While working on studio projects, Kenneth Branagh had also been pursuing a more ‘indie’ project with All Is True, returning to his longtime interest in Shakespeare. Starring Branagh along with Judi Dench and Ian McKellen, the filmmaker/actor called up his pals at Sony Classics about taking on the title, which it opens stateside this weekend. Following doc hits Apollo 11 and Amazing Grace, Neon is going for three with the Friday release of documentary The Biggest Little Farm, which debuted in Telluride last fall. IFC Films is opening crime biodrama Charlie Says by director Mary Harron and starring Matt Smith and Hannah Murray in the top 25 markets this weekend ahead of its on-demand availability beginning May 17, while Cohen Media Group is out with French-language drama My Son starring Guillaume Canet in New York and L.A.
Other limited releases include Kino Lorber’s Pasolini from Abel Ferrara, starring Willem Dafoe as the filmmaker and poet at Metrograph in New York. Also on tap is Bollywood’s Student of The Year 2 from FIP and The Professor and the Madman from Vertical Entertainment.
All Is True
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Ben Elton
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Kathryn Wilder, Lydia Wilson, Hadley Fraser, Jack Colgrave Hirst, John Dagleish, Sean Foley, Gerard Horan, Jimmy Yuill, Alex Macqueen, Eleanor de Rohan
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
All Is True director Kenneth Branagh reached out to Sony Pictures Classics about this film last year. He had been quietly working on the project for some time, while continuing his involvement with studio fare. “We were surprised by the call,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. “He had been doing these big movies, but he told us he had been working on a lower budget, independent film that nobody [at the time] knew about.”
Sony Classics, which has released two previous Branagh-directed titles in the past, including A Midwinter’s Tale (1996) and Sleuth (2007), picked up worldwide rights to All Is True after receiving the screenplay.
Set in 1613 when Shakespeare is acknowledged as the greatest writer of the age, disaster strikes when his renowned Globe Theatre burns to the ground. Devastated, Shakespeare returns to Stratford, where he must face a troubled past and a neglected family. Haunted by the death of his only son Hamnet, he struggles to mend the broken relationships with his wife and daughters. In so doing, he is ruthlessly forced to examine his own failings as husband and father. His very personal search for the truth uncovers secrets and lies within a family at war.
“It’s the kind of independent production in which he could move fast,” said Barker. “The writer, Ben Elton, had been doing research on this for years.”
All Is True opened in the U.K. in February, grossing over $1.3M to date. Sony Pictures Classics will roll out the title in select New York and L.A. locations Friday.
“What’s so amazing about the film is you feel the joy of Ken Branagh as well as the actors,” said Barker. “It’s very obvious that it’s a labor of love.” Barker added that Branagh has been promoting the film stateside while still working on his bigger-budget projects. Next weekend, the title will head to Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Chicago, followed by eight to ten additional cities. Barker said he expects All Is True to “be at its widest” by Memorial Day weekend.
The Biggest Little Farm
Director-writer: John Chester
Writer: Mark Monroe
Subjects: John Chester, Molly Chester
The Biggest Little Farm is the third high profile documentary release for Neon this year. The company opened Sundance debut Apollo 11 in March, soaring to $8.6M in theaters so far as well as Amazing Grace, which began its regular theatrical run a month later, taking in over $2.78M to date. Neon head Tom Quinn caught The Biggest Little Farm at the first screening at last year’s Telluride Film Festival, picking up the title soon afterward.
The feature chronicles the eight year quest of John and Molly Chester as they trade city living for 200 acres of barren farmland and a dream to harvest in harmony with nature. Through dogged perseverance and embracing the opportunity provided by nature’s conflicts, the Chesters unlock and uncover a biodiverse design for living that exists far beyond their farm, its seasons, and our wildest imagination.
“We saw this film as an ‘oasis’ — something that’s aspirational and hopeful,” said Quinn. “It’s a blueprint and map forward, not just with Mother Nature, but also how we approach life in general.”
Quinn added that the Neon team including acquisitions exec Jeff Deutchman saw the title in Toronto after Quinn viewed the doc in Telluride. The team came up with a “concerted, detailed process” for its release, sitting down with UTA and the filmmaking team over “extended meetings,” according to Quinn.
“We have screened this film more than we’ve done before,” said Quinn. “It’s been to [many festivals] including Sundance, Hamptons and others, [picking up] jury and audience prizes. That is the validation from audiences. As Alice Waters said, ‘See this on the biggest screen possible.’”
Quinn is not new to food-centered non-fiction, having worked on Food, Inc back in 2009 as an exec at Magnolia Pictures ($4.4M) as well as Super Size Me at IDP in 2004 ($11.5M). Last year, Neon released Three Identical Strangers, totaling just over $12.3M in theaters.
“John Chester’s cinematography is amazing, while [the film’s] intimacy will be appeal to a whole host of audiences,” added Quinn. “There is a core doc audience out there, but this moves well beyond that. We have high expectations. Apollo 11, Amazing Grace and now The Biggest Little Farm are films that are very life affirming and positive.”
Neon is opening The Biggest Little Farm in three theaters in New York and two locations in Los Angeles Friday. The title will then head around the country in the coming weeks.
Director: Mary Harron
Writer: Guinevere Turner
Cast: Matt Smith, Hannah Murray, Sosie Bacon, Marianne Rendón, Chace Crawford, Suki Waterhouse, Kayli Carter, Annabeth Gish
Distributor: IFC Films
Filmmaker Mary Harron read an early draft of bio-crime-drama Charlie Says by Guinevere Turner. She expressed an interest in the project and officially boarded as director in 2015 after the previous one dropped out. Her role as director had to wait, however, while she continued her work on the Netflix series, Alias Grace. By 2017, Harron completed the series and began the long casting process for Charlie Says.
“Hannah Murray was the first one cast and then Matt Smith,” said Harron. “I was casting in England as well as New York and L.A. I always take a long time casting… I like to spread a wide net. You see a ton of people and then, bang, the right person comes in — or sometimes you need a second take. I think I take this part much more seriously than any other aspect of filmmaking.”
Years after the shocking murders that made the name Charles Manson synonymous with pure evil, the three women who killed for him – Leslie Van Houten (Hannah Murray), Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon), and Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendón) – remain under the spell of the infamous cult leader (Matt Smith). Confined to an isolated cellblock in a California penitentiary, the trio seem destined to live out the rest of their lives under the delusion that their crimes were part of a cosmic plan – until empathetic graduate student Karlene Faith (Merritt Wever) is enlisted to rehabilitate them. Convinced the prisoners are not the inhuman monsters the world believes them to be, Karlene begins the arduous process of breaking down the psychological barriers erected by Manson.
Financing for the project came from private sources, and with cast in place by January, 2018, Charlie Says shot over 20 days in California in an area near the original Manson ranch, followed by a couple days of pick up.
“I love shooting in Los Angeles because you get incredible crew. Plus people like to stay at home,” said Harron. “We had a young crew who were very fast and [I collaborated with] Crille Forsberg who was cinematographer. He really responded to the material and we were very much on the same page.” In addition to the exteriors, the production on a stage in an existing prison location.
The title debuted at the Venice Film Festival, with IFC Films coming on board shortly afterward. Charlie Says played the recent Tribeca Film Festival as well as the Montclair Film Festival ahead of its release this weekend.
IFC Films is opening Charlie Says in 35 theaters in the top 25 markets this weekend including New York and L.A. followed by VOD on May 17.
Director-writer: Christian Carion
Writer: Laure Irrmann
Cast: Guillaume Canet, Mélanie Laurent, Olivier de Benoist
Distributor: Cohen Media Group
French drama/thriller My Son is the most recent collaboration between distributor Cohen Media Group and filmmaker Christian Carion. The company released his previous drama, Come What May.
“We have a longstanding relationship with Christian Carion, and given the success of Guillaume Canet’s Tell No One, the opportunity to work with both Christian and Guillaume made this film a natural fit for the CMG slate,” commented Cohen Media Group head Charles Cohen. “We have been working to find the right window for the release of the film, outside of the awards window and at a time where there is more room for a foreign language arthouse release.”
My Son centers on the disappearance of a 7-year-old boy who has gone missing in the middle of the night. The crisis has drawn the child’s father Julien (Guillaume Canet) back to a small, snowy town in eastern France in an effort to help. Julien travels abroad for work and has been essentially absent from his son’s life since splitting with the boy’s mother (Mélanie Laurent) a few years earlier. Fueled by his sense of guilt about neglecting his family, Julien is determined to do whatever it takes to find his son. That includes using physical force against anyone he speculates could be a suspect in the kidnapping – and disobeying police instructions by stepping outside of the law, as he begins to unfold the mystery of the boy’s disappearance.
As the title heads to U.S. theaters this weekend, the company is looking to interest its core of fans of French film and arthouse goers.
“The film is an atmospheric thriller, driven by Guillaume Canet’s performance and the unique filmmaking choices on the part of Carion,” noted Cohen. “He shot the film in six days and never delivered plot details or a screenplay to Canet, forcing his character to navigate his escalating challenges in real time. We are focusing on bringing the film to loyal arthouse audiences and particularly Francophile cinema fans.”
My Son opens at the Quad Cinema and the FIAF Florence Gould Hall in New York as well as the Nuart in L.A. Friday. The company will take the title to select markets around the country in subsequent weeks.