Julio Torres’ Surreal Immigration Comedy ‘Problemista’, Iranian Drama ‘Shayda’ Debut, With 25-Year Old Doc ‘Pitch People’ – Specialty Preview  

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Two well-reviewed indies are taking a bow in limited release in the shadow of Dune, A24’s Problemista by Julio Torres, and Shayda from Sony Pictures Classics, the feature debut of Noora Niasari.

Torres, the comedian, actor and writer, in his directorial debut, stars with Tilda Swinton as Problemista gets its release at last after being bumped from August due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. He also penned the screenplay, and produced alongside Fruit Tree’s Dave McCary, Ali Herting and Emma Stone. Premiered at SXSW last year, see Deadline review, and sits at 91% with critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

This surreal comedy adventure amid the treacherous worlds of New York City and the U.S. Immigration system follows Torres’ Alejandro, an aspiring toy designer from El Salvador trying to land a spot at Hasbro’s incubator program. When he’s fired from the cryogenic center where he tends to a frozen painter (rapper RZA), he needs a sponsor fast to stay in the U.S. and begins working with the artist’s oddball wife (Swinton) to arrange a gallery show of her former spouse, who only painted pictures of eggs.

Narrated by Isabella Rossellini, it opens in five theaters in New York and Los Angeles (with sold out Q&A screenings in LA). Adds cities next week including Boston, Houston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. alongside Torres’ comedy tour — The Problemista Tour: Julio Torres and Friends — through March. Screened by A24 in NYC last week at the Village East with Torres, Swinton, Rossellini and Stone present, plus fans Steve Buscemi, Vanessa Kirby, Hunter Schafer and Ramy Youssef.  

Sony Pictures Classics opens Shayda, a debut feature written and directed by Noora Niasari, at The Royal in LA and the Film Forum in NY, followed by a slow platform rollout. Stars Zar Amir Ebrahimi (Cannes Best Actress-winner for Holy Spider) as an Iranian woman living in Australia who flees her abusive husband. She finds refuge in a women’s shelter with her frightened 6-year-old daughter Mona and struggles to maintain normalcy while filing for divorce and forging a fresh start. But when a judge grants her husband Hossein visitation rights, he re-enters their life, stoking Shayda’s fear that he’ll attempt to take Mona back to Iran.

Drawn from personal experience by the Iranian-Australian filmmaker, Shayda premiered at Sundance last year, with a big ovation for Niasari’s own mother. At 98% with critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

Niasari produced with Dirty Films’ Cate Blanchett, Andrew Upton and Coco Francini.

Pitch People, a 25-year old documentary by Stanley Jacobs that did the festival rounds in 2000 but was never released theatrically is remastered and in theaters this weekend for the first time, courtesy of SJPL Films. It explores the pitch business, a dynamic world that started in Europe, made its way to the U.S. boardwalks, and exploded on television in the 1990s. Opens in NY at Village East Cinema, expanding to LA (Lumiere Cinema), Chicago (Wayfarer Theater), Phoenix (Harkins Shea 14), Cleveland(Atlas Cinemas Shaker Square) next week, adding runs through March.

Says it’s “the true story of the world’s second oldest profession featuring many of the greatest pitch men and women of their time who became famous to millions with the advent of direct response television advertising.”

Magnolia /Magnet Releasing presents horror Amelia’s Children by Gabriel Abrantes (Diamantino) in limited release (IFC Center, Laemmle Glendale and five other markets) day and date. Stars Carloto Cotta as an American musician kidnapped as an infant who travels with girlfriend Ryley (Brigette Lundy-Paine) to Portugal to track down his biological family.

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