With the Academy Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards set for this weekend, higher profile Specialty newcomers are mostly taking a step back. Roadside Attractions however is going for a nearly wide roll out of family-faith-drama Run The Race, a genre it has had success with in the past. Bollywood is also stepping out in North America in a couple hundred locations with comedy Total Dhamaal, in conjunction with a release in over 50 countries. Oscilloscope is opening San Francisco Film Festival debut doc Wrestle by Suzannah Herbert and co-director Lauren Belfer with an exclusive New York run this weekend before heading to L.A. And newcomer Santa Rita Film Co. is opening upstart drama The Iron Orchard in north Texas locations this weekend before opening New York, L.A. and other select cities March 1.

Run The Race
Director-writer: Chris Dowling
Writers: Jake McEntire, Jason Baumgardner
Cast: Tanner Stine, Kristoffer Polaha, Mykelti Williamson, Frances Fisher, Evan Hofer, Mario Van Peebles, Kelsey Reinhardt, Caleb Castille
Distributor: Roadside Attractions

Distributor Roadside Attractions has had a steady stream of faith-based titles, which have found success at the box office, including last year’s family drama, I Can Only Imagine, which grossed over $83.48M in theaters. Bill Reeves and The WTA Group brought family sports drama, Run The Race, to the company, which is taking the feature out fairly wide starting Friday.

“Tim Tebow is an executive producer and we thought this would be very promotable,” said Roadside co-president Howard Cohen. “For all the faith films that we do, we stand behind what they’re about. This [centers] on two brothers, family and forgiveness. It’s about how they get through their troubles and come out on the other end.”

Run The Race is set against the backdrop of high school football and track. Two brothers in a small Southern town face escalating problems with two different world views, straining – but ultimately strengthening – the bonds of brotherhood.

Along with ID-PR which is spearheading public relations with mainstream media,
Roadside is working with 130 Agency based in Dallas, targeting the faith community. “We’re on parallel tracks,” said Cohen. “I think there’s a solid audience for these films. It isn’t, ‘if you build it, they will come.’ There are enough releases that [the faith audience] can pick and choose from.”

Cohen noted that in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s there was a plethora of gay films that hit the big screen, which drove that audience to theaters initially. Similarly to that audience as well as other groups that have found “recognition on the big screen,” faith-based audiences were motivated when consistent content made it to theaters early on. But the need for quality ultimately takes over.

“There’s a rush of excitement when audiences are recognized and discovered, but then there’s a realization that films need to be good,” said Cohen. “[In this example], they’re not just going to come out because it’s a faith film. They are looking at the same criteria as any other audience.” Cohen touted Run The Race’s performance and filmmaking as it readies for its theatrical bow.

Run The Race is opening in 850 theaters this weekend. It may expand to some additional locations based on performance.

Total Dhamaal
Director: Indra Kumar
Writers: Paritosh Painter, Ved Prakash, Bunty Rahtore
Cast: Ajay Devgn, Madhuri Dixit, Anil Kapoor, Sanjay Mishra, Javed Jaffrey,
Arshad Warsi, Riteish Deshmukh, Esha Gupta, Boman Irani, and Johnny Lever
Distributor: FIP

Bollywood comedy Total Dhamaal is going into its release in India, North America and about 50 other countries around the world this weekend. Distributor Fox Star became involved with the project prior to its shoot and is part of a successful comedy franchise. The title’s trailer has 58M views on YouTube.

Total Dhamaal is a mad adventure comedy about money. Guddu, a small time crook gets double-crossed by his own colleague, Pintu, after they have managed to get their hands on an illegal booty. Guddu & his sidekick Johnny manage to trace his colleague but only after Pintu has given the information of the booty to 3 other groups i.e. Avinash & Bindu – a bickering couple about to be divorced; Lallan & Jhingur – Fire Officers turned offenders & two weird siblings Aditya & Manav. All of them refuse Guddu’s offer to distribute the money and the race to reach the booty first begins. Finally after many ups & downs all reach the designated place. But it’s not as easy as it seems. Is there any truth about the hidden booty? Or are all of them being fooled? After a day full of life changing, near death experiences, will the adventure ever end or another one begin?

“We expect this film to appeal to the hardcore Bollywood audiences who are into the comedy genre of films,” noted FIP’s Rohit Sharma. “The appeal of the film is more for the South Asian sub-continent audiences and we are using the popular TV, radio, print and digital platforms to market this film.”

Consistent with its simultaneous worldwide release strategy, Sharma added that Bollywood titles “that work in India generally work across Indian sub-continent diaspora audiences.” Messaging is targeted toward South Asian groups through Indian pay TV channels, local Indian cable stateside along with print and radio programs popular with South Asian.

FIP is opening Total Dhamaal in 203 locations in North America.

Wrestle
Director-writer: Suzannah Herbert
Co-director-writer: Lauren Belfer
Subjects: Chris Scribner, Jalien, Young Jamario Rowe, Teague Berres, Jaquan Rhodes
Distributor: Oscilloscope

Wrestle director Suzannah Herbert and co-director Lauren Belfer met while working on documentary Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese. During a break in production, Herbert was looking out for Southern stories. “I heard about this wrestling team that had been getting local attention,” said Herbert. “They had only been wrestling for [a few] years but they were beating well-funded teams that had been around much longer.”

The duo took a trip to Alabama to meet the team and were struck by their personal stories. The school itself was also an underdog. The school had been consistently underperforming academically and slated to be closed. “Of course we didn’t have money raised, but this was going to be the school’s final year,” said Belfer. “We moved down to Alabama when the season opened in 2015.”

Wrestle is a coming-of-age documentary about four members of a high-school wrestling team at Huntsville’s J.O. Johnson High School, a longstanding entry on Alabama’s list of failing schools. Coached by teacher Chris Scribner, teammates Jailen, Jamario, Teague, and Jaquan each face challenges far beyond a shot at the State Championship: splintered family lives, drug use, teenage pregnancy, mental health struggles, and run-ins with the law threaten to derail their success on the mat and lock any doors that could otherwise open. Tough-love coach Scribner isn’t off the hook, either; he must come to terms with his own past conflicts while unwittingly wading into the complexities of race, class and privilege in the South.

Suzannah Herbert and Lauren Belfer stayed the entire school year, though the school district had some reservations. “The district was worried that the film would be about the school and they didn’t want us to make a film about a problem they had already addressed,” said Herbert. “So we did have limited access during the day. The team itself was getting such attention, though, that they did recognize the value in us highlighting their work. The school is a backdrop.”

Their project eventually concentrated on four of the teens. Herbert’s sister loaned some money and she supplemented it with some savings to get the production up and running. Later a trailer was made and Seth Gordon and Steven Klein came on as producers. Said Belfer: “We were in the throws of production in Alabama by then and not able to raise money, so it was very helpful that we had advocates.”

Their year amassed 650 hours of material. “We discovered a lot of nuance in the edit,” said Belfer. “Suzannah and I edited on and off for a couple of years.” Also helping with the edit was Pablo Proenza, who worked on Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9 and Capitalism: A Love Story. “We wanted it to be as ‘vérité’ as possible,” said Belfer. “We wanted people to be immersed in with the wrestlers.”

Wrestle debuted at the San Francisco Film Festival with the team and coach in attendance. Oscilloscope came on later for theatrical, while the title played additional regional festivals picking up audience and jury wins including the Maysles Brothers Award for Best Documentary at the Denver Film Festival.

Oscilloscope is opening Wrestle Friday in New York at Village East Cinema and on March 1 in Los Angeles at the Monica Film Center, with national expansion in the following weeks.

The Iron Orchard
Director-writer: Ty Roberts
Writer: Gerry De Leon
Cast: Lane Garrison, Ali Corbin, Austin Nichols, Hassie Harrison, Lew Temple, Allan McLeod, Donny Boaz
Distributor: Santa Rita Film Co.

Producer Houston Hill met filmmaker The Iron Orchard filmmaker Ty Roberts and writer Gerry de Leon in 2011 after producing a small film in western Texas. Roberts sent him a copy of the script for the film opening Friday. “[He] thought I might respond to the project…and I was drawn to it immediately because it didn’t bend to the cultural norms of the day…,” commented Hill. “As my producing partner, Camille Chambers, likes to say, ‘It’s Mad Men of the oil fields.”

The Iron Orchard is the story of Jim McNeely (Lane Garrison), a young man thrust into the vibrant and brutal West Texas oilfields in 1939. In a state gushing with oil and filled with ambition, McNeely settles into a small-town community that is slowly overcoming the trauma of the Great Depression. The formidable path before him is riddled with obstacles – overbearing bosses who try to keep him down, powerful oilmen who are reluctant to invest in a fresh face, and women who see salvation in his charms – but he finds a glimmer of hope with his first loves: new wife Lee Montgomery (Ali Cobrin) and drilling for oil. With everything falling into place to ascend to the top of the oil chain, McNeely stumbles upwards through his success and in turn jeopardizes his desperate longing to conquer this brave new world of influence and wealth.

Houston said the search for the lead in the film was a challenge given the little known filmmaking team and small budget. Houston said that a lot of offers went out to established actors to no avail, adding: “Thank God that happened because we met Lane Garrison through a friend and then we knew we had our Jim McNeely,” noted Hill. “Anne Fleitas cast the other three leads from Texas. Austin Nichols was a friend of mine and Ty’s. He brought on Hassie Harrison who comes from a Texas Oil Dynasty. The only non-Texan was Ali Cobrin who was submitted by her manager in New York but did an amazing job adapting to her role as a West Texas gal.”

Financing came through several private equity sources in Texas, according to Hill, in addition to a number of in-kind donations including period cars, oil rigs and a newly renovated 1930s hotel where the project based its operations. Hill also said “community involvement” played a crucial role for the film.

“We had a 24-day shoot primarily in the Permian Basin cities of Big Spring and Midland, Texas with a couple days in Austin,” said Hill. “Between the 115 degree heat, a haunted hotel and shooting on a shoestring budget, we’ll probably need to write a book someday about the experience. Camille says we’re trying to be Lawrence of Arabia on a Clerks budget.”

Ty Roberts and Houston Hill formed Santa Rita Film Co. after wrapping the film. According to Hill, they turned down early offers for the film. Said Hill: “The Sundance Institute consulted with us via their creative distribution grant and helped us formulate a solid indie distribution plan. We went down their list of contacts, had meetings and hired a producer of marketing and distribution, national and regional PR agencies, booking agent and social team. Sundance really helped inspire us to do this on our own and it mirrored ideas first brought to our attention by [some established distributors].”

The Iron Orchard is opening in select cities in north Texas starting Friday, February 22. The title will then head to New York, Los Angeles and other select cities on March 1.