The independent film world has slowed down for summer, at least as far as deal-making is concerned, but that gives us time to ponder, among other things: Why hasn't The Tree of Life gotten that nationwide release we were promised?
New Distribution Deal
Far beyond the Bollywood mainstream fare for which the country is known, India hosts a burgeoning group of indie filmmakers, yet it's rare for the latter to gain theatrical release in the U.S. (To be fair, in that respect they resemble all other indie filmmakers, especially those from outside the U.S.) The thriller That Girl in Yellow Boots, therefore, promises a refreshing change. According to a prepared statement, distributor IndiePix intends "to bring this film to the widest audience ever in the United States for an Indian independent filmmaker," launching it in more than 20 markets simultaneously with its theatrical release in Mumbai on September 2. The complete press release is available to read at indieWIRE.
Directed by Anurag Kashyap (Black Friday), That Girl in Yellow Boots follows Ruth (Kalki Koechlin), who travels from London to Mumbai in search of her father, a photographer who abandoned her when she was just a child. She ends up working in a massage parlor "as she is sucked deeper into the labyrinthine politics of the city's underbelly." The film played at the Venice and Toronto film festivals last fall; Dan Fainaru at Screen Daily felt that the movie had all the elements for a thriller, but they "never come together at the right time." Nonetheless, the trailer packs a punch, and the sordid environment could lure in wider audiences.
Indie Box Office
"Dude, I'm in a group with you, you're not my daddy." Surprisingly, a music doc made by an actor with an unabashed love for his subject led the pack. Michael Rapaport's Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest had the highest per-screen average of any movie last weekend, earning $111,982 at theaters in Manhattan and Hollywood, per Box Office Mojo. Perhaps the dynamics of a beloved group that imploded, as showcased in the trailer, increased the film's appeal beyond its loyal fans. Beats, Rhymes & Life expands this weekend into Northern California, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Brooklyn; check the official site for theater listings.
"When you have daughters, you forget to laugh." Perhaps even more surprisingly, Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness placed #2 in the charts, by per-screen average, taking in $20,747 at one theater in New York. Reviews have been positive; by which I mean, entirely positive, at least among those tallied by Rotten Tomatoes, where the film enjoys a 100% positive rating from 16 critics. The documentary examines the life of the writer whose stories became the basis for Fiddler on the Roof. Among others, the voices of Peter Riegert and Rachel Draft are used to help bring those stories to life. Joseph Dorman directed. The official site lists just a few more theatrical engagements in the coming weeks, so check there for additional screenings.
Project Nim, another documentary that I fully expected to do well at the box office, failed to attract more than modest returns. A per-screen average of $6,455 at four locations is certainly not a disaster, but, with positive festival buzz, good reviews, and a known filmmaker (James Marsh, Man on Wire), the compelling, moving tale of a chimpanzee tossed hither and fro by the vagaries of human scientists deserved to do better.
And now we come to the curious case of The Tree of Life. Fox Searchlight, the film's U.S. distributor, still states on their website: "Going wide nationally on 7/8/11." That didn't happen.
Instead, the film added just nine theaters, for a total of 237, and averaged $3,349 per screen, for a grand total of just over $9 million in seven weeks of release. The week over week gross dropped only 25%, which indicates that word of mouth has been good and/or that people are finally getting around to see it, now that it's expanded to a limited degree. But why did Fox Searchlight decide not to expand the release nationwide last weekend? Have they delayed it -- or canceled it? If they no longer think the film can succeed with a wider, more mainstream audience, it makes sense to save on the cost of making more film prints and buying more advertising space. If so, though, it's a dispiriting commentary on the (un)willingness of American moviegoers to experiment, even with a big star like Brad Pitt attached.
Overseas, it's a different story. The Tree of Life has grossed $19.5 million in foreign territories so far, representing 68% of its total earnings, which indicates it will, at least, break even, much like other films from Terrence Malick. Perhaps overseas audiences are more willing to experiment? Or is it the Brad Pitt factor?
Opening This Weekend
Speaking of Fox Searchlight, they will open Snow Flower and the Secret Fan on Friday in 23 theaters. It's a drama, based on a novel by Lisa See, that follows two stories, one set in 19th Century China, and the other in modern-day Shanghai. In the historical portion, two young girls are matched as laetong (or, "old sames"), supposedly bound together forever; isolated by their families, they struggle to stay in touch. The modern story features two of their descendants who face similar challenges as adults. The "secret fan" has been passed down through the generations and serves to link the two stories.
IFC Films opens two titles, and they are obviously aimed at different audiences. Tabloid (14 locations), which comes via the Sundance Selects label, is the latest documentary from Errol Morris. The film examines the strange case of a former model and pageant girl who was accused of kidnapping a Morman missionary, shackling him to a bed, and raping him for three days. Her side is that she rescued him from the Mormans for a three-day honeymoon.
Salvation Boulevard stars Pierce Brosnan as Pastor Dan, a charismatic evangelical minister who has mesmerized a small town with his Church of the Third Millennium. Greg Kinnear is a new follower who has to go on the run after he sees Dan shoot another man. Meanwhile, he's torn between his wife (Jennifer Connelly) and a comely security guard (Marisa Tomei). In case you're wondering: it's a comedy.
Life, Above All, from Sony Pictures Classics, will debut in three theaters. In this South Africa drama, a 12-year-old girl must take on adult responsibilities because her stepfather is an alcoholic and her mother is dealing both with AIDS and the death of her youngest child.
Opening in one theater, Daylight, distributed by Cinema Purgatorio, is described as "a harrowing psychological thriller" about a loving couple who pick up a hitchhiker, only to be kidnapped themselves. The trailer presents a chilling picture.
Trailer of the Week
Opening today in select theaters, Phase 7 is a horror flick from Argentina that is a very likable parody of recent fever-pitched post-apocalyptic thrillers. The very relaxed pace makes clear the intentions of writer/director Nicolas Goldbart, and the direct borrowing of a certain scene from Shaun of the Dead helps set the tone: more like Slacker meets [REC].
Watch the trailer, and then visit Bloody Disgusting Selects for more information, theater listings, and showtimes.