As the Toronto Film Festival comes to a close and Hollywood preps to hand out some Emmys, the Specialty box office continues to churn out some original storytelling — and this week’s theme seems to be the concept of sound.
The Sound of Silence
Distributor: IFC Films
Michael Tyburski makes his feature film debut today with The Sound of Silence, which made its world premiere earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. Co-written by Tyburski and Ben Nabors, the film stars Peter Sarsgaard as Peter Lucian, an expert in identifying a symphony of almost undetectable sounds. When he is not collecting sounds, he is a “house tuner” who diagnoses the discordant ambient noises produced by everything from wind patterns to humming electrical appliances that adversely affect his clients’ moods. (Who knew a career like that existed?) When he is hired by a lonely, sleep-deprived woman named Ellen (Rashida Jones), her case seems to be difficult and Peter gets more than he signed on for.
Tyburski is no stranger to Sundance as his short Palimpsest debuted at the Park City fest in 2013. This served as the catalyst for the filmmaker as he wanted to stretch that story into a full-length feature that he was more than happy to debut at Sundance.
“Premiering at Sundance was a total dream,” Tyburski told Deadline. “I consider it the gold standard of independent film festivals, and having debuted the original short there exactly six years prior, it felt like the perfect homecoming. It’s equal parts anxiety-inducing and exhilarating to screen your film for the first time with such a huge audience – but it played very well, resonated with the right people, and has steadily been finding it’s audience since.”
Sound always fascinated Tyburski. “Everyone has a relationship with sound, and whether you’re aware of it or not, it can affect your mood and the way you feel. In movies, there’s so many subtle things you can do with sound to support a story, yet it’s typically a vastly under-appreciated — and under-budgeted tool.”
Like many small budget films, Tyburski faced the challenge of time and produced the film in 21 days. Many sacrifices were made but he managed to cover lots of ground. Having Sarsgaard and Jones lead the film brought some star power, and Tyburski was grateful for having top-notch talent.
“I wanted Peter from the beginning,” Tyburski said. “I think he has one of the best voices in cinema, and is also such a chameleon in the roles he plays. I was so fortunate to have him come on board with open arms.”
He added, “Rashida is a real force and is a talented writer and filmmaker in her own right. I was interested in having her play something slightly different from how she’s typically cast, and she’s so good at bringing out subtleties in her characters. As a director, there’s nothing more exciting than being able to collaborate with such great talent.”
After Sundance, the film landed at IFC. “IFC Films have curated some of my favorite movies over the years, and I’m so honored to have my film on their roster. The team has been incredibly supportive from the beginning — believing in the necessity of audiences seeing and hearing it in theaters, where I hope as many people as possible will have a chance to do so.”
The Sound of Silence opens theatrically in New York and Los Angeles and on VOD September 13.
Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements
Academy Award-nominated documentarian Irene Taylor Brodsky releases her latest film Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements which follows her deaf son and how he wants to learn to play Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” In 2007, she directed Hear and Now which told the story of her deaf parents and earned a Peabody Award. With Moonlight Sonata, she continues her personal storytelling through film — specifically her relationship with deafness.
“I’ve been formally making [Moonlight Sonata] for about two years, but the film spans — you can say — more than 80 years,” Brodsky said. “It’s footage from my deaf family’s life for a long time.”
The project had quite a journey and it wasn’t until her son wanted to learn to play the classic Beethoven piece that production kicked into high gear. “There is such narrative poetry here that I have to really have to seize the moment because it was so profound to me as a mother,” she said.
The film kicked off as 100% independent, but Brodsky said she gives credit to Sheila Nevins, the former President of HBO Documentary Films. When Brodsky told her about her son wanting to learn to play Beethoven, Nevins immediately said that she needed to make a film about it and call it Moonlight Sonata.
Brodsky started making the film but didn’t sign on with HBO until she was in the editing process about a year later. By that time Nevins and Sara Bernstein had moved on from HBO and Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller were heading the documentary department. Even so, it was a smooth transition because Brodsky said “there’s an underlying value system at HBO about content”
Since the subject matter was about her family and so personal to Brodsky, she knew she needed to own the film fully. She raised money on her own so that she could keep the copyright and have control of the film as a media asset. She went into Sundance with a broadcast and streaming deal with HBO but while touring the festival circuit, Abramorama took notice and saw that the film had cinematic potential to show in theaters. As Brodsky puts it, it had a “community component” and has a family story that is universal but is very particular with the deaf experience.
With talk of diversity and inclusion in Hollywood, Moonlight Sonata not only tells a story of the deaf community but Brodsky looks to further this with open captions, offering accessibility to the often-overlooked disabled community.
“This is a huge form of inclusion,” she said. “Not just for deaf people, but for people who have attention challenges, sensory challenges and mild hearing loss. We are finding out now that so many theaters around the country are asking us if they could show the film in open caption. Theaters are realizing its a huge boon to their box office if they are walking the walk of access and inclusion.”
Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements opens in New York today at the Landmark 57 and in Los Angeles on September 20 at Laemmle Royal with an expansion in the weeks following.
Distributor: IFC Midnight
IFC Midnight will serve up Larry Fessenden’s (The Last Winter, Until Dawn, Habit) updated take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with his latest indie horror Depraved – which will be appropriately released on Friday the 13th.
The film follows Henry (David Call), who is suffering from PTSD following his stint as an army medic. He is now in Brooklyn working non-stop in his laboratory to forget the death he witnessed overseas by playing God and creating life in the form of a man cobbled together from body parts. His wild medical project is completed when he implants a brain into his new creation named Adam (Alex Breaux). And as all Frankenstein tales go, this doesn’t seem like it’s gonna end well because teaching Adam to live his best life in a troubled world turns out to be problematic.
Fessenden has always been a fan of classic monster movies, but with all the iterations before it, there is something about Frankenstein that still manages to grab hold of audiences.
“Whenever you do a Frankenstein movie you’re in a dialogue with all the great versions before — and some of the duds,” said Fessenden. “The bottom line is that the themes are so resilient. They speak to technology, science, getting ahead of our maturity and the idea of playing God — all that stuff is true in every era since the story first came out.”
He adds, “It’s also about feeling like an outsider and everybody in the world somehow feels alienated and misunderstood. That’s a very strong tentpole theme that continues to resonate.”
Fessenden has worked with IFC for a number of years in various capacities and the former co-president Jonathan Sehring was a champion of his work. “It was very important to me to get Depraved under the same umbrella,” said Fessenden. “I think it’s wise to have one company handle all of your projects…I feel like they are really respectful of indie filmmakers.”
He added, “They also have their own theater so that’s thrilling — as a New Yorker, I get to walk over and see my movie play in a beloved movie theater.”
Distributor: Well Go USA
If you are still craving some thrills after Depraved, perhaps Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky’s Freaks would be a good addition to your weekend movie schedule.
Freaks tells the story of seven-year-old Chloe (Lexy Kolker), who lives under the control of her paranoid and protective father (Emile Hirsch). She has a fascination with the outside world where things called “Abnormals” create a constant threat. A mysterious stranger (Bruce Dern) enters the picture and gives a peek at what really is happening outside and Chloe learns the truth isn’t simple but is dangerous. The cast also features Grace Park and Amanda Crew.
Stein and Lipovsky took a bottom-up approach when it came to financing. They said they wrote the script first, then started sending it around. After a couple of speed bumps, Dern signed on — a good name to have. Investors who were on the fence started to jump in.
The filmmaking pair said they shot the sci-fi thriller in 20 days and went through a year of editing before premiering at the Toronto Film Festival in 2018 where Well Go USA acquired the film.
“We first met the Well Go folks at midnight in a hotel lobby bar at Toronto, the same day they had first seen Freaks, and we were bowled over by their passion,” said the directors. “They loved the movie, but it wasn’t just that they loved our movie — we could tell they loved their job and love putting movies in theaters and connecting the right audiences to those films. We made a deal before dawn.”
Like many sci-fi thrillers there is an underlying theme that reflects the current social climate. “We think Freaks is a human story, not a political story,” said the directors. “But it does hold up a mirror to our world. When we were writing, we were inspired by sci-fi stories like Handmaids Tale, which dig deep into the personal experience of characters within a larger political world that’s mostly felt off-screen.”
They added, “Ultimately, Freaks is about a family trying to survive in a society where fear rules everything. It’s about the outsider experience. We wanted to capture that world of fear from a child’s perspective. Chloe has innocent desires: she wants ice cream, and she wants a Mom. But because she’s living in this terrifying world, those relatable childhood desires lead her into an impossible situation.”
Distributor: Neon and Participant Media
Neon and Participant Media’s Sundance film Monos makes its debut this weekend with a limited release.
Directed by Alejandro Landes, the Red Dawn-esque dramatic thriller won the World Cinema Dramatic Jury Prize when it debuted at Sundance earlier this year. The film follows a young group of soldiers and rebels with interesting codenames like Rambo, Smurf, Bigfoot, Wolf and Boom-Boom as they watch over an American hostage named Doctora (Julianne Nicholson). The teen militia is part of a shady group known as “The Organization.” After an ambush drives the squadron into the jungle, both the mission and the bonds between the teen commandos begin to disintegrate and order turns to chaos.
Tom Quinn, co-founder of Neon told Deadline that when he saw it at Sundance, he knew they were watching something really special. “We were completely swept away by the film, and put together an offer that night. For us, it’s this rich, theatrical experience that must be seen with an audience.”
Neon is known for its work with filmmakers that have a specific vision and Landes was no exception. Quinn said that Landes created an “immersive, cinematic masterpiece” and that “Neon is a place for showcasing talents like his.”
Monos also stars Moises Arias, Sofia Buenaventura, Julian Giraldo and Karen Quintero. The film has been selected as Colombia’s official Oscar submission and will open in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco today.