Indie Insights: 'Natural Selection' and Other Deals, 'The Undefeated' Claims Victory, 'American Sleepover' Trailer

Indie Insights: 'Natural Selection' and Other Deals, 'The Undefeated' Claims Victory, 'American Sleepover' Trailer

Jul 20, 2011

Three more indies to add to your fall dance card, plus: Does the Sarah Palin doc deserve special treatment? And our trailer of the weeks showcases Midwestern teens on the final night of summer. 

 

New Distribution Deals

Natural SelectionA dark comedy about a woman's search for her late husband's biological son, Natural Selection won multiple awards at SXSW this year, and has now been picked up for distribution by Cinema Guild, according to indieWIRE. The film stars Rachael Harris (The Hangover) as a "dutiful Texas housewife" and Matt O'Leary as the son, "a mullet-headed, foul-mouthed ex-con." Cinema Guild plans a theatrical release this fall. 

Walk Away Renee is Jonathan Caouette's follow-up to his 2004 documentary Tarnation, which was critically acclaimed, but, perhaps, gained greater notice because of its super low budget -- reportedly $218.00 in its original incarnation. Walk Away Renee screened at the Cannes film festival in May as a work-in-progress, and Caouette is adding finishing touches for a final version which is headed to an upcoming "major film festival" premiere, per the press release published by indieWIRE. The film, which follows Caouette as he travels across the country with his mentally ill mother, is headed to theaters under the Sundance Selects label. 

Reteaming two actors from Little Miss Sunshine, only this time in a thriller, Thin Ice pits insurance agent Greg Kinnear against retired farmer Alan Arkin. The cast includes Billy Crudup, Lea Thompson, David Harbour, and Bob Balaban. Jill Sprecher directed; she previously worked with Arkin in Thirteen Conversations About One Thing. Thin Ice, which debuted at Sundance as The Convincer, is scheduled for a fall release.

 

Indie Box Office

Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the DarknessAfter its surprising debut last weekend, things are only looking up for Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness, the documentary about the well-regarded author who chronicled the lives of Jews in the late 19th and early 20th century. Still playing at one theater in Manhattan, its take increased, to $20,998, clearly indicating very positive word of mouth. The film expands in the New York City area this weekend, and will be opening in Los Angeles on August 5. As noted in my Fest Focus column on Monday, it will also be playing at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival at the end of the month. The official site lists other engagements set for later in August.

Documentaries dominate the indie chart, as posted at Box Office Mojo. Tabloid, directed by Errol Morris, opened at 14 locations and earned an average of $6,514, while The Undefeated, AKA "The Sarah Palin Doc," averaged one dollar less at 10 locations. Tabloid may have been bolstered by in-person appearances by Morris and his subject, one-time beauty pageant queen Joyce McKinney. Our own Christopher Campbell asked the delicate question, "When Is It Okay to Laugh at a Real Person?" in his Doc Talk column last week, inspired by Ms. McKinney's objection to audiences who have been laughing at her.  

Should The Undefeated be measured against other indie release? Director Stephen Bannon told The Hollywood Reporter: "To describe this as anything but a hit is inaccurate,” claiming that no money was spent on prints and advertising; the film was booked only into digital-only theaters, only one advertisement was placed, and social media was used extensively. 

On the other hand, we wonder how much Bannon knows about the market for independent films in general. After all, most indie releases must rely on a limited number of prints and advertising, and hope that social media and positive word of mouth will spread. Still, Bannon insists: "We're a template for independent film releases," which sounds naive at best and misleading at worst, since the film, described as heavily partisan in mostly negative reviews, is preaching to a choir of Palin supporters. That's hardly a template that anyone else will be able to follow, and sounds suspiciously like Kevin Smith claiming that he was pioneering a "new" way to release films with his Red State Q&A / screening tour, which drew mostly his pre-existing audience, folks who were happy to pay top dollar. 

In its per-screen average, Michael Rapaport's Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest dropped dramatically as it expanded into 22 theaters, but its overall gross increased. And it's worth pointing out that the per-screen average ($6,216) in its second week was just a little less than the two debuting documentaries noted above. 

The only debuting narrative to place in the top ten (by average), the drama Snow Flower and the Secret Fan enjoyed modest returns at 24 theaters, earning $5,584 per screen. 

 

Coming Soon

Another EarthAnother Earth is a low-budget film that uses a rather slender science fiction premise -- a planet on the opposite side of the Sun has been discovered, upon which mirror images of people and places on Earth have been living for thousands of years -- to explore its main characters, who are still dealing with grief and guilt after a fatal automobile accident. Directed by Mike Cahill, who co-wrote the script with lead actress Brit Marling, keeps the atmosphere spare in a low-energy drama that rewards patient viewers. William Mapother plays the only survivor of the car crash, which claimed the lives of his wife and young child. The film opens in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles on Friday before expanding in the coming weeks. Check the official site for dates and locations. 

Jenna Fischer and Chris O'Donnell star as a married couple in A Little Help, due out nationwide in limited release. From the trailer, it appears that O'Donnell, despite being second-billed, does not survive very long, and then Fischer makes her way cheerfully into widowhood with a precocious young son. The film is set on Long Island in the summer of 2002, which is supposed to excuse the 9/11 joke -- I think. If that appeals to you, check the link above for theater listings. 

Adapted from a best-selling novel, Sarah's Key stars Kristin Scott Thomas as a modern-day journalist who seeks to uncover the true story of a 10-year-old Jewish girl who was rounded up by the French police in 1942. The journalist learns that the the little girl's family was forced to leave is about to become her own, which makes it a very personal story. Sarah's Key is scheduled to open in five theaters; check the link above to see if one of them is near you.

 

Trailer of the Week

Last but not least of the films debuting this week, The Myth of the American Sleepover opens in just one theater on Friday, but will be available nationwide via On Demand systems next Wednesday, July 27. Directed by David Robert Mitchell, the film has generated very positive buzz as its made its way around the festival circuit, obviously going beyond its familiar premise of four young people on the last night of summer before the school year begins. 

In his review from SXSW, John Gholson wrote: "Myth of the American Sleepover may be cut from the same ensemble youth culture cloth as American Graffitti and Dazed and Confused, but there's more of a romantic thread that runs through this film than those. … It's the below-the-surface details, the warm-hug tone and the subtle characterizations that Myth gets right, elevating it into something that lingers, without a trace of cynicism or angst."

You can watch the trailer below.

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