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by Eric Kohn
April 17, 2007 6:13 AM
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iW BOT | "Dog" is Specialty Box office's Best Friend

Molly Shannon and Peter Sarsgaard in a scene from Mike White's "Year of the Dog." Image courtesy of Paramount Vantage.

Veteran television and movie scribe Mike White made a strong directorial debut on this week's indieWire Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT) of independent/specialty films as his Paramount Vantage-released comedy "Year of the Dog" opened to a per screen average of $15,460 at seven New York and L.A. theaters. Meanwhile, last week's iWBOT chart-topper, Milestone Films' popular restoration of Charles Burnett's low budget 1977 drama "Killer of Sheep," managed to hold onto second place, continuing its successful two-theater bicoastal run. Despite declining 46% in its per screen average, dropping from $15,864 to $7,359, the movie still stayed ahead of Paul Verhoeven's thriller "Black Book," which expanded into 19 more theaters in its second week.

The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available here at indieWIRE.com

In addition to "Year of the Dog," three other new releases comfortably debuted in the top ten: Veteran French New Wave director Alain Resnais' "Private Fears in Public Places," the Tibet-based drama "Dreaming Lhasa," and UK filmmaker Andrea Arnold's "Red Road."

White, whose writing credits include the now-defunct NBC show "Freaks and Geeks" and the Jack Black comedy "School of Rock," made a successful transition to the director's chair with "Year of the Dog." The movie stars Molly Shannon as a woman who becomes increasingly sensitive to animal rights after the death of her beloved canine companion. It also features performances by Laura Dern and John C. Reilly. After being warmly received by audiences at its world premiere during the Sundance Film Festival, "Year of the Dog" gathered solid reviews that emphasized its implementation of dark comedy into a heartwarming story. The movie grossed $108,223 in its first week. Paramount Vantage plans to expand to 35 screens in the United States and Canada over this week.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed that the luck we got out of both coasts will continue to build," a Paramount Vantage spokesperson said. "It's keeping with the success that we've seen with edgy comedies in the past."

"Killer of Sheep," which has been playing at New York's IFC Center for three weeks and moved from Los Angeles' Nuart Theatre to the NuWilshire Theater in Santa Monica last week, has garnered an overall gross of $111,699. It will continue at the NuWilshire until April 20, while opening in several theaters throughout the country over the course of the week.

"Black Book," which signaled Verhoeven's triumphant return to American audiences with its healthy returns last week, swelled to 28 screens across the country from its debut on nine New York and L.A. screens, causing a decline of 58% in its per screen average. However, the movie already grossed $8.9 million in Verhoeven's native country Holland and its domestic gross has risen to $383,819, keeping it safely within the top ten.

Resnais' "Private Fears in Public Places," the 84-year-old director's well-reviewed study of Parisian romances, was released by IFC First Take in two theaters and grossed $14,391. "Dreaming Lhasa," released by First Run at New York's Imaginasian Theater for a weeklong run, brought in a decent $6,060. "Red Road," which was released to great acclaim in Europe last year and won top prizes at Cannes and various other festivals, was released by Tartan Films and took in $17,009 on three screens.

Miramax's "The Hoax," a con man production starring Richard Gere, dropped out of the top ten with a 57% decline in its per screen average as it broadened from 235 theaters to a much larger 413. Fox Searchlight's Indian-American drama "The Namesake" stayed just barely inside the fold, making an average of $3,761 per screen in its sixth week as it dropped from 334 screens to 331.

Another title that dropped from the top ten was IFC Films' "After the Wedding," Danish director Susanne Bier's follow-up to her much acclaimed 2004 film "Brothers." The movie spread out to 33 screens from last week's seven screens, driving down its per screen average 48% and bringing its cumulative gross to $256,328.

Overall, 66 titles on this week's iWBOT did $5.18 million at 2,174 screens. That's roughly 12% less than the previous weekend's gross of 67 titles on 20,91 screens. The per screen average, however, saw a 4% increase to $2,174 from last week's $2,091.

indieWIRE:BOT tracks independent/specialty releases compiled from Rentrak Theatrical, which collects studio reported data as well as box-office figures from North American theatre locations. To be included in the indieWIRE Box Office Chart, distributors must submit information about their films to Rentrak at studiogrosses@rentrak.com by the end of the day each Monday.

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