Focus Features’ Sundance-premiering Polite Society opens on 927 screens, the feature debut of writer/director Nida Manzoor, creator of We Are Lady Parts, the Peacock comedy about the eponymous British punk rock band.
This comedic mash-up of sisterly affection, parental disappointment and bold action, where martial artist-in-training Ria Khan tryies to save her older sister from an impending marriage, is 91% Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Deadline review here.
It’s joined by a handful of other specialty titles with theatrical debuts ranging from 900 screens to one, following a week where specialty and independent film was showered with kind words at CinemaCon, the annual exhibitor conference. Focus chair Peter Kujawksi called the specialty audience passionate and the market a launching pad for exceptional talent and “unique and elevated stories.” No disagreement there. He also said the specialty business has “recovered better and faster’’ out of Covid than the overall box office. Indie distributors in Las Vegas were considerably less sanguine about that.
The prevailing narrative in fact is that the opposite is true. A host of reasons, depending on who’s talking, include too much or not enough product; difficulty getting on and staying on screens; limited marketing budgets and challenges flagging films to audiences; arthouse closures; theaters in need of upgrades; and moviegoers who are just much pickier about what they’ll go out to see given streaming options, exacerbated in some cases by short theatrical windows.
There are exceptions and the specialty market is certainly improving.
Every studio chief who took the stage at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace this week touted the need for a diversity and range of content on the big screen. So did Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, so did Martin Scorsese, who entreated multiplexes to give more space to independent films. It’s a matter of the industry’s long-term survival. Budding directors — who may go on to create blockbusters — are born by falling in love with original, provocative movies on the big screen like he did.
Outgoing NATO (National Association of Cinema Owners) chief John Fithian, and the org’s incoming head Michael O’Leary, stressed the importance of raising the heat around seeing “smaller films.” “It’s partly a marketplace decision,” Fithian said. How you “let people know those movies are available” and how do you prove to theaters that there’s a market for them?” Are some kind of partnerships possible?
Everybody has the desire to see indies get traction, O’Leary said, its’ just not clear “how best we can do that.”
A risk is a negative cycle, said one indie distributor in Vegas — the longer specialty films are seen as tough sells, the harder it is to get them on screens and so on. We’ll see how things stand at CinemaCon 2023. Meanwhile, the films will keep coming.
Polite Society opens day and date in the U.K, with Universal Pictures International.Produced byTim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Olivier Kaempfer, John Pocock. Starring Priya Kansara, Ritu Arya, Nimra Bucha, Akshay Khanna, Seraphina Beh, Ella Bruccoleri.
Other notable openings: Sean Garrrity’s The End Of Sex from Blue Fox Entertainment debuts on 185 screens in North America (150 U.S.). A married couple feeling the pressure of parenting and adulthood send their young kids to camp for the first time and embark on a series of comic sexual adventures to reinvigorate their relationship. Premiered at TIFF. Stars Emily Hampshire (Schitt’s Creek), Jonas Chernick, Gray Powell, Lily Gao, Melanie Scrofano.
Sideshow & Janus Films opening The Eight Mountains at the Angelika and Lincoln Center in New York, expanding next weekend. Deadline review here. Sideshow and Janus are working with Cinecitta on the release in the U.S. The film by Felix van Groeningen about a friendship spanning decades premiered in Cannes. With Luca Marinelli, Alessandro Borghi, Lupo Barbiero, Cristiano Sassella. Based on the 2016 bestseller by Paolo Cognetti.
R.M.N. from IFC Films on two screens in NY (IFC Center) and LA (Laemmle Royal), expanding on 5/5. Premiered at Cannes, Deadline review here. Cristian Mungiu’s (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days) portrait of ethnic and economic resentments tearing at the fabric of a small mountain town. Starring Judith State, Marin Grigore.
Abramorama presents Oliver Stone’s Nuclear Now on four screens, jumping onto 350 May 1. Premiered in Venice. Deadline review. Based on the book A Bright Future by Joshua Goldstein. With unprecedented access to the nuclear industry in France, Russia, and the United States, Nuclear Now explores the possibility for the global community to overcome the challenges of climate change and energy poverty to reach a brighter future through the power of nuclear energy
The distributor (Abramorama) also presents 32 Sounds, the feature documentary and sensory experience from Sam Green (The Weather Underground) at the Film Forum. Featuring original music by JD Samson (Le Tigre, MEN). The film explores the power of sound to bend time, cross borders and shape our perception of the world around. Premiered at Sundance last year. During select screenings, audience members will be given a set of headphones customized for the film’s immersive audio experience.
VMI Releasing opens 2021 Venice prize winner Freaks Vs. The Reich by Gabriele Mainetti. The WW2 fantasy thriller set in Rome in six markets. Four circus freaks are hunted by Nazis, who want to use their powers. With Claudio Santamaria, Aurora Giovinazzo, Pietro Castellitto, Giancarlo Martini, Giorgio Tirabassi, Max Mazzotta, Franz Rogowski, Sebastian Hülk, and Anna Tenta.
Kino Lorber presents T.S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets, a theatrical adaptation of Ralph Fiennes’s stage performance of T. S. Eliot’s poetic masterpiece by director and his sister Sophie Fiennes. During the early days of COVID, actor set himself the challenge of committing Four Quartets to memory, and in 2021 he brought it to the London stage followed by a tour of theaters across the UK. Written by Nobel Prize winner Eliot in the shadow of the Second World War, the poem is a meditation on human experience, time and the divine. Opens this weekend at IFC Center in New York with Sophie Fiennes there for Q&As before expanding to select theaters nationwide.