Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.

Roadside Attractions will open its Matthew Fox-Tommy Lee Jones starrer Emperor in more than 200 theaters this weekend, making it the largest rollout among new specialty releases. The distributor will follow the previously successful pattern it followed for previous releases Arbitrage and Friends With Kids, although the strategy is not without risk. Cinedigm will attempt to cash in on its doc Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey, which chronicles the rise to fame of a YouTube star into the rock mainstream. Also joining the limited release fray this weekend are two films shot overseas, including Romania’s Beyond The Hills and Germany’s thriller The Silence. And Magnolia genre label Magnet Releasing will open The ABCs Of Death, which it financed. The film shot in over a dozen locations around the world.

Emperor
Director: Peter Webber
Writers: Vera Blasi, David Klass, Shiro Okamoto
Cast: Matthew Fox, Colin Moy, Tommy Lee Jones, Kaori Momoi, Takataro Kataoka
Distributor: Roadside Attractions

Roadside Attractions first saw Emperor last summer ahead of its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival. It centers on U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur (Jones) who must decide what to do with Japan’s wartime monarch, Hirohito. “People don’t know he was considered a potential war criminal,” noted Roadside chief Howard Cohen. “The Nuremberg Trials are a very well-known post-war event [in Europe], but the end of the war in Japan is less known.” Similarly to Roadside’s recent midsize rollouts, Emperor will open in 259 theaters this weekend. Cohen noted they have had success with first weekend rollouts between the traditional minimal platform release and a wider opening, including its titles Arbitrage, which opened last September in 197 theaters averaging $10,163 (the film went on to cume just over $7.9 million) and last March’s opening of Friends With Kids, which debuted at 369 locations, averaging $5,472 (going on to an eventual tally of just over $7.25 million). “Most think of wide or slow platform release, but we’ve had five or six successes doing a release in the mid-level,” noted Cohen. “It takes a lot more money to do this and it takes some balls, but for films with stars who get on talk shows etc., it makes sense to [capitalize] on their attention.”

Cohen noted that Roadside is still doing the classic platform NY and LA releases for its other titles “when that makes sense. It’s one of the hallmarks of our company, we’re not doing the same thing for every movie.” A possible comparison would be last August’s Celeste And Jesse Forever, which Sony Pictures Classics rolled out in a traditional platform debut. The film starring Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Emma Roberts and Elijah Wood had a stellar $26,946 average in four theaters but went on to cume slightly less than $3.1 million. Still, Cohen acknowledges it’s costing Roadside more money up front, including some spots on TV (including one that aired during The History Channel’s ratings hit The Bible). It is also doing more traditional grassroots outreach with military-oriented groups and Matthew Fox has worked the talk show circuit.

Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey
Director: Ramona S. Diaz
Subjects: Arnel Pineda, Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain, Deen Castronovo, Ross Valory
Distributor: Cinedigm

This documentary about an unlikely singer whisked to fame and fortune had its genesis five years ago. The band Journey heard Arnel Pineda’s voice on YouTube and invited him to try out as the their new lead singer.. When Pineda was going through U.S. customs, “they didn’t believe he was trying out for Journey,” said producer Josh Green. An ensuing email video of that event went viral in the Filipino community. Green, producer-director Ramona Diaz and producer Capella Fahoome connected through a mutual agent friend, and the three set out to try and convince the band to let them tell the story. “They said no for a long time and said there was no story,” said Green. “But we were persistent, showed them our past work and kept following up. Finally, we convinced them to allow us to shoot for one day.” Green said that single day convinced them they had to film Pineda’s ascension as frontman of Journey. They “put together a 10-minute promo reel”, added Green. “The management company sat on it for awhile but then [an exec at the company] said his wife was crying after seeing it, so they asked us to come on tour.” Securing permission, the filmmakers scrambled for financing. The band did not provide funds — was a “solely independent production” noted Green. The team pooled their own cash, credit cards and funds from some small angel investors and set out on tour.

“We were all over the world” said Green. “There was expensive sound mixing in post. We had to start, stop and start… It was done with their cooperation and we had access to some of their music rights … but they didn’t give money. People mistakenly thought they were financing everything.” Although the filmmaking team received the OK to go along on tour, they still encountered roadblocks among the band’s crew. Additionally, even the band did not initially think the filmmakers would be with them throughout the tour. “It took a while to gain the level of trust”, Green said. “Stage managers and assistants were involved so it was a delicate dance to get the access. I think they thought it would be a quick process, and at one point Arnel [Pineda] said, ‘You’re still here?’ But once they all bought into it we got the access we needed.” Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, the first of over two dozen events, picking up audience prizes along the way. Green noted that while Journey fans will be pleased, even non-fans will be moved by the story of someone “living a dream and overcoming obstacles.” Cinedigm boarded the doc post Tribeca. The company will release it in 25 theaters this weekend with further playdates planned. It will also be available via VOD and online outlets iTunes, Amazon and elsewhere March 9th.

The Silence (Das letzte Schweigen)
Director-writer: Baran bo Odar
Writer: Jan Costin Wagner (novel)
Cast: Ulrich thomsen, Claudia Michelsen, Otan Wilke Mohring
Distributor: Music Box Films

Producer Jorg Schulze began working with Silence director Baran bo Odar when he was at film school. The two had talked about a story that centers on a 13-year-old who vanishes one summer night and whose bicycle is discovered in the exact same location where a girl had been murdered 23 years prior. “We had always talked about making a Neo-Noir thriller for his feature debut,” said Schulze. “We both loved films like Mystic River, the dark tone it has to it, so we looked for for a similar story in German novels. That’s how we discovered Jan Costin Wagner.” After discovering The Silence, Odar changed some aspects of the novel and Schulze said with the first draft they both felt they were on to something. “We were both keen on turning this into a genre movie with a strong visual handwriting”.

With the story coming along, Schulze and fellow producers Florian Schneider and Maren Lütje confronted the challenge of financing because this genre is typically the exclusive realm of television in Germany. But Schulze said a “number of German funding institutions came around” to supporting the project eventually. “All in all it took us two years to develop and finance it”, said Schulze. “The first movers were ZDF and ARTE, also Bavaria Film International (now Global Screen) came on board along with Thorsten Ritter, who now works as EVP with Beta Cinema. The script convinced our dream cast, and all the actors that we invited actually joined the bandwagon.” The Silence played the Munich Film Festival then screened at the Locarno Film Festival in its large outdoor Piazza Grande venue. Baran bo Odar also picked up a Directors To Watch award at the 2011 Palm Springs International Film Festival. Music Box Films will open The Silence Stateside at Cinema Village in New York and at the NuArt in LA this Friday with Chicago, Boston, Seattle and Philadelphia planned for the coming weeks.

The ABCs Of Death
Directors: Kaare Andrews, Angela Bettis, Helene Cattet, Ernesto Diaz Espinoza (among 26 directors credited)
Writers: Kaare Andrews, Simon Barrett, Bruno Forzani, Adrian Garcia Bogliano (among 15 credited writers)
Cast: Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Ivan Gonzalez, Kyra Zagorsky, Dallas Malloy, Erik Aude, Lee Hardcastle
Distributor: Magnet Releasing

The thriller The ABCs Of Death was “born of sleep deprivation,” noted one of its producers, Ant Timpson. ” I was reading an alphabet book to my sons and later in the middle of a restless sleep, got up and wrote down the entire concept of The ABCs Of Death,” which was called The ABCs Of Murder at that stage. The pic, which is a 26-chapter anthology that showcases death “in all its vicious wonder and brutal beauty,” according to an official description, also offered the chance for Timpson to work with friends. “The idea appealed to me on multiple levels. It was a high concept, it was a modern spin on the much beloved anthology and I’d get to work with my buddy TIm League and filmmakers who I had friendships with,” said Timpson. “We felt offering them complete artistic freedom with zero interference would attract them to the project. Tim League was the co-producer and he had a great relationship with Tom Quinn, then at Magnolia (now a co-head of Radius-TWC), who really helped the film get fast-tracked into production.” The actual shoot posed more of a challenge with 26 filmmaking teams shooting in 15 countries. Post took place in New Zealand. “The film was fully financed by Magnolia after a one-pager that just laid out the concept and what directing talent we already had onboard,” said Green. “Magnolia agreed to our budget and the project was green-lighted faster than any production I’ve ever been involved with. The filmmakers cast all their own segments. We had faith.”

The ABCs Of Death will open in one theater each in 19 markets including New York and Los Angeles this weekend, with Seattle opening March 11th. It will head to nine additional cities March 15th followed by additional runs through the end of the month and into April. “Reaction has been great so far. People in the horror world really seem to respond well to what we have done here”, noted Timpson.

Beyond The Hills
Director-writer Cristian Mungiu
Co-writer: Tatiana Niculescu Bran
Cast: Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriuta, Dana Tapalaga, Catalina Harabagiu
Distributor: Sundance Selects

The folks at IFC Films/Sundance Selects had worked with Romanian director Cristian Mungiu five years ago on his Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days (which grossed $1.4 million in the U.S.) and acquired his latest Beyond The Hills based on a promo last year at the Berlin International Film Festival. “It was very important to us that Cristian Mungiu’s home is with us,” said IFC Films exec Ryan Werner. “He’s one of the best directors working in the world today and we have been on the forefront of releasing the best films in the Romanian New Wave.” Beyond The Hills went on to win two prizes last year at Cannes including Best Screenplay and went on to play in Toronto, the New York Film Festival, AFI Fest, Chicago and Mill Valley. Sundance Selects will have a limited debut of Beyond The Hills this weekend at Lincoln Plaza’s IFC Center in NYC and at the Royal in LA, followed by additional runs in the coming weeks.

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