Indie Distributors, Strike Jitters & Trying To Get SAG-AFTRA On The Phone: “I Think We Are All Quite Confused” – Specialty Preview  

Expressing solidarity with Hollywood actors on Day 1 of the SAG-AFTRA strike, specialty distributors polled were anxiously juggling opening weekend Q&As and movie premieres without talent. They were trying to clarify which actors on what international productions are SAG-AFTRA, bound by the guild, or neither. And, for those involved in production, trying to pin down the status of interim agreements for independent fare.

“I think we are all quite confused,” said one executive in the distribution space. “I’m trying to get SAG-AFTRA on the phone for a film we are opening in August. I have friends with films opening next Friday.” Individuals preferred not to be quoted given the sensitivity of the situation.

There’s much buzz around waivers, or interim agreements that SAG-AFTRA has said it will grant indie productions with zero studio/AMPTP ties. But there is still a lack of clarity around the application process and when and how they’re being issued – theoretically they’d be available as of today. Also, waivers are moot if actors on cleared productions opt not to cross picket lines anyway. Teamsters haven’t crossed some WGA lines. And it wasn’t clear if waivers would cover promotion as well as production — including for fully independent films that are set for release.

Deadline has reached out to SAG-AFTRA and will update.

The head of one specialty distribution firm suspects the lack of clarity is, in some ways, deliberate. “Because I think the union wants everyone to focus on the big picture. They are on strike against the big players, and relief for the people who are not the culprits is fine, but it is secondary. Helping the indies will involve gnarly questions about actors working. It would be sort of a mixed message.”

“There will be time for compassion. I think right now it’s all about solidarity,” he said.

(A few distributors noted that some biopics may have a edge since the subjects of a film can promote it, even if the actors portraying them can’t. “A real life person is great,” said one exec — so expect pivoting in that direction.)

As the entertainment business undergoes its biggest labor action since the 1960s, it’s entered a yawning abyss of uncertainty, but one that will take time to trickle down into theaters. Specialty openings are proceeding. Searchlight Pictures presents of Theater Camp, an acquisition out of Sundance – see Deadline review — at six theaters (three LA, three NY) heading into a platform release through August.

Searchlight will add eight markets/50 theaters next week and expand thereafter, hitting 600-800 locations for the feature directorial debut of Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman, written by the duo along with Noah Galvin and Ben Platt. The film about kids gathering to attend AdirondACTS, a scrappy theater camp in upstate New York that’s a haven for budding performers, will have a hefty 60+ day theatrical window. After its indomitable founder Joan (Amy Sedaris) falls into a coma, her clueless crypto-bro son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) is tasked with keeping the thespian paradise running. With financial ruin looming, Troy must join forces with Amos (Ben Platt), Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon), and their band of eccentric teachers to come up with a solution before the curtain rises on opening night.

Sony Pictures Classics opens The Miracle Club starring Laura Linney, Maggie Smith, Kathy Bates, Agnes O’Casey and Stephen Rea in 678 theaters. Set in 1967, three generations of close friends from a hard-knocks community in Dublin have one tantalizing dream: to win a pilgrimage to the sacred French town of Lourdes. Directed by Irish filmmaker Thaddeus O’Sullivan, based on a story by Jimmy Smallhorne, with a screenplay by Smallhorne, Timothy Prager and Joshua D. Maurer. Deadline’s review called it “a reason to celebrate summer.”

Sony/Crunchyroll open PSYCHO-PASS: Providence, the next installment of the sci-fi action series, in 419 locations in both Japanese with English subtitles as well as dubbed in English. The film continues the story of young inspector Akane Tsunemori and her partner Shinya Kogami, who take a strong stance against The Sibyl System, an authoritarian system that rules over a futuristic Japan. Directed by Naoyoshi Shiotani. Screenplay by Makoto Fukami & Tow Ubukata. Original story by Gen Urobuchi.

Kino Lorber presents Final Cut by Michel Hazanavicius and starring Berenice Bejo at 18 locations including NYC and LA. This wacky French horror comedy, a remake of Shin’ichirô Ueda’s cult hit One Cut of the Dead, was the opening night selection of last year’s Cannes Film Festival – Deadline review here. A director (Romain Duris) makes a live, single-take, low-budget zombie flick in which the cast and crew, one by one, actually turn into zombies. What’s on screen unfolds in typical cheesy B-movie fashion, while the off-screen hijinks offer a celebration of the unpredictable and collaborative nature of film sets. Hazanavicius in person for Q&As at the Angelika Film Center in New York.

Afire from Sideshow/Janus Films opens in New York (IFC Center, Film at Lincoln Center) and Los Angeles (Laemmle Royale, Los Feliz 3) with additional NY and LA area theaters July 21 and a regional expansion July 28. The Christian Petzold film, winner of the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at the 2023 Berlin Film Festival — Deadline review — stars Thomas Schubert, Paula Beer, Langston Uibel, Enno Trebs, Matthias Brandt. A seaside vacation takes an unexpected turn, testing relationships and kindling romances.

Greenwich Entertainment presents French comedy Two Tickets To Greece (Les Cyclades) in 17 markets including NY, LA, San Francisco and Chicago. Stars César Award winner Laure Calamy (Call My Agent!), Olivia Côte (My Donkey, My Lover & I – also released by Greenwich) and Academy Award nominee Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient).  Written and directed by Marc Fitoussi, who worked with Calamy on Call My Agent!Two Tickets to Greece tells the story of Blandine (Côte), who is recently divorced and helplessly watching her only son leave home when her former best friend Magalie (Calamy) suddenly resurfaces and encourages them to take the Greek Islands trip they dreamed of as teenagers.

Roadside Attraction opens Black Ice, a sports doc from LeBron James’ SpringHill Company at 144 AMC theaters nationwide. Premiered at TIFF and had its U.S. premiere yesterday at James’ new, athlete-focused Uninterrupted Film Festival at NeueHouse Hollywood.

Director Hubert Davis navigates the challenges and triumphs faced by black hockey players in a predominantly white sport through firsthand accounts from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) athletes including Willie O’Ree, the first Black player in the National Hockey League, former professional hockey player Akim Aliu, and stars P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds. The film explores the deep BIPOC roots of the game, dating back to 1865 and the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes (CHL), the first all-pro league, which introduced the slapshot and shaped the game, and racist patterns that span generations.

IFC Films opens Lakota Nation Vs. The United States in NYC this weekend (IFC Center), expanding to LA, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Nashville and Denver next. The documentary directed by Jesse Short Bull and Laura Tomaselli, narrated by poet Layli Long Soldier, and executive produced by Sarah Eagle Heart, Mark Ruffalo and Marisa Tomei, chronicles the Lakota Indians’ century-long quest to reclaim the Black Hills, sacred land that was stolen in violation of treaty agreements. A portrait of resistance, the film explores the ways America has ignored its debt to indigenous communities, and what might be done today to repair the wrongs of the past. Premiered at Tribeca 2022.

PBS presents 20 Days In Mariupol, Ukrainian journalist Mstyslav Chernov’s dramatic reporting from inside the Ukraine War. The doc won the Audience Award at Sundance this year, the Tim Hetherington Prize For Bravery in War, and a Pulitzer Prize For Chernov’s reporting. Opens in NYC at the Film Forum in NYC with a national release to follow.

An AP team of Ukrainian journalists trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol struggle to continue their work documenting atrocities of the Russian invasion. As the only international reporters who remain in the city, they capture what later become defining images of the war: dying children, mass graves, the bombing of a maternity hospital. Chernov’s first feature draws on his daily news dispatches and personal footage. Produced by Frontline and The Associated Press. Premieres on PBS this fall.

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