It's been over a year since Toronto's historic Bloor Cinema was renovated and revamped as a year round cinema for Hot Docs -- North America's largest documentary film festival. Playing nonfiction films almost exclusively, the cinema has proven in the 14 months since it's opened that there is indeed a market for this sort of specifically branded art house. And in it's in the midst of having one of it's greatest success stories.
First-time filmmaker Shawney Cohen's "The Manor" is a portrait of his own family, who just so happen to run the strip club noted in the film's title. "The Manor" opened Hot Docs' annual festival last month to strong reviews and packed theaters, and then started its theatrical run a week after Hot Docs ended, at The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, as it is now called.
Over just eight screenings, "The Manor" grossed $14,462 last week. That made for an average audience of more than 200 people per screening. Last Wednesday, the film made $2,343 in a single screening -- a higher per theater average than the two highest grossing and most reported on docs screening in the United States,"One Track Heart," and "Stories We Tell." Impressively, that was also a higher average than both "The Great Gatsby" and "Iron Man 3."
"We were so thrilled to be able to open 'The Manor' at The Bloor and the response has been incredible," Hot Docs Executive Director Chris McDonald told Indiewire. "The first year since the cinema has opened has gone beyond our wildest expectations. We've doubled all our projections and the audience is continually growing. We're seeing that it's become a special venue, and one that can truly open a film to big numbers."
"'The Manor' is an incredible film, and it's a testament to that that
it's opened so strongly at The Bloor," added Charlotte Cook, Hot Docs' Director of Programming. "We're often told that playing the
festival minimizes the theatrical audience, but this shows that it can
be a fantastic launching pad. Seeing 'The Manor' play so big is wonderful,
the film deserves it and after this incredible launch I can't wait to
see it begin its worldwide festival journey."
The film is not an exception in its success. Hot Docs' Bloor Cinema has seen Canadian docs "The World Before Her" and "Coast Modern" prove quite profitable. The former grossed $13,521 in its opening week, while the latter took in $8,113 in its first weekend over just four screenings.
In its non-exclusive runs, the theater has also done very well. Last year's "Marley" grossed $18,651 at the Bloor in its first week (over just 16 screenings). The average opening week gross across the U.S. and Canada was $8,497. Another recent doc hit -- LCD Soundsystem doc "Shut Up and Play The Hits" -- took in $7,345 from just two screenings at the Bloor. The average across Canada and the U.S. was $2,390.
It makes clear that the theater is a vital destination to open a film, but also brings up an odd issue in box office reporting that should be noted. Every Sunday, Indiewire -- like many, many other publications -- report estimates for what many refer to the "North American box office." Outside of the issue that it should really read "U.S. and Canadian box office" (there's more to North America then its two most northern countries), there's an additional problem of exclusion. With regard to most films, receipts from Canada and the U.S. are indeed counted. The big opening weekends of recent studio offerings "Iron Man 3," "The Great Gatsby" and "Star Trek Into Darkness" all included Canadian numbers (which usually end up accounting for roughly 10%), as has totals for recent indie hits like "The Place Beyond The Pines" and "Mud." But this isn't always the case.
"The Manor" was nowhere to be found in box office tracking last week, in the trades or on popular sites like boxofficemojo.com, despite its impressive numbers. Often if a film happens to open in Canada first, which happens with most Canadian productions and occasionally with films from outside markets, the numbers from Canada often don't get included when the film opens Stateside and seem to disappear from its final count.
Sarah Polley's Canadian doc "Stories We Tell," for example, opened in Canada last fall (after having its international premiere at The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, oddly enough). But the "North American box office" numbers being reported for the film's American debut two weeks ago have only included the money it's made in the United States (and it's Canadian numbers are nowhere to be found). It seems disrespectful to the films themselves to pretend like their origin country's box office receipts don't matter (or exist), and to the Canadian exhibitors -- like The Bloor -- that are clearly doing a very fine job at getting the films out there.