The mega rollout of Avengers: Endgame this weekend has put some pause to what has been a plentiful roster of new specialty titles in recent weeks. One distribution exec last week said off the record that most companies are holding off to wait out the juggernaut’s opening. Perhaps most are but not all. Sony Pictures Classics is opening Ralph Fiennes-directed bio-drama The White Crow in five locations in New York and L.A., offering audiences in search of a non-Marvel alternative a well-received option. The company had success with Fiennes’ previous directorial effort, 2013’s The Invisible Woman. Abramorama, meanwhile, is heading out with Venice 2018 premiere Carmine Street Guitars. The company said the documentary is set for a long “slow burn” in theaters. First Run Features is opening fellow nonfiction title Chasing Portraits by Elizabeth Rynecki, which chronicles her search for paintings created by her great-grandfather, Moshe Rynecki, who was murdered in WWII. Also on tap is Magnet Releasing’s thriller Body at Brighton Rock, which has a day-and-date rollout Friday.
The White Crow
Director: Ralph Fiennes
Writer: David Hare
Cast: Oleg Ivenko, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Ralph Fiennes, Raphaël Peronnaz, Chulpan Khamatova, Sergei Polunin, Calypsos Valois, Louis Hoffman, Olivier Rabourdin
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Sony Classics had been tracking Ralph Fiennes’ latest directorial since early on in the project, formally boarding for its release stateside during the editing process. The early ’60s-set bio-drama debuted at Telluride last fall before going to the London Film Festival. The title has grossed more than $1.4M in the U.K. since its release in late March.
SPC released Fiennes’ previous film, The Invisible Woman, which cumed over $1.2M on this continent in 2013.
The White Crow is based on the true story of Rudolf Nureyev. Set in 1961, when he was 22, the dancer is on a flight from Leningrad to Paris. Not yet the imperious figure of legend, he is a member of the world-renowned Kirov Ballet Company, traveling for the first time outside the Soviet Union.
Parisian life delights Nureyev, and the young dancer is eager to consume all the culture, art and music the dazzling city has to offer. But the KGB officers who watch his every move become increasingly suspicious of his behavior and his friendship with the young Parisienne Clara Saint.
When they finally confront Nureyev with a shocking demand, he is forced to make a heart-breaking decision, one that may change the course of his life forever and put his family and friends in terrible danger.
“Ralph speaks perfect Russian, and this has been a labor of love for him,” said Sony Classics co-president Michael Barker. “He scoured Russia to find the person who would play Nureyev.” Fiennes found newcomer Oleg Ivenko, who is also a dancer, for the role.
“Nureyev has a following among dancers — he is a bit of a rock star with a great reputation,” noted Barker. “People into dance as well as history [buffs] and women will love this film. The last part of [the feature] plays like a Cold War suspense thriller, and the reviews have been really good.”
The White Crow bows Friday in three locations in New York as well as two theaters in Los Angeles. SPC will then take the title to Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. next weekend, followed by 10 to 12 more cities. The company expects the film to be “fairly wide” by Memorial Day weekend.
Added Barker: “We think this is a movie that will play throughout America well. It’s major entertainment.”
Carmine Street Guitars
Director: Ron Mann
Subjects: Rick Kelly, Cindy Hulej, Dorothy Kelly
Ron Mann’s latest documentary had an auspicious festival run, debuting in Venice before heading to Toronto and the New York Film Festival in the fall and finally playing at SXSW last month.
Featuring prominent musicians and artists, Carmine Street Guitars captures five days in the life of one shop in the heart of New York’s Greenwich Village that remains resilient to encroaching gentrification.
“I’ve released all of Ron Mann’s films since [1989’s] Comic Book Confidential except Twist [in the early ‘90s],” said Abramorama head Richard Abramowitz. “I think festivals recognized the delicacy and subtlety of this film. It’s beautiful and is not like many docs of late that scream a headline. I’m not disparaging those films, I liked many of them, but this one is a slow burn. It’s not high concept like an RBG or [the] Mister Rogers [film].”
Abramowitz said the film’s underlying themes of a recent bygone era is a key appeal of Carmine Street Guitars. The business once shared the downtown Manhattan street with a half-dozen other guitar stores, but this is the only one left in an area that has exploded in high-priced retail, changing the makeup of the historic neighborhood.
“There is an appreciation for people who do something by hand and approach every project with a specific and unique purpose. It’s not for this ADD world,” observed Abramowitz. “There are musical and sociological revelations in the film, but nothing beats you over the head. It’s there to absorb and relish.”
Abramowitz said that Carmine Street Guitars will have a long tail. The title debuts at Film Forum in New York this weekend, followed by L.A. “We’re in no hurry,” he said. “I expect it to have a long run. There are hundreds of guitar blogs [we’re engaged with]. The film is not seasonal. It will work wherever, whenever. And to the spirit of the film, it will go at its own pace.”
Abramowitz said Carmine Street Guitars’ slow release includes bookings already set around the country.
Director-writer: Elizabeth Rynecki
Distributor: First Run Features
Documentary filmmaker Elizabeth Rynecki’s great-grandfather, Moshe Rynecki (1881-1943), was a prolific Warsaw-based artist who painted scenes of the Polish-Jewish community until he was murdered at Majdanek concentration camp. After the Holocaust, Moshe’s wife was only able to recover a small fraction of his work.
Chasing Portraits chronicles Elizabeth Rynecki’s search for the missing art with remarkable and unexpected success. Her commitment was inspired by the obligation she felt to tell the story of her great-grandfather’s paintings.
In 1999, she created a website to showcase the art, and by the mid-2000s, with the advent of YouTube, she had created a video. “My kid was in school and had a friend whose dad was a documentary filmmaker,” said Rynecki. “He teaches documentary [at a college] and I told him about my YouTube idea. He said, ‘You have enough for a documentary film.’ I had always been a fan of documentary. In 2008, I shot the first footage.”
Rynecki thought finding grants to fund her project would “be easy” but soon discovered otherwise. In 2012, following the unexpected death of her mother, Rynecki found new impetus to push the project forward. She received a sizable grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and also did a Kickstarter campaign, raising more than $20K. Ultimately, the film cost $200K to produce, and fundraising remained a constant throughout most of its 10 years in the making.
Rynecki traveled to Toronto in 2013 to meet a man who owned a number of the paintings, and after funds from the grant and Kickstarter campaign were available, she flew to Poland in 2014.
“At some juncture during production, I kept a video journal,” said Rynecki. “I’d set up a phone call with various people to talk about the project, and I found some interesting things would [come out of the conversations] that ended up in the film.”
In addition to the video journal, Rynecki worked on a book about the search for her great-grandfather’s paintings. While both have overlap, they had different focuses. “I like to tell people the book and film are companion pieces,” said Rynecki. “They both informed the other. The film is more of a contemporary story, while the book has more of the history involved. There’s no re-created scenes in the film and [only minimal] archival footage. Chasing Portraits is my 21st century search for lost art.”
In the end, Rynecki said she found “just a small percentage” of the 800 paintings her great-grandfather created during the inter-war period. Museums and individuals weren’t always helpful when she made inquiries.
“Some institutions that have his work were not always excited to hear from me,” she said. “When an heir comes knocking, there’s always a fear they’re there to make a claim. … I was making a journey as an historian. I tried to make it clear I wasn’t trying to claim anything and that I just wanted to see them.”
Rynecki had hoped to finish Chasing Portraits to coincide with the publication of her book in early 2016, but the film project wasn’t completed until 2018. First Run Features came on board to release Chasing Portraits late last year. The title bows Friday at Cinema Village in New York, where Rynecki will take part in Q&As. Chasing Portraits will head to L.A. in mid-May, followed by other select cities.
Body at Brighton Rock
Director-writer: Roxanne Benjamin
Cast: Karina Fontes, Casey Adams, Emily Althaus, Miranda Bailey, Martin Spanjers, and John Getz
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
Producer Christopher Alender of Soap Box Films worked with filmmaker Roxanne Benjamin on previous projects, Southbound (2017) and XX (2017) and was on the search for something on which to collaborate. She sent Alender the screenplay for Body at Brighton Rock.
“I already had some financing in place to do a slate of three films,” explained Alender. “Body at Brighton Rock fit the budget range we were shooting for and also allowed us to work with Roxanne again. … In order to beat the winter weather, we really had to act quickly, so with minimal tweaks, we started pre-production and were off to the races.”
The film centers on Wendy, a part-time summer employee at a mountainous state park who takes on a rough trail assignment at the end of the season, trying to prove to her friends that she’s capable enough to do the job. When she takes a wrong turn and ends up deep in the backcountry, she stumbles upon what might be a potential crime scene. Stuck with no communication after losing her radio and with orders to guard the site, Wendy must fight the urge to run or do the harder job of staying put, spending the night deep in the wilderness, facing down her worst fears and proving to everyone, including herself, that she’s made of stronger stuff than they think she is.
Principal cast came via people Benjamin already had relationships with. The initial shoot took place over 11 days in Idyllwild, CA. “It went great except for several intense wind storms that shut down the entire mountain as well as our production,” noted Alender. “It was a very small crew, and it involved a lot of daily hiking from base camp to location. Everyone definitely got their steps in on this film. All of this was followed up by a one-day shoot with Tag the bear and his team at Steve Martin’s Working Wildlife.”
Magnolia Pictures boarded the project early on via its genre label, Magnet. Body at Brighton Rock opens Friday in select locations and will be available on-demand in a day-and-date rollout.