Film locally: Familiar Strangers seeks big open

Cavalier Films takes a do-it-yourself approach to distribution.

When Barry Sisson and Marc Lieberman decided they didn't need to be in Hollywood to make films, they formed Cavalier Films and shot Familiar Strangers in Staunton in 2006.

Two years later, when they couldn't find the distribution deal they wanted, the duo decided to release the film themselves. The characters in Familiar Strangers come home for Thanksgiving, and the film's producers hope an audience will come out two weeks before Turkey Day to to support their homegrown feature, which opens November 14 at the Regal Downtown and in Fairfax.

"Regal has been good to us, and they like the film," says Sisson. But Regal isn't going to give the picture an indefinite run, which makes the opening weekend numbers and word of mouth crucial, he says.

The following weekend, the movie opens in Staunton at the Visulite and in two theaters in Tennessee, and then expands to Richmond and Kansas City.

"In the industry, it's called a platform release," explains Sisson. "You start small and widen."

Movies typically open in Los Angeles and New York. Creative Artists Agency, the powerhouse agency founded by Michael Ovitz that formerly represented Cavalier, "felt it was a heartland film," says Sisson. "It's a heart-warming film, and they felt it would do better in the heartland than in taste-maker cities. That continues to be our strategy."

Familiar Strangers, starring D.J. Qualls (Road Trip, Hustle and Flow), debuted earlier this year at the Method Fest Independent Film Festival, where it won the best ensemble award. The movie has made the round of festivals, says Sisson, but hasn't been picked up by a distributor.

"The distribution side is in bad shape," says Sisson, whose first venture into the movie biz was to co-finance the critically acclaimed 2003 indie, The Station Agent. "Half the distributors a year ago are gone. The ones that are left, if they're healthy, they're offering less. We've gotten offers, but the offers are poor. We think [Familiar Strangers] deserves better."

Sisson describes the film as "very touching. It's real. It could be your family."

Cavalier has taken a grassroots approach to marketing the film. They've hired a PR firm, put posters and trailers in theaters, set-up an email list, and hired college students to spread literature in hopes of boosting attendance for that critical opening weekend.

"Independent filmmakers have got to take the reins themselves," says soon-to-be-departing Virginia Film Festival director Richard Herskowitz. "Distribution is very rough. Filmmakers are becoming their own distributors. I really admire Barry for doing this."

"As a business man, this is not a good place to be," acknowledges Sisson, "but more people love independent film than ever before. I want to do what my passion is–- and make money at it."

Sisson just hopes Familiar Strangers "gets some wind under its sails–-" and if it does, that's what he'll be thankful for this holiday.

Updated 2pm.


Fandango isn't showing this as a coming attraction at the downtown Regal or allowing the pre-purchase of tickets. Are they available for purchase at the box office prior to opening night? Also I'm surprised there's no mention in your story of Barry Sisson's involvement in 'The Station Agent', an independent film familiar to lots of people around here that went on to critical and commercial success.

Good point and "The Station Agent" is now duly noted. Sisson says tickets will be available on Fandango tomorrow after Regal posts its movie times.

Lisa Provence

Saw the movie on Friday and it's wonderful--intimate family portrait funny and poignant, beautifully acted, with great music and of course the hometown setting. Don't miss this one if you love a good story !!!

We really enjoyed this lovable film. It is warm and clever, fun and true. Thank you Mr. Sisson, we hope you make more films here that are as wonderful as this one.

This is a great film-- highly recommend that you see it in the theatre. It is well-written, with witty dialog, and fun for the local scenery in Staunton. Far exceeds other indy favorties of similar family themes such as Juno, Little Miss Sunshine and The Squid And The Whale. Kudos to Barry Sisson & his Cavalier Films team -- hope to see many more successes like this one!

Wow. Thanks so much to all for such warm comments. We have as our stated mission to bring to life personal stories that matter. In making a film we can only pray that it will come together and work. There is nothing better than to have people respond to a film you care so much about.

By the way, if anyone has extra typing energy, posts to IMDB, Fandango, Yahoo Movies, Rotten Tomatoes and the like can really help a film find its audience. Thanks!

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Sellers in the Charlottesville area are engaging in a scam where they make a pitch about how valuable the home is they are attempting to sell. After the buyer is conned into buying the property, the buyer discovers the property is valued at about 50% of what he paid for it when it is assessed for taxes.

Any buyer suspecting they may be overpaying should immediately pull their head out and take a clue.

This is some overpriced garbage.

Umm, wouldn't you find out if a property is overpriced when you have the appraisal done before you buy it?

And are you saying that you WANT the city/county assessment to match the sale price/appraisal? It seems like you would want the tax assessor to be working from a much lower figure than what you paid for your house. There's a big difference these days in this area between the tax assessment figure and the market/appraisal figure.

Yaa, all appraisers work independently and give you an honest appraisal. Sure . . . right. You can believe that if you want but I have enough experience in real estate to know better. Isn't it always funny how the appraisal comes out to be almost the exact amount that the house sells for. Almost always . . . .

That house is in a sketchy little section of town on the bad side of "Shady Grady." It looks cool, but waaay overpriced IMO. I'm a male and I don't go walking down there at night.

If you live in a "cookie-cutter" subdivision where buildings are identical or very similar, the Charlottesville tax assessment can give a good indication of value even though the assessment is still usually on the low side. In areas where the city has a lot of variety, especially where few buildings have sold recently, assessments are frequently only a fraction of current building value. Building quality can vary dramatically, and an older building that has not had plumbing and wiring updated along with a good central heating and air conditioning system, insulation, new windows, etc. will clearly be worth much less than a building that has had a high-end upgrade. I have frequently seen very little difference in assessed value between these older functionally obsolete buildings and buildings that are in much better condition, so assessed value is not a reliable indicator of actual value. I am stunned at the prices, but they are actually very modest compared to many areas of the country.

my issue with these projects is the quality of craftmanship.
take a look at the joints and reveals in these places....indicative of larger problems really.

it seems to me as though someone with very little actual design/ build training does these things...its almost as if the company looks at design magazines and then implements whaever strikes their fancy in a hodge-podge manner with no real unifying idea.

and ikea cabinets in a custom house!!???....long gone are the days that we will be fooled by a little stainless steel and some new ikea cabinets.