Three features and two docs are among this week’s new specialty releases hitting theaters against the summer tentpoles. Sundance doc The Imposter may prove somewhat controversial given the con-man who figures at the center of the story — and who proved to be the source of heavy anxiety in making the film. Ballplayer: Pelotero may move beyond hard-core baseball fans about two people pursuing the American dream. On the narrative side, Red Lights director Rodrigo Cortés tells Deadline about a rule he broke while writing the screenplay for the story he also directed. Easy Money distributor The Weinstein Company hopes to tap into the success of director Daniel Espinosa’s previous box office smash, and Sundance Selects’ Trishna heads into theaters after a hefty festival run for the Michael Winterbottom-directed feature.

Ballplayer: Pelotero
Directors: Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, Jonathan Paley
Subjects: Jean Carlos Batista, Miguel Angel Sano, John Leguizamo (Narrator)
Distributor: Strand Releasing

Executive producers Andrew Muscato and Bobby Valentine set up Makuhari Media in 2010 to make sports documentaries and thought baseball would make a good start. The pair saw footage from what would become Ballplayer: Pelotero and decided to take on the project. “What drives me is that we want to tell stories set in the world of sports but have a general appeal to an audience,” Muscato told Deadline. “These people in Pelotero tell a story about people who want to fulfill their dreams.” The project also attracted veteran doc editor Mary Manhardt (Racing Dreams, The Canal Street Madam), which also was a boon to the project about two top baseball players from the Dominican Republic who face fierce competition and corruption as they chase their dreams. “She can take a niche subject and make it palatable to audiences,” noted Muscato. “Getting her made it a selling point for us to be part of the film.”

Luck also played out for Ballplayer: Pelotero in the form of John Leguizamo, who agreed to do the narration. Muscato reached out to the actor via former MTV VJ Karen Duffy, a mutual friend who gave him a DVD of the project. “Before we knew it, we had him in the recording studio,” said Muscato, who added that their company has raised private capital for two additional sports docs. Ballplayer: Pelotero premiered at the Hamptons International Film Festival last fall after production that began in November 2010 and continued through summer 2011. Strand Releasing will open the feature in nine cities (10 theaters total, with two in NYC) this weekend as well as day-and-date and via iTunes. “It’s exciting as a young producer to see the industry moving to day-and-date,” added Muscato. “I remember growing up in New Jersey and seeing a film opening and it would only be in New York and L.A., so it’s pretty cool.” The film will bow in Denver on July 20.

Easy Money
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Writers: Jens Lapidus (based on the novel), Maria Karlsson (screenplay), Hassan Loo Sattarvandi (collaborating writer), Frederick Wikstrom (collaborating writer)
Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Matias Varela, Dragomir Mrsic, Lisa Henni
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

It’s taken some time for Swedish crime-drama Easy Money to hit U.S. shores. The film opened in 2010 in Scandinavia followed by various festival screenings in Europe and Asia before its U.S. festival debut last month at the Provincetown International Film Festival. “The bottom line is, we bought this film a couple years ago, [but] held it until the book was released this summer,” TWC head of distribution Erik Lomis told Deadline. “The book was supposed to come out long ago, but those issues pre-dated TWC’s involvement.” The film centers on JW (Kinnaman), a drug runner who maintains a double-life and whose fate is tied to a fugitive on the run and a mafia enforcer. “It’s an action film — not your typical subtitled film … gritty action”, said Lomis. “Martin Scorsese is presenting the film. He saw it and loved it.”

TWC will platform Easy Money in New York and Los Angeles and have additional exclusive runs in the next three to four weeks. “If we have some action on it, we’ll see what we’ll do,” added Lomis. “The film moved up five notches on my ladder once Safe House came out which did well,” he noted, concerning Espinosa, who directed that action-thriller which opened in February and grossed more than $126 million in the U.S. “The similarities to that film are striking”, and Lomis thinks it resonate with audiences.

The Imposter
Director: Bart Layton
Subjects: Adam O’Brian, Anna Ruben, Cathy Dresbach, Alan Teichman
Distributor: Indomina

The subject at the heart of The Imposter also served as the biggest risk factor when filmmakers were putting together the project, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The doc revolves around a young French con-man who convinces a Texas family that he is their long-lost son who went missing for three years. “The central character and witness is a complete con-man and a liar, so you can imagine that gives one unique challenges going in,” producer Dimitri Doganis told Deadline. “You know he has a history of fraud.” And indeed, the con-man gave the production a scare early on. They were contacted by another production company which said they had the exclusive rights to his story, which threw them into “a state of anxiety,” but it turned out their agreement pre-dated the one claimed by the other company. “We had a fear that there would be another agreement out there that pre-dated ours,” said Doganis, who added that there was a considerable amount of financial risk. They brought the con-man to London from Paris to quickly get interviews with him on tape as quickly as possible in order to circumvent any later whims by the subject. “By this time, we had sunk in $80K before we’d even know if we’d have funding for this,” said Doganis. “We took a big gamble in order to get it made.” The director first learned about the story in Spain via a Spanish-language magazine article.

After securing on-camera interviews, the production turned to the family in Texas and further research about the subject roughly two years ago. The production finished up in time for Sundance, although there were a few tweaks to the final cut after its debut there. “We are rolling out exclusive in New York City then followed by other markets two weeks later,” Indomina’s Rob Williams told Deadline. Williams picked up the film for the specialty distributor at Sundance and it later played SXSW and other fests.

Red Lights
Writer-director: Rodrigo Cortés
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro, Cillian Murphy, Elizabeth Olsen
Distributor: Millennium Entertainment

Filmmaker Rodrigo Cortés said he did something that until now he had never done when writing the script for Red Lights. “I never write for a specific actor, but in this case, I did for Sigourney Weaver,” he told Deadline. “It’s risky because I didn’t know her and it would have been a problem had she said no.” To be safe, Cortés said he sent the script to about 10 actors who would have been appropriate for the role eventually accepted by his No. 1 choice. Weaver plays a psychologist who studies paranormal activity leading her to a renowned psychic. In addition to Weaver, Cortés scored two other names in the form of Robert De Niro and Cillian Murphy, noting that they “responded very strongly to the script.” Red Lights shot last February over 10 weeks, with eight in Barcelona, although the director said he wasn’t sure audiences will notice the city itself. “Eighty percent are interior shots,” he said. The film moved to Toronto for two additional weeks of production.

“I started this project with two words: ‘paranormal’ and ‘hoaxes.’ I wanted to look at both sides using scientific research,” he said. “I spent a year-and-a-half researching paranormal [sciences] and learning about psychics.” Millennium will open the film in L.A. and New York today and will remain there the following week to avoid The Dark Knight Rises theatrical launch. The film will move into San Francisco, Chicago, Phoenix, Miami, Orlando, Seattle and Boston on July 27th.

Trishna
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Writer: Thomas Hardy (novel)
Cast: Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed, Anurag Kashyap, Kalki Koechlin
Distributor: Sundance Selects

Trishna will be IFC Films’ fourth film with director Winterbottom and will be released via their Sundance Selects label. The distributor picked up the romantic drama at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and has since had a busy festival run around the U.S. “We screened the film at Tribeca, San Francisco, Boston Independent, Seattle and most recently held premiere events in New York and LA,” IFC Films exec Ryan Werner told Deadline. “We have been targeting the art house audience and also the Indian community.” Based on the novel Tess Of The D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, which was first published in 1891, the film is a modern-set re-telling of a tragic relationship between the son of a rich property developer and the beautiful daughter of a poor rural family.

IFC Films has targeted the Indian community with additional screenings and hit direct marketing through Indian media including television, print and online. “[Star] Freida Pinto also appeared on the Today show and Jimmy Fallon,” said Werner. “She will be on Conan next week. “We have also done a big press push with features in the New York Times, NPR, etc.” Sundance Selects will open Trishna at Lincoln Plaza and IFC Center in Manhattan and the Landmark in LA followed by an expansion in the coming weeks.

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