Last year, RADiUS scored at the box office and in Awards Season with its documentary 20 Feet From Stardom (nearly $4.95 million and Best Documentary Feature Oscar win). This year, it may have another non-fiction awards behemoth, hitting theaters this weekend.
Citizenfour, directed by journalist and filmmaker Laura Poitras, tells the story of NSA leaker Edward Snowden as he disclosed massive domestic U.S. government spying. The film unfolds in real time as Poitras and Guardian colleague Glenn Greenwald, working on a long-term project about government surveillance, were contacted online by a mysterious source calling himself “Citizenfour.” The film, completed in secret while Poitras was in self-imposed virtual exile, alleges even more NSA overreaching at home and abroad than just what came out of the massive pile of U.S. documents Snowden leaked.
Another potential awards contender also arrives in U.S. theaters this weekend: Sweden’s entry for Foreign Language Oscar, Force Majeure. Magnolia Pictures will open the film by Ruben Östlund this weekend in addition to Gregg Araki‘s White Bird In A Blizzard following an ultra-VOD debut in late September.
And after a virtual cavalry charge of specialty-film entries over the past three weeks (more than 40 debuted in at least one U.S. theater in that period), eager movie viewers will get a bit of a reprieve, with only five films total arriving this week. Others coming include Lynn Shelton‘s Laggies, starring Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell, and the drama Rhymes For Young Ghouls.
Laura Poitras’ anticipated documentary Citizenfour is actually the final installment of a trilogy of her documentary features examining post-9/11 America, including the Oscar-nominated My Country, My Country (2006) and The Oath (2010).
It also will most likely be the most far-reaching, in terms of impact in the public discourse and at the box office. Citizenfour unfolds in real time as Snowden’s leaked documents unveil the web of secret surveillance operations allegedly spearheaded by the National Security Administration both in the U.S. and abroad.
Though The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald is the journalistic face of the NSA revelations by Snowden, it was Poitras who first corresponded with the NSA contractor. Snowden and Poitras began communicating through encrypted emails and Poitras brought Greenwald into the mix, the pair traveling to Hong Kong to meet Snowden as his revelations became public. Poitras turned on the camera during their first meeting in Snowden’s hotel room, shooting more 20 hours with him and Greenwald.
“It’s really [been] a long road and we only finished [Citizenfour] recently,” said Poitras at her film’s recent premiere at the New York Film Festival, where it received multiple standing ovations. “We very much wanted to communicate in this film that it’s about people who take risks.”
Poitras, who said she has been on a U.S. government “watch list,” moved to Berlin to finish her film (she said she’s been detained about 40 times when entering the U.S. since beginning her trilogy) because she didn’t feel she could safely complete it at home. Then came the process of selling the movie, which happened in a hush-hush and extremely compressed process.
“We got a call from [sales agent Josh Braun of Submarine] in February and he said, ‘Don’t bring your cell phone’ and (we) immediately went to Berlin,” said RADiUS co-president Tom Quinn. “And over the course of two days, we came to an agreement.”
Quinn said that they viewed “a couple of scenes” at the time and had only seen the film’s final version “very late in the process.”
Citizenfour also received financing from Participant Media and HBO Documentary Films.
“It’s been difficult,” Quinn said. “It’s hard to keep a secret in any industry. This film is a lot different than most of the movies we find ourselves working on. We managed to work in secret. It’s compressing a three-month prep and launch into the span of two weeks. Final delivery of the film happened Sunday.”
Press screenings of Citizenfour were held in tandem with the official world premiere, at theaters in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco as well as another NYC venue. This weekend, the film will debut in the same cities.
“It’s an incredible film and I think whether you want to call it a spy thriller or an historical one like All The President’s Men, I hope that people see it as a piece of incredible entertainment,” said Quinn. “It’s a fascinating historical document. It asks hard questions that are timely and extremely relevant [and] I think we have a shot to reach the masses.”
While the film gives an inside view of the intrigue that put the U.S.at odds with many allies, it also reveals new allegations about U.S. spying efforts, including the extent of the so-called ‘Watch List’ that Poitras said includes many Americans besides herself.
“It’s a terrible thing that there’s this watch list that exists and hardly anybody knows about this,” she said. “None of us can challenge it.”
Citizenfour will likely be an awards heavyweight as it continues to open and moves further into its release. Added Quinn: “I really would like the movie to speak for itself and I think Laura has done an incredible job.”
Watch Deadline’s review of Citizenfour by Jeremy Gerard here:
Director: Lynn Shelton
Writer: Andrea Seigel
Cast: Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Mark Webber, Ellie Kemper
Sundance debut Laggies is actress/filmmaker Lynn Shelton’s fifth feature film. She came on board after being tapped by producer Alix Madigan, who worked with writer Andrea Seigel on the script.
It stars Knightley as 28-year-old Megan, who goes to her high school reunion and realizes not much has changed. She still lives with her high school boyfriend and works for her father’s accounting company. She goes into a panic when her boyfriend proposes, then comes across 16-year-old Annika, played by Moretz, who convinces her to buy her group booze and hang out. Afterward, Megan takes a week off from her life, but tells family she’s going to a business seminar. Instead, she goes to Annika’s house and spends time with the teen and her attractive father, played by Rockwell.
“UTA gave me her script [titled at the time] Here At The Beginning,” said Madigan. “It has this unique left-of-center voice that was captivating. We developed it for a good year and change before approaching Lynn Shelton — she was the first director we approached for it. This never happens, but she came on board. It’s usually a long [process].”
After taking on director duties, Shelton worked with Seigel on the project, bringing on the cast, including Knightley, Moretz and Rockwell, even before financing was in place.
“I think it’s a testament to Lynn,” said Madigan. “Actors really do want to work with her. When we packaged the script it would get a fair amount of attention. She’s an actor herself so she understands that craft very well. They’re incentivized to work with her.”
Myles Nestel and Lisa Wilson of The Solution Entertainment Group brought in financing. It also received a Washington state tax incentive, thanks to a 28-day shoot last year in Seattle.
“Lynn has a certain sense of place in terms of Seattle and has a great crew that she works with there,” said Madigan.”They don’t vary much from picture to picture. She runs a congenial, lovely set.”
A24 picked up the title out of Sundance where it premiered. Madigan hopes the film will tap some of the success the company has had with other recent titles.
“They very carefully target their audience and are economical in the best sense,” Madigan said. “I’ve looked at the movies they’ve put out and it’s impressive what successes they’ve had from Spring Breakers ($14.12M gross) to The Spectacular Now ($6.85M gross). They have great marketing acumen.”
Shelton’s past directorial releases have run the gamut of box office success, though VOD numbers clearly have had some effect. Humpday (Magnolia, 2009) grossed over $407K while Your Sister’s Sister (IFC Films, 2012) had her best theatrical gross to date at over $1.63 million.
Magnolia’s Touchy Feely (September 2013), by contrast, only cumed $36,128 domestically. A24 will open Laggies in 5 theaters in New York, L.A. and Seattle this weekend, followed by further cities over the next couple weeks.
Director-writer: Ruben Östlund
Cast: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Brady Corbet, Jakob Granqvist
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Sweden’s selection for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration, Force Majeure is a psychodrama that centers on a model Swedish family, including handsome businessman Tomas, wife Eba and their two lovely children, who together take a skiing trip in the French Alps.
The conditions are perfect on the slopes, but during lunch, an avalanche suddenly hits the restaurant. People flee in all directions and his wife and children are naturally panicked. Tomas’ response shakes their marriage and leads them to question his status as family patriarch.
“We all saw it and fell in love with Force Majeure in Cannes, where it won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize,” said Magnolia Pictures’ Matt Cowal. “It’s an incisive and funny film that we see playing very well with art-house audiences. There’s a lot to hash over.”
Magnolia has screened the film “aggressively” since its North American bow at the Toronto Film Festival in September, where Cowal said it played “very well.”
“Its reaction as a ‘sleeper hit’ in Cannes gave it a base of momentum before heading to this side of the Atlantic,” he said. “It played very well in Toronto though flew under the radar in Cannes. But enough people saw it there that its reputation had built momentum going into [TIFF].”
Force Majeure then screened at Fantastic Fest, which Cowal noted may not have been a typical film for the distributor to take to the genre-dominated festival.
“Fantastic Fest is a festival that has matured over the years,” Cowal said. “It’s for film lovers, not just genre audiences now.”
Östlund was in L.A. for a round of press recently and that the company will actively take part in the film’s awards trajectory.
“We think it’s one of the strongest contenders,” Cowal said.
In conjunction with the film’s rollout over the fall, there is also a touring retrospective of Östlund’s first decade of work that will head to various U.S. cities.
Magnolia is giving Force Majeure a traditional rollout, opening at Lincoln Plaza and the Angelika Film Center in New York this weekend. It will head to the Royal and Sundance Sunset in Los Angeles the following week, along with Irvine, Encino and Santa Ana in Southern California as well as Dallas, Minneapolis, Scottsdale and some New York suburbs. It will add over a dozen additional markets November 7 with further cities added throughout November. Magnolia will have a DVD/VOD rollout at the end of February.
White Bird In A Blizzard
Director-writer: Gregg Araki
Writer: Laura Kasischke (novel)
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Angela Bassett, Sheryl Lee, Gabourey Sidibe
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Indie darling Araki is back with White Bird In A Blizzard.
It centers on Kat Connors (Shailene Woodley), whose perfect homemaker mother disappears. Having lived in a stifling, emotionally repressed household for a long time, she barely notices her mother’s absence. But as time passes, her mother’s absence begins to weigh on her. After returning home from a break in college, she finds herself confronted with the truth about her mother’s disappearance and her own denial about the events surrounding it.
“We have been longtime fans of Gregg Araki, but this is our first time working on one of his films,” said Magnolia’s Cowal. “We liked it very much when we saw it at Sundance and were especially impressed by the very brave and sophisticated performance from Shailene Woodley, who is really expanding her range here.”
Cowal said White Bird has a “Twin Peaks vibe. It also feels like an Araki film, which is great obviously.”
Araki’s previous title, Kaboom (January 2011), grossed almost $119K domestically via IFC Films. 2007’s Smiley Face was much humbler with just under $10K from First Look. Mysterious Skin, which starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt, grossed over $713K back in 2005 while 1997’s Nowhere took in over $194K theatrically.
Magnolia opened White Bird via ultra-VOD on September 25. It will open theatrically in New York at the Sunshine Cinema and the Nuart in Los Angeles as well as locations in Toronto, Seattle, Ottawa, Minneapolis and Calgary. It will head to an additional 16 markets October 31 with more markets added throughout November.
Rhymes For Young Ghouls
Director-writer: Jeff Barnaby
Cast: Roseanne Supernault, Katie Nolan, Devery Jacobs, Arthur Holden, Mark Antony Krupa, Glen Gould
Distributor: Monterey Media
Monterey Media caught drama Rhymes For Young Ghouls at the 2013 TIFF. Set in 1976 on the Red Crow Indian reservation, a government decree says that every Indian child under the age of 16 must attend a residential school. The Red Crow believe that the rule is tantamount to imprisonment, being at the mercy of a sadistic Indian agent known as “Popper” who runs the school.
“I was moved and yet stunned by the directness all portrayed with an underlying sense of even some humor,” said Monterey managing partner Scott Mansfield. “And after all, we are in the story business, and thus it’s a good fit for our Monterey Media release schedule because we simply seek to curate quality films, and strongly felt that this was a film that needed to be seen.”
Mansfield said the film’s core is its “compelling story” though its rating may create a challenge.
“The film is a pretty hard ‘R’ and this will certainly have an effect on its appeal,” added Mansfield. “There is a strong core in younger audiences for the film and certainly a core in the film’s Native American roots.”
Monterey has been working with Native American organizations, and doing “significant” social-networking outreach aimed at college crowds and above ahead of Young Ghouls‘ roll out.
Said Mansfield: “We are energizing an audience that seeks and appreciates independent film, accompanied by the film’s wonderful early critical acclaim, its TIFF premiere, and compelling artwork and story.”
Monterey is also coordinating event screenings including a three-city presentation in association with the Smithsonian Institute. Rhymes For Young Ghouls opens in Los Angeles on Friday and will head to the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago on November 7.
“Our planned expansion as of now is for theatrical dates in 15 to 20 additional cities,” Mansfield said. It will be made available on all major VOD platforms including iTunes, Amazon and Vudu starting in mid-November.