Focus Sneaks ‘Atomic Blonde’ Footage, Bets on Female Directors

Atomic Blonde
Courtesy of Jonathan Prime/Focus Features

Focus Features is back in indie territory roughly a year after the label underwent another massive shakeup.

The company’s chairman Peter Kujawski told a crowd of journalists assembled at the beach in front of the J.W Marriott on Friday afternoon that Focus had successfully repositioned itself as a home for top filmmakers. On a balmy day, as the waves lapped against the seashore, he unveiled a slate of films that included movies from Joe Wright, Sofia Coppola, Stephen Frears and Garth Davis that might in the hunt for Oscar glory.

“We believe filmmakers thrive when they are supported,” said Kujawski.

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Kujawski was named chairman in 2016 in a housecleaning that ousted  Peter Schlessel from the top spot. His talk boasted roughly 20 minutes of clips, including footage of “Atomic Blonde,” an action thriller with Charlize Theron as a thigh-high-boot-wearing assassin who uses ropes and freezer doors to dispose of her adversaries. That received the loudest applause from the crowd. There was also more awards bait-y looks at “Victoria and Abdul,” a historical biopic with Judi Dench as an aging Queen Victoria who is reinvigorated by her Indian servant, “Darkest Hour” with Gary Oldman, unrecognizable under pounds of makeup and in a fat suit as Winston Churchill; and “Mary Magdalene,” a religious epic with Rooney Mara as an empowered version of Magdalene and Joaquin Phoenix as an ethereal Jesus. Missing in action was a look at Paul Thomas Anderson’s next film, which is set in the fashion world and reunites him with his “There Will Be Blood” star Daniel Day-Lewis. Kujawski said the film had just wrapped and Anderson is still cooking up a title.

Focus used the Cannes gathering to announce that it was doing a new documentary from Wim Wenders, “Pope Francis: A Man of Word,” that will look at the Catholic leader. Kujawski positioned Francis and his message of peace and charity as a corrective.

“At a time when our political leaders seem to be doing little actual leading, we have to look to others for guidance,” said Kujawski.

Focus is notable in another way. At a time when the movie industry has failed to back movies from female directors,  Focus has bucked the trend. This year the company will release three films made by women filmmakers — Julia Ducournau’s “Raw,” Niki Caro’s “The Zookeeper’s Wife” and Coppola’s “The Beguiled,” which will premiere at Cannes next week.

“That’s a trend you can expect to see a lot more of from us,” said Kujawski.

Kujawski noted that he and his team had come to last year’s Cannes promising to make arthouse films again after a stretch of trying to make horror flicks and genre movies. Focus’ origins were in making more off-beat or auteur-driven fare such as “Lost in Translation” and “Brokeback Mountain.” He pointed to the coming slate as evidence that the gambit had paid off.

“We’ve really delivered on this promise and we have no plans of stopping,” said Kujawski.

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