Indie Film Crush, Ahead Of ‘Avatar’ & Year End, Puts Arthouse Woes On Back Burner – Specialty Preview  

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A platoon of titles hits the specialty circuit this weekend, getting in ahead of steamroller Avatar: Way of Water and the year-end deadline for Oscar eligibility. This is a soul-searching, what-lies-ahead moment for a market still much too inconsistent for comfort, but that can be pondered later. At the moment, indie distributors are quite busy “with all these movies, and these plans to release theatrically. We are not going anywhere,” said one executive.

The Gotham Awards earlier this were were a shot of goodwill. Focus Features chairman Peter Kujawski recalled “the mandate that all of us share in the specialty film business” at the ceremony in NYC, kicking off awards season.

“To all our friends at A24, at Neon, at Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics, IFC, Bleecker Street, FilmNation, Cinetic, Participant and so many other wonderful companies,” he said — accepting an industry tribute with vice chairman Jason Cassidy – “We are in there together, defending a safe space for artists and audiences to connect. Your strength is our strength. Our wins are your wins. So thank you for everything you do for this community and letting us be a part of it with you guys.”

(He also thanked Donna Langley, Jeff Shell and Brian Roberts, CEO of corporate parent Comcast, reflecting a divide in the broad specialty film business in terms of resources if not aesthetics.)

Venice International Film Festival artistic director Alberto Barbera called supporting independent cinema a “duty,” not a “choice.” Indie filmmakers “take risks rather than relying on proven formulas. In so doing so, they change the way we look at the world and at each other.”

Daniel Kwan, co-director with Daniel Scheinert of A24’s indie box office darling Everything Everywhere All At Once said he was as surprised as anyone by the film’s breakout. “To have an independent, original story actually find an audience and get recognition is a miracle. Everyone in this room, you guys are doing the impossible and necessary work.”

Opening this weekend: Focus presents Michael Showalter’s Spoiler Alert today in six locations in NY, LA and San Francisco, expanding Dec. 9. Written by David Marshall Grant, Dan Savage and Michael Ausiello, based on Ausiello’s memoir Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, it stars Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge and Sally Field. The story of the 14-year love affair between entertainment journalist Michael (Parsons) and his photographer partner, Kit (Aldridge). Deadline review here.

A24 opens director/writer Joanna Hogg’s The Eternal Daughter with Tilda Swinton on 29 screens and video-on-demand. An artist and her elderly mother confront long-buried secrets when they return to a former family home, now a hotel haunted by its mysterious past. Premiered at Venice. See Deadline review.

The distributor is also giving Close, Lukas Dhont’s Cannes Grand Jury Prize-winner a qualifying run ahead of a theatrical release in late January. Two thirteen-year-old best friends see their seemingly unbreakable bond suddenly and tragically torn apart. Deadline review.

Bleecker Street opens Second Chance at five locations in NY and LA. The Sundance Film Festival documentary from director and screenwriter Ramin Bahrani explores the life and legacy of Richard Davis, the charming and brash inventor of the modern-day bulletproof vest who shot himself 192 times to prove his product worked. It expands in limited release in the top 50 markets next week.

Magnolia Pictures opens Hunt on 20 screens in NY, LA, San Francisco, Austin, Honolulu and elsewhere. Also available on TVOD/EST. The feature directorial debut of The Squid Game star Lee Jung-Jae who also co-wrote and stars. The film had its world premiere in the Midnight section of the Cannes Film Festival. Deadline review here. Hunt had a national sneak screening program with Alamo Drafthouse Wednesday in 15 theaters.

IFC Films opens actor-writer-director Ravi Kapoor’s heist comedy Four Samosas on four screens. World premiered in the Tribeca Festival’s Narrative Competition. A creatively blocked and wannabe rapper Vinny (Venk Potula) devises a plan with his friends to steal his soon-to-be-married ex-girlfriend’s family diamonds from her father’s supermarket safe in order to stop the wedding. The film is set in the Little India neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Samuel Goldwyn Films presents Last Film Show, India’s Oscar submission for Best International Feature, in a dozen theaters. Pan Nalin’s Gujarati-language, semi-autobiographical drama pays homage to the cinema of the past in the story of Samay, a 9-year-old boy living with his family in a remote village in India who discovers films for the first time.

Greenwich Entertainment presents voter and civil rights documentary Lowndes County And The Road To Black Power by Geeta Gandbhir and Sam Pollard as a day-and-date release with initial theatrical engagements in NYC, LA, Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans. DCTV’s Firehouse Cinema, the new doc-focused venue in lower Manhattan, will host Q&A’s with the directors. Laemmle’s Monica Film Center is the LA venue. Lowndes premiered at Tribeca and will appear on Peacock in February.

Kino Lorber’s doc Framing Agnes opens at the Film Forum. From director Chase Joynt, it won the Audience Award for Best of NEXT and the NEXT Innovator Prize at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. The documentary centers on Agnes, a young trans woman who, in 1958, entered a study about sex disorders at UCLA to get the gender-affirming care she needed. Her story was long considered to be exceptional until never-before-seen case files of other patients were found in 2017. Features Angelica Ross, Jen Richards, Zackary Drucker, Silas Howard, Max Wolf Valerio and Stephen Ira.

Gravitas presents What Remains, the last film completed by Anne Heche, in 12 theatres as a day and date release. The murder mystery thriller from writer-director Nathan Scoggins follows a recently paroled convict (Kellan Lutz) who returns to the small town where he murdered the wife of the local pastor (Cress Williams), who is forced to reconcile his pain and anger with forgiveness. The local sheriff (Heche) is also investigating another mysterious homicide that may be related. Heche died on August 11 at 53 after suffering critical injuries in a motor vehicle collision in Los Angeles.

Reel Peak Films presents Israeli documentary Tantura by Alon Schwarz in New York (IFC Center) and Los Angeles (Laemmle Monica) with other cities to follow. Premiered at Sundance. An investigation of the massacre at the Palestinian village of Tantura in 1948 during the Arab-Israeli War and the dogged work of one Israeli researcher to reveal the truth.

Sony Pictures Classics is giving Cannes-premiering Return To Seoul a qualifying run ahead of a Feb. 17 theatrical release. See Deadline review. The film follows Freddie, a young woman who returns to South Korea for the first time, where she was born before being adopted and raised in France. Searching for her biological parents in a country she knows so little about takes her in new and unexpected directions.

AppleTV+ opens Antoine Fuqua’s Emancipation at eight locations in seven markets, expanding to 200 theaters in 75 U.S. markets and 65 locations across the UK/Ireland on 12/9. Will Smith produces and stars as Peter, an escaped slave on a quest for freedom fleeing his cold-blooded hunters through the unforgiving Louisiana swamps. Inspired by the 1863 photos of “Whipped Peter,” taken during a Union Army medical examination, that first appeared in Harper’s Weekly. One image, known as “The Scourged Back,” which shows Peter’s bare back mutilated by a whipping delivered by his enslavers, ultimately contributed to growing public opposition to slavery. On the streamer Dec. 9.

AMC+ and RLJE Films presents Christmas With The Campbells in a dozen theaters and streaming on AMC+. Directed by Clare Niederpruem, written by Barbara Kymlicka, Vince Vaughn, Dan Lagana. With Brittany Snow, Justin Long, Alex Moffat, Julia Duffy, George Wendt and JoAnna Garcia Swisher. When Jesse gets dumped right before the holidays by her boyfriend Shawn, his parents convince her to spend Christmas with them anyway, and with Shawn’s handsome cousin.

Trafalgar Releasing presents Neil Young: Harvest Time the docufilm celebrating the 50th anniversary of Neil Young’s bestselling album Harvest in 460 U.S. theaters. First screenings were Thursday with encores set for Sunday and include a personal introduction from Young about the film and album. The feature includes footage from Northern California, London, and Nashville during the signature album’s creation.

Crunchyroll will screen The Quintessential Quintuplets Movie in 910 theaters for one week and an event-only showing. This is the conclusion of the popular romantic comedy series that follows five sisters who hate studying and hire part-time tutor Futaro, who guides their education and captures their hearts.

GKids presents animated EVANGELION:3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time on Dec. 6, 8 and 11 following Imax The Quintessential Quintuplets Moviepreviews in select markets on 11/30. This is the fourth and final installment of the new theatrical “Rebuild” editions of the Evengelion franchise. The film was the highest grossing of the year in Japan in 2021. Created by Hideaki Anno, the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise first premiered as an original television series in 1995.

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