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Riley Stearns' The Art of Self Defense

Annual Top Films Lists

Top 50 Most Anticipated American Independent Films of 2019: #42. Riley Stearns’ The Art of Self Defense

Top 50 Most Anticipated American Independent Films of 2019: #42. Riley Stearns’ The Art of Self Defense

The Art of Self Defense

Taking his sweet time in the post production process (filming took place in September of 2017 with Jesse Eisenberg in the lead), Riley Stearns returns to SXSW with The Art of Self Defense, which is more or less five years after blasted off with low budget 2014’s Faults (trailer). Along with karate chops, we’re expecting more dark comedy yumminess.

Gist: Written by Riley Stearns, this centers on Casey (Jesse Eisenberg), who is attacked at random on the street and enlists in a local dojo led by a charismatic and mysterious Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), in an effort to learn how to defend himself. What he uncovers is a sinister world of fraternity, violence and hyper-masculinity and a woman (Imogen Poots) fighting for her place in it. Casey undertakes a journey, both frightening and darkly funny, that will place him squarely in the sights of his enigmatic new mentor.

Release Date/Prediction: SXSW included the film in their Narrative Spotlight section and we might see more playdates at fests before a theatrical release. No date has been set by the Bleecker Street folks who landed the rights to the film last year.


Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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