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‘Brittany Runs A Marathon’, ‘Give Me Liberty’, ‘Vita & Virginia’ Among Weekend Bows – Specialty Box Office Preview

Brian Brooks

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Brittany Runs a Marathon jumps into five New York and Los Angeles theaters this weekend ahead of a steady sprint nationwide in September. Amazon Studios picked up the title, starring Jillian Bell, following its Sundance premiere earlier this year. Fellow Sundancer Give Me Liberty from the festival’s Next section heads to select locations via Music Box Films, while IFC Films is opening literary drama-romance Vita & Virginia exclusively in Manhattan ahead of its L.A. bow and on-demand launch next week. Also in theaters as the summer vacation season begins its wind-down are horror film Tigers Are Not Afraid from Shudder and drama Hot Air with Neve Campbell, Steve Coogan and Judith Light via Freestyle Releasing.

Additional limited releases include Roadside Attractions’ Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles and Ammo Content’s Becoming Burlesque.

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Brittany Runs a Marathon
Director-writer: Paul Downs Colaizzo
Cast: Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lil Rel Howery, Micah Stock
Distributor: Amazon Studios

Playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo makes his directorial debut with Brittany Runs a Marathon. In 2013, Tobey Maguire saw Colaizzo’s play Really Really in New York. He and Material Pictures partner Matthew Plouffe reached out to Colaizzo afterward.

“We met with him and fell in love with his voice,” said Plouffe. “He said he wanted to make a movie about his friend Brittany.” Material and Colaizzo were in business, developing the script over two-plus years, with the former providing financing. “It was his first screenplay, so there was a learning curve,” explained Plouffe. “We all wanted to strike a balance between comedy and emotion, while being very respectful… This was the definition of a passion project along with the independent formula of belief, plus risk, plus luck.”

The Sundance ’19 premiere centers on gregarious New Yorker Brittany Forgler. At 27, her hard-partying ways, chronic underemployment and toxic relationships are catching up with her, but when she stops by a new doctor’s office to try to score some Adderall, she gets slapped with a prescription she never wanted: Get healthy. Too broke for a gym and too proud to ask for help, Brit is at a loss, until her seemingly together neighbor Catherine pushes her to lace up her Converse sneakers and run one sweaty block. The next day, she runs two. And soon, after finishing her first mile, she sets an almost unthinkable goal: running the New York City Marathon.

Actor Jillian Bell managed to get ahold of the script, according to Plouffe, before the filmmaking team began casting. Said the producer: “She was a rising star in the comedy world. After we heard she was interested, we were over the moon. Paul met with her and she was perfect. Many of the storylines were very personal for her.”

One major thread through Brittany Runs a Marathon is the title character’s quest to get into shape. Bell told the filmmaking team she was undertaking a weight-loss regimen, somewhat paralleling her on screen character. “She had lost some weight at the start of shooting, so we built her out using prosthetics at the beginning,” said Plouffe. “We wanted to do it respectfully, so made sure to not create typical prosthetic tropes. We had to do it with little budget.”

Brittany Runs a Marathon shot over 28 days in New York City. The project has the distinction of being the only film to shoot at one of the city’s biggest annual events. “We were the first feature to shoot during the New York City Marathon. That was like its own movie,” said Plouffe. “We approached them and they loved the script… It was an incredible day.”

Amazon Studios caught Brittany’s Sundance premiere. In the lead-up to its release this weekend, the company partnered with the San Francisco Marathon in late July, providing welcome bags to all participants along with branded items. It also connected with exercise club Lifetime Fitness, in addition to various other promos with on-theme groups including dating app Tinder.

Brittany Runs a Marathon will bow in New York at AMC Lincoln Square, the Angelika and Cinemas 1,2,3 as well as the Arclight and The Landmark in Los Angeles. The feature will bolt into 11 markets in 36 theaters its second weekend, then between 40-50 cities by its third weekend, bringing its location count to between 150-250. It will expand further nationwide later in September.

Give Me Liberty
Director-writer: Kirill Mikhanovsky
Writer: Alice Austen
Cast: Chris Galust, Lauren Spencer, Max Stoianov, Steve Wolski, Michelle Caspar, Darya Ekamasova
Distributor: Music Box Films

Give Me Liberty debuted in the Next section at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival where Music Box Films was attracted to what the company describes as its “boldness” and “originality.”

“What began as a fast-paced screwball comedy with laugh-out-loud moments, gracefully morphed into an emotionally rich and resonant snapshot of the United States today,” noted Brian Andreotti, director of Acquisitions and Theatrical Distribution at Music Box. “We think the film’s themes are very timely given the debate in this country today regarding diversity…”

Set in Milwaukee, the feature follows medical transport driver Vic, who finds himself late, though it’s not his fault. Roads are closed for a protest, and no one else can shuttle his Russian grandfather and émigré friends to a funeral. The new route uproots his scheduled clients, particularly Tracy, a vibrant young woman with ALS. As the day goes from hectic to off-the-rails, their collective ride becomes a hilarious, compassionate, and intersectional portrait of American dreams and disenchantment.

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“We are touting the film’s successful runs and critical acclaim out of Sundance, Cannes Directors’ Fortnight and BAMCinemafest to appeal to a younger, cinephile audience with interests in both arthouse titles as well as American independent films,” explained Becky Shultz, Music Box’s director of Marketing & Communications. “We are also focusing on marketing two breakthrough performances from newcomers Chris Galust and Lauren ‘Lolo’ Spencer.”

Shultz added that on a grassroots level, the company has also been engaged in supporting the feature through accessibility groups such as Easterseals along with Jewish and Russian-American organizations. Added Shultz: “There has been a lot of activation on the ground in Milwaukee, a city that is excited to see their communities represented on screen.”

Coming up, Music Box Films has François Ozon’s By The Grace of God, which won the Grand Jury prize at the Berlinale earlier this year, set for an October 18 roll out. The company also has Georgian film And Then We Danced on tap, which was a breakout in Cannes, playing alongside Give Me Liberty in Directors Fortnight. It will bow stateside at the Mill Valley Film Festival before opening in 2020.

Give Me Liberty will begin its theatrical launch at IFC Center in New York as well as Milwaukee at the Oriental. Both venues will have Q&As this weekend with Spencer and Galust, while Mikhanovsky and co-writer Alice Austen will be appearing at IFC Center as well. The title will then expand to L.A. and San Francisco along with additional runs in Wisconsin next week.

Added the company’s Theatrical Sales Manager, Kyle Westphal: “We’re planning a slow and steady expansion throughout September and October, allowing word of mouth to spread for this very unique and adventurous film. We made a 35mm print of this title, too, and will be showcasing it at the Milwaukee premiere and other cinematheque screenings.”

Vita & Virginia
Director-writer: Chanya Button
Writer: Eileen Atkins
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isabella Rossellini
Distributor: IFC Films

IFC Films caught bio-drama/romance Vita & Virginia at its premiere at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. The company was drawn to the feature’s unique telling of an early 20th century romance between Virginia Woolf and a British aristocrat.

“It’s not a straightforward telling of this relationship,” said IFC Films exec Arianna Bocco. “Vita and Virginia is a modern execution about this relationship. That is what attracted us.”

Set amidst the bohemian high society of 1920s England, Vita & Virginia tells the scintillating true story of a literary love affair that fueled the imagination of one of the 20th century’s most celebrated writers. Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton) is the brash, aristocratic wife of a diplomat who refuses to be constrained by her marriage, defiantly courting scandal through her affairs with women. When she meets the brilliant but troubled Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki), she is immediately attracted to the famed novelist’s eccentric genius and enigmatic allure.

“During our marketing, we found that there’s a real rabid audience who are dying to see this story on screen,” added Bocco. “We’ve been targeting LGBT audiences and festivals, but we also feel it has appeal to art house audiences.”

Upcoming titles this fall for IFC Films include The Sound of Silence with Peter Sarsgaard and Rashida Jones; Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro in later September; Larry Fessenden thriller, Depraved (IFC Midnight); The Day Shall Come with Marchánt Davis and Anna Kendrick as well as Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe’s Greener Grass in October (IFC Midnight).

Vita & Virginia opens in New York at the Quad this weekend. The title heads to the Nuart along with on-demand platforms next week.

Hot Air
Director: Frank Coraci
Writer: Will Reichel
Cast: Neve Campbell, Steve Coogan, Judith Light, Skylar Astin, Taylor Russell
Distributor: Freestyle Releasing

Filmmaker Frank Coraci first read the script for drama Hot Air seven years ago after receiving it from his producing partner Aimee Keen. The story resonated with Coraci who connected to its bigger topics.

“For many years, and especially since 9/11, I had become acutely aware of how polarized we were becoming as a nation,” explained Coraci. “We saw this could be a very small, personal movie that could effectively take on this big topic. The idea of entering this world through the eyes of a right wing shock jock made it all the more challenging, exciting and even scary.”

In the film, Steve Coogan stars as sharp-tongued conservative talk radio host Lionel Macomb. For twenty years, Lionel has delighted his fans and enraged his opponents with his caustic wit and angry charisma. Now Lionel’s relationship with Valerie Gannon (Neve Campbell) has begun to crumble, his talk show status is in jeopardy and he is embroiled in a public spat. Things look to be spiraling out of control, but when Lionel’s sixteen-year-old niece Tess (Taylor Russell) shows up seeking his help with a family crisis, Lionel must confront the complicated family he’s long since left behind and rethink his controversial legacy.

“Once Trump was elected, the challenge became that the inflammatory things that Lionel was saying, which seemed shocking when we first read them years ago, suddenly paled in comparison to the reality of what was coming out of the president’s mouth,” noted Coraci. “His election, however, also made getting the film made that much more urgent and relevant.”

Coraci said finding the right Lionel was paramount. He worked with Coogan on Around the World in 80 Days several years back and they remained good friends. “I knew right away Steve would respond to the subject matter,” explained Coraci. “I also knew he had one of the best radio voices around, since I first came to love him on the BBC as fictional radio personality Alan Partridge. Steve loved the script and together we teamed up with the writer to make it even more timely and relevant. It was important to me that some of the big turning points mirrored the new reality we were currently living in. The more despicable a person’s actions are, the more chance ratings will go up and not down.”

Though it took a number of years to put Hot Air together, the process sped up once Coogan was on board. The filmmaking team found Taylor Russell in the casting process, while Neve Campbell joined the principal cast after reading the script.

“Once those elements were in place, Great Point Media stepped up and financed the entire budget and let us go and make the movie we passionately believed in,” revealed Coraci. “More great cast joined in including Skyler Astin who I had just worked with on the TV show Graves. Judith Light jumped on board in a crucial role and we rounded out the cast with tremendous actors like Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Pico Alexander, and Griffin Newman.”

Shooting took place in New York City over 20 days. Coraci’s experience on past projects helped propel the production. “I’m glad it wasn’t my first film, because the only way I could make that happen was to be extremely decisive. I also had an amazing crew that made miracles happen for me on a daily basis. The nice thing about shooting a low budget movie in New York City is that it’s a blurry line between what we create and what’s reality. We have a scene in Bryant Park where we shot at an actual movie screening in Bryant Park with a thousand New Yorkers turning into an angry mob for us, shouting profanities and throwing popcorn at Coogan playing Lionel as he interrupts the show. The question is, were they really acting?”

Freestyle came on board to release the title a couple months back. Hot Air opens day and date in select theaters and VOD on Friday.

Tigers Are Not Afraid
Director-writer: Issa López
Cast: Paola Lara, Juan Ramón, Hanssel Casillas, Rodrigo Cortes
Distributor: Shudder

Filmmaker Issa López won best horror director at Fantastic Fest for Tigers Are Not Afraid, opening this weekend via Shudder. The distributor saw the title at the Austin festival in 2017.

Set against the backdrop of Mexico’s devastating drug wars, Tigers Are Not Afraid follows a group of orphaned children armed with three magical wishes, running from the ghosts that haunt them and the cartel that murdered their parents.

“The film is being marketed as a must-see, an unforgettable cinematic experience and the introduction of an incredibly talented horror director, Issa Lopez,” noted Shudder’s Sean Redlitz. “It is the type of film that can pollinate across several audience demographics – of course Shudder is appealing to all of the horror fans but also appealing to lovers of cinema…”

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Tigers Are Not Afraid is one of three theatrical releases for the streaming horror service this year. Shudder has Gwen by William McGregor in release in conjunction with RLJE Films, while Tigers Are Not Afraid (released in association with Variance Films) is its second for the year. Shudder will be announcing its third soon.

Shudder is opening Tigers Are Not Afraid across select major markets this weekend. It will continue to about 45 locations and counting, according to the company.

Added Redlitz: “It is not what you would call a traditional release as it goes from theatrical directly onto Shudder shortly after. Shudder tailors every release to each film — it is not a one size fits all model, but rather an approach to distribution that is there to support the filmmaker and their film, while also focusing on getting premium content to our Shudder members.”

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