Animated Sundance Sleeper ‘The Amazing Maurice’ A Viva Pictures Milestone; ‘Freedom’s Path’ Marks Black History Month – Specialty Preview

Animated fairy tale The Amazing Maurice voiced by Emilia Clarke, Hugh Laurie, David Thewlish, Gemma Arterton and Himesh Patel, jumps from Sundance to 1,700 screens via Viva Pictures, the distributor’s widest release to date and a big one for any independently produced animated film.

And Civil War drama Freedom’s Path starring Gerran Howell, RJ Cyler, and Ewen Bremner, debuts at 128 AMC and Regal Cinemas. In limited release, Let It Be Morning by the director of The Band’s Visit resurfaces, Kit Harrington is back in Baby Ruby and Call My Agent’s Laure Calamy stars in Full Time.

Maurice, directed by Toby Genken and written by Terry Rossio, a family action/comedy from the U.K., follows a streetwise cat and his gang of rats who come up with a perfect moneymaking scheme. Based on the novel The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Sir Terry Pratchett, it’s produced by Emely Christians, Andrew Baker, Robert Chandler. The pic premiered at the Manchester Animation Festival last November and was released in the U.K. in December by Sky Cinema. It screened in competition in the Sundance Kids section.

Xenon Pictures presents Freedom’s Path, the feature debut from writer/director/producer Brett Smith, which opens along with Black History Month. A Union soldier fleeing from battle is rescued by a free Black man and his friends, who take him deep into the woods to safety. This community of freed slaves, who run a portion of the Underground Railroad, are discovered by a ruthless slave catcher who conspires to bring them down.

Byron Allen’s streaming platform HBCU GO is partnering with the producers to promote the film’s message throughout the month. A part of ticket sales will be donated to underfunded Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

Also opening: Let It Be Morning from Israeli writer/director Erin Kolirin is getting a NY/LA theatrical release and distributor Cohen Media Group hopes for additional markets if the drama can rekindle the spark it had in 2021, when it premiered at Cannes and was Israel’s Oscar submission for international best film. CMG waited, with Covid shutting theaters and crimping attendance (especially for arthouse films and foreign-language films). Long gaps even for festival favorites haven’t been uncommon, but can be a harder sell to exhibitors.

To position it, the launch followed a four-day Kolirin retrospective at the Quad co-sponsored by the Consulate General of Israel in NY that included the helmer’s 2007 feature debut The Band’s Visit on 35mm, as well as the 2011 comedy The Exchange and drama Beyond the Mountains and Hills. The Band’s Visit became a hugely successful multiple Tony Award-winning Broadway musical in 2017 starring Tony Shalhoub. The actor was on hand to host a screening and Q&A Kolirin.

Let It Be Morning opens at the Quad and the Laemmle Royal. It is Mubi Go’s pick of the week, which never hurts and has about 50 overall dates set. Based on a Hebrew-language novel of the same name by Palestinian writer Sayed Kashua, it’s the story of Sami (Alex Bakri) a Palestinian-born Israeli citizen living in Jerusalem who returns for his brother’s wedding to the Arab village where he grew up. It took home seven Ophirs (the Israeli Academy Awards). Deadline review here.

Magnolia Pictures presents Baby Ruby on 75 screens and VOD. Written/directed by Bess Wohl, starring Noemie Merland and Kit Harrington. Jo, a successful lifestyle entrepreneur who is happily pregnant, awaiting the arrival of her first child. But soon after she welcomes baby Ruby home, something starts to feel off. Premiered at TIFF. Deadline review here.

Music Box Films presents drama and multiple César nominee Full Time written and directed by Éric Gravel starring Lure Calamy (Call My Agent, My Donkey, My Lover & I). In NY at the Quad this week, Laemmle Royal in LA, Music Box Theatre (Chicago), and Opera Plaza Cinema (SF) next. Nominated for four 2023 Césars: Best Actress (Calamy), Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Original Score. Single mother Julie Calamy works a grueling job as a head chambermaid in a five-star Parisian hotel, balancing commuting from her remote suburb, tenuous childcare and search for a better paid job.

Cinedigm/Fandor present Teemu Nikki’s Finnish romance The Blind Man Who Did Not Want To See Titanic in seven cities. Screened in Venice, Berlin and SXSW. Shot from the perspective of a character (and real-life actor) who is blind and unable to walk yet attempts to reach the woman he loves after she gets difficult news.

Utopia starts a week of sneak previews of spooky buddy comedy The Civil Dead at Alamo Drafthouse locations in LA, SF, Denver, Austin and NYC. Opens nationwide Feb. 10. Filmmakers Clay Tatum and Whitmer Thomas are going on tour with the film. The distributor said it’s seeing enthusiasm from Utopia’s signature youthful arthouse audience as well as a young comedy crowd who follow the helmers’ comedy/music output. The 2022 Slamdance Audience Award-winner was made for $30k.

Colin Askey’s debut doc feature Love In The Time Of Fentanyl, an intimate look at the frontlines of the overdose crisis, opens at DCTV’s Firehouse in NYC. Available on PBS’ Independent Lens Feb. 13. 

Screen Media presents The Locksmith in 15 runs and on VOD. By Nicholas Harvard. Starring Ryan Phillippe, Kate Bosworth, Ving Rhames. An ex-con recently released from prison for a bungled robbery, tries to walk a straight line and work his way back into the lives of his police detective ex and their young daughter with the help of an old friend.

Special engagements: BTS: Yet To Come from Trafalgar Releasing continues at 1,200+ theaters in North America. Global screenings (5700 cinemas across 128 territories) started Feb. 1. HYBE and CJ 4DPlex also presenting. This is BTS’ widest release. 2022’s BTS Permission To Dance On Stage – Seoul: Live Viewing from Hybe and Trafalgar broke the global event cinema record.

Fathom is extending playdates and showtimes for Season 3 final two episodes of The Chosen, the seven-season episodic television drama based on the life of Jesus.

“The fans have spoken once again, and our exhibitor partners are responding with extended play dates and showtimes for The Chosen,” said Fathom Events CEO Ray Nutt. “This is Fathom’s third consecutive event with The Chosen in which we’ve been able to extend the limited engagement so that fans of this compelling series can see the episodes on the big screen as a community.”

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