Sundance premiere Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am begins its theatrical run in several New York and L.A. theaters today via Magnolia Pictures. Filmmaker/photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders directed the doc about the Nobel laureate, whom he had known for years. Young actor Jacob Tremblay has a Seth Rogan-produced comedy, Good Boys, set for August, but first he will be on the big (and small) screen this weekend with Burn Your Maps, starring opposite Vera Farmiga, bowing in a day and date release. Jessie Buckley, meanwhile, goes country in Neon’s Wild Rose, which debuted out of last year’s Toronto. The title plays New York and L.A. ahead of an expanded roll out to other major markets next weekend.
Other limited releases set for their launches today include Sundance Selects doc, The Quiet One following the three-decaf career of The Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman as well as Metrograph Pictures’ second release, A Bigger Splash, a 4K restoration centered on artist David Hockney.
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
Director: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Veteran doc filmmaker/photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and the multi-hyphenated Toni Morrison first met 38 years ago. His ‘The Black List’ film series from last decade were inspired by her work, which naturally lead him to the idea of a film focused specifically on the Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize-winner herself.
“I kept thinking that there was a documentary that needed to be made about her,” said Greenfield-Sanders. “A few years ago, I figured I should get on with it. She’s in her 80s. I asked her about [the idea] in 2015 and she didn’t say, ‘no…’ Then I got her to agree in writing and went on to raise money.”
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am examines Toni Morrison’s life, work and the themes she has confronted throughout her literary career. From her childhood in the steel town of Lorain, Ohio to ‘70s-era book tours with Muhammad Ali, from the front lines with Angela Davis to her own riverfront writing room, Morrison leads an assembly of her peers, critics and colleagues on an exploration of race, America, history and the human condition. Woven together with a rich collection of art, history and literature, the film includes discussions about her many critically acclaimed novels, her role as an editor of iconic African-American literature and her time teaching at Princeton University.
The feature, which opens this weekend via Magnolia, features interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Angela Davis, Hilton Als, Walter Mosley, Sonia Sanchez and more.
“I had a big list of [potential interviews] and she had a big erasure,” said Greenfield-Sanders. “I ended up with 12 people in the film. I don’t like to interview people who don’t end up in it. She gave guidance.”
Financing for Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am came through various private investors. Once resources were in place, Greenfield-Sanders began filming in 2016, continuing into 2017. “As a photographer, I feel I’m good at making people comfortable,” he added. “You want people to be comfortable and to be honest.” Greenfield-Sanders added that finding archival footage and tracking down high-resolution versions took considerable time.
“Editing took [the project] into 2018,” he said. “Sundance was the goal. Once you’re in, you have to kick your butt to finish, but it forces you to finalize your decisions, which is good… Sundance sets your film apart. I can’t say enough how important it is to a documentary.”
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am found its distribution home with Magnolia Pictures after its Sundance debut. The distributor has had considerable success with non-fiction work centered on well-respected public figures, including I Am Not Your Negro (2017, $7.12M) and RBG (2018, $14M).
Magnolia is opening the title in four locations, including the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and Film Forum in New York as well as The Landmark and Arclight in L.A. The film will head to additional L.A. and New York area locations along with theaters in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Houston, Atlanta and others. Toni Morrison will continue to add more cities for the Independence Day holiday weekend and throughout July.
Burn Your Maps
Director-writer: Jordan Roberts
Writer: Robyn Joy Left (short story)
Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Vera Farmiga, Suraj Sharma, Virginia Madsen
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Filmmaker Jordan Roberts shared his script for Burn Your Maps with production company Cinelou Films several years ago. The project fit with the kinds of “meaningful dramas” that Cinelou has supported.
“He had a definite plan for how it’d be produced and [envisioned] Vera Farmiga as the mother,” said producer Stephanie Caleb of Cinelou. “He was looking for a partner and [the project] fit into our mandate. We decided to finance the film and then it was just about trying to find a place that would [double as] Mongolia.”
Burn Your Maps is centered on a family in emotion turmoil in which an eccentric 8-year old American boy, named Wes, has an existential epiphany — he believes he is in fact a Mongolian goat herder. When Wes befriends a similarly displaced Indian immigrant they both decide it’s their destiny to connect the child’s dream to his reality through the use of crowdfunding. Their journey to the mysterious plains of Mongolia throws the boy’s family further into disarray, leading his desperate mother on a trip across the world, with her son, in order to make their family whole again.
Vera Farmiga joined as Alise, Wes’ mother. Jacob Tremblay — who has a big summer ahead with the release of SXSW debut of Universal Studios comedy Good Boys in August — also boarded the title.
“We cast the project in a matter of months,” explained Caleb. “There were some hiccups with the dad character, and then Virginia Madsen came on. [For Wes] we did auditions with a few kids, but Jacob really had the soulfulness that we really needed for this role.”
Burn Your Maps was shot in the summer of 2015 over 35 days in Calgary, along with three days in Mongolia. The feature premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, going on to play other festivals that fall including Hamptons and Mill Valley.
“The original intention was to self-distribute,” said Caleb. “[Cinelou] had done others, so we didn’t have it on the market, but we were going to partner with Vertical. Then we got caught up in other projects and it ended up on the shelf for a bit. [Later] we decided not to self-distribute, so we went back to Vertical since at that point they were acquiring more films for themselves.” Vertical Entertainment came on as sole distributor late last year.
Burn Your Maps opens in day and date with select theatrical locations today.
Director: Tom Harper
Writer: Nicole Taylor
Cast: Jessie Buckley, Julie Walters, Sophie Okoneda
Filmmaker Tom Harper had been working on another project when his friend/producer Faye Ward called to ask him to read a different script, titled at the time, Country Music. He had been in Austin listening to a lot of country, and Wild Rose seemed to fit his wheelhouse.
Wild Rose centers on Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley), a rebellious country singer who dreams of trading the working-class streets of Glasgow for the Grand Ole Opry of Nashville. Fresh out of prison, Rose-Lynn juggles her menial job, two children, and committed mother (Julie Walters), as she pursues her bold ambition of a one-way ticket to musical stardom. With the support of her boss (Sophie Okonedo), Rose-Lynn embarks on a life-changing journey that challenges her sense of self and helps her discover her true voice.
Both Harper and Buckley had worked together on the series, War And Peace. Though she only had a “peripheral understanding” of country music earlier in life, she is now “a confirmed fan,” as she mentioned at a pre-release screening in New York this week.
“She has this wall to take down, but she really believes she has the right to [do so],” said Buckley about her character. “She has a burning courage that her [the place where she grew up] is not enough for her, but she discovers she can be both people — the person who knows where she’s from and the person she can [become].”
Wild Rose scribe Nicole Taylor co-wrote some of the songs with Buckley for the feature. Neon picked up Wild Rose out of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The title went on to play the London Film Festival before doing other stateside events including SXSW, Tribeca and Montclair.
The company is opening Wild Rose at select New York and Los Angeles locations this weekend before expanding to Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. on June 28 followed by additional major markets including Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia and Miami on July 5.