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July 27, 2005 2:00 AM
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"9 Songs" and "Last Days" Debut Well; "Penguins" March to Heavy Seven-figures Again

"9 Songs" and "Last Days" Debut Well; "Penguins" March to Heavy Seven-figures Again

by Brian Brooks

Warner Independent Pictures' "March of the Penguins" spawned another impressive weekend in theaters, expanding into hundreds of additional venues throughout the country, although the film relinquished its perch at the head of the specialty pack of films, as ranked on a per screen average. Tartan Films' sexy "9 Songs" laid claim to the top spot, opening in one theater, while Picturehouse's "Last Days" placed second, opening at a dozen locations. IFC Films' "The Edukators" opened to moderate numbers, while THINKFilms' "Murderball" gained momentum in an expansion. "March of the Penguins," however, continued to take the lion's share of the overall box office, padding what would have otherwise been a ho-hum weekend.

Michael Winterbottom's fleshy "9 Songs" debuted on one screen over the weekend, wrestling the premiere position on the iW BOT from "March of the Penguins" with a luring $13,457 from its sole location.

Picturehouse's Gus Van Sant feature "Last Days" debuted on 12 screens, placing second on the chart with a $7,213 average. The film grossed $86,556 from its initial run in Los Angeles and New York.

"I'm very happy with [the opening, and] particularly pleased with L.A., which can be a tough market for the 'artier' films," said Picturehouse chief Bob Berney in a conversation with indieWIRE Tuesday. "The film received a strong review in the New York Times, [and] it's experimental in many ways, so it's a great [start] for this film." Berney said that the Landmark Sunshine theater in downtown New York, and the Laemmle Sunset theater in Hollywood attracted the expected crowd of mostly young music fans, and an "art crowd," but the Empire in New York had also attracted a strong older audience, which he speculated were drawn to the film, inspired by the final days leading up to Nirvana front-man Kurt Cobain's suicide, by the Times review.

In general, Berney had a fairly upbeat tempo when asked to give his feedback about the specialty box office so far this summer, commenting that certain films have shown strength, with good numbers of people going to see 'unique' offerings. "I think for summer, it's been pretty good. For 'March of the Penguins,' it's been fantastic." Berney also cited "Mad Hot Ballroom" and "Me and You and Everyone We Know" as examples of films having successful runs so far this season. "[The box office] is picking up, maybe not burning up, but there's some good business out there. In general, it's a 'film-driven' market."

Picturehouse will add a few runs this upcoming weekend for "Last Days," including BAM in Brooklyn, and a venue in Palm Springs. The film will expand further on August 5 and again August 12 to about 15 cities.

Warner Independent's "March of the Penguins" captured the third position on the iW BOT, taking a dip from its one month reign as the chart's number one film in the screen average contest. Still, the film performed solidly, adding 563 runs, and taking in nearly $4.4 million from 695 screens. The film's average declined 45% to $6,306 and its five-week cume is over $9.3 million. "Penguins"'s weekend gross alone represented about 69% of the entire iW BOT total.

IFC Films' "The Edukators" by Hans Weingartner debuted at a pair of locations, placing fifth on the chart. The feature grossed $10,075 for a $5,038 average. "The film opened to modest numbers, but we are encouraged by the overwhelming positive reaction from those who saw the film on opening weekend and believe there will be a strong word-of-mouth," said IFC Films vice president of sales and distribution, Mark Boxer in a conversation with indieWIRE Tuesday afternoon. "The film really speaks to both an older demographic that appreciates a terrific foreign film, [and] a younger audience who can relate to the subject matter and to the [film's] young cast. We outreached to both of those audiences, and also marketed on the Internet and toward political activist groups."

Boxer seemed to concur with Berney's opinion (both spoke with iW in separate conversations) that there is opportunity in the summer to counter- program against the studio blockbusters, and also cited the company's successful run of Miranda July's "Me and You and Everyone We Know" as an example. Nevertheless, he added, "the specialty market is challenging in any season because there are more and more independent films in the marketplace each week." IFC Films will open "The Edukators" in Los Angeles on Friday, and will continue to roll out in the top twenty markets by mid-August.

THINKFilm's doc "Murderball" received a nice boost last weekend, raising its per screen average, although it added 17 runs. The film grossed $104,392 from 26 screens, averaging $4,015 (a nearly 8% increase), and placing sixth on the chart. In three-weeks, the film has cumed $263,918.

Roadside Attractions' "Ladies in Lavender" by Charles Dance easily surpassed the $5 million threshold in its 13th weekend. "Ladies" grossed $196,814 from 116 screens, averaging $1,697.

"People are definitely coming out to see the two Dames, Maggie Smith and Judy Dench -- two world-class actors at the top of their game in lead roles," said Eric d'Arbeloff, co-president of Roadside Attractions, which is releasing the film in the U.S. "Audiences really connect with the story, which Charles Dance wrote and directed in a beautifully understated way. An intelligent look at the emotional lives of older people is not exactly typical studio fare. It's an understatement to say there's pent-up demand." D'Arbeloff said that the audience has typically skewed toward 35 and older in its three month-plus run, but, "it's like a Pixar movie in reverse -- you can take your mom because you know she'll love it, but it turns out you do too."

Commenting on the general specialty market, d'Arbeloff said that it's a challenge to find films that will connect in a special way with audiences. "Since we've been around a year-and-a-half now, we've had a chance to bid on nearly every movie that is opening. It's validating for us to see the success that Paramount Classics has made of 'Mad Hot Ballroom,' and that WIP is having with 'March of the Penguins' since we loved both of those films. With 'Ladies,' we took a film that the studio divisions felt was too small for their slates, and generated both excitement around its theatrical release, and grosses." Roadside has played the film in over 350 engagements, and will still open smaller markets, including Louisville, KY, Winston-Salem, NC, Eugene, OR, Olympia, WA, Canton, OH, Tuscaloosa, AL and some others. "We had tremendous success on Cape Cod this summer, and we're continuing to open some vacation destinations [such as] Bar Harbor, ME, Keene NH, and Hilton Head, SC."

Last weekend, the overall iW BOT average soared 18% to $3,534, its best showing since the beginning of March, although much of the jump was padded by the success of "March of the Penguins." The chart's 69 titles reporting grosses totaled just under $6.4 million, while the number of venues screening specialty films jumped by 503 to 1,805.

Minus "Penguins," the chart's 68 other films took in just under $2 million, averaging $1,798, or 49% below the general iW BOT tally, on 1,110 screens. Industry-wide 118 films grossed nearly $140 million, averaging $3,602, or about 2% higher than the specialty average.

This weekend's openings include THINKFilm's "The Aristocrats," Indican Pictures' "God's Sandbox (Tahara)," and Strand Releasing's "Tony Takitani."

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