joel Edgerton in Boy Erased from Focus Features. Filmmaker Matthew Heineman’s A Private War from Aviron Pictures is the first narrative feature from the director of Oscar-nominated documentary Cartel Land. Starring Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci and Tom Hollander, the film opens in four locations Friday ahead of a fairly wide roll out. Sony Pictures Classics is opening recent New York Film Festival doc Maria By Callas from first-time director Tom Volf about the legendary opera singer. Neon and YouTube Originals are launching music video veteran Joseph Kahn’s rap battle feature Bodied. And Oscilloscope is opening Margarethe von Trotta’s Searching for Ingmar Bergman with an initial exclusive New York weekend run.
Other limited releases this weekend include In Search of Greatness from Art of Sport, Well Go USA action title Rampant and In Harm’s Way from Shout! Factory. Also Dark Star Pictures is opening Number 37, billed as a “classic Hitchcockian tale set against the backdrop of slum life in a forgotten quadrant of Cape Town.”
Director-writer: Joel Edgerton
Writer: Garrard Conley (Memoir)
Cast: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Troye Sivan, Flea, Xavier Dolan
Distributor: Focus Features
Boy Erased is the first lead for Oscar-nominee Lucas Hedges, who is having a big fall with roles in Jonah Hill’s Mid90s and the upcoming Ben Is Back by his father Peter Hedges. Focus Features joined Boy Erased early on, working with writer-director Joel Edgerton. The screenplay was penned by Edgerton and inspired by Garrard Conley’s true-life coming of age and coming out memoir Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family. Conley’s memoir was first published in 2016 by Penguin Random House. In February 2017, Conley and Edgerton met in a Brooklyn café to discuss the possible big screen prospects.
Boy Erased tells the story of Jared Eamons (Hedges), the son of a Baptist pastor in a rural, small American town who is viciously outed to his parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe) at age 19. Fearing a loss of family, friends, and church, Jared is pressured into attending a conversion therapy program. While there, Jared comes into conflict with its head therapist (Edgerton) and begins his journey to finding his own voice and accepting his true self.
“The subject matter is very important and it’s a story that really needs to be told,” said Focus Features president of Distribution, Lisa Bunnell. “There are still 36 states that have gay conversion therapy and there are [thousands of people] in these places. The public needs to be aware of this and people need to be free to be who they are.”
Boy Erased follows The Miseducation of Cameron Post (FilmRise), starring Chloë Grace Moretz, which also centers on a teen in conversion therapy. That film has grossed over $904K in theaters.
For Boy Erased, Focus has been working with LGBTQ groups in the run-up to its release in theaters following its festival runs in Telluride, Toronto, Mill Valley, Chicago, Denver as well as NYC’s recent LGBTQ festival NewFest, where it screened as the Centerpiece film. Focus partnered with the Trevor Project for its New York premiere and the Human Rights Campaign for its L.A. debut.
“All of us can identify being in a family and not being able to connect with parents while growing up, still trying to fit in with the family dynamic,” said Bunnell. “The feedback we’ve received on this film is tremendous, especially by young people who’ve been touched by it. We’ve received so many touching letters from people who have said they were [in despair] and saw this movie and it was so powerful for them. It’s great knowing the movie is moving people in such positive ways.”
YouTube star Troye Sivan, who also has a role in the film, wrote “Revelation” for Boy Erased. Focus touted the song as a “beautiful endpoint,” playing over the end credits.
Focus is opening the film in an art house platform release, beginning at Lincoln Square and the Angelika in New York as well as Arclight Hollywood and The Landmark in Los Angeles in addition to the Embarcadero in San Francisco. Added Bunnell: “We’ll take the movie out slowly. We’ll go to the top ten markets next week and then wider each weekend [in November].”
A Private War
Director: Matthew Heineman
Writers: Marie Brenner (article), Arash Amel
Cast: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci, Tom Hollander
Distributor: Aviron Pictures
Bio-drama A Private War is Oscar-nominated filmmaker Matthew Heineman’s first narrative feature. The Aviron Pictures release, which debuted at Toronto in September, revolves around a subject matter he knows well. His last film, City of Ghosts, spotlighted a group of activists who came together after their homeland was taken over by ISIS. And his 2015 doc, Cartel Land, which was nominated for Best Documentary, examines the ongoing drug war along the U.S. – Mexican border.
Distributor Aviron Pictures became involved with A Private War in the project’s early stages. Said Aviron’s head of Distribution, Greg Forston: “Scenes in the dailies were so authentic and real, but it also didn’t feel like a documentary. That’s where the excitement began to build. Then we got cuts of the film and that’s where it solidified.”
In a world where journalism is under attack, Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike) is one of the most celebrated war correspondents of our time. Colvin is an utterly fearless and rebellious spirit, driven to the front lines of conflicts across the globe to give voice to the voiceless, while constantly testing the limits between bravery and bravado. After being hit by a grenade in Sri Lanka, she wears a distinctive eye patch and is as comfortable sipping martinis with London’s elite as she is confronting dictators. Colvin sacrifices loving relationships, and over time, her personal life starts to unravel as the trauma she’s witnessed takes its toll. Yet, her mission to show the true cost of war leads her — along with renowned war photographer Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan) — to embark on the most dangerous assignment of their lives in the besieged Syrian city of Homs.
Aviron has emphasized the timeliness of the story. 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl and CNN’s Christiane Amanpour have hosted tastemaker screenings. “We’re still building toward the crescendo of the release of the movie,” said Forston. “I think the marketing department is doing well in timing its outreach. It hasn’t peaked early. It’s a slow, grassroots campaign that has had time to live on its own.”
Aviron is opening A Private War in four theaters this weekend, including Regal Union Square and Lincoln Square in New York as well as in L.A. at the Arclight and The Landmark. On November 9, it will head to about 45 theaters in mostly top ten market locations, and by November 16, the title is expected to be in approximately 800 theaters.
Added Forston: “The top ten aren’t always going to be the highest-grossing markets, so we handpicked a mix [for the second week]. We’ll do a mix of art house and commercial theaters… We’re getting full talent participation. Rosamund, Jamie and Matt will do Q&As [this weekend].”
Maria By Callas
Director-writer: Tom Volf
Appearances: Maria Callas, Elvira de Hidalgo, Luchino Visconti, Giovanni Battista Meneghini, Jean Cocteau, Joyce Di Donato (voice)
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
First-time filmmaker Tom Volf was not all that interested in opera until one night in 2013. While walking by the Met Opera in New York, he impulsively purchased a standing room ticket to Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, starring American mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato. DiDonato gives voice to Maria Callas’s letters in his doc, Maria By Callas, opening this weekend via Sony Pictures Classics.
Following the performance, Volf spent a night on the internet researching Italian opera, which led him to a recording of Maria Callas singing the aria “Spargi d’amaro pianto” from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.” After hearing her voice for the first time, Volf became focused on the opera superstar, connecting with people about her all over the world.
Told through performances, TV interviews, home movies, family photographs, private letters and unpublished memoirs—nearly all of which have never been shown to the public—the film reveals the essence of an extraordinary woman who rose from humble beginnings in New York City to become a glamorous international superstar and one of the greatest artists of all time.
“[Callas had] diaries that reveal so much, and were not found until [fairly recently],” said Sony Classics co-president Michael Barker. “There’s a lot of information about Callas in the movie that’s new along with archival performance footage the public hasn’t seen. She was a star beyond any movie star we know. I think people are interested in a star of that magnitude and what makes someone a star of that size. She also has legions of opera fans across generations and we think [this movie] will do well.”
Maria Callas was infamously dismissed by the Met Opera…. But she posthumously came full circle with an homage by the organization during the film’s New York Film Festival premiere at Lincoln Center in October. Met Opera General Manager Peter Gelb praised Callas from the stage before the screening and introducing a who’s who of current opera stars including Anna Netrebko, Anita Rachvelishvili, Iestyn Davies, Isabel Leonard, Angel Blue, Nicole Car, Etienne Dupuis and more.
“We worked with Peter Gelb when he was head of Sony Classical on many things including the score of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” said Barker in a call from L.A. this week where he and co-president Tom Bernard received an award from OutFest. “He went over to conquer the Metropolitan Opera and has done an incredible job. His introduction was a trailblazing moment for the film and we’re very appreciative to New York Film Festival.”
Sony Classics is opening Maria By Callas in select locations in New York and Los Angeles Friday. It will then head to San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C. The following week, it will head to 10 – 12 cities with major opera houses.
Director-writer: Joseph Kahn
Writer: Alex Larsen
Cast: Jackie Long, Calum Worthy, Shoniqua Shandai, Walter Perez, Rory Uphold, Disaster Dumbfoundead, Hollow Da Don, Charlamagne Tha God
Distributor: Neon/YouTube Originals
Music video director Joseph Kahn and producer Adi Shankar worked together on their Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Bootleg that has scored over 22.8 million views on YouTube since 2015. The re-imagining drew attention from the major studios.
“All the major studios were calling him up and he was getting big franchise dream movies thrown at him,” said Shankar. “He flirted with them… He called me up and we started talking and he asked if I’d be down to explore these. As we kept talking, [it was apparent] he wanted to do a dissection of PC culture — ‘woke’ culture before that was a common word. It’s not like he rested on one side of the fence politically, but he wanted to [tackle] hypocrisy from his point of view. The next thing I knew, we were developing a script.”
The official synopsis of Bodied follows: “Words are weapons in the world’s most brutal lyrical sport. Produced by Eminem and directed by world-renowned music video director Joseph Kahn, Bodied is a go-for-the-jugular, hilarious look inside the competitive world of rap battles.”
Alex Larsen joined them in writing the script and by the beginning of 2016, a working version of the screenplay was completed. Financing and casting were the next steps. Kahn and Shankar ultimately opted out of working with a studio in order to create the feature they wanted without compromise.
“The conclusion Joseph and I came to was that the film would have a lot to say. So what needed to be protected at all cost was his perspective,” said Shankar. “We needed a mechanism to make the film while protecting his perspective, so that meant doing it independently at that point. Having worked with Joseph on the Power Rangers short, I was privy to his ‘advantages’ as a filmmaker. Because he regularly shoots multi-million dollar music videos [for big artists] like Taylor Swift, he has a team in place. They’re like a little army. They go with him from production to production, so I knew we could leverage that and use this well oiled machine to make something at a fraction of the cost of what it would ultimately look like.”
Initially, the filmmaking team envisioned a $15M budget, but according to Shankar, once Kahn factored in his in-place apparatus, the budget was reduced. “[We could do] a little bit over a million dollars by leveraging what he has access to,” said Shankar. “At that point, he was like, ‘You know what? I believe in this [project] so much, I’m paying for it myself.’ He went ‘90s indie filmmaker on this. Like a Clerks from Kevin Smith, but this would be in color and with [spectacular] camerawork.”
Bodied shot over 20 days. Kahn also leveraged his ties to the rap battle community to cast the film. Shankar threw out an unlikely suggestion to play one of the main characters.
“It’s a tough role to pull off and we saw so many people,” explained Shankar. “He called me at 2 am and said, ‘We don’t have an Adam. The movie is going to fall apart. I need you to suggest someone right now.’”
Shankar went on a limb and suggested what he termed “a Disney kid” he had worked with on Mostly Ghostly: Have You Met My Ghoulfriend?
“I saw Calum Worthy walking [on set] and he was so comfortable with himself and I could tell he was genuinely a good guy. So I mentioned this kid to Joseph. I said, ‘We should get him in now and get him to read.’ Two days later, he came in and Joseph called me up and said, ‘He’s perfect, you’ve earned your keep on this film.’”
Bodied debuted at last year’s Toronto Film Festival where it won the Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award. Neon came on board shortly afterward for its theatrical release. Said Shankar about the Neon partnership: “This movie is tapping into a subculture of a culture of hip hop. [Neon is] a precise fit because the film itself is designed to be an outlier. There’s a way to game these things for distribution friendliness and we had those conversations [earlier in the project]. But at the end of the day, this film was designed to articulate Joseph’s perspective in the way he views the world.”
Bodied will open at AMC Empire 25 in New York; AMC Loews Jersey Gardens in New Jersey and AMC Burbank 16. It will be available on YouTube Premium November 28.
Searching For Ingmar Bergman
Director: Margarethe von Trotta
Co-Directors: Felix Moeller and Bettina Böhler
Appearances: Liv Ullman, Ruben Östlund, Ingmar Bergman, Jr., Daniel Bergman, Olivier Assayas, Stig Brökman, Mian Hansen-Løve, Gunnel Lindblom
Cannes Classics 2018 doc Searching For Ingmar Bergman was a pre-buy for Oscilloscope, which is uncommon for the distributor. The film opens on the centenary year of the celebrated Swedish filmmaker.
“Needless to say, when we saw the finished film, we were extremely impressed,” commented Oscilloscope’s Andrew Carlin. “What Margarethe von Trotta has created is so personal and revealing. While the film doesn’t shy away from the darker, more troubling aspects of Bergman’s life, it’s handled with such sensitivity and care. It has the feel of a loving tribute from one master filmmaker to another.”
Director von Trotta examines Ingmar Bergman’s life and work with a circle of his closest collaborators as well as a new generation of filmmakers. This documentary presents key components of his legacy, as it retraces themes that recurred in his life and art and takes us to the places that were central to Bergman’s creative achievements.
Oscilloscope is expecting the film’s critical response to help propel the title as it heads to theaters this weekend and beyond. The company also said runs in Cannes, Toronto and New York confirmed the film’s “pedigree” as it heads out.
“The obvious demographic here is, of course, Bergman aficionados and cinephiles in general,” noted Carlin. “But even if you are not overly familiar with his body of work going in, it’s still an incredibly approachable and insightful film. After you’ve seen it, your first impulse will be to spend way too much money on the Criterion Collection website.”
Searching for Ingmar Bergman will open exclusively at The Quad in New York this week. The theater is also using the opportunity to host a retrospective of von Trotta’s films. The doc will then head to the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles next week followed by a “long, relatively slow roll out through the holidays and into 2019,” according to Carlin.