Brian Brooks is a Deadline contributor.
The theatrical rollout of the Sundance Film Festival‘s Grand Jury Prize winner is an anticipated and likely nerve-racking occasion for insiders. This year, newcomer Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station holds the mantle. The film won the festival’s top jury prize in addition to the Audience Award. Last year’s big winner Beasts Of The Southern Wild – also from a newcomer, Benh Zeitlin – opened in the summer, going on to rack up critical awards as well as Oscar nominations and solid but not explosive numbers at the box office. Fruitvale‘s debut will hopefully add shine to what has been a mixed to blasé bag in the Specialty arena of late. Also this weekend, fellow Sundance winner Crystal Fairy (a World Cinema prize winner) is also hitting the big screen via IFC Films. The film was a spontaneous undertaking while filmmaker Sebastián Silva and star Michael Cera awaited financing for another project. Cannes 2012 award winner The Hunt from veteran Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg also joins the newcomer list Friday. The dark but acclaimed film has been a hit at home and other territories, but how it will translate in the U.S. remains to be seen. The weekend’s largest Specialty rollout in terms of location count, though, comes from India. Reliance will open Bhaag Milkha Bhaag in over 100 theaters across the country. Comparatively more limited new arrivals this weekend come from Samuel Goldwyn Films (Still Mine) and Anchor Bay Films (Pawn Shop Chronicles).
Fruitvale Station occupies a coveted place in the specialty/indie world, winning the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Feature as well as the Audience Award in the same category. Its wins also naturally carry expectations. Last year’s jury prize winner, Beasts Of The Southern Wild, bowed with a $42,426 PSA in four theaters and went on to cume nearly $12.8 million domestically. It also managed to accumulate a slew of year-end awards as well as multiple Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress in a Leading Role, not bad for a film with no known actors. Fruitvale Station, however, boasts known talent including Oscar winner Octavia Spencer and Friday Night Lights actor Michael B. Jordan. “We’re excited and have high hopes for Fruitvale Station,” said TWC president of Theatrical Distribution Erik Lomis. “Beasts is not a model for this, but it did prove that you don’t have to open at the end of year to receive acknowledgment. There needs to be an alternative [to the summer blockbusters]. It’s a powerful film and we’re going to take it out nationally.”