Oscar winners and Sundance favorites factor in box office onslaught
This year got off to a slow start at the documentary box office, with just a few nonfiction films trickling into theaters.
But we're in for a gusher in the coming days and weeks, as several films that premiered at Sundance join a host of others heading to screens in New York, Los Angeles and other cities, as well as VOD and DVD.
Among the newcomers is Rabin In His Own Words directed by Erez Laufer, opening in LA, New York and South Florida this Friday (May 6). As the title suggests, the film is composed entirely of interviews, audio recordings and writings of the Israeli Prime Minister and peacemaker Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995.
Laufer told Nonfictionfilm.com he wanted to create a film where Rabin spoke for himself "because you can kill the person but you cannot kill his ideas and his words. I think there is something almost chilling of getting someone that died 20 years ago to tell his story."
Rabin just played at the prestigious Hotdocs festival in Toronto [it will screen again there on Friday]. Watch the trailer here.
A political figure of a very different sort is the focus of Weiner, which opens Friday, May 20 in New York [Lincoln Plaza] and Los Angeles [The Landmark]. The documentary about Anthony Weiner, who was forced to resign from Congress after a sexting scandal, and later ran for mayor of New York City, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
Directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg gained extraordinary access to Weiner as he campaigned for the mayoralty, an effort at political rehabilitation that foundered with revelations that the married Weiner had not abandoned his online flirtations, chatting up women under the alias "Carlos Danger."
Weiner is rated "R," which is rare for a documentary. I'll leave you to guess why. Watch the trailer here.
Oscar-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville [20 Feet From Stardom] returns to theaters with the documentary The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, and screened at the Berlinale earlier this year.
The film explores famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma's collaboration with musicians from across the globe, a project with an optimistic outlook on humanity's potential.
"We started as an idea, a group of musicians getting together and seeing what might happen when strangers meet," Ma says in the film.
The Music of Strangers opens June 10 in New York and Los Angeles, with a national release following. See the trailer here.
MORE UPCOMING DOCS:
>I Know A Woman Like That, directed by Elaine Madsen. The mother of actors Virginia and Michael Madsen interviews women ranging in age from 64-94, offering "proof that being a senior citizen is no reason to stop living a full, energetic life," according to the film's publicity campaign.
Lauren Hutton, Gloria Steinem, Rita Moreno and the late Eartha Kitt are among the 17 women, famous and non-famous, who spoke with Madsen.
"There's a lot of books about how to stay young, as if there's something wrong with being not young," Madsen says in the film. "I want everyone who sees it to say this is what you have to look forward to!"
Virginia Madsen appears in the film and produced it. I Know A Woman Like That becomes available on DVD and streaming services Tuesday (May 10). See the trailer here.
>Pervert Park, directed by Scandinavian filmmakers Frida and Lasse Barkfors. When the film premiered at Sundance in 2015 it won a Special Jury Award for Impact, but some people thought it would never be released in the U.S., because it dares to cast a sympathetic [or at least not a hostile] eye on sex offenders.
The film centers on Florida Justice Transitions trailer park in St. Petersburg, which dozens of registered sex offenders call home. Locals refer to it pejoratively as "Pervert Park."
When I spoke with the Barkfors at Sundance, they told me they spent two years filming in the trailer park:
We came there... just sitting in on therapy (sessions), just talking to the residents on the street and walking around. We just got another picture than what we got from mass media about what is a sex offender, the whole complexity about this social issue. So we were quite surprised and then we really got into this and wanted to make a film about just that. The complexity about it.
My interview with the Barkfors is here.
Pervert Park opens on May 20 at New York's IFP's Made in New York Media Center. See the trailer here.
>I Am Thalente, directed by Natalie Johns, the story of a homeless teenager in Durban, South Africa whose skateboarding skills earned him the notice of Tony Hawk and other boarding greats. But leaving his past behind proved a challenge for Thalente as he attempted to make it in the U.S. in the world of competitive skateboarding.
Per the film's publicist, the documentary becomes available May 13 "across digital platforms including iTunes, Time Warner, Comcast, Brighthouse, Cox, Verizon, Amazon, Googleplay, Vudu, Sony Playstation, and Xbox. Also currently playing theatrically as event screenings in cities across the nation, including Los Angeles, Austin, Providence, Cambridge, San Diego, Minneapolis, more cities TBA."
Watch the trailer here.
>The Witness, directorial debut of James Solomon. To this day the murder of Kitty Genovese shocks the conscience, 50 years after it occurred. She was just 28 when she was attacked in New York while dozens of witnesses stood by but failed to intervene.
"The name 'Kitty Genovese' became synonymous with urban apathy after 38 eyewitnesses did nothing while an attacker stabbed her to death on a street in New York City," the film's publicity team writes. “'For more than half an hour,' The New York Times report began, '38 respectable, law-abiding citizens... watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks.' Forty years later, her brother Bill, who was 16 at the time of his sister’s death, decides to re-examine the details of the crime."
The Witness opens June 3 in New York [IFC Center] and in LA on June 17. A national release will follow.
>Under the Gun, directed by Stephanie Soechtig and executive produced and narrated by Katie Couric. Soechtig and Couric, who earlier made the documentary Fed Up, re-team for an examination of gun violence in the U.S. which has produced great consternation but zero legislative action.
The film, which premiered at Sundance, opens May 13 in LA [Laemmle Music Box] and New York [Landmark Sunshine Cinema]. It debuts on premium cable channel EPIX on May 15. Watch the trailer here.
>Holy Hell, directed by Will Allen and executive produced by Jared Leto. Film school grad Allen details his 22-year experience as a member of the Los Angeles-area Buddhafield spiritual group, which he now considers a cult.
...Acting as the group’s official videographer, [Allen] began to document first-hand their activities, which centered on the mysterious leader they called The Teacher, or Michel. Over time, the group’s dark side began to surface as total devotion turned to paranoia, until finally, unexpected truths about their enlightened leader were revealed – all in front of Allen’s camera.
Holy Hell premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It opens theatrically May 27 in Los Angeles and New York. See the trailer here.
>Life, Animated, directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams. Williams won the directing award for US Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival for his movie about Owen Suskind, an autistic kid who found a means of expression through animated films.
An autistic boy who couldn’t speak for years, Owen memorized dozens of Disney movies, turned them into a language to express love and loss, kinship, brotherhood. The family was forced to become animated characters, communicating with him in Disney dialogue and song.
Life, Animated opens theatrically July 1 in New York and July 8 in LA, with a nationwide release to follow. The film will hold its LA premiere June 6 as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival.
Watch this space for info on more upcoming docs, including Art Bastard, Tickled, The God Cells, My Father's Vietnam, and Los Punks: We Are All We Have, among others.
Hit me up with your comments below!
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and Documentary.org.