The Weinstein Company is looking to Thanksgiving weekend for the initial release of Garth Davis’ Toronto and Hamptons feature Lion. Starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara, the pic is adapted from a memoir by its subject. The weekend’s widest specialty rollout will be Reliance Entertainment’s Hindi-language Dear Zindagi starring Indian superstar Shah Rukh Khan. IFC Films, meanwhile, is opening French filmmaker Lucile Hadžihalilović’s mystery-thriller Évolution with exclusive runs Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles before adding more markets and VOD starting Friday. And Oscilloscope heads out over the holiday weekend with Sophia Takal’s mysterious Always Shine in New York ahead of adding 20 markets and on-demand the first week of December.
Director: Garth Davis
Writers: Luke Davies, Saroo Brierley (novel)
Cast: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Priyanka Bose, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Deepti Naval, Sunny Pawar
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
The Weinstein Company picked up Lion at the script stage at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, acquiring most worldwide rights. The feature is adapted from the memoir A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley. After See-Saw Film’s Emile Sherman and Iain Canning first heard of the true story of Brierly’s journey to find his childhood home and birth mother, the pair believed in its big-screen potential. Tthey faced a bidding war for the rights to the story but eventually won out.
The film centers Saroo, a 5-year-old who gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of miles across India, away from home and family. Saroo must learn to survive alone in Kolkata, before ultimately being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years later, armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination and a revolutionary technology known as Google Earth, he sets out to find his lost family and finally return to his first home.
“As a UK and Australian company, we look for stories from both those countries that will resonate with audiences around the world,” Canning said. “Saroo’s story was so unique and moving, Emile rushed back from the U.S. to meet with the Brierley family and put forward why we might be the right home. The story had only just become public, so it was very live for them as a family. We promised them we would be as truthful to the events as possible and make sure they were consulted at various stages throughout the production process.”
The two producers made inquiries to Garth Davis to direct Lion during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Sherman and Canning were there for the world premiere of their TV series Top of the Lake, co-directed by Davis along with Jane Campion.
Davis spent time in India while developing the project including in Kolkata (aka Calcutta) and also in Brierley’s home village. The filmmaker also was there when Brierley’s birth mother and adoptive mother met for the first time. Parts of the project were filmed in the village.
Canning and Sherman had worked with Luke Davies, who adapted the screenplay, on Anton Corbin’s Life as well as on the filmed adaptation of Davies’ novel Candy. Davies and Davis collaborated on the film’s structure. Thousands of children in India were screen-tested to play the young Saroo Brierley, with Sunny Pawar landing the part, while Dev Patel took the role of the adult Saroo. Nicole Kidman boarded for the role of Sue, his adoptive mother, while Rooney Mara joined as Lucy, Saroo’s girlfriend.
Lion predominately was financed via a worldwide distribution deal with TWC, alongside a deal with Transmission for Australia and New Zealand and Screen Australia equity.
Production began in January 2015 in Kolkata, shooting six weeks total in India. One particularly challenging feat for the production was closing a main artery in the city, the Howrah Bridge, for several hours one night. They also had to shoot in the very crowded Howrah Station, which the production described as akin to “New York’s Grand Central Station but with literally millions of people.” The second part of the production in Australia’s southern island of Tasmania took place for 4 1/2 weeks. In all, Lion shot over 53 days.
The Weinstein Company opens Lion on Friday at four locations including the Angelika and Paris theaters in New York and the ArcLight Hollywood and the Landmark in L.A. Patel will do an audience Q&A at the ArcLight on Friday night and at the Landmark on Saturday. Additional select markets will be added December 9, with further expansion set for Christmas Day.
Director-writer: Director: Gauri Shinde
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Shah Rukh Khan
Distributor: Reliance Entertainment
Reliance became involved with Dear Zindagi as a distribution partner in international markets. The distributor will be targeting its core Indian diaspora audience — and its fans — for the release this weekend. “Dear Zindagi already has garnered huge curiosity among the consumers with its interesting cast including Shah Rukh Khan and Alia Bhatt, [along with] cool storyline and really intelligent teasers,” said Shibasish Sarkar, COO of Reliance Entertainment. “We feel it’s a right fit for the market we have chosen to distribute.”
The feature follows the story of Kaira, a budding cinematographer in search of a perfect life. A chance encounter with Jug, an unconventional thinker, helps her gain new perspective about life. Through the development of their relationship, she discovers that happiness is all about finding comfort in life’s imperfections.
“Indian films starring Shah Rukh Khan are almost like a genre of its own — it has its own loyal audience and fan following,” Sarkar said. “While the film is marketed in traditional TV, print and radio platforms, etc., we have also planned significant digital spends as it’s an important platform in today’s date.”
Reliance Entertainment is planning to release eight or nine films in North America in 2017, consistent with the nine that will have rolled out in 2016. Sarkar said the company has turned to digital marketing much more heavily in the past couple of years and its promotional periods have become more specific. “Digital has become extremely important platform for marketing and communications and outdoor has diminished in importance,” he noted. “PR has evolved over the years too, and even advertising is now for focused and specific timelines. Unlike earlier times, the whole campaign is much shorter but more focused with much higher visibility, instead of [being] long and drawn-out.”
Reliance Entertainment opens Dear Zindagi in 146 locations on Wednesday. It will add eight more locations Friday. The feature will open Friday in India as well.
Director-writer: Lucile Hadžihalilović
Writers: Alante Kavaite, Geoff Cox
Cast: Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Mathieu Goldfeld, Nissim Renard, Pablo-Noé Etienne, Nathalie Legosles
Distributor: IFC Films
French Filmmaker Lucile Hadžihalilović noted that Évolution “was born from a fascination” with the depths of the ocean as well as hospitals. IFC Films describes the feature as an “eerily seductive mind-bender that is a dark, dreamlike descent into the depths of the unknown.” The company saw the title in Toronto, picking up rights after learning that the now-defunct distributor Alchemy would not be releasing the title.
Évolution follows 10-year-old Nicolas, who lives in a remote seaside village populated only by boys his age and adult women. But when he makes a disturbing discovery beneath the ocean waves — a dead boy with a red starfish on his stomach — Nicolas begins to question everything about his existence. What are the half-remembered images he recalls, as if from another life? If the woman he lives with is not his mother, then who is she? And what awaits the boys when they are all suddenly confined to a hospital?
Hadžihalilović shot the feature in the Canary Islands, utilizing the volcanic landscapes and desolate villages of Lanzarote, which he said contains “harsh beauty and a unique dramatic atmosphere.” She also played up the 1960s starkness of the hospital, which is prominent in the feature’s second half.
“We believe the audience will find this to be a smart, original and visually stunning film that does not have a predictable plot or conclusion,” said IFC Films’ Mark Boxer. “We will open Évolution in New York at the Walter Reade Theatre [at the Film Society of Lincoln Center] and Los Angeles exclusively at Cinefamily this coming weekend.” The feature will then go to top markets such as Boston, San Francisco and Austin in the coming weeks. It will open in VOD/digital platforms November 25.
Director: Sophia Takal
Writer: Lawrence Michael Levine
Cast: Mackenzie Davis, Caitlin FitzGerald, Lawrence Michael Levine, Khan Baykal, Alexander Koch, Michael Lowry, Collen Camp, Jane Adams
Oscilloscope grabbed thriller Always Shine out of the Tribeca Film Festival. The company’s Andrew Carlin said the title “feels very on-brand for Oscilloscope.” He added: “This is a filmmaker doing a lot with a little. Sophia Takal didn’t have a $15 million budget. What she did have was a brilliant, original script and two phenomenal actresses to bring it to life.”
In Always Shine, two actress friends (Mackenzie Davis, Caitlin FitzGerald) leave Los Angeles for Big Sur, embarking on a weekend getaway to reconnect. Once alone, however, the two women’s suppressed jealousies and deep-seated resentments bubble to the surface, causing them to lose grasp not just of the true nature of their relationship but also of their own identities.
The distributor is relying on positive reviews and the active participation of its two leads in driving awareness ahead of its rollout this weekend. “Reviews and editorial coverage [generally] have been amazing,” said Carlin. “Both Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald have been very generous with their time, and we’ve been extremely impressed with the amount of coverage the film has generated.”
Always Shine opens in New York over the holiday weekend ahead of its launch in 20 additional engagements including Los Angeles on December 2. VOD will hit that week as well.
Added Carlin: “We think anyone who enjoys a twisty, psychological thriller but relies on reviews to help guide their decision will respond very well. And we expect those same genre elements to help drive the digital side of the release.”