With Tenet steadily luring audiences back into multiplexes, film writer Neil Ramjee looks at the independent titles that could attract crowds at independent exhibitors.
This past week saw the largest theatrical release since the UK went into lockdown. Christopher Nolan’s much anticipated time-bending Tenet finally screened in cinemas, after being pushed back repeatedly from its July release date. Nolan’s work is not alone in the commercial pack of films, due this summer, to change their course; Disney’s live-action Mulan was expected as an early 2020 breakthrough for East-Asian big screen representation, tumbling into freefall as the pandemic’s course shifted audience availability, finally settling on a PVOD (premium video on demand) for subscribers to its newly launched Disney+ streaming service.
While the large studios fiddled as Rome burned, smaller UK distributors made light work of the cavernous gap left in the theatrical market.
Vertigo UK saw success with its acquisitions of smaller titles including children’s computer animation 100% Wolf, and a darker iteration of the perennial fable, Pinocchio. Similarly, Altitude were one of the few distributors to pop their heads above the parapets when cinemas reopened in July, aiming at the adult market with the thriller Unhinged, which continued to do brisk business until the end of August.
As schools return and the darker nights draw in, September sees a shift toward lesser known quantities for more discerning audiences. With distributors currently playing a precarious game of Jenga against the government guidance, local lockdowns and international markets, the road ahead is not as clear as it once would have been.
Luckily, there are a wealth of independent theatrical titles from the smaller outfits keen to capture audiences’ attention in the coming months.
Here are a few homegrown highlights from the current release slate championing British filmmaking.
From 18th September, Sarah Gavron (director of Suffragette) delivers another female-forward film with Rocks via Altitude UK. A festival circuit favourite, the story centres around a 15-year-old Nigerian British girl of the same name, battling the care system and coping with absentee parenting. This coming-of-age tale traverses gender prejudice and incorporates a more authentic twang in its approach to its casting. Utilising London’s inner-city schools and youth clubs, Rocks saw over a thousand girls audition to make up the realistic tight-knit friendship group at the centre of this vibrant story.
Another festival success comes to cinemas from 2nd October in the form of Eternal Beauty, from UK distributor Bulldog. Starring Oscar-nominated Sally Hawkins as a high functioning schizophrenic, whose benevolent outlook is tested by a chequered past and an uncharitable family. Supported by an excellent cast including David Thewlis, Alice Lowe and Billie Piper, Eternal Beauty taps into a wider discussion around mental health and leverages a novel and compassionate portrayal without demonising its central character. Set largely in South Wales, director Craig Roberts (breakout star of Submarine (2010)) harkens back to his hometown of Newport and the surrounding areas.
As Halloween approaches with its inevitable slew of jump-scare horrors, from October 23rd, StudioCanal UK offers up an alternative is Rose Glass’ directorial debut, Saint Maud. Already picked up by trendy distributors A24 stateside, Morfydd Clark drives this transfigurative chiller as a hospice nurse responsible for the care of a former dancer (Jennifer Ehle). Premiering to acclaim at the 2019 BFI London Film Festival, Saint Maud unsettles with its body horror as much as it asks difficult questions around religion and mortality.
Hoping to capitalise on the ‘green wave’, documentary I Am Greta follows the renowned climate change activist Greta Thunberg’s journey to alter the perceptions international governments and galvanise young people into fighting for the welfare of the planet. Due Friday 16th October (presumably when Greta won’t be in school) this urgent examination of eroding ecology arrives via documentary specialists, Dogwoof.
Let’s not forget the BFI has two homegrown films up its sleeve for autumn.
Kicking off with Mogul Mowgli on 30th October, starring Riz Ahmed in a semi-biographical film about a British-Pakistani rapper who returns home from New York to visit his family in London. Bringing with it the duality of split heritage, Mogul Mowgli channels the independent spirit of a young musician’s hustle and contrasts it sudden life-changing circumstances.
Similarly, the underground world of British drug smuggling in County Lines comes to cinemas from 20th November. The name originates from the transport of illicit substances by young, vulnerable people, coerced into trafficking them across local authority boundaries. Pivoting around 14-year-old Tyler (Conrad Khan), writer-director Henry Blake lifts the lid on a sector of British society many are unaware of.
A final title to keep an eye on is Concrete Plans. Another feature set in Wales, though this time dealing with European immigration against a backdrop of ingrained prejudice and classism. As Welsh builders work on a dilapidated farmhouse, a Ukrainian labourer is the target of bigoted mindsets when the aristocratic homeowner rips them off. Following an altercation, the film runs into heist-like territory as tensions simmer over and money becomes the answer to all ills. Concrete Plans is scheduled for 13th November from Signature Entertainment.