Brian Brooks is managing editor at MovieLine.

Film Festival pickups highlight this weekend’s new specialty releases. Magnolia is targeting the traditional art house crowd for its cast-rich romantic-drama 360, while the director of The Babymakers said his comedy is the sort that big studios have now mostly abandoned. Sony Classics’ Celeste And Jesse Forever had a wild ride at different outfits before getting private financing and a pickup out of Sundance. China Lion nabbed Girlfriend Boyfriend at the Cannes Film Market and will target both gays and Asian audiences, while Alive Mind Cinema is taking a quasi-DIY approach for Seattle Film Festival doc Sushi: The Global Catch.

360
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Writer: Peter Morgan (screenplay), Arthur Schnitzler
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Ben Foster, Lucia Siposová
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Magnolia Pictures picked up this romantic-drama out of last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The distributor was drawn to the film, directed by Fernando Meirelles and Oscar-nominated writer Peter Morgan (The Queen) due to its pedigree of filmmakers and actors. “It’s a sophisticated team of filmmakers and a lovely cast,” said Magnolia exec Matt Cowal. “It’s a smart and elegant movie that will appeal to the classic art-house audience.” To reach that crowd, Magnolia created a poster and trailer for the “ensemble character-driven film, and we’ve been pushing this online.” It opens in exclusive runs today in New York and Los Angeles. Magnolia aims to reach the top 10 markets by August 10th and the top 20 by August 20th.

The Babymakers
Director: Jay Chandrasekhar
Writers: Peter Gaulke, Gerry Swallow
Cast: Paul Schneider, Olivia Munn, Kevin Heffernan, Noureen DeWulf, Aisha Tyler
Distributor: Millennium Entertainment

Director Jay Chandrasekhar observed that the big studios have all but abandoned comedies that fall in the $5 million to $30 million range and suggested that companies like Millennium are filling that gap. “Smaller films like American Beauty – who knows if that would be green-lit today”. After flirting with Warner Bros, Chandrasekhar ran into Paranormal Activity producer Jason Blum and took a different route. “We said, ‘let’s get this going,’” recalled Chandrasekhar. “We made it independently and cast it how we wanted it to be. We sold it to Millennium at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival.”

The Babymakers centers on a couple who are having trouble getting pregnant, so the guy persuades some buddies to pull off a heist at a sperm bank where he had deposited years previously. It shot in June last year. “We had to make it quickly which helps make it more cheaply. You have to shoot the shots you can use and not much extra,” said Chandrasekhar. “I’ve directed 30 to 40 television shows and it’s a similar schedule. It wasn’t ridiculously difficult.” Millennium is rolling out the film in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Milwaukee, Denver, San Diego, Phoenix and San Francisco this weekend. “I think there’s a real relationship at the center of this movie,” said Chandrasekhar. “The goal is to have a baby and you can feel for them, but there is a lot of comedy centered around the sperm bank heist. He has to get his only good sperm left. It’s wild but also grounded.”

Celeste And Jesse Forever
Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Writers: Rashida Jones, Will McCormack
Cast: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood, Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olsen, Rob Huebel, Shira Lazar, Will McCormack
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Celeste And Jesse Forever had a rough go at the beginning but managed a happy ending. “I got the script a few years ago and we gave it to Fox Atomic” but that didn’t pan out when the studio shut down that division, producer Jennifer Todd said. “Then we went to Overture and they were [initially] a go, but then I got a call later and was told they weren’t financing movies anymore.” The project’s prospects took a more favorable turn after they found financing through Lee Nelson’s Envision Media, which produced the feature. “So, we finally ended up making the movie for under $1 million and took it to Sundance,” said Todd. Director Lee Toland Krieger came on board after Todd sent him the script and he “fell in love with it.” Krieger said he had initially intended only to read it. “This is a real labor of love that took so long to get to the screen,” he said about the film, which star Rashida Jones co-wrote about a divorcing couple who try to maintain a close friendship even as they move on romantically.

Celeste And Jesse Forever shot last April and May over 22 days in L.A. and a day in Rhode Island. “We begged favors as much as we could for locations and used Rashida’s car,” noted Todd. “The happy ending was when Sony Pictures Classics picked it up.” SPC is opening the film in New York and Los Angeles this weekend plans a slow roll out to additional markets.

Girlfriend Boyfriend
Director-writer: Ya-che Yang
Cast: Joseph Hsiao-Chuan Chang, Lun Mei Gwei, Rhydian Vaughan
Distributor: China Lion

Distributor China Lion specializes in Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong films for the North American market, typically targeting audiences of Chinese descent, but for Girlfriend Boyfriend, it is also going for gay audiences. The story focuses on three rebellious students who want to leave their hometown for the big city. Their relationships face pressure as the ’80s era socio-political reformation movement unfolds in Taiwan. “It’s a drama and a rom-com,” said China Lion CEO Milt Barlow. “It’s a great real life story and we found that young Chinese audiences are keen to have more modern stories.”

China Lion picked up the title at this year’s Cannes Film Market (where it also acquired When A Wolf Falls In Love With A Sheep, which it plans to release this October). “Part of the story includes a gay relationship, so we’re marketing to the LGBT crowd as well,” said company exec Robert Lundberg. “We have had advanced screenings and targeted periodicals that serve the LGBT community and took it to pride festivals in Seattle, San Francisco and LA We’ve marketed in standard grass roots ways in those targeted audiences.” The film also recently won awards at the Taipei Film Festival. Girlfriend Boyfriend will open in LA, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Toronto and New York and possibly “other cities where there is a core Asian audience,” added Barlow.

Sushi: The Global Catch
Director: Mark Hall
Distributor: Alive Mind Cinema (from Kino Lorber Films)
Brian Brooks is managing editor of MovieLine.

Documentary Sushi: The Global Catch won a a special jury award last year at the Seattle International Film Festival, which brought the film to the attention of Kino Lorber Films. In 2011, the New York-based distributor released Gereon Wetzel’s El Bulli: Cooking In Progress, which went on to take in more than $237K domestically, enough incentive for the company to look for more food docs. “We found that combining the culinary aspect of the [film] with the conservancy issue was really compelling,” Kino Lorber VP Elizabeth Sheldon said. “It appeals to people who care about environmental issues and care about food.” Sheldon said they “work closely with our filmmaker in a do-it-yourself model”. Alive Mind Cinema and director Mark Hall have promoted the film to various groups involved with the sustainable food movement for community screenings in addition to screenings at colleges, universities and non-profit groups. Hall also was recently interviewed by ABC News.

He’ll continue to host post-screening Q&As this week in New York where it opens exclusively at the Quad Theatre. “We’ll check the box office grosses afterward and will book it from there,” said Sheldon whose company is releasing the movie under its Alive Mind Cinema banner. A TV deal is pending and Sheldon said she sees a “prolonged release cycle” before the title hits DVD.