Brian Brooks is managing editor of MovieLine.

Two music-oriented documentaries are rolling out in this weekend’s Specialty arena. Tribeca Film Festival 2012 doc The Zen Of Bennett will begin a slow release with the focus on legendary Tony Bennett. Orchestra Of Exiles heads to theaters trailing the Israeli Philharmonic to various cities along with the film about its WWII origins. Sundance Selects will bow Julia Loktev’s long-time-in-coming The Loneliest Planet, starring Gael García Bernal and Hani Furstenberg in a limited release. And Radius TWC will open its first pickup title Pusher in select cities. The film has been on VOD in the U.S. for one month.

The Loneliest Planet
Director-writer: Julia Loktev
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Hani Furstenberg, Bidzina Gujabidze
Distributor: Sundance Selects

Producer Marie Therese Guirgis first came on board The Loneliest Planet six years ago. Financial maneuvering would lead the project down many international paths before it settled into the former Soviet Republic of Georgia where writer-director Julia Loktev initially wanted to shoot. “I was working with Julia and Lars [Knudsen] and Jay [Van Hoy from Parts and Labor] all came on board together,” said Guirgis. “The project had some things fall through. We initially started with full funding with a particular investor. But that person encountered problems and dropped out altogether. We worked with that person for the first year.” After that financing fell through, some of it was made up through a German source and then a Chinese producer came on board potentially filling the remaining gap. The one caveat was that the production would have to relocate to China. Loktev said she tried to find the same Georgian terrain in China and found a suitable place. Then riots broke out in the region and the government cracked down. They had also nearly cast a Hong Kong movie star to play the guide, but Chinese government intervention proved insurmountable. “We were back to square one,” said Guirgis.

More German funding eventually came through for the film about an engaged couple’s backpacking journey through the Georgian wilderness. Further resources came from American investors. “They didn’t have much in the way of creative control,” said Guirgis. “So Julia was able to shoot in Georgia. Hani and Gael were with us for the six years it took” to get the project off the ground, “which was unusual. And during the shoot they were camping the whole time. Gael was a great attraction for funding and he really came through.” The film, which won a Grand Jury Prize at AFI Fest in 2011, will open at the IFC Center in New York and the NuArt in Los Angeles this weekend. It is also available On Demand beginning Friday.

Orchestra Of Exiles
Director-writer: Josh Aronson
Cast: Zubin Mehta, Chris Kardos, Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, Pinchas Zukerman
Distributor: First Run Features

Orchestra Of Exiles chronicles the escape of Jewish musicians from Europe during the onset of WWII. Violinist Bronislaw Huberman overcame obstacles and settled fellow musicians in Palestine, becoming what is now known as the Israel Philharmonic. The film opens Friday in New York, coinciding with a performance of the Philharmonic followed by L.A. on Tuesday. “We’re working with the Philharmonic to get the word out,” said First Run Features’ Marc Mauceri. “The plan is to have it play in those cities and bring it out to other theaters around the country.” First Run is still booking the documentary at regional festivals including the upcoming Cleveland Jewish Film Festival and the Gold Coast International Film Festival. “We’re hoping their performances will help it go to other cities as well,” said Mauceri. “Our marketing team is working to get the word out beyond the Philharmonic support groups. We’re also reaching out to Holocaust groups and scheduling word-of-mouth screenings.”

First Run first found out about the film after director Josh Aronson took the project directly to First Run. “We were great admirers of his early film Sound And Fury,” added Mauceri.

Pusher
Director: Luis Prieto
Writer: Matthew Read
Cast: Richard Coyle, Bronson Webb, Agyness Deyn, Mem Ferda, Zlatko Buric
Distributor: Radius TWC

Although it is not their first release, this is Radius TWC’s first acquisition. “We bought it based on a promo at AFM last year,” said Radius co-head Tom Quinn. “It spearheaded our jump into the business.” The title premiered in Toronto and then headed to Fantastic Fest and has been available on VOD for four weeks. it debuted in the U.K. with 320 prints. Director “Prieto wanted to make an English version of the Pusher trilogy,” said Quinn. Nicolas Winding Refn directed the Danish version and is listed as an executive producer of this one. The crime thriller centers on a London street dealer whose life spins out of control over a weeklong period when he borrows money from his supplier for what he believed was a sure thing. Quinn noted that the title enters a theatrical market that is very “crowded and thank god we’re available on VOD platform” where he said it performed well. “It’s done great on VOD. On its face it’s about the genre and its gotten good traction.”

Quinn said it has attracted an “older genre audience” and the soundtrack has also sparked interest. He also said a younger audience will associate it with the tempo of Refn’s Drive. Theatrically, Pusher will launch in 15 markets this weekend and head into the top 20 afterward. Radius will expand from there based on performance.

The Zen Of Bennett
Director: Unjoo Moon
Subjects: Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse, Andrea Bocelli, John Mayer
Distributor: Abramorama

The Zen Of Bennett producer (and relative) Danny Bennett has managed singer Tony Bennett’s career for over 30 years. Being close to the legendary performer, he’s had a chance to see interesting moments in the star’s life and long wondered, “How am I not getting this?” He recalled being at London’s Royal Albert Hall and hearing a voice call out to Tony Bennett from the Royal Box and seeing Marlon Brando. “I always wanted to make a film about Tony Bennett as a person, his musicology, his philosophy etc. I wanted to create a film that 100 years from now they’d know what he’s about,” said Danny Bennett who though takes a producer credit for the doc. “We did a ‘making of’ for Great Performances for PBS but that is not what this is. I worked with [cinematographer] Dion Beebe to do it through my perspective and go in Tony’s head … I’m not a filmmaker, I’m just a film bufff.”

Thirty years in the making, as Danny Bennett emphasizes, Tony is always about looking ahead, not backward. The film is “not nostalgic” and it features recent and current music stars including the late Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga. Filming began in February 2011 and completed in June. “I really loved editing,” added Bennett. “There’s a lot of film homage in there. The opening scene is inspired by Raging Bull.” Abramorama opens The Zen Of Bennett Friday in New York and it will head to additional cities November 2nd.