By Indiewire | Indiewire May 13, 2008 at 3:45AM
Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman dressed as a chicken and picketed New York's Village East Cinemas a few days prior to the opening of his horror comedy "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead." His promotional antics paid off with the Troma release clawing its way past all independent movies with a finger licking good per-screen average of $10,700 at the Village East. Close behind was Magnolia Pictures' "Surfwise," director Doug Pray's documentary about off-the- grid surfer Doc Paskowitz and his family. "The Fall," Indian filmmaker Tarsem's eye-popping adventure tale set in silent-era Hollywood, also debuted in the iWBOT top five, which ranks films by per-screen average. "The Fall" earned $79,611 in weekend box office from nine runs for Roadside Attractions. Rounding out the iWBOT top five were "Before the Rains," Indian director Santosh Sivan's South India-set, period romance for Roadside Attractions, and "Bloodline," Cinema Libre Studio's documentary about the controversy concerning whether Jesus married Mary Magdalene and fathered children.
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available Tuesday at indieWIRE.com.
News of Warner Bros. shutting down its indie film labels, Warner Independent Pictures and Picturehouse cast a gloom over the weekend's art-house releases. While business analysts debated the value of specialty film divisions to Hollywood studios, a cross-section of alternative films, "Poultrygeist," "The Fall" and "Bloodline" debuted with solid box office results for their independent film companies.
Veteran cult filmmaker and Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman experienced one of the biggest debuts in New York-based Troma's thirty-five-year history thanks to his horror musical "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead." About a zombie menace that occurs when a fast-food chicken restaurant is built atop Native American burial grounds, "Poultrygeist" earned $10,700 from its exclusive debut at New York's Village East Cinemas. "The shows were amazing," said Kaufman via e-mail. "We had people shouting and laughing and clapping. The Friday and Saturday shows were almost sold out with little advertising. Some celebs attended and "The Onion" sponsored a huge after party. The studios spend a hundred million and still can't buy that kind of genuine enthusiasm and word of beak." Boxer confirmed a slow expansion plan for "Poultrygeist," one dictated solely by its box office performance, with a Los Angeles opening in June. "We are bootstrapping the distribution; buying new prints out of the revenue," said Kaufman. We have fewer than 15 prints and they are all working. In fact, my wife and I had to shell out the $500,000 for the film's production budget. I told her she was investing in "Transformers Part 4," so don't tell her."
"Surfwise," director Doug Pray's documentary about hippie surfer Doc Paskowitz and his family of nine kids, earned $10,304 for Magnolia Pictures from an exclusive debut at New York's IFC Center. Neal Block, director of distribution, Magnolia Pictures, confirmed an expansion of "Surfwise" to Los Angeles and Newport Beach on May 23 and other markets in June. "We're happy with the performance of this doc in a non-surf-heavy locale like New York and we're excited to see hot it plays in places like LA and San Diego," said Block. "It's not your typical surfing film. "Surfwise" is much richer; its characters human and its drama universal."
"The Fall" Indian director Tarsem's elaborate fantasy adventure set in Hollywood's early years, earned $79,611 for Roadside Attractions and a $8,846 per-screen average from nine runs in New York and Los Angeles.
"Before the Rains," director Santosh Sivan's period romance between a British landowner and an Indian servant; set in Sivan's native South India, earned $48,159 from six runs in Greater New York and Los Angeles for Roadside Attractions. An expansion of "Before the Rains" into top ten markets is planned for Friday.
Rounding out the iWBOT top five was "Bloodline," co-directors Bruce Burgess and Rene Barnett's documentary about the long-held belief that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and fathered children. "Bloodline" earned $6,658 from its exclusive debut at New York's Village East Cinemas for Cinema Libre Studio; an expansion to Los Angeles is planned for Friday.
Debuting in the iWBOT top ten was "Refusenik," director Laura Bialis' documentary about the thirty-year effort to free Soviet Jews and fight anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. "Refusenik" earned $4,383 for Abramorama Pictures from its exclusive debut at New York's Quad Cinema.
Just outside the iWBOT top five was Samuel Goldywn's "Roman de Gare," the latest film from French master Claude Lelouch. Featuring Fanny Ardant, Audrey Dana and Dominique Pinon as three strangers whose lives intersect with surprising results, "Roman de Gare" earned $64,516 from 15 runs for a $4,301 per-screen average and a cume of $334,098. While a steep 60% decline in per-screen average from its previous weekend, "Roman de Gare" remained the top-performing holdover on the iWBOT.
Other specialty debuts outside the iWBOT Top Ten included "The Tracey Fragments," director Bruce McDonald's adaptation of Maureen Medved's novel featuring "Juno" star Ellen Page in titular role. "Tracey Fragments" earned $3,002 from its exclusive New York run. Director Michel Hazanavicius' French spy comedy "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies," featuring comic actor Jean Dujardin as a secret agent, earned $31,418 in weekend box office from nine runs for Chicago-based Music Box Films. "Noise," writer/director Henry Bean's comedy about a New York lawyer (Tim Robbins) railing against the city's countless car alarms, earned $3,687 for ThinkFilm from two New York engagements. "The Babysitters," writer/director David Ross' dark comedy about a teenage call girl operation, earned $23,518 from 22 runs for Peace Arch Entertainment.
The latest in a long series of Iraq War-themed movies that failed to generate sizable audiences was "Battle For Haditha," director Nick Broomfield's first narrative film after many years of directing documentaries. Featuring actors who did tours of duty in Iraq, "Haditha," a dramatic retelling of the November 2005 massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines, earned $2,181 for Lafayette Films at New York's Film Forum.
Venice, CA-based outfit Menemsha Films achieved a more positive milestone, recently surpassing one million dollars in box office for its documentary "The Rape of Europa," directors Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen and Nicole Newnham's look at art looted by the Nazis in World War II. "Rape of Europa" became Menemsha's second million dollar earner; joining its German romance "Gloomy Sunday."
Steve Ramos is a Cincinnati based writer.
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 email@example.com by the end of the day each Monday.