Brian Brooks is managing editor of MovieLine.
The specialty arena this weekend offers Summit Entertainment’s platform debut of popular Sundance narrative entry The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. Summit hopes word-of-mouth will lure art house crowds as well as heavily courted MTVers. Documentaries flesh out the rest of the new titles. Samuel Goldwyn Films opens Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel after picking up the title out of last year’s Telluride Film Festival. Variance Films’ Head Games came together under a tight schedule due to the narrow window of availability for its veteran filmmaker, who is now tackling a project with Martin Scorsese. How To Survive A Plague bravely ventures into the market with a powerfully emotional doc that illuminates one of the lesser-remembered stories about the AIDS crisis.
Summit financed The Perks Of Being A Wallflower after acquiring the book, written by Stephen Chbosky who also adapted it to a screenplay and then took on directorial duties. “I’ve never worked on a film with the same person directing and writing from a book he wrote,” said Summit’s president of marketing, Nancy Kirkpatrick. “The cast was Stephen’s choice. There were characters he wanted from day one and he was lucky enough to get them.” Summit warmed to the project because the book has been a favorite for a couple of generations of readers. The film was shot last year and premiered at the recent Toronto International Film Festival. Fans of the book are an obvious target for Summit, which has partnered with MTV to promote the movie. The film’s trailer launched on MTV and became a huge download. Kirkpatrick believes the art house crowd is an obvious draw because “it’s a sparkling jewel of a film that has gotten great reviews.”
“MTV has been continuously great,” said Kirkpatrick. “We’ve been doing early screenings for critics groups and will open the film in New York and L.A. to platform and plan to expand next week to 12 to 15 markets. “We really believe word-of-mouth will be a good start for the movie”, she added. “And we’ve been blessed with a very supportive cast. People may expect it may be some cute teen movie, but it’s so much more than you expect it to be.”
Samuel Goldwyn Films first saw the documentary about fashion maven Diana Vreeland at the 2011 Telluride Film Festival. Goldwyn exec Peter Goldwyn said the doc will appeal to audiences attuned to the fashion world — the iconic Vreeland worked as an editor at Harpers Bazaar and Vogue and later spearheaded the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. But Goldwyn thinks its appeal could be broader. “It’s about perseverance. She’s such a dynamic personality it’s pure entertainment.” Samuel Goldwyn Films has partnered with Epix (which has television rights) to promote the movie to their premium audience. The distributor has also partnered with Bloomingdales and hosted screenings with fashion bloggers. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and fashion-centric websites also have provided high-profile coverage. Samuel Goldwyn Films will open Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel on two screens in New York and Los Angeles this weekend. Expanding 5 to 7 markets on subsequent weekends, Goldwyn said “We’re hoping to get to all the main markets.”
Director Steve James has received numerous accolades for previous documentaries including Hoop Dreams (1994), Stevie (2002) and The Interrupters (2011). He shared an Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing for Hoop Dreams with Frederick Marx and William Haugse. Producer Steve Devick said he and colleagues hoped to lure James to direct the doc, which follows football player and wrestler Chris Nowinski on a quest to explore the consequences of sports-related head injuries. “I’m on the board at Columbia College and I had a colleague who knows Steve,” said Devick. James “had a window open before he starts [the Roger Ebert doc Life Itself] with Martin Scorsese, so we were lucky.” Devick said that the motivating factor behind the doc is simply to educate the public about possible consequences to kids who play sports, specifically football. The challenge was to finish the doc in a timely manner, not only because of James’ schedule, but also to be up to date on the latest science. “There are great things you can get out of sports, but we think it’s an important movie for parents,” said Devick. “From a science perspective it’s up to date as can be. There are 12 doctors in the movie.”
Devick contributed to the project’s financing and tapped resources from associates. The film premiered at the Boston Film Festival where most of the feature takes place. Variance Films will open Head Games in New York, LA, Boston and Toronto this week, followed by Chicago and other cities in the following week. It will roll out slowly to other markets throughout the fall.
Most indie films are hard to make and documentaries are frequently even more difficult to undertake. Add a heavy subject matter and complications rise exponentially. How To Survive A Plague tackles the story of AIDS activist group ACT-UP, which staged effectively theatrical protests against the government and other institutions that members believed were making the epidemic worse through inaction and/or ignorance. “How To Survive A Plague is the AIDS story that audiences have never seen and that’s the message we’ve been trying to get out there,” said producer Howard Gertler. “I think the trailer suggests something emotional and inspiring.” A veteran indie producer, Gertler came on board after an investor in the film, Impact Partners, reached out. “I had never done a documentary before,” said Gertler. “I realized that I’m a gay guy living in New York, but I didn’t really know this story and there were a lot of other people who didn’t either.”
With additional financing via the Ford Foundation, Public Square Pictures and private equity, the 110-minute film came together from over 700 hours of footage. Director David France knew the AIDS activist community well and initially located footage through those contacts, which then lead to other stashes of material. The doc took 14 months to edit ahead of its premiere this year at the Sundance Film Festival. IFC Films bought the film at Sundance and is taking the title into theaters ahead of its VOD release beginning September 28th. The distributor will open the film this weekend at IFC Center in New York, the NuArt in Los Angeles, the Music Box in Chicago and the Embarcadero in San Francisco.