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‘A United Kingdom’ Hits U.S. Theaters Alongside Danish Oscar Hopeful ‘Land of Mine’ – Specialty Preview

Deadline logo Deadline 2/10/2017 Brian Brooks
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David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike star in A United Kingdom, a true story about a couple who faced down the British establishment and the rise of apartheid next door to their home in Botswana, which Fox Searchlight is rolling out this weekend. The title had a robust premiere at the Paris Theater in New York this week followed by a swank party at Manhattan’s Avra Madison Estiatorio, where the cast and director Amma Asante mingled with Searchlight execs and invitees. The film headlines a fairly busy weekend of specialty newcomers including Sony Pictures Classics’ Oscar-nominated Land of Mine from Denmark, the final title in the Best Foreign Language Film category to roll out. Oscilloscope is hoping to capitalize on awards fatigue with its cat documentary Kedi, which begins runs in New York and Los Angeles, while China Lion is opening Chinese comedy Duckweed starring Deng Chao and Eddie Peng.

Also opening this weekend are the Oscar Shorts via Shorts HD and Magnolia, an annual collection that has proved to be popular for audiences. The release features short films from the live-action, animation and documentary categories on the big screen. In 2016 the Oscar shorts grossed over $2.8 million worldwide at the box office, nearly doubling the take from just a few years prior, according to Shorts HD.

Additionally, Screen Gems will open Stray Bullets by Jack Fessenden, in limited release.

A United Kingdom

Director: Amma Asante

Writer: Guy Hibbert

Cast: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike,

Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Actor and producer David Oyelowo first heard the story that is at the center of A United Kingdom when his producers sent him the book Colour Bar by Susan Williams. He said during a short conversation ahead of the film’s New York premiere Monday that when he read the book, he was surprised he had only became aware for the first time of the relationship between King Seretse of Botswana and British woman Ruth Williams, who met in London in the late 1940s.

“I just couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of this story, and that’s when my obsession came to make this a movie began,” said Oyelowo, read Colour Bar in 2010. “As a person of African descent, this is the kind of story I wish I had seen growing up.”

The film recalls the true story of the forbidden love of King Seretse Khama of Botswana (Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a white woman from London, which caused an international uproar when they decided to marry in the late 1940s just as apartheid was being introduced into South Africa.

Oyelowo brought on Guy Hibbert to write the screenplay for A United Kingdom and partnered with Pathé on the project. He said that he knew filmmaker Amma Asante from work on a project he had been a part of nearly two decades earlier and later saw her 2013 feature Belle, which prompted him to gauge her interest in A United Kingdom.

“I didn’t want the love story in this film to be overwhelmed by the politics,” said Oyelowo. “Like me, [Asante] is of African descent but born in the U.K. For a film that traverses both the U.K. and Africa, I wanted somebody who had a comprehensive perspective.”

Pike joined the project around the same time as Asante came on board as director. A United Kingdom shot for a month in London as well as a month in Botswana. There was some initial pressure to shoot the feature in South Africa due to logistics, but Oyelowo was adamant about filming in the neighboring African country where Seretse and Ruth lived.

“This was the first feature film to be shot in Botswana,” Oyelowo said from the red carpet in New York. “There was a temptation to just shoot in South Africa because it has far more of a robust infrastructure, but anyone who sees this film will know it would be insulting to have shot this there considering its role in this story.” Oyelowo added that the couple’s home in the film is the actual house where Seretse and Ruth lived. “There’s just no substitute for having those locations in a film like this,” he said.

Pike and Oyelowo visited a local chief to ask permission to visit the cemetery where Seretse and Ruth are buried. “We asked permission and let him mull it over and deem us worthy to visit,” Oyelowo said. “And, thankfully, he did and we were able to go. It was very moving.”

Fox Searchlight picked up North American rights to A United Kingdom following its premiere at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The title will open at Angelika Film Center and AMC Lincoln Square in New York and at ArcLight Hollywood and Landmark West L.A. this weekend. It then roll out on a limited platform over four to five weeks.

Land of Mine

Director-writer: Martin Zandvliet

Cast: Roland Møller, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Emil Belton, Osakar Belton

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Denmark’s Land of Mine is the final feature among this year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar nominees to have its theatrical rollout stateside. Sony Classics picked up the title about a year and a half ago.

Land of Mine exposes the previously hidden story of Denmark’s darkest hour. In the days following the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945, German POWs (many just boys) held in Denmark were put to work by the Allied forces. With minimal or no training in defusing explosives, they were sent to remove by hand more than 2 million of their own landmines from the Danish west coast. During this process, more than half of them were killed or severely wounded.

“It’s a powerful film, and we’re so proud it’s one of the nominees,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. “We were going to open it now whether it was nominated or not. It just made sense to do it now, and it will be out ahead of the voting period.”

Barker said that filmmaker Martin Zandvliet has been doing “a lot of press” ahead of the film’s bow in North America. Producer Brett Ratner also has been lending his notoriety in supporting the title ahead of its release.

Among other Oscar nominees in the category, Sweden’s A Man Called Ove (Music Box Films), which opened September 30, has cumed $3.4M; Christmas Day opener Toni Erdmann from Germany (also via Sony Pictures Classics) is still in the midst of its release, coming in at over $520K to date; Iran’s The Salesman from Amazon Pictures/Cohen Media Group is in its third week of release at about $372K; and Australia’s entry, Tanna, grossed just under $6K in a very limited stateside release.

Land of Mine opens today with limited runs in New York and Los Angeles ahead of platforming in several more markets the following week. The title then will head to the top two dozen cities February 24. Added Barker: “We wanted to give the time this film deserves. It is of a high quality that deserves to get traction in the marketplace.”

Kedi

Director: Ceyda Torun

Distributor: Oscilloscope

Oscilloscope first became aware of documentary Kedi through an exhibitor who had seen the film at a regional festival. The company then checked out the feature and recognized its audience potential. “Kedi is way more than just cute cats doing cute things,” said Oscilloscope’s Andrew Carlin. “It’s about the deep connection between humans and felines. And while the human subjects of the film speak very poetically and beautifully about the connection, they’re just lending voice to what I think all pet owners feel. It’s incredibly relatable.”

The feature focuses on the hundreds of thousands of cats that roam Istanbul freely. For thousands of years, they have wandered in and out of people’s lives, becoming an essential part of the communities. Claiming no owners, the cats of Turkey’s largest city live between two worlds, neither wild nor tame, and bring joy and purpose to people they choose to adopt. In Istanbul, cats are the mirrors to the people, allowing them to reflect on their lives in ways nothing else could.

“As you can imagine, the social media opportunities for a cat documentary are immense,” said Carlin. “When we launched the trailer in December, the response was unlike anything we’d ever seen. The day it premiered it ended up trending on YouTube as the 19th most watched video on the whole site. We’re not spending thousands of dollars on promoted or ‘sponsored’ posts. People all across this country are finding and sharing this trailer in a very organic way.”

On the marketing side, Oscilloscope has created “Turkish catnip” for theaters to use as giveaways. At the Metrograph in New York, where the title will roll out, there are “cat seat fillers,” which are standees the theater has been placing in empty seats during screenings. The company is hoping that as the Oscars loom, awards fatigue will be a positive for Kedi.

“Right as we’re looking to increase our screen count in early March, theaters all across the country — some of which have been running the nominees for over two months — are dying to bring in new films,” said Carlin. “We are also very proactive about getting tickets on sale as early as possible. At the Metrograph, tickets have been on sale for over month, and we already have multiple sold-out shows. It’s been tremendously helpful when talking to exhibitors to point to those sales as an early barometer of success. We’re holding our breath, but we think this could have a very big opening weekend.”

In addition to today’s NYC bow at the Metrograph, Kedi will bow February 17 at a handful of L.A.-area locations and expand in the following weeks..

Jolly LLB 2

Director-writer: Subhash Kapoor

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Huma Qureshi

Distributor: FIP

FIP will open Indian drama Jolly LLB 2, a follow-up to 2013’s Jolly LLB, which grossed $5 million at the Indian box office that year, though it did not make it to North American shores. The company decided to take advantage of its bankable cast in bringing the second installment here.

“We decided to mount the sequel Jolly LLB 2, which stars one of the biggest Bollywood actors, Akshay Kumar,” said Rohit Sharma, head of International Sales and Distribution at Fox Star Studios India. “The idea was to take the franchise to the next level. We are currently looking at a 3,500-screen release in India and over 600 screens across 36 countries. In the U.S. it’s being released across 172 screens day-and-date with India on the 10th of February. The film is a satire on the Indian legal system, and the trailer and promos have generated a great response across all markets.”

Jolly LLB 2 is the story of the blunt, abrasive and yet oddly compassionate Jagdishwar Mishra, aka Jolly, a struggling small-time lawyer who has moved from Kanpur to the city of Nawabs to pursue his dream of becoming a big-time lawyer. A hustler by nature, Jolly survives by fighting petty cases and using every tactic under the sun to make a quick buck and earn a decent living. Having spent years in the chaotic and dingy court corridors, Jolly is looking for an opportunity that could turn the tide in his favor and help him achieve his dream of becoming a full-fledged lawyer with a chamber. When faced with the glimpse of such an opportunity, Jolly jumps at the chance and in the process commits an innocent mistake with irreversible consequences that makes him ready for a big fight with the ruthless advocate Mathur.

“We are promoting the film across all Indian pay TV channels that are available across North America,” said Sharma. “In addition we have an aggressive campaign across other media platforms such as print, radio, Internet and local cable channels targeting the Indian and South Asian audience.”

Sharma noted that the past three films starring Kumar have crossed $1M at the U.S. box office.

Duckweed

Directors: Han Han, Zhang Hongwei

Writer: Yu Meng

Cast: Deng Chao, Eddie Peng, Zhao Liying, Dong Zijian

Distributor: China Lion

China Lion picked up Chinese comedy Duckweed from Hong Kong-based film company Distribution Workshop. The company noted that Duckweed boasts some acting heavy-hitters including Deng Chao, who starred in Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid (Sony, $3.23M in the U.S.) and China Lion’s I Belonged to You (over $744K), and Eddie Peng (Universal’s upcoming The Great Wall) in addition to Zhao Liying, who is a well-known television star in mainland China.

“Both Peng and Chao have been great at engaging the North American audiences in both social media and interactively,” said China Lion’s Robert Lundberg. “They’re real professionals who step up to the promotional plate in helping us get the word out. And Han Han, who directs, has a tremendous profile in China. The last film he helmed, [2014’s] The Continent, was a big hit in the Mainland, grossing over $100M.”

Duckweed centers on a young man who attempts to reconcile with his father, but a series of fateful events propel him to experience the father’s life in the past. China Lion said the title, which opened just at the end of January in China, has grossed about $70M at home.

“The word-of-mouth has been positive, and we’re confident our core first-language Chinese speakers ware interested in seeing it on the big screen,” added Lundberg. “We were worried about finding a space for it near the beginning of the Chinese New Year period, so we opted for a February 10 [rollout], two weeks after its Mainland release.”

China Lion opens Duckweed in about 25 theaters today and plans to expand in following weeks based on performance.

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