LAS VEGAS — STX Entertainment motion picture chairman Adam Fogelson reiterated the 18-month-old distributor’s mission statement at CinemaCon to release “moderately and appropriately priced films made for adults.” The batch of content on display Tuesday appeared to make good on that promise, featuring a wide array of genres and storytelling for the company’s first-ever presentation at the annual movie exhibitors trade show.
Beginning with what could be an awards season player, the studio revealed a scene from Gary Ross’ upcoming Civil War drama “Free State of Jones.” Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey stars in the film as Newton Knight, a little-known historical figure who led a band of Confederate deserters.
Though STX has released four films to date (“The Gift,” “The Boy,” “Secret in Their Eyes” and “Hardcore Henry”), “Free State” was the first project greenlit by the company. And Ross has been eager to make it for a decade, ever since he first read a treatment at Universal.
“I didn’t know there was this kind of dissent in the Confederacy — I thought it was more monolithic than that,” the director said. “I read for two years before I even started outlining the story. It was kind of an academic quest, a great odyssey to educate myself.”
McConaughey, a spitting image of Knight with his unruly beard and gaunt face, said he responded to the amount of research Ross put into the project, which helped etch a crystal clear understanding of the character.
“Sometimes you have to use your imagination to capture the character, but this wasn’t like that,” McConaughey said. “It was there in the script. The identity of this man was very clear to me. There was a great simplicity to the man. Any injustice he saw, he could not let it be. And his decision-making was immediate.”
Co-star Gugu Mbatha-Raw called the project “a wonderful gift,” noting that Ross had written a visceral script that created an authentic world for her and the rest of the cast to inhabit. It also provided the Brit an opportunity to investigate a chunk of American history she didn’t grow up learning in school.
“I was so inspired by the courage of these characters,” she said. “My character is a house slave but is someone who leads this double life,” helping to free other slaves. “You don’t really see in movies the agency that some slaves did have.”
The film is scheduled for a counterprogramming June 24 release.
Also on the docket was “The Edge of Seventeen,” a coming-of-age story Fogelson was quick to describe in terms of John Hughes’ seminal 1980s classics. Produced by James L. Brooks, the film was written and directed by first-timer Kelly Fremon Craig.
“There’s nobody I admire creatively more than Jim,” Craig said. “Starting the process was nerve-wracking, but the amazing thing about Jim is he’s so passionate about the work that it becomes the central focus and everything else melts away.”
Oscar-nominated actress Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”) stars as a young girl navigating the usual trials and tribulations of adolescence. “I remember reading the script and thinking I’ve never read anything so honest and truthful to actual things that happen in a teenage life,” she said.
Woody Harrelson stars as one of Steinfeld’s sardonic teachers, while Kyra Sedgwick plays her “mess” of a mother. The film is currently set for a Sept. 30 release, which would appear to signify a Toronto Film Festival play.
Another unique entry was “The Space Between Us,” an unusual young adult/science-fiction hybrid about a boy born on Mars and raised there by scientists who finally comes to Earth. The gravity of our planet creates a bit of a ticking clock scenario as he won’t survive here long, but the narrative turns to romance as he seeks out the only Earth girl he had ever met growing up. Asa Butterfield, Gary Oldman and Carla Gugino star.
Trailers were also screened for Jonas Cuaron’s “Desierto” (a border-crossing thriller that premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year), “The Bye Bye Man” (which Fogelson called a return to classic boogey man horror stories) and “The Foreigner” (a temporary title for Jackie Chan’s latest, which turns the international action star into a vengeance seeker in the vein of Liam Neeson’s “Taken” franchise). Also unveiled was a first look at “Bad Moms,” a raunchy comedy about a trio of ne’er-do-well mothers from the writers of “The Hangover.”
With four films in the marketplace and seven hitting theaters this year, Fogelson said STX plans to expand its slate to as many as 12 releases in 2017.