Just shy of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, Neon’s Apollo 11 is taking one giant leap into well over a hundred Imax theaters this weekend. The feature film, by Todd Douglas Miller and compiled from extensive very rarely seen large format footage of the mission, is one of the first big 2019 Sundance Film Festival debuts to hit theaters. The title joins a decent number of new Specialty releases Friday, which follows an Oscar-weekend lull. The Crown and Doctor Who’s Matt Smith stars in Mapplethorpe, Ondi Timoner’s biopic being launched by Samuel Goldwyn Films. IFC Films is opening Michael Winterbottom’s latest, The Wedding Guest. The thriller stars Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel and is getting a traditional roll out beginning in New York this weekend. And Music Box Films is rolling out Christian Petzold’s French and German drama Transit also in New York Friday before heading to other cities including L.A. next weekend.
Other limited releases heading to theaters this weekend include A24 thriller Climax by Gaspar Noé and starring Sofia Boutella. Vertical Entertainment is opening drama Giant Little Ones with Maria Bello, Kyle MacLachlan and Taylor Hickson in New York Friday followed by additional cities. Blue Fox Entertainment has bio-drama Saint Judy opening with 55 runs, and Uncork’d Entertainment is going theatrical Friday with Smaller And Smaller Circles before its digital launch March 19.
Director: Todd Douglas Miller
Subjects: Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins
While doing research for another space-related project, filmmaker Todd Douglas Miller came upon rarely-seen Apollo 11 footage. That research had connected Miller and his team with NASA archivists, who later told them about a treasure-trove of Apollo 11 large format content that had not been seen by the public. The ‘discovery’ took place in 2016, ahead of this year’s 50th anniversary of man’s first landing on the moon.
“CNN, which did our last film, Dinosaur 13, said they would do something on Apollo 11,” said Miller. “The National Archive [told us] about all this large format film, but we didn’t know what kind of condition it would be in… We tested the first couple of reels and our draws dropped.”
At the center of the documentary is the trove of 65mm footage, and some of the more than 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio recordings. Apollo 11 takes viewers straight to the heart of NASA’s most celebrated mission — the one that first put men on the moon, and forever made Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin household names. Immersed in the perspectives of the astronauts, the team in Mission Control, and the millions of spectators on the ground, viewers vividly experience those momentous days and hours in 1969 when humankind took a giant leap into the future.
Early on, Miller found a post-house that could scan the footage, via a technology the company had developed to handle the decades-old material. CNN also gave the filmmaking team leverage to pursue their vision, according to Miller. “CNN has been so amazing. They let us do what we wanted and I can’t say enough about their involvement. They were all in on the large format exhibition [of this project], which for a cable news company is unheard of.”
In addition to the footage, the team had access to 11,000 hours of Apollo 11-related audio, some of which Miller would incorporate into the feature.
“I started editing the material at the end of 2016,” he said. “The Apollo 11 mission was nine days long. “Our first order of business was to see every frame and every second of the mission that was available to us. Every piece of audio or visuals exists in a timeline that we whittled down to under two hours. It was work, but we knew we had two years to do it… I was lucky to work with an incredible team [including Steven Tollen].”
Though Miller and the filmmaking team had funding in place, the cooperation of the National Archives and NASA, and the technology to transfer footage for the big screen, unforeseen circumstances slowed the project.
“Last year, we survived two government shutdowns,” said Miller. “We were dealing with the federal government and we needed climate-controlled vehicles to physically move material. We were working in a high-security place in the middle of Manhattan, so there were a lot of nervous nights until everything was safely back in Maryland.”
Miller had worked with Josh Braun, one of the heads of film sales company, Submarine, which is also a producer of Apollo 11. Braun wanted to see if there might be interest in a theatrical release, though Miller was skeptical. Braun took a teaser to Cannes.
“I told him nobody would want it, but he took 20 minutes with him to Cannes,” he said. “[Neon’s] Tom Quinn and others saw it and their responses were overwhelming. Tom was the only person that said this deserves to be on the largest screens possible.” Continuing, Miller added: “Tom walked it into [people he knows] at IMAX. He saw the vision to do something bigger.”
Apollo 11 debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival picking up a special jury prize for editing. The feature is having an Imax launch this weekend in about 120 of the venues around the country. Next weekend Apollo 11 will roll out in around 100 traditional theaters.
Director-writer: Ondi Timoner
Writer: Mikko Alanne
Cast: Matt Smith, Marianne Rendón, John Benjamin Hickey, Mark Moses, Carolyn McCormick, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Kerry Butler
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Ondi Timoner is the only Sundance Film Festival filmmaker to have received its Documentary Grand Jury Prize twice, taking the award for Dig! (2004) and We Live In Public (2009). In her latest work, she goes narrative with Mapplethorpe, starring The Crown and Doctor Who’s Matt Smith as the iconic and controversial Robert Mapplethorpe.
Mapplethorpe is arguably one of the most important artists of the 20th century. He discovered himself sexually and artistically in New York City throughout the ’70s and ’80s. The film depicts Mapplethorpe’s life from moments before he and Patti Smith moved into the famed Chelsea Hotel, home to a world of bohemian chic. Here, he begins photographing its inhabitants and his newfound circle of friends including artists and musicians, socialites, film stars, and members of the S&M underground. Mapplethorpe’s work displayed eroticism in a way that had never been examined nor displayed before to the public.
“I thought Matt Smith’s performance was phenomenal and aside from Doctor Who and The Crown, it’s his first stand-out,” said Samuel Goldwyn Films’ Peter Goldwyn. “It’s not a safe character to play. You’re going into his journey as an artist… It really paints a picture of who he is and what drives him.”
Goldwyn added that Robert Mapplethorpe is inherently “commercial subject matter,” noting that the Guggenheim Museum currently has an exhibit of his work in a curated show through July. Said Goldwyn: “There are different niche’s [we’re targeting] including the art world and LGBT audience.”
Mapplethorpe, which debuted at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival and won the best LGBT film award at the Key West Film Festival in November, opens with exclusive engagements in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago Friday. Goldwyn will expand the title March 8 in New York and will add other cities with an additional expansion set for March 15.
The Wedding Guest
Director-writer: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Dev Patel, Radhike Apte, Jim Sarah
Distributor: IFC Films
IFC Films caught Michael Winterbottom’s thriller The Wedding Guest at the Toronto Film Festival. The company is certainly no stranger to the British director, having released ten of his titles including the popular big screen ‘Trip’ series, The Trip (2011, $2M), The Trip To Italy (2014, $2.88M) and The Trip To Spain (2017, $1.15M).
The Wedding Guest centers on Jay, a man with a secret who travels from Britain to Pakistan to attend a wedding – armed with duct tape, a shotgun, and a plan to kidnap the bride-to-be. Despite his cool efficiency, the plot quickly spirals out of control, sending Jay and his hostage on the run across the border and through the railway stations, back alleys, and black markets of New Delhi – as all the while attractions simmer, loyalties shift, and explosive secrets are revealed.
“Michael works very quickly, so we saw it at Toronto with everyone else,” said IFC Films exec Arianna Bocco. “We really loved it. He took the thriller genre and turned it on its head and we feel like Dev is a great leading man.”
Patel, who starred in Oscar-winning Best Picture Slumdog Millionaire, fronts The Wedding Guest. The company is leveraging Patel’s starring role and Winterbottom fans ahead of its release this Friday at the Arclight and The Landmark in L.A. along with IFC Center and Landmark 57 West in New York.
The Wedding Guest is a traditional release with ten more markets set for next Friday. Added Bocco: “We will continue to roll it out aggressively. Michael Winterbottom is versatile and there are a lot of things he can do and do very well.”
Director-writer: Christian Petzold
Writer: Anna Seghers (novel)
Cast: Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese, Lilien Batman, Maryam Zaree
Distributor: Music Box Films
Music Box Films had writer-director Christian Petzold’s German and French drama Transit on their radar going into last year’s Berlin Film Festival. Based on Anna Seghers’ 1944 novel, the film features Franz Rogowski, who stars in Music Box’s fellow Berlin pick up, In The Aisles by Thomas Stuber. Transit also stars Paula Beer, who appeared in French filmmaker François Ozon’s Frantz, which the company released in 2017.
Transit centers on Georg, a German refugee, who flees to Marseille assuming the identity of a recently deceased writer whose papers he is carrying. There he delves into the delicate and complex culture of the refugee community, becoming enmeshed in the lives of a young mother and son and falling for a mysterious woman named Marie.
“The first weekend after the Oscars is always a great time to release a platform title, as audiences are eager for fresh titles, especially in New York and Los Angeles, where everything has been in a holding pattern since Christmas,” noted Music Box’s Kyle Westphal. “After rehashing arguments about Green Book and Roma for weeks, the core art house audience wants a new conversation, and Transit amply provides that. With its unique structure and sidelong look at the politics of contemporary migration, it’s a title that we expect cinephiles to passionately debate throughout the spring.”
Music Box is tapping audiences who came out for Petzold’s previous films, including Berlin Silver Bear-winner Barbara (2012, $1M gross from Adopt Films) and 2015 title, Phoenix ($3.18M from IFC Films) ahead of Transit’s roll out Friday.
The company moved Transit along the festival circuit to spread the word. “To reach Christian Petzold’s loyal arthouse audience and garner early critical acclaim for the film, Transit had a phenomenal run on the festival circuit, including New York Film Festival, Toronto, Mill Valley, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara,” commented Music Box’s Becky Schultz. “Between those festivals and the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Petzold career retrospective in December, buzz has been building for Transit for months and we’re confident that fans of Barbara and Phoenix will be eager to see the director’s latest.”
Music Box is opening Transit Friday at IFC Center and the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York. The company noted that IFC Center played Phoenix for four months. The new title will head to L.A., Washington, D.C. and Brooklyn March 8 with further expansion to about a dozen markets March 15 including the Music Box Theater in Chicago. Additional cities are slated for April.