Man From Reno

'The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution': Sundance Review

by John DeFore

Stanley Nelson chronicles the short life of an iconic organization.

A strong if only occasionally transporting biography of a movement that terrified the establishment in its day, Stanley Nelson's The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution speaks to many former members of the Black Panther Party about what its breed of revolutionary activism felt like at the time. Joining some other recent histories about black Americans fighting powers that are too rarely held accountable to them, the film continues a discussion whose present-day relevance is painfully, increasingly obvious. Straighter in its attitude thanThe Black Power Mixtape and covering much more ground than Free Angela & All Political Prisoners, it does so in a way that will be an easy sell on public TV, where it's likely to find most of its initial audience before a long and useful life on video.

Beginning in the group's birthplace of Oakland, California, the doc points out how the persecution of the civil rights era had a different flavor in coastal cities than in the South. Here, we're told, thuggish police "might not have called you n—r, but they treated you the same." We're introduced to the young Huey P. Newton, who realized that it was legal to carry loaded guns in public and understood that doing so in the vicinity of police interacting with Oakland's black population would draw more attention to racial justice issues than a million printed fliers. He and Bobby Seale organized the party, which began with a focus on militancy but soon launched major charitable programs, including a famous free-breakfast effort that fed children 20,000 meals a week.

Drama was never in short supply with the Panthers, and Newton's arrest early in their existence provided a rallying cry that was (like their fondness for calling police "pigs") taken up by white college students and other left-leaning groups. While he shows the power of the "Free Huey" slogan, Nelson isn't eager to investigate it; he tells us almost nothing about the incident that led to Newton's imprisonment (he was accused of killing a policeman), nor does he give us any way of guessing whether it was just or unjust.

The omission of such significant details is puzzling given that Nelson soon enough proves willing to show the group's leaders in an unfavorable light. We watch in some detail as their intellectual star, Eldridge Cleaver, goes off the deep end following an armed standoff, fleeing to Algeria and eventually fracturing the party. And near the end, we briefly hear of Newton's descent into drugs and erratic, criminal behavior. It's tempting to conclude that the film is willing to be frank about the problems party figures caused themselves and each other, but the doc wants few shades of gray when it comes to antagonism between Panthers and the police.

The film's most involving bit of storytelling comes when the villainy of law enforcement is in no doubt. After detailing J. Edgar Hoover's fervor to destroy the group with COINTELPRO and dirty tricks, it introduces the tremendously charismatic Fred Hampton, who in 1969 seemed poised to emerge as the kind of "black messiah" Hoover feared. Just as he was starting to build inspiring alliances between Panthers and activists in Latino and poor white communities, Hampton was killed in an FBI-engineered police raid that begs to be called a political assassination.

Straight history is not the whole point here, as Nelson enthusiastically conjures a sense of what it felt like to be a Panther and to be a young black person inspired by them. Alongside historians, we hear from many surviving party members, including Jamal Joseph, Kathleen Cleaver, and William Calhoun. (The absence of Seale, the most famous surviving Panther, is not explained.) Adding a bounty of excellent archival photographs and some good political soul on the soundtrack, the movie makes unnecessary one member's happy recollection that "we had a swagger."

Perfect Sisters

Sean Bean and Eva Longoria’s ‘Any Day’ Acquired by Gravitas Ventures



The Rustam Branaman film will be released theatrically on May 1

Gravitas Ventures has acquired U.S. distribution rights to the Rustam Branaman drama “Any Day” starring Sean BeanEva Longoria andKate Walsh, the company announced Friday.

Vian McLean (Bean) is an ex-fighter who is filled with resentment. He killed a man with his bare hands and has just spent the last 12 years in prison for the crime. Upon his release, he stays with his sister Bethley (Walsh) and her son Jimmy, who looks up to his uncle as the greatest man he has ever known.

While Vian struggles to find the right path and be a role model for Jimmy, he meets Jolene (Longoria), who helps him get his life back together. Everything seems to be working out for him, but when a tragic event throws him into a dark corner, Vian faces the greatest challenge of his life that will alter his world forever.

The film is written and directed by Branaman and produced by Jeanette Zhou, Darryl Marshak and Andrew Sugerman.

“We were truly moved by the authentic performances from Sean BeanEva Longoria, and Kate Walsh in ‘Any Day,’” said Gravitas founder and CEO Nolan Gallagher in a statement. “We believe this film will resonate with audiences drawn to great storytelling around redemption and the faith and support we find all around us.”

Gravitas will distribute the film theatrically on May 1.

Reposted from The Wrap:


Digital Players Could Give Sundance Spending a Lift

AmazonNetflix_SundanceJANUARY 21, 2015 | 10:00AM PTHollywood descends on the Sundance Film Festival this week, checkbooks in hand, hoping to find the next big thing in indie movies. In many cases, that means buyer beware, because the thin mountain air in Park City can turn conservative bidders into free spenders.

“People get the fever sometimes,” says Jim Berk, CEO of Participant Media. “Everybody is looking for that next ‘Juno’ or ‘(500) Days of Summer.’ They want to find the next Cary Fukunaga or that new hot director they have to be in business with. That’s what drives the hype and the excitement.”

It’s easy to see why Sundance, with its bucolic setting, history of producing iconoclastic films, and reputation as a showcase for new talent, remains an essential stop for buyers and sellers. Yet despite the popularity of VOD and emergence of new digital platforms such as Netflix and Amazonhungry to distribute content in all its forms, the independent business remains notoriously difficult. It takes a very special picture to break out of the arthouse, and history is littered with hot festival titles that left mainstream audiences cold.

“Sometimes you’ve got to have a movie, and you believe it will speak to an audience loudly,” says Lia Buman, president of acquisitions for Focus Features. “It’s not hard to determine a film’s value, but that bubble can give you a distorted picture.”

Many of last year’s big sellers, a group that includes “Wish I Was Here,” “Obvious Child” and “Laggies,” scored seven-figure deals but failed to make a stir at the box office. Nor is the problem of overpaying endemic only to Sundance. “Begin Again” and “Top Five” were two of the costliest acquisitions in recent years, netting $7 million and $12.5 million, respectively, out of the Toronto Film Festival. Ticket sales were disappointing, however, with “Begin Again” mustering only $16.2 million domestically, and “Top Five” topping out at $25 million — hardly enough to justify their pricetags and the millions more spent marketing the films.

Compounding the problem, many indie productions sell tax credits, along with foreign and ancillary rights, to help finance their shoots, limiting other potential revenue streams for would-be buyers.

The bad experience that some distributors had last year is unlikely to stifle sales, festival veterans say, because new companies continue to enter the fray or established players are desperate to fill slots on their release calendars. “There are always new entrants who like to use Sundance as a launching pad and to make a splash,” says Nolan Gallagher, CEO and founder of Gravitas Ventures.

The most recent game-changer from the digital realm came Jan. 19 when longtime producer Ted Hope was tapped to drive Amazon Original Movies, proving that the streaming service wasn’t just poaching independent filmmakers to make TV series. Netflix has already acquired feature documentaries, including the Oscar-nominated  “Virunga,” and signed a deal to host films from Adam Sandler, while Vimeo and Hulu are also sending acquisition teams.

To be sure, some Sundance films did fulfill the ambitions of their buyers. Sony Pictures Classics nabbed “Whiplash” at last year’s festival and has an Oscar best picture nominee on its hands, while “The Babadook” has done strong business in theaters and on-demand. Moreover, sellers are mindful that the rise of digital platforms and video-on-demand is providing distributors new ways to make money beyond the bigscreen, if a project even goes that route.

“We have more and more data from alternative platforms, and when you see how successful these films can be, it helps inform us as sales agents,” says Jessica Lacy, head of international and independent film at ICM Partners. “I think having Netflix and others aggressively looking to acquire films directly helps keep prices healthy.”

For this year’s festival, there are a number of films arriving with a good amount of anticipation — a group that includes “The End of the Tour,” a look at novelist David Foster Wallace that stars Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg; “I Smile Back,” with comedian Sarah Silverman in a dramatic turn; and  “I Am Michael,” with James Franco as a gay-rights advocate who renounces his homosexuality. But not everyone is convinced that there will be as many intense bidding wars.

“Sundance this year seems to be less commercial,” says Bill Bromiley, Saban Films president. “It can be hard to determine that based on loglines or the buzz, but there aren’t a lot of A-list driven films out there. It can be challenging to find things that are artistically driven, well-done films the public will want to see.”

For many studios, finding the next bright talent is as important as the pictures themselves. In a business built on relationships, it’s good to have ties to the next Quentin Tarantino, David O.
Russell or Wes Anderson — three filmmaking phenoms who first made a splash at Sundance.

“To go to a festival and find a filmmaker who is unique and stands out is an incredible thing,” says Robbie Brenner, president of production at Relativity Studios, “because that’s why people go to the movies — to have a unique experience.”

Perfect Sisters

Gravitas Ventures Taps Griffin Gmelich to Oversee North American Sales

Griffin Gmelich, Gravitas Ventures
Senior VP of Sales and Business Development

Gravitas Ventures has made a series of key hires and promotions to its sales and acquisitions team in advance of the Sundance Film Festival, hiring Griffin Gmelich as senior vice president of sales and business development.

He will oversee sales of Gravitas’ films, documentaries, series and specials across North American video on demand, subscription video on demand, and ad sponsored video on demand platforms as well as television.

Gmelich will also advise on distribution opportunities and film pickups at festivals and will be part of the team representing Gravitas at Sundance.

Gmelich joins Gravitas following three years at Hulu where he led film content acquisitions efforts. Prior to Hulu, Gmelich was the head of domestic sales for Entertainment One, vice president of sales for Universal-Vivendi and held several positions at Warner Home Video in sales and communications.

In addition, Mia Bruno has been promoted to director of acquisitions and Brendan Gallagher has been named senior vice president of business affairs.

In his new role, Gallagher will increase his responsibilities to include international business development. He will also continue to serve as legal point person on Gravitas’ film and platforming licensing.

In her expanded role as acquisitions director, Bruno will primarily be responsible for acquiring twenty films a year for theatrical release. Bruno will also be at Sundance along with Griffin, CEO Nolan Gallagher and Vice President of Marketing Julie Candelaria.

Gravitas’ recent releases include “Ping Pong Summer” with Susan Sarandon, “Felony” with Joel Edgerton and Spike Lee’s “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.”


Originally posted on Variety:

Backstreet Boys

Backstreet’s Back: Boy Band Doc To Make Theatrical, VOD Debut


Gravitas Ventures wants it that way. The distributor has acquired North American theatrical, VOD, and DVD rights to documentary Backstreet Boys: Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of, from Stones in Exile and Scott Walker: 30th Century Man director Stephen Kijak. Pic chronicles two years in the lives of Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean and Kevin Richardson, the boy banders who rose to pop stardom with 1996’s eponymous debut album Backstreet Boys, paving the way for the likes of *NSYNC, 98 Degrees, and other favorites of the Tiger Beat set. But in Littrell’s own words, “From 1992 to 2002 we were the biggest band in the world… Then it just stopped. And what do you do when you’re a full grown man in a boy band?”

Indeed. Despite selling 130 million records, going gold and platinum in 46 countries, and earning eight Grammy nods, the boy band bubble burst for Littrell & Co. in 2000 after peaking with Millennium. Kijak’s film teases an intimate reveal of “new and old tensions that need confronting and resolving” as the quintet relive their glory days.

All five members produced the Pulse Films, K-Bahn LLC and Missing in Action Films production along with Mia Bays. Sam Sniderman, Jeff Kwatinetz and Jennifer Sousa are exec producers. Pic hits U.S. theaters and VOD on January 30 before London’s More2Screen rolls it out worldwide on February 26, and will make its broadcast debut in Spring 2015 via VH1. Gravitas Founder and CEO Nolan Gallagher negotiated the deal with WME Global and Sam Sniderman and Paul Grindey for Pulse.

Originally posted on

Perfect Sisters

Spike Lee’s Kickstarter-Funded ‘Da Sweet Blood of Jesus’ Finds a Distributor, Gets Release Date, Poster, Synopsis

da-sweet-blood-of-jesusposterSince its premiere at the ABFF over the summer, I’ve been bombarded with emails from readers, asking me if I know when the film will be released theatrically. Well, here you go folks! Wonder no more, as it’s coming to a theater and/or video on demand service near you soon.

Gravitas Ventures has announced its acquisition of North American rights to Spike Lee’s latest effort, the Kickstarter-funded “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus,” a film that we now know is Spike’s reinterpretation of Bill Gunn’s 1973 cult horror classic “Ganja & Hess,”which stars Zaraah Abrahams and Stephen Tyrone Williams.

Gravitas will release the film theatrically and on video on demand, starting on February 13, 2015.

Today’s news is also accompanied by the film’s official synopsis, as well as release poster (see it above).

Its synopsis reads: “A Spike Lee Joint, DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS is a new kind of love story, one that centers on an addiction to blood that once doomed a long forgotten ancient African tribe. When Dr. Hess Green (Stephen Tyrone Williams) is introduced to a mysteriously cursed artifact by an art curator, Lafayette Hightower (Elvis Nolasco), he is uncontrollably drawn into a newfound thirst for blood that overwhelms his soul.  He however is not a vampire.  Lafayette quickly succumbs to the ravenous nature of the infliction but leaves Hess a transformed man.  Soon Lafayette’s wife, Ganja Hightower (Zaraah Abrahams), comes looking for her husband and becomes involved in a dangerous romance with Hess that questions the very nature of love, addiction, sex, and status in our seemingly sophisticated society.  A reinterpretation of Bill Gunn’s horror cult film “Ganja & Hess”, which played as a Critics’ Choice at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, Spike Lee’s stylized thriller features an Original Score by Bruce Hornsby.”

Said Spike Lee:”Making DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS is one of my most gratifying experiences in my body of work… The support and love we got raising the money through Kickstarter is a true blessing. I thank everyone who brought this New Spike Lee Joint to life.”

“We are thrilled to collaborate with Spike Lee to release DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS in theatres and on demand across North America,” added Nolan Gallagher, Gravitas Ventures’ Founder and CEO. “The performances from emerging talents Zaraah Abrahams and Stephen Tyrone infuse what will be one of the most talked about films from Spike’s storied career.”

The film also has a new Facebook page, which you can find here, where you can keep up with its travels:

The pick-up deal was brokered by Nolan Gallagher at Gravitas with ICM Partners on behalf of 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks.

“Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” isproduced by Chiz Schultz (who also produced “Ganja & Hess”) and Spike Lee, co-produced by Jason Sokoloff, with cinematography by Daniel Patterson, costume design by Ruth E. Carter, production design by Kay Lee, and editing by Randy Wilkins.

The production company is 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks.  The original songs soundtrack is from Epic Records.

Now we wait for the first official release trailer… in the meantime, find our review of the film (after its ABFF screening) here if you missed it.

Perfect Sisters

AFM Panelists Tout Advantages of VOD

Originally posted November 12, 2014 by Home Media Magazine

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — On Sept. 5, independent distributor Gravitas Ventures released the Olivia Wilde and Jason Bateman comedy-drama The Longest Week day and date in both theaters and on VOD and electronic sellthrough via digital platforms.

And while the film pulled in almost nothing on the big screen, it made “a few million” via digital, according to Gravitas CEO and founder Nolan Gallagher. Indeed, according to Rentrak data covering digital sales and rentals, The Longest Week quickly hit No. 14 on its top 20 EST and VOD list (for the week ended Sept. 14).

Speaking Nov. 11 at the American Film Market conference, Gallagher said people are consuming VOD in record numbers, especially on mobile devices, and that it’s become increasingly important for film distributors to treat a digital release with the same gravitas as theatrical.

“Getting the film up there, online, that’s possible,” Gallagher said. “It’s a matter of aggregating your audience ahead of time. Treat your VOD debut the way you’d treat your theatrical debut, and there can be real money in it.”

Paul Davidson, SVP of film and TV for distributor The Orchard, can attest to that. His company released the documentary film Harmontown, about writer-comedian Dan Harmon, in early October. The film follows Harmon on tour for his podcast series, which regularly pulls in more than a million listeners.

“When you have a community around [a property], you can plan a release around it. That’s very appealing,” Davidson said. “It’s easier to get to ‘my audience,’ a small cross-section. That’s realistic in the short term.”

But in theaters, across digital platforms, day and date? That’s just not so simple for independent filmmakers.

Still, getting on VOD platforms is easier than ever, thanks to the investments made by companies to remove the barriers for entry, according to Doug Sylvester, president of multiplatform video services company Vubiquity.

“What then becomes the issue is getting noticed,” Sylvester said. “More and more owners of content … have to take on that responsibility.”

Amazon, Netflix and iTunes have done a masterful job of knowing the consumers using their services, Sylvester said. However, they don’t share that data very quickly with everyone else. “You can get a very clear picture [of data] across platforms, but you’re looking back six months,” he said.

There’s a reason for that, according to John Sloss, founder of New York-based film and media advisory services company Cinetic Media. “The people who hoard data, keep it secret, profit off it,” Sloss said.

Man From Reno

'The Alley Cat': Film Review

by Duane Byrge

Filmmaker Marie Ullrich attempts a psychological drama mixed with a road movie

A nocturnal smear of a bike race slicked over a flat family drama, The Alley Cat gasps and careens in a heap of flat writing and story ballast. It’s a very long 68-minute grind. Playing here at the 50th Chicago International Film Festival, The Alley Cat was greeted with feeble hometown enthusiasm.

Focusing on an annual competition among a group of professional bike messengers who race through the deserted nighttime streets of the South Loop, The Alley Cat lurches through a noir-lit section of the Loop and detours into a murky family melodrama.

Filmmaker Marie Ullrich attempts a psychological drama inside an intriguing spin on a road movie. It centers on Jasper (Jenny Strubin), a sullen female bike messenger. Unfortunately, the other cyclists are depicted in crude caricature, most egregiously a drunken cyclist, supposedly included for comic relief. The level of acting is so amateurish that we suspect that the players were selected primarily for their ability to cycle, rather than emote. In their defense, they are handicapped by dialogue that is pure rubber.

Along the way, we begin to suspect that there is something more to the story than the outcome of the race. It’s suggested that Jasper is the "baby mama" of another biker who is killed during the race: Such dramatic overkill is indicative of the plot-hole nature of the entire story expedition. Particularly enervating is a scene where the fallen one’s fellow bikers pay respect at the site of his demise — they stick token remembrances around the spot. Unfortunately, this potentially moving moment is about as emotion-packed as a Chicago Transit Authority worker erecting a signpost.

At this bathetic climax, Jasper lights out to her sister's and brother-in-law’s home to connect with her “niece,” encountering some stereotypical, nocturnal creepy crawlers along the way.

On the plus side, The Alley Cat displays some striking noir shots of the South Loop that intermittently divert one’s attention away from the pedestrian story.


Perfect Sisters

Rentrak Announces Top 20 Digital Movie Purchases & Rentals for Week Ending September 14, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore., Oct. 1, 2014 /PRNewswire/ –  Rentrak (NASDAQ: RENT), the leader in precisely measuring movies and TV everywhere, today announced the top twenty digital movie purchases and rentals based on consumer transaction rate. The report includes Internet Video on Demand (iVOD) and electronic sell-through (EST), for both Standard-Definition and Digital HD movie purchases and rentals.

According to the company’s Digital Download Essentials Industry™ service, the top twenty purchased and rented movies, per data collected from Sept. 8-14, 2014, are below.

Rentrak Top Twenty Digital Movie Purchases and Rentals*:

1 Captain America – The Winter Soldier Disney (NYSE: DIS)
2 Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow Warner (NYSE: TWX)
3 Blended (2014) Warner (NYSE: TWX)
4 Draft Day Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF)
5 Fed Up Radius-TWC
6 Other Woman, The Fox
7 Amazing Spider-Man 2, The Sony (NYSE: SNE)
8 Divergent Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF)
9 Godzilla (2014) Warner (NYSE: TWX)
10 Joe Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF)
11 Fault In Our Stars, The Fox
12 Think Like A Man Too Sony (NYSE: SNE)
13 Mom’s Night Out Sony (NYSE: SNE)
14 Longest Week, The Gravitas Ventures
15 Words and Pictures Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF)
16 Noah (2014) Paramount (NYSE: VIA & VIA.B)
17 Belle Fox
18 Life of Crime Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF)
19 Heaven Is For Real Sony (NYSE: SNE)
20 God’s Not Dead Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF)

* Excludes NBC Universal and non-participating Independent distributors.

© 2014 Rentrak Corporation - Content in this chart is produced and/or compiled by Rentrak Corporation and its OnDemand Essentials data collection and analytical service, and is covered by provisions of the Copyright Act. The material presented herein is intended to be available for public use. You may reproduce the content of the chart in any format or medium without first obtaining permission, subject to the following requirements: (1) the material must be reproduced accurately and not in a misleading manner; (2) any publication or issuance of any part of the material to others must acknowledge Rentrak Corporation as the source of the material; and (3) you may not receive any monetary consideration for reproducing, displaying, disclosing or otherwise using any part of the material.

About Digital Download Essentials Industry™
Rentrak’s Digital Download Essentials Industry service gathers and aggregates information from all leading digital licensees on purchased and rented digital content to give participating content providers (i.e., major movie studios, independent distributors, TV networks, etc.) the ability to compare the performance of their electronic sell-through (EST) and Internet Video on Demand (iVOD) content to the rest of the industry in the U.S. and around the world.

About Rentrak
Rentrak (NASDAQ: RENT) is the entertainment and marketing industries’ premier provider of worldwide consumer viewership information, precisely measuring actual viewing behavior of movies and TV everywhere. Using our proprietary intelligence and technology, combined with advanced demographics, only Rentrak is the census currency for VOD and movies. Rentrak provides the stable and robust audience measurement services that movie, television and advertising professionals across the globe have come to rely on to better deliver their business goals and more precisely target advertising across numerous platforms including box office, multiscreen television and home video. For more information on Rentrak, please


Antoine Ibrahim
(646) 722-1561


Rentrak is the entertainment industry's premier provider of worldwide consumer viewership information, measuring movie and television content everywhere the consumer is watching including box office, multiscreen television and home video.


Filmmakers hope they’re on the money with this documentary

It’s fitting that a Bitcoin documentary would hold a red carpet event on a street nicknamed “Bitcoin Boulevard US.”The Cedar Lee Theatre in Cleveland Heights will host a party to celebrate the opening of “The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin” on Oct. 3. The theater will show the movie through Oct. 9.Why Cleveland? Well, a long list of merchants near the theater on Lee Road accept payment in the form of Bitcoin — a form of digital money that isn’t controlled by a central government. They’ll be offering Bitcoin-related deals throughout the week.Plus, the distributor, Gravitas Ventures, opened a downtown Cleveland office about a year ago. The company — best known for distributing “Sound City,” a music documentary produced by rock star Dave Grohl — employs 15 people, including four here.

Gravitas normally only shows its movies in a few big city theaters, since it mainly distributes movies digitally, through video-on-demand services. But president Michael Murphy figured a local premier was in order, given that he lives in a suburb where so many businesses embrace Bitcoin. Local Bitcoin consultant Nikhil Chand, who encourage the businesses to do so, is promoting the event.

“We can’t imagine a more appropriate place on Earth for the launch of this compelling film to take place,” Chand said.

Gravitas embraces Bitcoin, too: The company paid 500 BTC, an amount worth more than $200,000 as of Friday, Sept. 19, to buy the distribution rights for the movie. And you can pre-order it using Bitcoin — or regular money — at