Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor. 

This weekend boasts a big number of Specialty Releases ranging from star-powered features to smaller offerings with non-pro actors. Jeff Nichols’ Mud with Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon opens in over 300 theaters courtesy of Roadside Attractions, while Cinedigm’s Arthur Newman stars Emily Blunt, Colin Firth and Anne Heche. Sony Classics will platform release At Any Price, which stars Dennis Quaid, Kim Dickens, Zac Efron as well. The Weinstein Company with its Pacific adventure, Kon-Tiki. Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist with Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber and Kiefer Sutherland had a wild ride before it finally opened the Venice Film Festival last August and Terence Nance’s An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty received new life after winning a Gotham Award. Joining the fray this weekend are Torch Films’ Aquí Y Allá and Factory 25′s Sun Don’t Shine which will open in L.A. and New York respectively.

Mud
Director-writer: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Paulson
Distributor: Roadside Attractions

Writer-director Jeff Nichols had the idea for Mud back in college during the ’90s. The film follows two teenage boys who encounter a fugitive (McConaughey) and form a pact to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trail and to reunite him with his true love. “I was thinking who I’d like to hang out with on an island on the Mississippi River and that was Matthew McConaughey”, joked Nichols who spoke at the Apple Store in SoHo last weekend in New York. “And I liked him in Lone Star”. “He is the DNA of the project”, said McConaughey. “I’ve done over 40 films and I’ve never done one in which we stayed so closely to the script as on this film”. The Cinema Society hosted the New York premiere of Mud last Sunday and Nichols and McConaughey were joined by Reese Witherspoon and Sarah Paulson at the event and party at nightspot Harlow. Witherspoon did not join the Apple store conversation and she also notably cancelled scheduled appearances on GMA and Fallon following her recent arrest in Georgia. Asked if he thought Witherspoon’s turn from the public eye might affect the film’s opening weekend, Roadside Attractions chief Howard Cohen sounded upbeat. “We’re doing a big television buy and we have Matthew out everywhere”, he said. “We’re totally focused on the great things we’ve done and she’s great in the movie. It happened and it’s played out, but she’s great and did a ton of press ahead of time and she also attended the premiere and I don’t think it will have an impact”.

Similar to its rollout of Emperor, Roadside does not plan on the slow specialty platform release. It will open Mud in 90-plus markets on 363 screens. “I think this goes along with our strategy in general with a blitz of publicity and Matthew was on a lot of talk shows and we have a lot of things happening at once,” noted Cohen. “The world moves fast. Emperor frankly didn’t have amazing reviews but had a million dollar opening. I think this strategy of opening [comparatively wide] is [best] especially when films have stars in order to capitalize on publicity and social media. I think the old model has become outdated especially when the PR is front loaded. If a movie doesn’t have a star, it might be different though”. Roadside will be a bit more “ginger”, according to Cohen about how it will expand Mud in the coming weeks however, but it expects to take the film into additional locations around May 10th.

Arthur Newman
Director: Dante Ariola
Writer: Becky Johnston
Cast: Emily Blunt, Colin Firth, Anne Heche, Kristin Lehman
Distributor: Cinedigm Entertainment

Writer Becky Johnston originally wrote Arthur Newman some years ago with Nick Nolte in mind, but that version didn’t come to fruition. Producer Alisa Tager worked with Johnston previously and read the script for what would become Arthur Newman and “loved it”. “It’s amazing and crazy and just – wow”, said Tager. “And then a couple of years ago, Becky brought it out and said she wanted to see it happen. She did a polish to bring it into the millennium. We started to have a few conversations as a friend and about four years ago, we decided to embark on this together”. The film revolves around a man who fakes his own death and assumes a new identity in order to escape his life and moves in with a woman who is trying to leave her past behind. The duo found out that director Dante Ariola had a project fall apart. He’s a commercial director and had been looking for a feature. “He responded to the material”, said Tager. “Within days of him reading it, he took it on as the director. We were thrilled with his vision”.

Ariola met with Colin Firth in London who had received the script through his agent, Chris Andrews who responded well to the material. Firth also liked it as well as Emily Blunt. Still with two named actors on board, financing was nevertheless tough. “It’s a small story but we wanted some scale and scope and in some ways it’s also a throw back”, noted Tager. Pre-production began in North Carolina in October 2010 and the shoot lasted 30 days. Distributor Cinedigm came on board with the film following the Toronto International Film Festival last year. It will open in over 200 theaters in 25 cities. “It’s a personal moving script and seeing Colin and Emily talk about it is inspiring,” added Tager. “[Firth and Blunt] had a lot of choices and to have them and supporting this has been amazing”.

At Any Price
Director-writer: Ramin Bahrani
Co-writer: Hallie Elizabeth Newton
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Kim Dickens, Zac Efron, Aaron B. Oduber, Jacob R. Oduber
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

SPC co-presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard had been following writer/director Ramin Bahrani’s filmmaking activities over the years and hoped to find the right project to come on board. “We acquired the film before it was finished and played anywhere in the world mainly because we’ve been following Ramin Bahrani’s work over several films”, said Barker. “I met him at Ebertfest in Champagne, IL. Tom and I were fans of his films and knew we’d release one of his films. We also thought the cast was great for this film”. Additionally, having veteran producers Christine Vachon and Pamela Koffler on board was a selling point. “It made sense for us”, said Barker. “It made sense to acquire the film before its world premiere in order to fully guide it. There’s a variety of audiences for this film. People want to see Ramin’s next film and people want to see Dennis in a very dramatic role. And we think it’s Zac’s best performance to date”.

At Any Price centers on a family’s business that is threatened by an unexpected crisis, testing the relationship between a father and his rebellious son. It premiered in Venice before heading to Telluride and Toronto last September and had its U.S. premiere at SXSW last month, which Barker noted was a particularly “great screening”. “It’s about the modern farmer in the Midwest and [agricultural corruption] which is a very serious subject”, added Barker. “There’s also a good amount of NASCAR racing — Zac races a lot. It’s a real full meal”. The film had its premiere in New York courtesy of the Cinema Society Tuesday. Heather Graham, Dennis Quaid, Kim Dickens, Zac Efron, Maika Monroe and director Ramin Bahrani attended. Sony Classics will open At Any Price in two theaters each in both New York and Los Angeles and will grow out over the next 4 to 5 weeks with its widest release expected around Memorial Day weekend.

Kon-Tiki
Directors: Joachim Roenning, Espen Sandberg
Writers: Petter Skavlan, Allan Scott
Cast: Pål Sverre Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christainsen, Gustaf Skarsgård, Odd Magnus Williamson, Tobias Santelmann, Jakob Oftebro, Agnes Killelsen
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

TWC snagged action-adventure Kon-Tiki, which Oscar-winner Jeremy Thomas produced, late last year. Based on a true story, the film follows explorer Thor Heyerdal’s 4,300 mile journey across the Pacific Ocean on a balsa wood raft in 1947. The adventurer wanted to prove that it was possible for South Americans to settle Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. “Harvey fell in love with the movie”, said Erik Lomis, president of Theatrical Distribution at The Weinstein Company. “The film was shot in both Norwegian and English with all of the same actors at the same time. It’s an entertaining ride.” The raft used in the shoot docked in New York this week ahead of its rollout this weekend, while talent traveled “all over the place”, according to Lomis, to promote Kon-Tiki.

“I think women will love the movie with these good looking Norwegian blonde guys, but the core for this is an older audience,” said Lomis. “The picture plays well though, so if we can get it to people, it could appeal to audiences 25 and up. These guys were the first explorers going 4,000 miles in over a 100 days. And it’s a true story, so there’s something in it for everyone”. This weekend Kon-Tiki will open at the Paris Theater in New York and the Landmark in Los Angeles. It will add additional markets including Boston, Dallas, San Diego, Phoenix and others in addition to expanding in NYC and L.A. the following week. TWC will take it to the top 20 markets in its third weekend, followed by the top 40 the following week.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Director: Mira Nair
Writers: Ami Boghani (screen story), Mohsin Hamid (novel, screen story), William Wheeler (screenplay)
Cast: Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber, Kiefer Sutherland, Om Puri
Distributor: IFC Films

The opener of last year’s Venice Film Festival, The Reluctant Fundamentalist began after director Mira Nair received an invitation to visit Pakistan. The story revolves around a young Pakistani man who is chasing corporate success on Wall Street, but finds himself conflicted between his American Dream and the call of his family’s homeland. “People from India don’t get invitations to visit Pakistan easily”, said Nair. “But when I went there, I was so dazzled and that was the inspiration. It was so different from what you read in the newspapers”. Nair calls the film a modern-day portrait of both America and Pakistan. Nair and her producing partner bought the rights to the book in 2007. They met with the book’s author, Mohsin Hamid, who liked her previous work which includes 2001′s Monsoon Wedding. She set up casting in London and India and met with Liev Schreiber and Kiefer Sutherland. She also met with Kate Hudson who was 8 months pregnant at the time, so Nair didn’t think she’d be able to participate, but then fate stepped in and the project fell apart. Originally the project had three investors financing the bulk of its $16 million budget, but two of them fell away. “We had everything in our hands with our actors”, said Nair. “But I had been through this before and I knew if you don’t seize the moment, it won’t happen, so we decided to shoot digitally and do post-production in India which saved over $1 million”. She also worked with local crews, which had worked on her earlier project, Salaam Bombay.

“I called up our singular investor and I said the time is now and we’re not going to have this moment and she’s said ‘yes’”, recalled Nair. The film shot from August to December in 2010 and worked on editing until August the following year ahead of its premieres in Venice and Toronto. It also screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, currently underway. “It was exactly what I wanted so I’m fortunate”, she added. The Reluctant Fundamentalist will open in two New York theaters as well as one in L.A. with a planned expansion May 3rd. It will be available on VOD April 30th.

An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty
Director-writer: Terence Nance
Cast: Alisa Becher, JC Cain, Dexter Jones
Distributor: Variance Films

Writer/director Terence Nance wrote the script for An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty while in art school. It was originally a short film. Combining various mediums of filmmaking including some animation, the film centers on an artist who hypothesizes about why he feels bad when a mystery girl stands him up, prompting him to ponder his feelings.”It’s a very different film”, said Nance. “Love it or hate it, it breeds an enthusiasm in some people to raise the profile of the film”. Nance had attempted to raise $5K on Indie Go Go, but that was “wildly unsuccessful”, according to the director. Still the project went forward after casting friends in roles. The film won a Gotham Award, which automatically gave it a week run and a small cash prize. Nance met Dylan Marchetti at Variance who brought the film on board as the distributor.

The title will open at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center and Cinema Village in New York this weekend and will head to L.A. on May 17 followed by a slow rollout throughout North America through July. Cinema Guild will release the DVD in September.

Aquí Y Allá
Director-writer: Antonio Ménez Esparza
Cast: Pedro de los Santos, Teresa Ramírez Aguirre, Lorena Guadalupe Pantaleón Vázquez
Distributor: Torch Films

Torch Films CEO and Founder Tim Hobbs met director Antonio Ménez Esparza in New York several years ago. He already had this project in mind and Hobbs noted that he was impressed with the work the filmmaker had been doing with non-pro actors. Aquí Y Allá is based on a true story of someone he knew. It centers on an immigrant who tries to reconnect with his family in Mexico. “We cast all non-pro actors from the region. We were able to find people who could act but also playing roles that weren’t far from their true lives”, said Hobbs. “It took a good year before we could start filming”. Filming began in late 2010 and into early 2011 after financing was raised from the U.S. and Spain.

The film had a wide festival tour, playing in over 30 countries. Torch Films is a production and sales outfit, but also does distribution. “From a business standpoint, we are of the opinion that the Mexican-American audiences and Spanish speakers generally are underserved with content,” said Hobbs. “There are more Spanish speakers in US than Spain”. Aquí Y Allá is being marketed to Spanish-speaking audiences and Mexican-Americans in particular. “The release is planned in cities where there is a heavy population of Mexican-Americans”, said Hobbs. The film will open in three L.A. theaters this weekend and will head to 8 major markets by week 3 and into 15 markets or so thereafter.

Sun Don’t Shine
Director-Writer: Amy Seimetz
Cast: Kate Lyn Sheil, AJ Bowen, Kentucker Audley, Kit Gwin, Mark Reeb
Distributor Factory 25

Writer/director Amy Seimetz re-assembled her crew for Sun Don’t Shine, which shot in July 2011 in Florida. The film centers on a couple that takes a tense and mysterious road trip through the desolate landscape of central Florida. “The film is based off a reoccurring nightmare where my lover has killed someone and I help them bury the body”, said Seimetz. “I am more haunted by the sensory aspects and emotional impact of the dream than I am the plot twists- disorienting, isolating, desperate, death in broad daylight, deafening electrical buzzing… These all made their way into the final film”.

Seimetz met the female lead on Silver Bullets, in which she starred alongside her. “She has this incredible ability to straddle fine lines in her performances without playing it safe– she can swing from childlike to a calculated and hardened woman, from whimsical to hysterical with such a graceful ease”, said Seimetz. Sun Don’t Shine will open at Cinema Village in New York exclusively and will head to other markets in the coming weeks.

For more estimates listed by title, see box office results here...