Comedies, docs and a Bollywood title are among the Easter and Passover weekend’s packed roster of new specialty releases. The heavy number of limited openers comes just ahead of next weekend’s rollout of Avengers: Endgame, which will mark mostly a pause for new specialties. Terry Gilliam’s long-awaited The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, starring Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce, begins its regular theatrical run following a one-night showing in hundreds of locations around the country last week. The Film Arcade is bowing fellow comedy Family, starring Taylor Schilling and directed by feature first-timer Laura Steinel. Counterprogramming the religious holiday weekend, Magnolia is opening Sundance doc Hail Satan? with an exclusive New York run before heading to L.A. next weekend. Zeitgeist Films/Kino Lorber is launching doc Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché by Pamela B. Green and narrated by Jodie Foster exclusively in L.A. with other cities to follow. Fox Star Studios, meanwhile, is opening Bollywood period drama-romance Kalank in 300-plus theaters across North America.
Among other limited releases this weekend are A24’s Under the Silver Lake, which begins a theatrical run following a series of date changes (read the review here); Lionsgate is opening sci-fi-thriller Fast Color (review); IFC Films heads out with Red Joan, starring Judi Dench; Gravitas Ventures is launching drama Daddy Issues; and Neon begins it release of Western crime drama Little Woods by Nia DaCosta.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
Director: Terry Gilliam
Writers: Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni
Cast: Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce, Olga Kurylenko, Stellan Skarsgard
Distributor: Screen Media Films
Screen Media Films caught Terry Gilliam comedy The Man Who Killed Don Quixote at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. EVP Distribution Mike Messina said it had been watching its long trajectory to the big screen.
“Given the long, fabled history of Terry’s journey to bring this epic adventure to screen, like many fans of his work, we became aware of it a while ago,” he said. “The long wait was well worth it — we loved it. When the opportunity to handle the North American distribution of the movie materialized, we never hesitated.”
The feature centers on Toby (Adam Driver), a cynical but supposedly genius film director who finds himself trapped in the outrageous delusions of an old Spanish shoemaker (Jonathan Pryce) who believes himself to be Don Quixote. In the course of their comic and increasingly surreal adventures, Toby is forced to confront the tragic repercussions of a film he made in his idealistic youth — a film that changed the hopes and dreams of a small Spanish village forever.
The combination of Gilliam, the film’s long gestation and star Driver is the focus of Screen Media’s messaging ahead of its release this weekend. “Terry’s fans have been following this saga for nearly three decades,” noted Messina. “They are certainly our core audience and tend to be men in the 34-plus category. That said, Driver’s fan base is young [that] so we tried to find ways to bridge the gap by also running an engaging social media campaign through our agency Newhouse that really captured the whimsy of a Gilliam movie but made it accessible to Driver’s audience.”
Messina added that Screen Media worked with PR company Falco Ink on a promo campaign that appealed to its key demographics. Said Messina: “The way these publications have embraced and celebrated Terry’s accomplishment has been outstanding. We won’t soon forget Terry dancing on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.”
Gilliam fans had a big dose of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote via a nationwide, one-night event in 800 locations last week via Fathom Events (box office figures weren’t shared). The title will open Friday in select cities including New York, L.A., Atlanta, San Francisco, Austin, Minneapolis and others in addition to a day-and-date on-demand rollout.
Director-writer: Laura Steinel
Cast: Taylor Schilling, Bryn Vale, Brian Tyree Henry, Jessie Ennis, Blair Beeken, Matt Walsh, Allison Tolman, Eric Edelstein, Kate McKinnon, Fabrizio Guido
Distributor: The Film Arcade
Following its SXSW Film Festival debut in 2018, the Film Arcade pursued comedy Family, the debut feature by Laura Steinel, starring Taylor Schilling. The company closed the deal in the weeks following the Austin event.
“It was one of those rare times you’re at a festival and see a movie and realize you need to work on it,” said The Film Arcade’s Jason Beck. “It played so well, we were taken aback.”
Family centers on Kate Stone (Schilling), who is career-focused and enjoys her life that way. Her brash attitude keeps relationships at arm’s length, making her an outcast in her own right. When her estranged brother calls asking her to babysit her tween niece Maddie (Bryn Vale), Kate reluctantly agrees to help. But babysitting overnight unexpectedly turns into a week, and Kate’s life spins into chaos. As Maddie reveals stories of being bullied and of wanting to run away and be a Juggalo — rabid fans of the group Insane Clown Posse — the two form a unique bond.
Following its acquisition, the company took Family to the Juggalo community, specifically to their annual gathering in July. “They flipped for it,” said Beck. “We have done a lot of social outreach with the Juggalo community since then in addition to a lot of festivals including AFI Fest. I feel like we’ve had a good festival run leading up to this week.”
Additional core audiences the company has targeted in the lead-up to Family’s release this weekend are females 34-46 in addition to individual fan bases among cast members including Schilling and Kate McKinnon.
The company is opening in three theaters Friday including AMC Lincoln Square and AMC 19th Street in New York as well as AMC Century 15. It then will head to 75 markets the following weekend.
Beck acknowledged that the title will be going up against the Avengers: Endgame juggernaut next week. “It used to be April was a good time to get out comedies before the superhero movies. Now you have to find the right weekend between superhero movies,” he said. “It will be interesting. Every couple years, there’s a new voice, and Laura really delivers. … It’s one of those movies that if you give it space to breathe, it can really catch on.”
Director: Penny Lane
Subjects: Lucien Greaves, Sex Blackmore, Malcolm Barry
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Filmmaker Penny Lane first heard about non-theistic activist group yhe Satanic Temple through the news media, including their action in Oklahoma challenging the display of the Ten Commandments in 2015 and as the group turned its attention to a similar campaign in Arkansas.
“In 2016, my producer sent me a longer article about them in The Village Voice,” said Lane. “That longer piece convinced me there was a film. What I understood was that the political theater and satire were only a part of a more layered, interesting story.”
In the documentary, filmmaker Penny Lane gains unprecedented access to this enigmatic movement, which has grown to more than 100,000 members around the world in just five years. Hail Satan? explores the Temple’s fight for equality, its focus on community and its devilish sense of humor. The official synopsis adds: “In an era when founding principles and institutions can’t be trusted to work on behalf of all people, these progressive satanic crusaders advocate to save the soul of a nation.”
Lane reached out to Lucien Greaves, the founder of the group, which initiated about six months of conversations before getting the project in place. “The goal was to center their perspective,” said Lane. “We could have done a film without their participation, but having their point of view required their participation and my goal wasn’t to just make a biographical sketch of ‘the Satanist next door’ — like they’re like you and me. Once they knew our bigger goals concerning their political/philosophical ideas, they were interested.”
The filmmaking team had access to earlier material on the Satanic Temple, while shooting began at the end of 2016 and continued over a two-year period. The production’s first year was financed through grants from organizations including the Sundance Institute, Rooftop Films and Cinereach. From that earlier footage, the filmmakers created a short sample, which it shared with distributors. Magnolia Pictures came on board about a year into the shoot.
“There were circumstances where we were filming with our subjects in public actions at rallies and we’d witness death threats and calls for violence against them including one that was a ‘call for white nationalist Christians’ for action,” said Lane. “We were filming in ‘right-to-carry states’ and that was darkly ironic. We were in terror for these people who are only asking for equal rights. They were wearing bulletproof vests.” Lane explained that for the group, Satan is more of a rebel figure and that they are “not anti-Christian” but instead against the “unquestioned supremacy” of Christianity. “They’re post-religion,” she added.
Hail Satan? at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in January. The title opened at IFC Center in New York on Wednesday and bows at the Arclight and The Landmark in Los Angeles — not so coincidentally — on Good Friday. Hail Satan? then will head to several other cities next weekend.
Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché
Director-writer: Pamela B. Green
Writer: Joan Simon
Subjects: Alice Guy-Blaché, Jodie Foster (narrator)
Distributor: Zeitgeist Films in association with Kino Lorber
Pamela B. Green spent eight years doing research for the documentary about Alice Guy-Blaché (1873-1968), a filmmaking pioneer who contributed to the birth of cinema. Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché incorporates rare footage of televised interviews and archived audio. It debuted at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and played Telluride, NYFF and London.
The documentary explores the heights of fame and financial success Guy-Blaché achieved before she was shut out from the very industry she helped create. Over the span of her career, she wrote, produced or directed 1,000 films, including 150 with synchronized sound during the “silent” era. Her work includes comedies, Westerns and dramas, as well as films with groundbreaking subject matter such as child abuse, immigration, Planned Parenthood and female empowerment. She also etched a place in history by making the earliest known surviving narrative film with an all-African-American cast.
“This film came to us through our partners, Kino Lorber,” noted Zeitgeist co-president Emily Russo. “They had released a box set called Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers and had a number of Alice Guy-Blaché’s works on there. So this documentary — which had been on the festival circuit since Cannes as a work in progress, and then Telluride — was something they were pursuing. [Zeitgeist co-president] Nancy Gerstman and I, keen on projects to release theatrically with Kino Lorber, decided to take this one on as it totally spoke to us as women pioneers — in distribution — ourselves.”
In 2017, Zeitgeist released doc Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, grossing more than $820K theatrically.
“This is an incredible ‘detective’ story uncovering the forgotten history of this ‘mother of cinema,’ explained Russo. “Why doesn’t everybody know who she is? The revelations behind her story and the fact of her being so incredibly overlooked by the history books is very relevant to our times. It’s what motivated the director Pamela Green to devote the past few years of her life to uncover the story and find the footage and materials to back it up. Its [core audiences] are #MeToo, it’s film buffs, it’s ancestry buffs, it’s feminists, it’s for anyone who will appreciate an amazing and essential story about the movies, both artistically and the business of it.”
Russo added that Hollywood has given attention to the project. Robert Redford and Jodie Foster are executive producers, and Foster narrates the doc.
Be Natural opens L.A. first at the Laemmle Monica before heading to IFC Center in New York next weekend, with other cities set to follow through spring. Added Russo: “This particular weekend just worked to start with the theaters that we wanted to open in. We’ve been playing in various festivals and March was devoted to a lot of one-off screenings for Women’s History Month. … [We] expect more [theaters] to get on board once the full range of reviews and press is out. We want to assure Alice Guy Blaché gets her long-overdue recognition.”
Director-writer: Abhishek Varman
Writers: Hussain Dalal, Shibani Bathija
Cast: Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Madhuri Dixit, Sanjay Dutt, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditya Roy Kapur
Distributor: Fox Star Studios India
FIP joined Bollywood epic Kalank soon after shooting began, attracted by the title’s cast, scale and genre, according to the company.
Set in 1945 in pre-independent India, Kalank is an epic romantic drama of six enigmatic, esoteric and wistful characters entangled in search of love but separated by the dichotomy between the two worlds of Husnabad, a town in North India. The elite, opulent and solemn world of the Chaudhry family and the wild, mysterious and musical underbelly of the town, Hira Mandi, clash when Roop Chaudhry encounters Zafar, a daredevil from Hira Mandi, unleashing deep-buried truths, secrets of betrayal and affairs that threaten to bring the both worlds crashing down.
“The film is a wide release to capitalize on the Easter holiday weekend,” commented Rohit Sharma, head of International Sales & Distribution Sales at FIP. “We are promoting the film across all the TV, print, radio, and digital platforms targeting the core Bollywood audiences.”
The company said that early release of the feature’s trailers and song videos have generated 230M view on YouTube worldwide.
Kalank began its rollout Wednesday in 320 theaters in North America. The theater count is the widest for a Bollywood title so far in 2019. FIP is hoping to capitalize on the holiday and the dearth of new Bollywood work for the time being.
Noted Sharma: “We expect a long run given the scale of the release, the long Easter weekend and the fact that we don’t have any major competition from any big Bollywood film for the next three weeks.”