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Arthouse Audit: Niche Docs Lead Specialized Openers, Oscar Contenders Tally

Arthouse Audit: Niche Docs Lead Specialized Openers, Oscar Contenders Tally

Art-house exhibitors eagerly await the Fox Searchlight stateside release of Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which premiered in Berlin to wide acclaim, but it’s still a month away. In the meantime, award season releases continue to show uneven results, although non-nominated “Gloria” is expanding well. As was the case last week, the leading new openers are documentaries with more limited appeal. And “Kids for Cash” took an unusual route, opening in three Pennsylvania cities before going into a more conventional release pattern.

New releases

“Kids for Cash” (Paladin/SenArts) 

$40,800 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $12,200

With so many quality documentaries competing for attention, and those focusing on tough issues facing even greater obstacles in attracting theatrical audiences, enterprising filmmakers and distributors increasingly are thinking outside the box. Sometimes it pays off, as with this harrowing tale of how a corrupt Pennsylvania judge financially gained by sending young defendants to a privately-owned juvenile facility. With no significant festival exposure, this opened atypically in four theaters in the eastern Pennsylvania area most familiar with the case, with a result that would have been decent had they been four New York/Los Angeles theaters.

Clearly helped by awareness of this still-resonating case, the gross includes a sold-out Thursday night premiere in Wilkes-Barre, near where the events took place. But overall, they are strong enough (clearly helped by the attention this will now receive) to elevate the film for forthcoming playdates and to help land additional ones.

First-time director Robert May previously produced “The Station Agent” and was executive producer for two earlier major docs, “Stevie” and “The Fog of War.”  Like the veteran directors of “Detropia,” another guerilla-distribution effort whose creators took a hands-on approach to its release, May had enough confidence in his film to take an unconventional approach that, in its first stage at least, is showing success.

What comes next: More Pennsylvania dates next Friday, followed by other big city dates (including New York and Los Angeles) in the following weeks.

“Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil le Clerq” (Kino Lorber) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 83; Festivals include New York 2013

$16,500 in 1 theater; PSA: $16,500

Opening in the epicenter of New York’s dance world at Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Monroe Theater (with an estimated 5-day gross of $22,718) this is another performance-based documentary that starts off with sold-out shows where the core interest lies. Most often, this happens at the downtown Film Forum, but this time around (near where present-day dance students are housed and where “Black Swan” was set) this tragic story of an aspiring 1950s prodigy hit its marks uptown.

What comes next: Docs like this often need this sort of initial response to garner elevated exhibitor response in other markets. This gross will get this a lot more interest.

“The Last of the Unjust” (Cohen Media) – Criticwire: A; Metacritic: 76; Festivals include: Cannes 2013, Toronto 2013, New York 2013

$14,519 in 8; PSA: $1,816

Claude Lanzmann’s epic documentary “Shoah” is considered not only the greatest film on the Holocaust, but one of the greatest films ever made (at #29 in last year’s Sight and Sound international poll of critics’ all-time best, it was the highest ranked doc). In the decades since that film’s release (which despite its nearly 10-hour length drew significant U.S. audiences) Lanzmann has taken material not included in the original and created new films. This one focuses on one survivor from a camp set up by the Nazis as a showcase settlement used in propaganda to mislead the world about how residents were treated. The man portrayed, a rabbi who worked closely with his German masters, defends his actions, with Lanzmann letting audiences make up their own minds about his complicity. At 3 1/2 hours, six hours shorter than “Shoah,” it is a tough sell for conventional exhibition, and these initial figures (which include the ideal two core theaters in New York and Los Angeles) are a disappointment.

What comes next: The main market for this going forward will be a significant number of non-theatrical venues and small festivals before it heads to a long life on DVD and online.

“A Field in England” (Drafthouse) – Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 75; Film festivals include Karlovy Vary 2013, Toronto 2013

$5,000 in 10 theaters; PSA: $500

Showcased in Toronto’s more offbeat Wavelength section (usually home to less commercial though ambitious titles), the adventuresome Drafthouse took a bigger-than-usual risk with this black-and-white English Civil War story from director Ben Wheatley. It failed to find a home at the top New York or Los Angeles venues, and with mixed and buried reviews in the two major papers had little chance of finding an audience.

What comes next: This won’t help Drafthouse gain much traction for additional theaters.


“Tim’s Vermeer” (Sony Pictures Classics), which has had a much higher profile and more significant marketing than the top two new documentaries this week, added 3 theaters to its initial 4 (all in outlying Los Angeles) to gross $39,000 (PSA $5,571). It will take new cities and their results to have a clearer picture of the film’s future, but at this point it looks like a niche, narrow performer, though as usual SPC will make sure it has the widest possible exposure.

Expanding much more quickly, “Gloria” (Roadside Attractions) took in $250,000 in 64 theaters (+35, PSA $3,922, total $555,000 in its third weekend). This is continuing to look despite its Oscar snub like one of the higher grossing art-house oriented subtitled films of the year, while it is still in the early stages of release.

The pacesetter among foreign language films continues to be Oscar favorite “The Great Beauty” (Janus), which added another $105,000 in 53 theaters to reach $1.8 million (already in its 13th week). Though this will never have the wider breaks SPC gave the last two winners (“A Separation” and “Amour”), “Beauty” has quietly amassed an impressive total which, if it should win, might grow substantially higher.

Oscar Performer Tally:

Among the Oscar nominees, the more specialized ones all trailed three studio contenders who placed 11th-13th (“American Hustle,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Gravity,” all on the plus side of $100 million and adding more to their totals than the other nominees). The new totals for these are as follows, in order of this weekend’s grosses: “August: Osage County” (Weinstein) $34.4 million, “Philomena” (Weinstein, due for its widest expansion next weekend) $28.7 million, “12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight) $47.3 million, “Her” (Warner Bros.) $22.5 million, “Nebraska” (Paramount) $14.9 million and “Dallas Buyers Club” $23.7 million, grossing in the range of $1.5 million to just over $600,000. There has been a lot of Oscar action this year, though divided among a wide array of films that has reduced the individual take of many of these. Notable among these is the small (-16%) drop for “Philomena” and an uptick in the PSA for “Nebraska.”

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How does "A Field in England" gross $10,000 in 5 theaters and make a per screen average of $500? I find it hard to believe that it's playing on 4 screens for every theater it's playing in. Two of those theaters are in LA and I know it's only playing on one screen in each of those, which means it's playing on 6 screens per theater in every non-LA theater? WOW.

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