Arthouse Fare Gets CinemaCon Cheer Amid Hopes For Rebound; ‘Anaïs In Love’, ‘Vortex’, ‘Hatching’ Open – Specialty Preview

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Studio brass wowed theater owners this week with Maverick: Top Gun, Avatar: The Way of Water and Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse among other tentpoles. But they were also clear at the just-wrapped CinemaCon that a reviving box office requires a wide breadth of content.

“If we narrow what we bring to theaters, our audience will get smaller,” said Jim Orr, head of domestic theatrical distribution for Universal Pictures. “We need an industry that creates and impacts culture every single weekend [with] personal stories, original ideas,” he said — a sentiment that echoed across the four-day confab in Las Vegas.

Universal, short on superheroes, got plenty of traction with Jurassic World Dominion, Minions: The Rise of Gru and Halloween Ends and films like She Said and Nope. Its specialty distributor, Focus Features, promised to win back elusive older demos with Downton Abbey: A New Era, and showcased a slate including Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, Armageddon Time and Tar. Focus distribution chief Lisa Bunnell committed to 15 films a year and continuing “to champion first-time filmmakers with unique voices that need to be heard” — a critical role Focus and specialty/arthouse distributors play in the wider ecosystem.

Neon distribution head Elissa Federoff unveiled the David Bowie doc spectacular Moonage Daydream, David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future and the documentary Fire of Love. “We are an ecosystem that survives on the success of our peers,” Federoff said.

Are arthouse and specialty demos broadly ready to resume moviegoing? The consensus was, yes, with a relatively steady stream of interesting product.

Here’s what’s new this specialty weekend:

Magnolia Pictures presents Anaïs In Love. The French comedy directed by Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet and starring Anais Demoustier and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi played Cannes 2021. Deadline review here. It follows spirited and romantic thirtysomething Anaïs (Demoustier) in a manic search for stability. Behind on her rent, contemplating breaking up with her boyfriend, and struggling to complete her thesis, Anaïs searches for inspiration while hurtling through lovers. When her affair with an older book publisher Daniel (Denis Podalydès) leads to her falling for his live-in partner Emilie (Tedeschi), a brilliant and luminescent novelist, things get especially messy. In 50 theaters.

Utopia presents Gaspar Noé’s Vortex, hailing from Cannes and the New York Film Festival. Deadline review here. It opens at NYC’s IFC Center today and, Utopia says, is tracking for an estimated weekend opening gross of around $15,000 as of Friday. (Sold-out Thursday sneak peeks yesterday were led by a young cinephile audience Utopia connected with on recent releases like Shiva Baby, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair and The Scary of Sixty-First.) The meditative split-screen psychological drama about an elderly couple stars legendary filmmaker Dario Argento in a rare on-screen acting role, Françoise LeBrun and Alex Lutz. It expands to select theaters including Regal, AMC, Alamo and Landmark locations and arthouses nationwide through May and June.

In Hanna Bergholm’s horror Hatching, presented by IFC Midnight, 12-year-old gymnast Tinja (Solalinna) is desperate to please her image-obsessed mother (Sophia Heikkilä), whose popular blog “Lovely Everyday Life” presents their family’s idyllic existence as manicured suburban perfection. One day, after finding a wounded bird in the woods, Tinja brings its strange egg home, nestles it in her bed, and nurtures it until it hatches. The creature that emerges becomes her closest friend and a living nightmare. From Sundance.

Gkids presents Pompo the Cinéphile by Takayuki Hirao. Pompo, a movie producer, has been shooting one B-grade entertainment flick after another. When an assistant spots a script and is moved by the story, she tells him to direct it. On 88 screens this weekend after fan events in over 700.

DOCS

Flint from Cargo Film & Releasing by Anthony Baxter. A look at arguably the worst man-made poisoning in American history. The film is being released exactly eight years after the tragedy began in Flint, MI. Baxter was the first filmmaker in the Michigan city in 2015 prior to the water disaster and the last to leave. He returned this year to speak with residents and health professionals who first exposed the devastating impact of a cost-saving measure to switch Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to a locally contaminated river. Featuring Mark Ruffalo. Narrated by Alec Baldwin.

Cohen Media presents The Will to See in four theatres: the Quad in NYC and Landmark in LA, DC and SF.  Philosopher/filmmaker/journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy and co-director Marc Roussel examine humanitarian crises around the world. Lévy will be traveling to all markets for Q&As to support the film and speak about the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. CMG has partnered with a Ukrainian nonprofit Razom at screenings to help it raise funds for Ukraine war relief.

Zeitgeist Films presents Daniel Raim’s Fiddler’s Journey to the Big Screen narrated by Jeff Goldlum at the Angelika Film Center in NYC, expanding to LA (Laemmle’s Royal and Laemmle’s Town Center 5 and Playhouse 7) next weekend and additional markets thereafter. Raim captures the humor and drama of director Norman Jewison’s quest to re-create the lost world of Jewish life in Tsarist Russia and re-envision the beloved stage hit as a big-screen epic — which turned 50 last fall. With behind-the-scenes footage and original interviews with the director, cast, composer John Williams, production designer Robert F. Boyle and lyricist Sheldon Harnick.

Greenwich Entertainment opens Hello Bookstore at the Film Forum/NYC, expanding from there, including LA on May 13. A portrait of a beloved longtime bookseller in Lenox, MA. who turns to crowd-funding to stay in business and is overwhelmed with the response. Greenwich is promoting the doc with independent bookstores.

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