IFC Is King of the Mountain with "Touching the Void"
by Wendy Mitchell
Blasts of wintry weather didn't keep audiences away from the snow-capped adventure tale "Touching the Void," which IFC Films opened on Friday on two screens in New York, and one screen each in Washington, D.C., Denver, and Seattle. The mountain-climbing docudrama earned the highest per-screen average for the opening of any film in IFC's history, earning $19,400 per screen.
Self-distributed "Empathy," Amie Siegel's doc-fiction hybrid about psychotherapy, was in our runner-up slot, with a per-screen average of $11,975 (on one screen, at New York's Film Forum). "Empathy" got some positive attention when it made the festival rounds to Berlin, Chicago, and other festivals; it will play at Film Forum through February 3. Also near the top of indieWIRE's chart, based on per-screen average, were Sony Pictures Classics' doc "The Fog of War," which made a healthy $155,826 this week, for a per-screen average of $9,166 and a new cume of $677,152. Lions Gate's Vermeer story "Girl with a Pearl Earring," which has awards buzz going for it, did more than half a million this week, for a new cume of $2.6 million and a per-screen of $7,513.
"Monster" by Patty Jenkins has now cleared $6 million for Newmarket Films; with Charlize Theron's Golden Globe win on Sunday night, look for this one to continue to be strong in coming weeks. Theron went so far as to thank Newmarket head Bob Berney in her acceptance speech. In other notable milestones, Fox Searchlight's "In America," directed by Jim Sheridan, passed the $9 million mark, and Lions Gate's "The Cooler" and Miramax's "The Station Agent" both cleared $5 million.
IFC didn't have much competition from new films opening this week (especially on the independent side) but they did have chilly weather and theaters full of Oscar bait to contend with. "Touching the Void," directed by Kevin Macdonald (the Oscar-winning "One Day in September") tells the true story of ill-fated climbers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates as they try to escape death on the daunting Peruvian mountain Siula Grande. Macdonald's story interweaves interviews with Simpson and Yates with footage of actors recreating the events of the fateful climb. "When we signed the film last year we wanted to get it out in winter, given the theme of it," says Greg Forston, IFC Films VP of Sales and Distribution. "When we picked the release date last September, I was a little worried because it was so far away, you don't know what January is going to hold. We knew we'd be jumping into any last-minute Oscar pushes. But we thought the film was strong enough to stand out from the fray." Indeed it did, grossing $96,973 on five screens.
Forston said that Denver and Seattle were something of wildcard markets -- "just because there are mountains somewhere doesn't mean that people will see a mountain-climbing movie," he says -- but in fact Seattle had the film's highest gross. Denver performed solidly despite getting several inches of snow Sunday afternoon. In Washington, D.C., "Touching the Void" set a house record at Landmark's E-Street Cinema. IFC will add the film in an additional six markets on February 6, and will then continue to roll it out in February and March.
"Our overall strategy with the film is to add cities slowly and add exclusive runs. We're not trying to blow it out, we want to give it a chance to grow organically," Forston told indieWIRE on Monday. "It's been getting incredible press and word of mouth. The buzz has been building since Telluride [Film Festival] last year." He noted that several non-film-specific outlets had helped publicity -- such as features in Sports Illustrated and Outside magazines and Joe Simpson's appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman."
The IFC has a slew of other titles headed to theaters this quarter: "Kitchen Stories," "Intermission," "The Saddest Music in the World," and "This So-Called Disaster."
With Oscar nominations due out this morning, several specialty films could see boosted box office results next weekend. New openings next week include the queer Morman tale "Latter Days" opening in New York, L.A., and Salt Lake City; Lucas Belvaux's first Trilogy installment "On The Run" from Magnolia Pictures; and the restaurant doc "Eat This New York," opening at Cinema Village.