Focus Features had some of the best films of 2017 including Darkest Hour, Phantom Thread, Lady Bird, Victoria & Abdul, and Atomic Blonde earning 14 Oscar nominations including 2 Best Picture nominations. The studio is committed to continuing to work with the best filmmakers and to tell compelling stories which will drive people to see the best movies in the theaters. The studio is focused on telling stories that viewers relate to, learn from, and bring everyday superheroes to the forefront, which was evident as we were introduced to their upcoming slate of films.
Lisa Bunnell, president of Domestic Distribution for Focus Features gave us a brief introduction of a few upcoming films from the studio which are opening in the next few months. Tully is directed by Jason Reitman and stars Charlize Theron as Marlo, a mother of three including a newborn, who is gifted a night nanny by her brother. Hesitant to the extravagance at first, Marlo comes to form a unique bond with the thoughtful, surprising and sometimes challenging young nanny named Tully. No new footage was shown, but the studio is excited for patrons to get to see this dramatic comedy with a lot of heart on May 4th.
Also opening in May is Pope Francis: A Man of His Word. In this documentary directed by Wim Wenders, Pope Francis travels the world speaking to those in need and delivering a message of hope. No footage was shown, but Bunnell describes the film as being about the human spirit saying that “you don’t need to be religious to see this film, you just need to be human” as the subject matter will appeal to us all. This film will be available in theaters May 18th.
Debuting later this summer is The Little Stranger, directed by Lenny Abrahamson. This film was only quickly mentioned as part of the lineup, but no footage or insight into the film was provided. The Little Stranger is a chilling ghost story set in 1947 starring Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, and Charlotte Rampling, opening August 31st.
Next up, we got to see an exclusive scene from the upcoming Comedy Johnny English Strikes Again starring the always hilarious Rowan Atkinson. In this third installment of the spy spoof franchise, after a cyber-attack reveals the identity of all of the active undercover agents in Britain, Johnny English is forced to come out of retirement to find the mastermind hacker. This comedic spy story has all the hilarity you come to expect from Rowan Atkinson. In the scene we got to watch, we see Johnny English working his dance moves on the floor at a club while a hit-man attempt to assassinate him. Of course, everything that could go wrong for the hit-man does and we enjoy watching the situation play out in Johnny’s favor. You’ll be in for some good laughs when this hits theaters October 10th.
Following this we saw an extended trailer for the highly anticipated upcoming documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor, directed by Morgan Neville. The trailer for this film was released last month and excitement for this inspirational film has created quite the buzz. Won’t You Be My Neighbor is an emotional and moving documentary that explores the life, lessons, and legacy of iconic children’s television host Fred Rogers. The film pulls together clips of Roger’s work along with interviews with those who worked with him and knew him best, taking us beyond the zip up cardigans and the land of make-believe, into the heart of who Fred Rogers was, how he inspired children and changed our world. The film highlights Rogers’ humanity and decency and shows how he could bring that message of decency to children. Rogers was a Christian pastor who brought his values to his work on TV without ever trying to preach his religion. I personally cannot wait to see this film as he and his show were a staple of my childhood. Go see this film in theaters on June 8th.
One of the recurring concepts talked about by all the studio executives was the drive to bring stories of real-life superheroes to the screen, and we see this across the slate of films presented. As we just saw, the Fred Rogers documentary is a prime example of this type of project. The following four films all do this as well, they tell true stories of real people and left me in high anticipation of seeing these compelling characters and experiencing these events as I am immersed in their world through the art of the films.
Dave Karger presented exclusive footage of the remainder of the slated films and interviewed the director and stars of each film. First up was BlacKkKlansman, written and directed by Spike Lee which tells the real-life story of Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado, who successfully managed to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan and became the head of the local chapter. Stallworth and his fellow white officer go undercover to sabotage and thwart the hate group’s plans. The film stars John David Washington, Adam Driver, and Topher Grace. Washington, along with producer Jason Blum was in attendance to promote the film. Blum while describing the film, and the real-life situation said that the film is able to convey just how small minded and idiotic the KKK really was. The footage we saw showed Stallworth connecting with the cult leaders and gaining their trust over the phone saying how much he hates black people and then it transitions to Driver’s character playing as Stallworth (visually as a white man) while actually going undercover into the group. It is a very interesting story of a time in our past that I think people will be compelled to see play out on the big screen. You can find this film in theaters August 10th.
Next, we were introduced to Boy Erased, which is based on an emotional memoir by Garrard Conley. The film tells the story of Jared, the son of a Baptist preacher in a small town who is outed to his parents and is forced to participate in a church-supported gay conversion program. The film’s writer and director, Joel Edgerton was present alongside the star Lucas Hedges to discuss the importance and impact of the film. Edgerton said he has been obsessed with cults and their behaviors, and after reading this book wanted to take a deeper look into conversion therapy which is why this project was appealing. The film is important as it is something still happening in our culture today and a part of our society that needs to be stopped. We don’t need to fix “problems” in each other that are not problems at all. Hedges was humbled to be able to tell Garrad’s story and educate others on this sensitive subject matter. In the footage shown we saw the scene where Jared comes out to his parents (Russel Crowe & Nicole Kidman), who are very emotional and clearly don’t accept what he has told them. Jared’s father then tells him that if he thinks these feelings are true he cannot live under their roof in good conscience, and asks Jared “Do you want to change?” The clip ended as a very conflicted Jared ponders either saying no and being disowned from his family, or saying yes but having to go through extraordinary measures to try to “correct himself”, Although the clip does not show the decision made I can assume based on the subject matter presented by Edgerton, that he says yes and then is forced to undergo this conversion therapy. This is an incredible family story and encourages a conversation of short-sighted ideas that need to be discussed among families across the country. Boy Erased can be seen September 28th.
What followed next was an inspirational film, On the Basis of Sex, starring Felicity Jones. In the film, Jones portrays Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as an eager young lawyer struggling to be taken seriously in her field. In the exclusive footage, we saw scenes highlighting her struggles for equal rights while fighting to overturn a century of gender discrimination in a groundbreaking Supreme Court case, and protecting the right of the county to change. Director Mimi Leder says that this film is more relevant than ever as we are once again seeing a battle for gender equality within the Me Too movement. Felicity Jones said how incredibly honored she was to bring this real-life superhero’s story to life on the screen. She stated that “Ruth is such a Rocky” not willing to give up the fight against all odds. Jones is a force to be reckoned with as Ginsburg, nailing this role. This film also stars Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, and Kathy Bates. Go see this film on November 9th.
The last film showcased was director Josie Rourke’s project Mary Queen of Scots starring two incredibly talented actresses, Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. The film explores the turbulent life of the charismatic queen of Scotland, Mary Stuart’s (Ronan) attempt to overthrow her cousin Elizabeth I, Queen of England (Robbie), which finds her condemned to years of imprisonment before facing execution. Rourke describes the project as a powerful film about both sisterhood and women in power. Ronan said that something so gripping about the story is this intense relationship built between the two women before they even met. In the scenes we watched, we learn that the King of England has died and that Mary has returned to take the throne, threatening Elizabeth’s sovereignty; as Mary says she will unite the nations and will rule as queen. The film looks visually stunning and these two fierce historical figures are portrayed by two of the fiercest, phenomenal actresses in the business. I cannot wait to see the full project in theaters this December.