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"Eggleston" Paints a Solid Box office Opener; "Penguins" Continue to Charm

By Brian Brooks | Indiewire September 8, 2005 at 6:47AM

Palm Pictures' "William Eggleston in the Real World" is the latest doc to canvas the specialty box office summit, taking the number one position as ranked on a per screen basis last weekend. Empire Pictures' "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" expanded and weaved further up the iW BOT chart, increasing its screen average well into its initial release, while TLA Releasing rolled out "Three Dancing Slaves" at an exclusive engagement, placing third on the chart. Also over the weekend, Focus Features debuted "The Constant Gardener," performing solidly on well over 1,000 screens (the film is omitted from the chart because it is not a limited debut). And, summer stalwarts "March of the Penguins," "Broken Flowers," and "The Great Raid" were again the top three individual earners closing out the final summer holiday weekend.
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Palm Pictures' "William Eggleston in the Real World" is the latest doc to canvas the specialty box office summit, taking the number one position as ranked on a per screen basis last weekend. Empire Pictures' "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" expanded and weaved further up the iW BOT chart, increasing its screen average well into its initial release, while TLA Releasing rolled out "Three Dancing Slaves" at an exclusive engagement, placing third on the chart. Also over the weekend, Focus Features debuted "The Constant Gardener," performing solidly on well over 1,000 screens (the film is omitted from the chart because it is not a limited debut). And, summer stalwarts "March of the Penguins," "Broken Flowers," and "The Great Raid" were again the top three individual earners closing out the final summer holiday weekend.

Director Michael Almereyda's artist profile doc "William Eggleston in the Real World" debuted in the specialty box office's premiere position with the single highest per screen average. The doc played one location, grossing $8,895 over the Labor Day weekend. The film's cume, which includes grosses since its debut last Wednesday total $14,780.

"We're very pleased with the opening, especially in light of the flawless weather and the deserted streets of Manhattan this past holiday weekend," commented Palm Pictures' director of distribution, Neal Block in a converstion with indieWIRE Tuesday. "We kicked the run off with a great opening night and sustained good numbers straight through Labor Day." Block credited positive press and a renewed interest in the film's subject for drawing audiences. "Aside from a recent resurgence of interest in Eggleston and his work, the film was enthusiastically received by critics."

Palm will continue its run at New York's Film Forum for at least the next two weeks, and will open in other venues around the country where it can tap into an established arts crowd. "We're booking the film in mainly non-traditional, arts-based venues like the Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis (Eggleston's hometown), the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. Since it's necessary to reach our audience for this film in a very grassroots way, it's helpful to have access to the resources that these institutions are built on. The film will play through 2006."

Focus Features' "The Constant Gardener" by Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles opened strongly nationwide over the weekend, ranking third behind "Transporter 2" and "40-Year-Old Virgin" in terms of overall box office gross. The film would have ranked second on the iW BOT chart, however, it falls beyond the chart's mandate to track films opening in limited release. "The Constant Gardener" took in over $10.96 million on 1,346 screens, averaging $8,143.

Focus' head of distribution, Jack Foley indicated to indieWIRE earlier this week that the company was "very happy" about the film's opening, and believed the film's late August roll out augmented its performance. "We firmly believe that this calendar period would attract an older adult audience as evidenced over the years by titles that generated business with boomers and older buyers. We are very satisfied by the results." Foley also credited early screenings for generating positive word for the film ahead of its opening. "The film was screened aggressively for word-of-mouth grassroots impact among various taste makers and important 'talkers.' There were screenings with long-lead press, [a] Hamptons [Film Festival] screening, and groups [focused] on African [issues]."

The film increased its grosses over the weekend, according to Foley, attracting a heavy 35-plus audience and divided evenly between male and female. "'Constant' also achieved high scores in our exits with viewers under 25, which surprised and pleased us. The $91,000 Union Square New York City three-day weekend gross certainly indicated that the younger Greenwich Village moviegoer was eager to see the movie and liked it."

Returning to initial limited release titles, TLA's "Three Dancing Slaves" placed third on the chart, grossing $6,317 at one location, the only opener other than "William Eggleston" to penetrate the top ten. New Yorker Films' "Games of Love and Chance" took in $3,211 at one engagement, while Regent Releasing's "Margaret Cho: Assassin" grossed $19,246 ($2,406 average).

Appropriately, Warner Independent Pictures' "March of the Penguins" nourished the highest overall gross on the chart over the holiday weekend, dominating the summer's specialty releases. The doc took in over $5.56 million on 2,506 screens. "Penguins"'s average actually increased 11% to $2,219 last weekend, and played 112 additional screens (2,506 total). The film's summer cume through Labor Day is over $63.56 million.

Labor Day's second highest specialty earner, "Broken Flowers" by Jim Jarmusch grossed almost $1.1 million on 426 screens (seven less than the previous weekend), averaging $2,550, a 35% decline from the previous week's $3,908. The Focus Features film has cumed over $10.56 million.

Along with Miramax's "The Great Raid," (which grossed the chart's third highest total), the combined takes of "Penguins" and "Flowers" represented about 74% of the entire specialty box office chart's entire gross of nearly $9.94 million. Sixty-six films played 5,055 screens over Labor Day weekend, compared to 67 titles on 4,919 screens the previous weekend. The combined iW BOT average calculated to $1,966, or 3% below the previous week's $2,026 average, although "The Great Raid"'s $877 average on 841 screens skewed the downward pull somewhat.

Minus the top three earners, the remaining 63 titles on the chart grossed over $2.55 million on 1,282 screens, averaging 2% higher than the overall iW BOT average at $1,992. Industry-wide, 128 films grossed about $117.71 million on 43,910 screens, averaging $2,681, or about 27% higher than the iW BOT average.

Strand Releasing's "Côte d'Azur" and Dimension Films' "Curandero" are among the upcoming weekend's limited openers. Also rolling out are Freestyle Releasing's "Green Street Hooligans," Magnolia Films' "Keane," and Miramax's "An Unfinished Life."