Even before Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and won the Audience Award, the World War II satire was getting plenty of attention from Hollywood — because it was a comedy about Hitler. The filmmaker had a cult following after his films Boy, What We Do In the Shadows and Hunt For the Wilderpeople. After Thor: Ragnarok, Waititi’s stock skyrocketed and his fanbase grew. Audiences have been waiting for Jojo Rabbit to hit theaters and with the critical buzz its been getting, Fox Searchlight could possibly expect a delightful weekend.
Also opening this weekend is Feras Fayyad’s The Cave. With his success, acclaim and Oscar nomination for Last Men in Aleppo, his The Cave will certainly be a documentary feature to watch during award season.
Also this weekend, the François Ozon drama By the Grace of God is another deep dive into the child sexual abuse horrors of the Catholic Church. For something a little lighter, there is the documentary Fiddlin’ which is described as a “love letter to American roots and the uplifting power of music.”
Other films to note this weekend in the Specialty realm are A24’s black and white horror The Lighthouse from director Robert Eggers (The Witch) and starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, as well as the Sundance suburban-set comedy Greener Grass. Also opening is the documentary Serendipity which follows French artist Prune Nourry and how her breast cancer diagnosis impacted her life and work.
Everyone seems excited over Taika Waititi’s film about a little German boy named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), his relationship with his wildly idiotic imaginary friend Adolf Hitler (Waititi) and how he navigates his life as he attends Nazi Youth Training Camp and then learns that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Even though many are excited to see JoJo Rabbit, which is based on the book Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, the Hitler component has raised eyebrows and skeptics are wondering what kind of place this movie is coming from.
“When people see the movie you’ll know exactly what Taika is trying to say and do with the movie,” producer Carthew Neal told Deadline.
He continues, “It has all of Taika’s previous films wrapped up in one. The absurdist comedy from What We Do In the Shadows, the heart and soul of Hunt For the Wilderpeople and the spectacle of Thor: Ragnarok. It draws from all his past films and applies it to heavy subject matter that has lots of gravitas. He wants to say something with this film, and to do it through comedy is a way to engage audiences, bring them in, get them to really laugh and then feel something for Jojo as he goes through this process and learns that love can overcome hate.”
Neal adds that they were very cognizant of setting the right tone for the film so that it is not misunderstood. “Taika is the type of filmmaker who makes films for audiences and part of his process is doing a lot of screening and testing and experimenting to get that balance right,” he said. “It’s something he spent a lot of time on and he won’t release it until it’s ready.”
Frank Rodriguez, SVP General Sales Manager of Fox Searchlight Pictures tells Deadline that Fox Searchlight originally planned a four to five week rollout, but decided on a three to four week plan instead.
“The biggest markets are going to be done by the third weekend,” Rodriguez said. “By November 1, we’ll be out to the 65 top markets‚ they signify most of the big gross on the picture.”
Jojo Rabbit is certainly positioned for awards season, but Rodriguez said, “Any time you release a film during this time, people think that we are really going for the awards — but it’s not necessarily true. Sometimes it’s just a really great time to release.”
October is a sweet spot for Fox Searchlight. In October 2013, they released 12 Years A Slave and in October 2014 they released Birdman, both did fairly well in limited release but went on to do even better: Both won Oscars for Best Picture.
Jojo Rabbit opens today in New York and Los Angeles in five theaters: the Arclight Hollywood and Landmark in L.A. as well as the Regal Union Square, AMC Lincoln Square and Alamo Drafthouse Brooklyn in New York. The film will continue to roll out for the next three to four weeks.
Feras Fayyad’s The Cave tells the story of a secret underground hospital in Syria and the female-led team of civilians and medical professionals who risk their lives to provide medical care to locals. It made its premiere at Toronto to critical acclaim and puts Fayyad on an awards season track.
“Feras is a master of cinema verite,” said Carolyn Bernstein, EVP global scripted content & documentary films for National Geographic. “In The Cave specifically, that intense realism gives you a front-row seat to the heroic, selfless everyday work of Dr. Amani and her colleagues, all while destructions reign around them. It is a truly immersive experience.”
The film won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at TIFF and continues to put the spotlight on the turmoil in Syria. “This is not an easy film to watch, but it’s a necessary one,” said Bernstein. “We have a 130-year history at National Geographic of shining a light on stories that matter – my hope is that this film can provide insight and context into why the world needs to pay attention to what is happening. And perhaps inspire audiences to fight for injustice wherever they see it, much like Dr. Amani.”
With Fayyad’s acclaimed Last Men in Aleppo and the recent Oscar win for Free Solo, Nat Geo is becoming a documentary force to be reckoned with. “There has never been a better time for documentary filmmaking,” said Bernstein. “At Nat Geo we gravitate towards documentaries that are telling provocative, globally relevant stories in cinematic fashion. There is no limit to the lengths that documentary filmmakers go to tell these stories – the success of these films on the awards circuit is proof that documentarians are finally getting their due.”
The Cave opens in New York and Los Angeles today and will open to the top 15 markets by November 8.
By the Grace Of God
Music Box Films
Music Box isn’t a stranger to François Ozon’s work. The company distributed Potiche in 2011 and Frantz in 2017. Brian Andreotti, Director of Acquisitions & Theatrical Distribution at Music Box, said Ozon continues to surprise, as demonstrated with By the Grace of God.
“We were struck by the sobriety and fidelity of By the Grace of God,” said Andreotti. “The dedication to preserving and making legible the experience of survivors who are themselves still finding ways to articulate their trauma — we recognized that this was a new register that offers Ozon’s long-time fans a fresh perspective on his craft.”
Based on true events, the film, which stars Melvil Poupaud, Denis Ménochet, Swann Arlaud and Eric Caravaca, follows three adult men who band together to expose the code of silence in the Catholic Church that continued to empower a priest who abused them as boys. Ozon’s extensive research and interviews helped inform with Father Preynat’s real-life victims, who also supported the film.
Becky Schultz, Director of Marketing & Communications at Music Box says By the Grace of God is different from other narratives on the subject because its point of view.
“It uniquely examines with great nuance and intimacy the varying effects that abuse and trauma can have on a person and their families, including their relationships to the church,” she said. “It’s a difficult subject, to be sure, but Ozon’s treatment is ultimately empowering. When the survivors band together to expose decades of abuse and subsequent cover-up, By the Grace of God becomes a powerful social justice story and an eye-opener to the global grassroots movements seeking justice for victims of pastoral abuse.”
By the Grace Of God opens in New York today at Film Forum and in Los Angeles on October 25 at the Nuart. A national rollout will follow.
In the documentary Fiddlin’ filmmakers (and sisters) Julie Simone and Vicki Vlasic travel to the world’s oldest and largest fiddler’s convention in Galax, Virginia. The sisters, who are from the area and were the first filmmakers allowed to bring cameras into the 84-year convention, not only had the opportunity to document the talented musicians but reconnect with their own roots. While doing so, the film became more than just a movie about uplifting music.
“It felt like this was not only the right time to make this film, but it was the right thing to do,” Vlasic told Deadline. “There has been so much hatred and animosity in our country and much of it, for political reasons, has been aimed at the people in this region.”
She continued, “While the music was, of course, the major draw, I also wanted to show in this film that the people here are like the people in every corner of our nation. They have the same hopes and dreams and suffer from the same problems as people everywhere. There is a moment of recognition for everyone at some point in this film regardless of their demographics, socio-economic status or political affiliation.”
“It was of utmost importance to me to show the area in a positive light as people from Appalachia have been [depicted] in a negative light for a long time,” added Simone. “They have been completely undervalued as a community. These musicians come together and they are harmonious in their making of music.”
The film features an array of unique characters including Jack Krack, who is considered one of the best fiddle players in the world; Wayne Henderson, who is known as a “Guitar God”; Dori Freeman, who has been noted by The New York Times as a talent to watch; and the 11-year-old musical prodigy Presley Barker.
“As one musician said to me, ‘We leave our problems and our politics outside when we play music and we all get along just fine’,” said Simone. “There was such kindness and generosity of these people that come together and find total joy in connecting through their music.”
Fiddlin’ opens in New York and Los Angeles today.