Indie Films Opening Feb. 22: Italy’s Oscar-Nominated ‘Io Capitano’

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Italy’s Best International Feature Oscar-nominated Io Capitano starts its U.S. run today in ten market on 21 screens, a bit wider than usual for Cohen Media Group but with Academy final voting just started, reviews are gold for the odyssey that director Matteo Garrone calls “a movie about human rights. About the rights of everybody to move, to look for a better life.”

That’s the quest of teenage cousins Seydou (Seydou Sarr) and Moussa (Moustapha Fall), who live in a close-knit village in Senegal. They’re not starving, not in danger. They are poor, restless, want a shot at something better in Europe and are oblivious to the horrors along the way.

Sarr won Best Emerging Actor at the Venice premiere of the film, which marks the onscreen debut for both stars and the first acting role for Sarr, who, Deadline’s review says, “carries the whole movie on his shoulders like a seasoned pro, nailing the entire film in a final, heart-breaking close-up that depicts a seething confluence of contradictory emotions in a way there just isn’t a word for.” 

Tens of thousands of Africans have died over the past decade heading for Italy and Europe. The ocean crossing from Libya or Tunisia is often fatal. But many perish earlier, and unknown, at the hands of brutal human traffickers, of hunger, thirst and torture in remote desert prison camps. (The events in the film are based on real life experiences) Seydou and Moussa “know [this]. They know that people die making this journey. But they haven’t seen,” Garrone tells Deadline. “When you are young, you think you are invincible. How can we judge them for the desire to discover the world?”

“It’s human,” he said. “It will not stop.”

The U.S. too is riven by an ongoing battle over immigration on its southern border. “I was in England, it was the same. It’s global.”

Successful runs in Italy (where it was a rare film in native language with Italian subtitles in a country that’s usually allergic to them) and in France have seen a wave of school groups attending. The boys are relatable. They have dreams, families that worry about them, and students love it, Garrone said. “They go home and tell their parents. It’s important, because they can see this dark page from contemporary history, this drama, from a different perspective.”

“There is no equality. If we want to fly and go on holiday in their country, it’s very easy. If they want to come to our country, they must risk their lives.” He’s not proposing a solution to such a complex problem, just wants “to give the audience the chance to live a journey and experience it through their eyes.”

Pope Francis screened the film and is a supporter.

Garrone, who won Best Director in Venice for the film, cast a mix of first-time actors, non-actors and a few stars. That’s similar to his 2008 Gomorrah about the Naples’ mafia. He sees Io Capitano as a bit of a mix of Gomorrah, and another film. “There is a lot of Pinocchio (2019) in this movie. It’s also a coming of age. Pinnochio is looking for the Land of Toys … He is very pure and naïve, and he discovered the violence of the world too late.” Gomorrah’s style was documentary-like. “We want to be authentic, true, and give the audience the possibility of forgetting about the camera.”

CMG will expand Io Capitano to the top 50 markets next weekend and go “as wide as possible” over Oscar weekend, said Justin DiPietro, head of marketing and distribution. “It’s an eye-opening film.” Garrone will be doing Q&As at the Landmark Sunset in LA today and tomorrow.

Other specialty openings: About Dry Grasses from Sideshow/Janus Films by Nuri Bilge Ceylan opens in NYC (Film Forum & Film at Film Center) and LA (Laemmle Royal). Written by Akin Aksu, Ebru Ceylan and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, it premiered at Cannes, where star Merve Dizdar won Best Actress, see Deadline review. Also stars Deniz Celiloglu, Musab Ekici. Turkey’s Oscar entry for Best International Feature follows a young art teacher finishing his fourth year of compulsory service in a remote village in Anatolia, who loses hope of escaping the grim life he seems to be stuck in until he encounters another teacher.

IFC opens horror Stopmotion by Robert Morgan (Fantastic Fest, Best Director) in moderate release on 373 screens. Stars Aisling Franciosi as a stop-motion animator struggling to control her demons after the loss of her overbearing mother. Suddenly alone in the world, she embarks upon the creation of a macabre new puppet film, which soon becomes the battleground for her sanity. As Ella’s mind starts to fracture, the characters in her animated film take on a terrifying life of their own. Screenplay by Robert Morgan & Robin King.

Shout Studios presents comedy Drugstore June in Los Angeles and New York — Laemmle North Hollywood/NYC Village East. Directed by Nicholaus Goossen (Grandma’s Boy), written by Goossen and Esther Povitsky, who stars as the titular June, a wannabe influencer juggling multiple issues: her parents pressuring her to move out, her ex-boyfriend accusing her of stalking, and two detectives who suspect she’s involved in the robbery of the local pharmacy. She leads a large ensemble cast featuring: Bobby Lee,Beverly D’Angelo, James Remar, Brandon Wardell, Haley Joel Osment, Danny Griffin, Matt Walsh, Patricia “Ms. Pat” Williams, Miranda Cosgrove, Jackie Sandler, Al Madrigal, Bill Burr, Brittany Furlan, Nick Rutherford, Trevor Wallace, Steph Tolev, Danielle “Bhad Bhabie” Bregoli, Jonnie “Dumbfoundead” Park, Jon Gabrus, Gerald “Slink” Johnson and Nate Ellner. Bill Burr is executive producer.

Kino Lorber opens Rainer Sarnet’s (November) Estonian comedy The Invisible Fight at Alamo Drafthouse Lower Manhattan. The mashup of kung fu, heavy metal, and Orthodox Christianity stars Ursel Tilk as a young soldier Rafael, who is on guard duty at the USSR-China border in 1973 when it falls under attack from flying Chinese kung fu warriors, leaving him as the sole survivor. Utterly fascinated by the long-haired martial artists who easily dispatched his fellow guards, all while blasting forbidden Black Sabbath music from their portable radio, Rafael is struck by a revelation: he too wants to become a kung fu warrior.

Blue Fox Entertainment opens western The Stolen Valley on 88 screens. Written and directed by Jesse Edwards. Stars Iza Covarrubias, Allee-Sutton Hethcoat, Micah Fitzgerald Lupe in the story of a Mexican-Navajo mechanic who seeks her estranged father’s help to save her dying mother.

Magnolia Pictures presents Red Right Hand starring Orlando Bloom and Andie MacDowell day and date on 50 screens. Directed by Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms. Cash (Bloom) is trying to live an honest and quiet life taking care of his recently orphaned niece Savannah (Chapel Oaks) in the Appalachian town of Odim County. When the sadistic kingpin Big Cat (MacDowell) who runs the town forces him back into her services, Cash learns he’s capable of anything to protect the town and the only family he has left.

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