Tears and cheers for Anthony Maras’ ‘Hotel Mumbai’

Dev Patel in ‘Hotel Mumbai.’

It’s been a long journey for Anthony Maras’ debut feature Hotel Mumbai, a thriller based on the 2008 terrorist attacks on the Taj Mahal hotel, which killed 160 people and injured many more.

Co-scripted by John Collee and Maras, the film starring Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Jason Isaac, Nazanin Boniadi and Tilda Cobham-Hervey started principal photography in August 2016 and was due to open last year after premiering at the Adelaide Film Festival.

However that was postponed as Maras and the producers decided they needed more time in post. Gary Hamilton’s Arclight Films, which produced the film with Julie Ryan and Basil Iwanyk’s Thunder Road, showed a cut at a private, invite-only screening for buyers at the Cannes Film Market.

The responses were very positive with tears and applause, according to Nick Hayes, head of sales and acquisitions at Icon Film Distribution, who plans to release the film late this year after international film festival premieres.

“It’s thrilling, it ratchets up the tension and you get taken on a real ride,” he tells IF. Patel plays a newly promoted waiter, Hammer and Boniadi are wealthy new parents and Isaacs is a Russian businessman.

In Cannes Hayes acquired Mélanie Laurent’s Galveston, a crime noir starring Elle Fanning, Lili Reinhart and Ben Foster scripted by True Detective’s Nic Pizzolatto; Rachel Hiron’s UK romantic comedy A Guide to Second Date Sex; and, at script stage, Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You, which deals with the Uberisation of the British economy.

Icon is scheduled to release 16 titles between now and the end of the year, rather more than its usual policy of acquiring a dozen theatrical films annually.

“The media landscape is more challenging to buy than it’s ever been. Ensuring you get cut through with audiences is paramount,” Hayes says. “It’s a game we still want to be in. There will always be a place for independent film; it’s just a matter of continuing to find films that the market will respond to.”

The closure of Dendy’s VOD service Dendy Direct last month after nearly four years of operation had no impact on Icon’s approach to acquisitions. Dendy and Foxtel pioneered the premium VOD window with such titles as Australia Day, 2.22, The Girl with All the Gifts, The Limehouse Golem, Shot Caller and Sweet Virginia. While there are no films in the pipeline he believes that will be a viable route for some niche titles.

Chief operating officer Sharon Strickland has been acting CEO at Dendy/Icon since Greg Hughes stepped down last November.

Among Icon’s upcoming titles, Hayes highlights RBG, a feature documentary co-directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, which opens on July 26. The profile of 85-year-old US Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a pioneer in gender equality, has grossed nearly $US8 million in the US, a record for distributor Magnolia Pictures.

‘The Wife’.

He’s also bullish about Björn Runge’s The Wife (August 2), which stars Glenn Close as a woman who spent 40 years sacrificing her talent, dreams and ambition to support her philandering novelist husband (Jonathan Pryce).

Stephen McCallum’s 1%, a crime drama starring Ryan Corr, Matt Nable, Aaron Pedersen and Simone Kessell, will get an art house release later this year after screening at the Sydney Film Festival.

The slate also includes Oliver Parker’s UK comedy Swimming With Men; Rowan Athale’s thriller Strange But True; Saul Dibb’s war drama Journey’s End; and S. Craig Zahler’s Dragged Across Concrete, which stars Mel Gibson as a veteran cop and Vince Vaughn as his volatile partner who descend into the criminal underworld after being suspended.