Hints of autumn are unspooling this weekend with stars fronting Specialty fare opening in theaters. Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Billy Crudup and Abby Quinn headline Sundance ’19 opener After The Wedding, starting in New York and L.A. today via Sony Pictures Classics. The film by Bart Freundlich is based on the 2006 Oscar-nominated original by Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier. Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson join newcomer Zack Gottsagen in Roadside Attractions’ modern-day Huck Finn-style adventure Peanut Butter Falcon, opening in seven markets this weekend. Doc awards hopeful One Child Nation from Amazon Studios begins its theatrical with exclusive runs in Los Angeles and New York today, while non-fiction title This Changes Everything, featuring a slew of veteran actors and public figures, heads out to three theaters in both cities from Good Deed Entertainment. Following screenings at recent LGBTQ festivals Frameline and Outfest, Samuel Goldwyn Films rolls out Mexican period drama This Is Not Berlin with an exclusive run at IFC Center in New York followed by other cities.
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Other limited releases launching this weekend include Berlinale premiere Light Of My Life by writer-director-star Casey Affleck, heading to theaters via Saban Films. IFC Films is opening comedy Ode To Joy by Jason Winer, and China Lion is opening Mandarin-language dramedy Dying To Survive.
After The Wedding
Director-writer: Bart Freundlich
Writers: Susanne Bier, Anders Thomas Jensen
Cast: Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Billy Crudup, Abby Quinn, Alex Esola, Susan Blackwell, Will Chase, Eisa Davis
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Sundance Film Festival opener After The Wedding by Bart Freundlich is based on the Danish original of the same title by Susanne Bier. After The Wedding, which opens Friday via Sony Classics, stars Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams in roles played by men, including Mads Mikkelsen in the Oscar-nominated original. Sony Classics said that Freundlich’s version which will be seen in theaters this weekend has been updated from its Sundance debut.
The story centers on Isabel (Michelle Williams) who has devoted her life to running an orphanage in a Calcutta slum. With funds running dry, a potential donor appears, requiring Isabel to travel to New York, a city she purposely has not returned to in over two decades. After arriving, she meets Theresa (Julianne Moore), a multi-millionaire media mogul accustomed to getting what she wants. From the glittering skyscraper where she runs her successful business to the glorious Oyster Bay estate where she lives with her artist husband, Oscar (Billy Crudup), 21 year-old daughter Grace (Abby Quinn) and eight year-old twins Theo and Otto, Theresa’s life couldn’t appear to be more perfect and different from Isabel’s. But appearances are only skin deep and the two women have more in common than meets the eye. When Isabel thinks she’ll immediately be returning to the orphanage, Theresa has other plans, insisting Isabel attend Grace’s wedding at the estate. The joyful event becomes a catalyst for a revelation that upends both their lives.
“It’s the perfect time to open an independent movie you can sink you teeth into,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. “Audiences are ready for an adult drama by August. We’ve been through superhero movies and blockbusters, so it’s time to see something very different. It’s a time of the year that has served us well in the past.”
Barker noted that SPC has had success with late-summer adult releases akin to After The Wedding including last year’s The Wife ($9.6M) as well as titles from further back such as Blue Jasmine (2013, $33.4M) and Frozen River (2008, $2.5M).
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“After Sundance, we thought about it for a period of time, then actively pursued the film as an August release. After The Wedding has real resonance with characters you can identify with, while also being entertaining… It doesn’t get better than Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams. It’s a movie reminiscent of Douglas Sirk’s ‘50s dramas with crazy-good actors.”
Sony Classics is looking to women across the board along with college-educated audiences and the gay community to be the film’s core as it heads to theaters. After The Wedding will bow in Lincoln Square, Cinema 1 and the Angelika in New York along with the Arclight and The Landmark in L.A. today. The title will then head to 8 – 10 top markets including San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C. next weekend. SPC will break After The Wedding widest over Labor Day weekend.
One Child Nation
Directors: Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang
Distributor: Amazon Studios
A winner of grand jury prizes at Sundance and Full Frame, Amazon Studios’ One Child Nation is on the doc awards track as it heads out to theaters this weekend. Producer Julie Goldman joined the project early on, having met director Nanfu Wang on the festival circuit and seen her previous film, which had been shortlisted.
“I had seen Hooligan Sparrow (2016) at Sundance and I was wondering at the time, ‘Who is this young woman who is so bold and brave?’ I just had to meet her,” said Goldman. “We were on the same [festival] circuit and we met. I knew I wanted to have a chapter [in her filmmaking career] and this is that chapter.”
One Child Nation focuses on China’s policy of population control that made it illegal for couples to have more than one child. The program ended in 2015, but the process of dealing with its fallout and brutal enforcement is just beginning. The doc explores the ripple effect of this devastating social experiment, uncovering one shocking human rights violation after another – from abandoned newborns, to forced sterilizations and abortions, and government abductions. Filmmaker Wanfu Wang digs fearlessly into her own personal life, weaving her experience as a new mother and the firsthand accounts of her family members into archival propaganda material and testimony from victims and perpetrators alike.
Wang mentioned the project that would become One Child Nation to Goldman, who later traveled with the filmmaker to a pitching forum at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) in 2017.
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“When she was pitching, it was evident that this was her story to tell and that she could tell it in a unique way,” said Goldman. “When speaking to her family and with people in the village she grew up in, she got so many stories and arcs on how this policy has affected families… It’s such a deep, disturbing, yet rich story.”
In addition to the IDFA pitch, financing came via another pitch at Hot Docs along with broadcaster support such as ITVS, Independent Lens, Arte, BBC and television in Sweden and Denmark along with some equity funds.
Initially, the thought was to have Wang travel once to China, but then the production had to reevaluate. “We did this one step at a time,” said Goldman. “We had questions of whether she would be followed and tracked. There were a lot of contingencies, though it was less fraught than we thought aside from some tense moments.”
Most of the footage was shot on the first trip, while Jialing Zhang did a follow-up. “[After some editing] we knew we had to go back,” said Goldman. “Nanfu discovered a lot of things about the policy she didn’t know. She also had a child [during production] which made her think of things she hadn’t considered.” In all, One Child Nation filmed in under two years.
Sales outfit Submarine represented the film at Sundance in January where Amazon Studios acquired the title. “We were hopeful to find a theatrical partner and Amazon was so passionate about it,” said Goldman. “They had a vision for how to get it out in the world and an extremely happy surprise that it happened so quickly.”
One Child Nation opens at Film Forum in New York and the Laemmle Royal in L.A. Friday before its expansion next week to other locations in both cities as well as in Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Austin and San Francisco. The film will head to other markets across the North America throughout August. Added Goldman: “One Child Nation brings up important issues related to women’s reproductive rights from a [reference point] that is not usual.”
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Directors-writers: Tyler Wilson, Michael Schwartz
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Zack Gottsagen, John Hawkes, Thomas Haden Church, Bruce Dern
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Tyler Wilson and Michael Schwartz, the writers and directors of adventure feature The Peanut Butter Falcon first met the actor at the center of the feature, Zack Gottsagen, at a camp for people with Down syndrome. “He said he wanted to be [in movies] and they wrote the story for him,” said Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen. “It included some of his own predilections about a young man living in a facility. Zack himself loves wrestling. A lot of the personality of the character was inspired by him as well. This is the culmination of his dream.”
The Peanut Butter Falcon begins when Zak, a young man with Down syndrome runs away from a nursing home to chase his dream of attending a pro wrestling school. Through circumstances beyond their control Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a small time outlaw on the run, becomes Zak’s unlikely coach and ally. Together they wind through deltas, elude capture, drink whisky, find God, catch fish, and convince Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), a kind nursing home employee with a story of her own, to join them on their journey.
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“It’s a true crowd-pleaser, winning audience awards at the SXSW and Nantucket film film festivals,” said Cohen. “While there’s acknowledgment that Zack’s character has Down syndrome, it’s not the central part of the plot. I think that respect is one reason audiences really respond to the movie. It has a 100% on RT [as of Thursday].”
Roadside has worked to capitalize on its festival audience favor with a heavy dose of word-of-mouth screenings, in addition to partnering with well over a hundred organizations including Best Buddies, Global Down syndrome Foundation and Special Olympics to spread the word. The filmmakers have done personal appearances around the country, while LaBeouf has done a “full complement of press and shows,” according to Cohen, in New York and L.A.
“After we read the script, we knew we had to make and support this film, which also meant giving it the theatrical release it deserves,” noted producers Chris Lemole and Tim Zajaros of Armory Films. “We felt like the film lived on its own and hadn’t been done before, which excited us. It is bold, heartwarming, and funny, but the real gift was the opportunity to work and ultimately become close friends with Zack, who is the epitome of what we all should strive to be as humans.”
Roadside Attractions is launching The Peanut Butter Falcon in seven markets Friday, including New York, L.A., Dallas, Denver, Salt Lake City, Austin and Charlotte on 17 screens. The title expand by a few markets on August 16 ahead of going fairly wide to between 800 – 1000 locations on August 23.
This Changes Everything
Director: Tom Donahue
Featuring: Geena Davis, Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Taraji P. Henson, Reese Witherspoon, Cate Blanchett, Jill Soloway, Shonda Rhimes, Yara Shahidi, Chloe Moretz, Amandla Stenberg, Alan Alda, Sandra Oh, Anita Hill, Natalie Portman, Jessica Chastain, Rose McGowan, Judd Apatow, Rosario Dawson
Distributor: Good Deed Entertainment
Good Deed Entertainment caught doc This Changes Everything at its Toronto premiere last year. The company was drawn to the film’s messaging and timeliness, picking up the title at the beginning of this year.
“We were totally taken by the film – it was timely, powerful, and frankly, it felt personal to us,” commented Kristin Harris, VP of Acquisitions & Distribution at Good Deed. “Given the industry-centric nature of the film, challenging the status quo to bring a more gender-balanced perspective to the screen, we felt it was important for the film to be distributed by a female-led executive team, as we bring our own unique perspective and experience to the release strategy.”
Executive produced by Geena Davis, This Changes Everything uncovers what is beneath one of the most confounding dilemmas in the entertainment industry – the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of women. It takes an incisive look at the history, empirical evidence, and systemic forces that foster gender discrimination and thus reinforce disparity in our culture. Most importantly, the film seeks pathways and solutions from within and outside the industry, and around the world.
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Following its TIFF debut, Good Deed Entertainment has focused on a “robust” festival, social impact and word-of-mouth screening campaign leading up to its roll out this weekend, according to Harris. Businesses and non-profit organizations have also lent support, hosting screenings, including Lyft Entertainment, Bloomberg, Facebook and the Geena Davis Institute for Gender and Media.
“The film is also such an important call-to-action. We want audiences to vote with their media dollars to show up to support socially conscious content,” explained Harris. “In order to ‘eventize’ the release, we began our consumer-facing run with a one-night-only Fathom event Monday July 22, which included an exclusive panel conversation in approximately 500 screens across the country. We viewed this as a great opportunity to continue to build our all-important word-of-mouth with audiences who might not have had the opportunity to see the film at a festival or impact screening.”
Additionally, filmmaker Tom Donahue along with Geena Davis embarked on a national press tour this week. Good Deed plans to run an awards campaign for the film.
“We know we have a built in core audience of women of all ages who have rallied and supported the conversations surrounding gender rights as civil rights…,” noted Harris. “In addition to that, we’ve really leaned into bringing men into this conversation as well. We don’t see this film or this issue as being strictly ‘female.’ In order to achieve true parity, we need our male, feminist allies to engage alongside our core audience. As such, we’ve been leaning into questions about having a male director for such an inherently female-driven film, which initially seems somewhat controversial or confusing, but once you learn that this film was Tom’s idea and passion-project – beginning well-prior to the #TimesUp or #MeToo movements, I think it really help us open the conversation to a sympathetic, male audience. “
This Changes Everything opens at the Laemmle Monica and Arena Cinelounge in L.A. as well as IFC Center in New York today, expands to a dozen-plus markets August 16 in addition to on-demand platforms. Davis will participate in a Q&A following the Friday 7pm showing at the Laemmle, while Donahue will be at IFC Center for select Q&As Friday and Saturday.
This Is Not Berlin
Director-writer: Hari Sama
Writers: Rodrigo Ordóñez, Max Zunino
Cast: Xabiani Ponce de León, José Antonio Toledano, Marina de Tavira
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Samuel Goldwyn Films picked up Hari Sama’s drama This Is Not Berlin out of the Cannes Market in May after viewing the title at Sundance.
Set in Mexico City in 1986, the film follows 17 year-old Carlos who doesn’t fit in anywhere: not in his family nor with the friends he has chosen in school. But everything changes when he is invited to a nightclub where he discovers the underground post-punk nightlife scene, with sexual liberty and drugs that challenges the relationship with his best friend Gera and lets him find his passion for art.
“Outside of traditional marketing and press for the film, we have been playing festivals around the country to help build awareness and expose it to all different audiences,” noted Miles Fineburg, Director of Acquisitions and Theatrical Sales at Samuel Goldwyn Films. “It has received a great reaction from every festival audience including the LGBTQ community after playing both Frameline and Outfest. While taking place in 1986 and bringing forth that underground world of Mexico City, the film is incredibly relevant to the current cultural climate.”
Similar to other companies rolling out new Specialty titles this weekend, Goldwyn is expecting to engage traditional art house audiences that have weathered the summer’s traditional blockbusters. The company is also hoping its August start will help spread the word. Noted Fineburg: “We wanted to give the film a chance to breath in the marketplace and to build its audience through word-of-mouth.”
This Is Not Berlin opens Friday exclusively at IFC Center in New York. The title will then head to the Nuart in L.A. along with locations in Miami August 23, with more markets throughout September.