By Indiewire | Indiewire May 26, 2004 at 2:0AM
"Control Room" Bombards the Specialty Box Office in NYC Debut
by Brian Brooks
While Michael Moore's doc "Fahrenheit 9/11" ruled the Festival de Cannes, winning the coveted Palme d'Or over the weekend, Magnolia Pictures' "Control Room" commandeered the specialty box office, managing a revenue coup at a venerable New York cinema where it debuted to a three-day sell out. Last week's topper "Coffee & Cigarettes" only experienced a mild come down in its expansion, taking the second spot on the iW BOT, measured by per screen average. Two self-distributed pics scurried to the third and fourth position on the chart, while Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn's "Super Size Me" added extra helpings to its playdates with a strong showing, marking another healthy weekend for docs.
While "Control Room" was on just one screen, instead of 4,163 like "Shrek 2," it beat out the Hollywood blockbuster on per screen average. The specialty film gross increase of 10% over last weekend still pales in comparison to Hollywood's 52% increase in grosses for the same period, which is up 6% over the same pre-Memorial Day weekend from last year.
Jehane Noujaim's doc, examining Qatar-based news network Al Jazeera in the period leading up to and during last year's U.S. invasion of Iraq, won the hearts and minds of New Yorkers where it debuted at Film Forum causing box office shock and awe. The Sundance film smashed a record for a weekend single-screen opening at the downtown cinema taking in $27,125, a complete sell-out for all of the film's weekend showings.
"[This is] phenomenal," commented Magnolia Pictures head Eamonn Bowles to questions indieWIRE emailed him from Cannes over the weekend. "Basically, it was just about mathematically impossible to do any better. Sunday outgrossed Saturday, which I didn't think would be possible." Bowles cited both the period of the film's release and its entertainment value as particularly important factors in augmenting the documentary's appeal across the political spectrum. "Obviously our timing ended up being spectacular and the press has picked up on it but the one thing people are taking away from the screenings is how entertaining the film is. It can get obscured by the red-hot subject matter, but this is razor sharp filmmaking. The other thing that's been interesting is that the film is going over well regardless of political affiliation." Bowles went on to praise Noujaim as a filmmaker and her "skill in walking the line," citing her two interviews on the Fox network (which called the film "excellent"), as evidence that the film plays well regardless of ideology.
Bowles, whose company released last year's successful doc, "Capturing the Friedmans," commented that docs have taken firm root in terms of appeal to the movie going public. "It seems to me that we're beyond the fad stage. I think the barriers between fiction and non-fiction will continue to break down, and I think 'Fahrenheit 9/11' will be the first $100 million grossing documentary, [and] no, I'm not insane."
The film's release into other venues and markets is still under consideration according to Bowles. "To be honest the release was so rushed that not everything has been in place as tidily as I would have liked. We were taking dates on the film before we had signed the contract. The blowup of the 35mm print is still being worked on as we speak, and the trailers are just now being finished. Because of this, we have a bit of a lag before we hit other markets." Still, Magnolia will charge forward with "Control Room." "It was a conscious decision to go out as quickly as possible, even if the early release was going to be rough around the edges," he said. A later release from the company's publicist indicated the doc will expand further in New York on June 11th as well as the top 15 national markets and more cities throughout the summer.
Last week's iW BOT leader, "Coffee & Cigarettes" by Jim Jarmusch, inhaled an additional 12 screens for its second weekend of release, serving up a second spot on the chart with a $196,492 take on 17 screens. The film averaged a satisfying $11,558 per screen average ($19,832 its debut weekend) and has now cumed $359,594.
Self-distributed feature "My Mother Likes Women" debuted at one site grossing $9,780. The film took a very respectable third position on the chart, only to be followed by fellow self-distributed film, "Superstar in a Housedress." "Superstar" played on one screen in its third weekend of release, taking in $9,695, up from $4,615 last week.
Audiences continued their "Super Size Me" habit. The doc added 35 engagements, grossing $973,644 for a chunky $6,579 per screen average ($6,718 last week). Since release three weeks ago the Morgan Spurlock directed film has cumed over $2.9 million.
Wellspring's "Strayed," in its second week, was at sixth on the BOT in its expansion, taking in $64,111 on 14 screens, an increase of a dozen. The feature averaged $4,579 ($9,766 its debut weekend) and has totaled $94,301.
Strand Releasing held the seventh and ninth rankings on the chart for "The Mudge Boy" and "Twist" respectively. "Mudge" earned $4,135 in its third weekend on one screen, down from two last week ($29,010 cume), while "Twist" debuted with a $3,887 take at one venue.
IFC Films' shed two sites for "The Saddest Music in the World," coming in eighth on the chart with an $85,916 gross. The film averaged $3,905 on 22 screens, up from last week's $2,760 average. In one month of release the film has crooned $315,308 from movie patrons.
This weekend, look for specialty releases in theaters including Roger Michell's "The Mother" from Sony Classics in New York and Los Angeles, United Artists' "Saved," by Brian Dannelly, and Palm Pictures will open "Time of the Wolf" by Michael Hanecke in select locations.
[Brian Clark contributed to this report.]