Amazon Studios/Magnolia Pictures’ Landline with Jenny Slate, Edie Falco and John Turturro is one of the Specialty titles going out this weekend against big tickets like Dunkirk and Girls Trip. Music Box Films’ The Midwife starring Catherine Deneuve opens stateside following a successful run in France, and Oscilloscope’s documentary Santoalla, about a strange disappearance in rural Spain, and Shudder thriller Kuso, the directorial debut of DJ, producer and rapper Flying Lotus, hit theaters.

Other limited release titles making their bows include Film Movement’s Insomnia, Strand Releasing’s The Untamed and XLrator Media’s doc Who The F*ck is That Guy? The Fabulous Journey of Michael Alago.


Landline
Director-writer: Gillian Robespierre
Writer: Elisabeth Holm
Cast: Jenny Slate, Edie Falco, Abby Quinn, Jay Duplass, John Turturro, Finn Wittrock
Distributor: Amazon Studios/Magnolia Pictures

Following the world premiere of director Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, producer Stacey Keppler approached her about her next endeavor. Robespierre and writing partner Elisabeth Holm said they had an idea to do a divorce comedy. Over 18 or so months, the pair collaborated on a script with another producer, Rachel Shane.

“[Landline] was literally just a concept, but because we felt so strongly about them as filmmakers we went with it,” said producer Gigi Pritzker. “It can be very challenging to support a second time director. We worked on it for a year-and-a-half to get it into shape where we were within shouting distance to get a movie made. In that time Gill had a child and Gil and Liz did a pilot for a TV show.”

Landline focuses on two sisters who suspect their father (John Turturro) may be having an affair, which sends them into a tailspin that reveals cracks in the family façade. For the first time, older sister Dana (Jenny Slate), recently engaged and struggling with her own fidelity, finds herself bonding with her wild teenage sister Ali (Abby Quinn). The two try to uncover the truth without tipping off their mother (Edie Falco) and discover the messy reality of love and sex in the process.

“We had lively debates about content and approach leading up to the production which was smooth that resulted in a great movie that we’re proud to have made together,” commented fellow producer, Russell Levine. “We’re hitting it in the right time of the summer season.”

After seeing the script, Route One came on board with financing for the project. Robespierre had Jenny Slate in mind for one of the starring roles since day one. Casting directors Douglas Aibel and Stephanie Holbrook rounded out the cast which also includes Edie Falco, John Turturro, Jay Duplass and newcomer Abby Quinn.

“Abby Quinn is an exciting discovery for us,” said Pritzker. “She and Jenny created terrific chemistry in the movie. [Also] Jay Duplass is just a joy to have on a set. He’s been in so many positions in productions. He understands the process.”

Landline shot over 23 days in the summer of 2016 in New York. Pritzker noted that the production had to create a record store as part of its effort to portray New York in the mid-‘90s. The film debuted at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Amazon Pictures, according to Pritzker, “expressed early support” for the film. They picked up the title out of the festival and joined with Magnolia Pictures for its release this weekend.

The feature will bow today at the Arclight Hollywood and The Landmark in Los Angeles as well as Lincoln Square and Union Square Stadium in New York. Landline will head to over two dozen locations the following week, with more expansions slated for August.


The Midwife
Director-writer: Martin Provost
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Catherine Frot, Olivier Gourmet, Quentin Dolmaire, Mylène Demongeot
Distributor: Music Box Films

Music Box Films released French filmmaker Martin Provost’s 2008 feature Seraphine stateside. The distributor caught his latest, The Midwife, at the Berlin International Film Festival and decided to take it for America. “[The film] went on to have the biggest opening in twelve months in Paris for a French movie,” commented Music Box Films’ Brian Andreotti. “We were confident the film would meet with similar success in the U.S.” The Midwife cumed nearly $5M in France.

The title centers on the unlikely friendship that develops between Claire (Catherine Frot), a talented but tightly wound midwife, and Béatrice (Catherine Deneuve), the estranged, free-spirited mistress of Claire’s late father. Though polar opposites in almost every way, the two come to rely on each other as they cope with the unusual circumstance that brought them together.

Music Box said this weekend’s release would be a positive one for The Midwife as it heads to theaters as an alternative to Hollywood fare. “A nuanced, character-driven film centered on the evolving friendship between two older female characters is perfect counter-programming to an action-packed war spectacle like Dunkirk,” observed Andreotti. “And we were fortunate that the programmers of New York’s Paris Theatre — the best arthouse screen in the country for this film — agreed.”

Music Box has focused its marketing campaign on its leads, Catherine Deneuve and Catherine Frot. Frot is known for her comedic roles in such films as last year’s Marguerite. Commented Andreotti: “The campaign highlights the relationship between these two complex characters, and communicates the delicate, bittersweet tone and life-affirming message found in the film. With this campaign we are targeting an older, sophisticated female audience that isn’t attracted to the summer blockbusters.”

Music Box will open The Midwife at the Angelika and Paris theaters in New York, and Laemmle’s Royal in Los Angeles. Added Andreotti: “We saw a window of opportunity at several art house locations in late July, so these markets will open relatively quickly for a platform release. But because August then becomes crowded with Speciality film, other top markets will wait until early September to open.”


Santoalla
Directors: Andrew Becker, Daniel Mehrer
Subjects: Margo Verfondern, Martin Verfondern, Manolo Rodríguez, Carolos Rodríguez, Julio Rodríguez
Distributor: Oscilloscope

A brother of one of Santoalla’s filmmakers first heard the story that is at the center of the documentary Oscilloscope is releasing this weekend while volunteering at a farm in 2010. The sibling told the tale about a rivalry that existed between two families in rural Spain. Both Andrew Becker and Daniel Mehrer, who are veterans of television, were looking for a creative project they could craft themselves as well as a focus to take a break from their jobs. The duo traveled to Spain to investigate in spring, 2013.

Santoalla follows the story of progressive Dutch couple Martin Verfondern and Margo Pool, who had only one dream – to live off the land, far from the constraints and complications of the city. But, when they arrive in the remote, Spanish village of Santoalla, the foreigners challenge the traditions of the Rodríguez family, the only remaining residents, igniting a decade-long conflict that culminates in Martin’s mysterious disappearance. As this once forgotten landscape is thrust into the center of controversy, Margo finds herself searching not only for answers, but for the strength to persevere.

The filmmakers had initial contact with Margo Verfondern stating their intention to recall the story. Becker and Mehrer found a lot of material from articles written in the area dating back to 2007 documenting the feud. “The idea of what we thought would be the story was focused on Margo living in the village,” said Mehrer. “She was still there even though she’s by this family that likely had something to do with her husband’s disappearance.”

“We lived in the village when we’d shoot,” recalled Becker. “Margo had old trailers in the farm where we’d sleep. We also would work. We’d wake up early and shoot, then plant potatoes for four hours. That first trip was establishing the relationship with her and getting the base story down — feeling each other out and establishing trust etc.”

Both traveled to Santoalla five times over three years.

Never thinking Mr. Verfondern’s disappearance would be resolved, the filmmakers began editing together a pitch reel, but a year after starting the project, Martin Verfondern’s car and remains were found. “We knew then we had a real movie,” said Mehrer. Added Becker: “The social issues were there, but were not super obvious when we were applying for grants.”

Becker and Mehrere did a Kickstarter campaign, raising $20K. Otherwise, they put the rest of the project on credit cards, while also borrowing equipment.

Both returned in 2015. They noted a trial is pending, but they began the editing process after their last trip. Santoalla debuted at the June, 2016 Edinburgh Film Festival. Oscilloscope boarded for the release this past spring, which will open the title in limited release beginning today.


Kuso
Director-writer: Steve Ellison (“Flying Lotus”)
Writer: David Firth
Cast: Hannibal Buress, George Clinton, David Firth
Distributor: Shudder

Thriller Kuso is the feature directorial debut from Steve Ellison, better known as music producer, DJ and rapper Flying Lotus. The feature debuted at Sundance where it screened in the Midnight section.

“Steve was able to blend horror, comedy, music, puppets, and special effects into a truly unique, funny and hallucinatory experience unlike anything ever seen,” commented Sam Zimmerman of AMC Network’s streaming service Shudder. “Kuso is its own beast, and the kind of film that perfectly encapsulates the Shudder mindset. It’s a perfect melding of film and platform.”

Kuso depicts the aftermath of Los Angeles’s worst earthquake nightmare.  Viewers travel between screens and aftershocks into the twisted lives of the survived, experiencing a hallucination that is, according to an official description, “half-Cronenberg, half-Ren & Stimpy.”

“It’s a film that you invite friends over to watch and react to, then talk about how exciting it was afterwards, and we made sure the events we held to promote the film carried that atmosphere as well,” noted Zimmerman. “We’ve held a sold out screening at House of Vans in New York and a multi-night event at Cinefamily in L.A. celebrating the art and the music of Kuso, both of which had Steve (Flying Lotus) in attendance. The film is a pure distillation of his personality, so he’s been front and center doing as much press as he can in between festival dates.” Shudder is targeting Flying Lotus’ fanbase, but also reaching out to, “horror fans, music fans, and fans of alternative comedy.”

The film opens at Cinefamily in Los Angeles today and will also become available nationwide via Shudder. Added Zimmerman: “It’s playing midnights this weekend in over 8 cities, and will continue to play midnights throughout the rest of the summer wherever we see interest. Given what a large fanbase Flying Lotus has, we expect it to be screened for a long time.”