Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
UPDATED: Spike Jonze’s New York Film Festival world premiere Her will finally hit theaters this weekend in limited release. Jonze has long had “indie” cred and this film will likely find a core of fans among Specialty audiences though the Warner Bros release will go wide in January. “The movie has all these high-concept ideas, but it is nevertheless mostly a relationship movie. It’s about love and our need to connect and our [method] of connecting. But, at its heart, it is a relationship movie,” Jonze said ahead of its NYFF debut. The Specialty b.o. will likely note the film’s opening this weekend as it sits on the cusp of what defines a “Specialty.” Newcomers that are more squarely in that area also taking their bows this weekend include Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi’s first non-Iranian-set film The Past, which will platform this weekend before Christmas via Sony Classics. Joe Swanberg‘s All The Light In The Sky (Factory 25) is headed out after an Ultra-VOD run. Swanberg hinted that his film Drinking Buddies (out last summer) had a similar Ultra-VOD run and gave some hint at its non-theatrical exclusive, which suggests the power of such releases for at least certain titles. Yash Raj Films will open Dhoom 3, the largest Bollywood title to hit theaters in North America to date, while IFC Films will open Cannes pickup The Selfish Giant at two NYC locations. First Run will take a different approach to its releases of its doc Maidentrip this weekend. And boutique distrib China Lion releases comedy Personal Tailor in seven U.S. markets.
The Past (Le passé)
Director-writer Asghar Farhadi
Writer: Massoumeh Lahidji (adaptation)
Cast: Bérénice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mosaffa, Pauline Burlet, Elyes Aguis, Jeanne Jestin, Sabrina Ouazani, Babak Karimi
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s The Past is his first film outside his home country and the follow-up to his 2012 Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, A Separation. Shot over several months in Paris, The Past centers on an Iranian man who deserts his French wife and two children to return to his homeland. While away, his wife embarks on a new relationship, a twist her husband must confront when she asks him for a divorce. “I didn’t have problems finishing the film and worked in a very calm environment,” said Farhadi. “But the big challenge was the French language and culture.” One challenge Farhadi did face was a an actor change in the lead role of Marie. Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard initially had the part, but a scheduling conflict forced her to leave the project. Bérénice Bejo was tapped for the part. “[Bejo and Cotillard] were both on my initial list, but I was under the impression Bérénice was not available for the time I needed her, but I found out later she was available,” said Farhadi. “[But] Marion was busy with other work and did not have time for rehearsals.” Farhadi reportedly had a great-deal of rehearsal time leading up to the actual shoot.
Asked how his success at the Academy Awards might have affected how he tackled The Past presumably only months afterward, the filmmaker noted that he had been writing well before Oscar came around. “The biggest impact the Oscar had was increasing my audiences in a number of countries, and this is very valuable to me, because it gives me both responsibility and energy,” he added. SPC will platform The Past in L.A. and NYC this weekend and head to San Francisco on the 27th. It will then head to several additional cities January 10 with more added into February following a similar trajectory as A Separation. That film grossed over $7 million domestically.
All The Light In The Sky
Director-writer: Joe Swanberg
Co-writer: Jane Adams
Cast: Jane Adams, Sophia Takal, Kent Osborne, Allison Baar, Simon Barrett, Lindsay Burdge, Larry Fessenden, Lawrence Michael Levine, David Siskind
Distributor: Factory 25
Seemingly tireless filmmaker Joe Swanberg and actress Jane Adams began talking about what would become All The Light In The Sky back when they worked on 2009′s Alexander The Last and into 2011′s Silver Bullets. The film revolves around an actress who lives in Malibu, but faces limited acting opportunities because of her age. Her young, aspiring-actress niece arrives for a weekend just as she is confronting her fears of navigating life in the 21st century. “Casting was a combination of Jane and me pulling together people we’ve worked together,” said Joe Swanberg. “It was originally going to be set in NYC because Jane was living there when we first [conceived of it], so this was quite a different movie than had it been [set] on the Lower East Side.” Production instead went to the tony beach community up P.C.H. and conveniently shot at Adams’ home, presumably cutting down on costs. Still, Swanberg found resources the old fashioned way primarily. “Financing like any of my movies went on my credit card,” added Swanberg. “So there’s a typical long road to getting paid back…” Initial shooting began in December 2011, shooting up to just before Swanberg’s next project, Drinking Buddies, which opened this past summer. All The Light In The Sky debuted at AFI Fest in November 2012. Swanberg had already been working with Factory 25′s Matt Grady on an “alternative” four film subscription release plan of past movies. “[Grady is] very artist friendly, so [working with him on this] was a natural fit for the movie,” said Swanberg. “This combination of VOD with a small theatrical release has been working well for me.”
Swanberg commented at a talk last summer ahead of the Drinking Buddies release that the ultra-VOD window had already allowed him to make his money back even ahead of the theatrical roll out. All The Light In The Sky has also been available via Ultra-VOD since December 3. “With Drinking Buddies, our VOD release was ten times what our theatrical release was and I assume it will be similar [for this movie] but to a smaller degree,” added Swanberg. The domestic theatrical cume for Drinking Buddies topped out at over $343K. If that is indeed multiplied by ten, then that is a tidy sum, though actual figures are not available. “It’s about the audience and how they’re consuming movies,” added Swanberg. “I go to movies more than most people but iTunes and Netflix have made it so easy…” Factory 25 will open All The Light In The Sky in New York and will add cities throughout January and February.
Director-writer: Vijay Krishna Acharya
Co-writer: Prakash Bharadwaj
Cast: Aamir Khan, Katrina Kaif, Abhishek Bachchan, Kim DeJesus, Tarbrett Bethell, Bipasha Basu, Riya Ray
Distributor: Yash Raj Films
Indian Yash Raj produced the first Dhoom series in 2004, followed by a sequel in 2006. The third, opening this weekend, will be the widest theatrical release of a Bollywood film in North America. The action/thriller follows a circus entertainer who is trained by his father. As an adult, he stars alongside a the gymnast Aaliya at another circus, though his true motive is to rob the show’s owners whom he believes killed his father. Yash Raj has had success with South Asian audiences in North America including recent titles Ek Tha Tiger, Jab Tak Hai Jaan and Shuddh Desi Romance and expects to draw that crowd mostly, but it hopes it might lure some others as well since it is shot in part in the U.S. “The crossover so to speak is not really happening at the moment and our numbers and success is largely thanks to the Diaspora,” said Yash Raj’s VP – Int’l Operations, Avtar Panesar. “Dhoom is shot in Chicago and we do hope there will be some intrigue to watch this from the non-Diaspora audiences.” Panesar noted three stages to “crossover” and said Bollywood-centric titles are likely still in what he called the “Intrigue” first stage, but hopes this film might break a barrier. “It could just take one film to break that barrier [and] l hope Dhoom is that film,” he said. “It’s set in a world everyone relates to and yet it adds the Bollywood elements which is a bonus.” For its core audience, star Aamir Khan as the feature’s villain raised awareness after word got out.
Panesar noted: “Our biggest strength has been that our audiences are so clued in that technically we just need to announce a date and they will be there for a film like this.” Not bad! Penesar also pointed out that the trailer alone has over 13.5 million hits leading up to its release. Dhoom 3 will have a comparatively large roll out in 236 theaters in North America. It will also open in over 40 countries simultaneously, adding others the following week. VOD is post theatrical.
The Selfish Giant
Director-writer: Clio Barnard
Cast: Conner Chapman, Shaun Thomas, Sean Gilder, Lorraine Ashbourne, Ian Burfield, Steve Evets, Siobhan Finneran
Distributor: IFC Films
Cannes/AFI Fest feature The Selfish Giant is a contemporary fable about two 13 year-old working class Brits who seek fortune by getting involved with a local scrap dealer and criminal, which leads to consequences. IFC Films picked the title up out of Cannes after it received buzz there. “We just fell in love with everything about the film and felt strongly that Clio Barnard was an important director to support in the U.S.,” said IFC Films acquisitions exec Arianna Bocco. “As this is one of the best reviewed and most lauded films of the year, we feel it will connect strongly to upscale art-house audiences where word of mouth will be strong.” The company will open The Selfish Giant day and date/VOD and in New York at IFC Center and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center this weekend. It will head to the Sundance Sunset on December 27 and to top markets throughout January.
Director-writer: Jillian Schlesinger
Writers: Laura Dekker, Penelope Falk
Subject: Laura Dekker
Distributor: First Run Features
14 year-old Dutch teen Laura Dekker made headlines some years back when Holland’s equivalent to child protective services intervened when they tried to stop her from taking a solo sailing voyage around the world alone. As Dekker triumphed in her wish, producer Emily McAllister said she and director Jillian Schlesinger were immediately intrigued. “Jullian read about it and we reached out to Laura about the idea of doing a very collaborative film and we began shooting her before she left,” said McAllister. “In all, she was at sea a year-and-a-half and had limited contact with her, but met up with her at [various] ports.” McAllister said the biggest challenge was guessing when she’d arrive at some far-flung destination. “We had a lot of one-way flights,” she added. After the shoot, Dekker stayed on Schlesinger’s sofa for about a month to help with the film’s completion. “It’s such a personal story we felt it was important to have her involvement,” added McAllister. Maidentrip premiered at SXSW in March and Cinetic’s Linzee Troubh showed it to First Run, which picked it up for release.
Because of the holiday rush, First Run is skirting its typical NYC release, instead taking Maidentrip to the Bloor Cinema in Toronto (home to non-fiction festival Hot Docs), “Normally we try and start in NYC for films that are going to play around the country but we thought that the opportunity would fit for this,” said First Run’s Marc Mauceri. “[Bloor Cinema's] Robin Smith does a terrific job up there and the time period is good for this one. We at First Run try and stay away from the prime holiday period here in NYC because there’s too much high level studio Oscar stuff that sucks up all the oxygen.” Torontonians will be the first to sail around the world, though New Yorkers will be able to see Maidentrip January 17. First Run will continue to roll it out to other cities, emphasizing — no surprise — coastal communities. FilmBuff will handle VOD in March.
Director: Feng Xiaogang
Writer: Wang Shuo
Cast: Bai Baihe, Ge You, Li Xiaolu, Song Dandan, Zheng Kai
Distributor: China Lion
Boutique distributor China Lion’s Personal Tailor is about a company that grants wishes to those looking for a single day of escape from their ordinary life. The film, which opened to the tune of nearly $13 million at home in a heavy release, bows in seven markets in the U.S. “We think this is one of Feng Xiaogang’s smartest films yet, a biting satire indicting Chinese society and politics — something we were surprised got past the Mainland censors for release at all,” said China Lion’s Robert Lundberg. The company will target its core Mandarin-speaking audience as the film heads to theaters but has reached out to “Western bloggers and critic groups” to broaden its potential appeal and it touted its initial run at the Laemmle Pasadena as a first. The area has a sizable Mandarin-speaking population but also a discerning art house crowd which China Lion hopes to tap. “Feng Xiaogang, helmed China Lion’s Back To 1942, which was selected as this year’s official submission by China to the Foreign Language category for the Academy Awards. While the tone between Personal Tailor and Back To 1942 are very different, both are searing commentary on the state of life in China,” said Lundberg.
“We’ll be going out fairly tight into only 7 markets, most with exclusive plays, though in our top market of Los Angeles, we’ll be in 3 total theaters — Pasadena’s Laemmle’s Playhouse, Monterey Park’s AMC Atlantic Times Square and Rowland Heights’ AMC Puente Hills,” said Lundberg. “We’ve got exclusive plays in San Francisco, New York, Honolulu, Vancouver, Toronto and Gaithersburg. We’re looking to expand into secondary markets of Boston, Chicago and Seattle in the weeks to come.”