In a stunning anomaly, a new movie that did poorly in Manhattan - "Journey From the Fall" - nevertheless did so well in Orange County and San Jose in California that it topped this week's indieWIRE Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT) of independent/specialty films with a $21,861 average from four theaters. Directed and written by Ham Tran and about the Vietnamese refugee experience in America, it's the first film produced and financed by Vietnamese-Americans, according to distributor ImaginAsian Entertainment.
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available here at indieWIRE.com
At the same time, another drama about Asian immigrants to America and their children - Fox Searchlight's Mira Nair-directed "The Namesake" - is fast becoming the first major indie hit of the new year. Jumping to 117 play dates from the previous weekend's 41, it had only a minor drop in per-site average, to $11,169 from $17,440. It slipped to third from first on the iWBOT.
Overall, the Top Ten had a number of strong weekend performers - Janus Films' re-release of Max Ophuls' 1953 "The Earrings of Madame de..." improved business in its second week at Manhattan's Film Forum and finished second with $18,109. Four other new movies finished fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh respectively with per-screen grosses above $7,000 - Tartan Films' "The Page Turner," a French drama by Denis Dercourt that opened at both the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza in Manhattan; TLA Releasing's Q. Allan Brocka-directed "Boy Culture," which played at Manhattan's Quad Cinema, West Hollywood's Laemmle Sunset 5 and San Francisco's Castro; Eros Entertainment's latest Bollywood feature, "Namastey London," which opened on 65 screens; and Shadow Distribution's "Air Guitar Nation" documentary, playing at the Angelika.
Ken Loach's IFC-distributed "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" slipped to eighth from second in a competitive weekend, but the per-screen average was a reasonably strong $5,969 considering it jumped to 14 runs from nine. The previous weekend's average was $8,466. First Run/Icarus' "Blockade" slipped to 10th from third and Acme Pictures' "American Cannibal" to 11th from fifth, while still doing fair business in their exclusive runs.
Dylan Marchetti, ImaginAsian's director of theatrical programming and acquisitions, purchased "Journey From the Fall" last year at Cannes. It is his company's first theatrical release. It owns a theater in Manhattan specializing in films about Asian culture and has another set to open in September in downtown Los Angeles. "Not only did it have an amazing script and heartfelt performances, but this is the first film to show the Vietnamese-American experience as told by and paid for by that community," Marchetti said.
The company chose to open "Journey From the Fall" at its own Manhattan cinema but it grossed only $3,800. However in California cities with high Vietnamese-American populations, its results were astounding. San Jose's Camera 12 did $21,838 for the weekend; Edwards Westminster 10 in Orange County did $23,759 while Regal's Garden Grove 16 grossed $37,269. "We were test-marketing and the one that paid off was the grassroots community marketing in Vietnamese areas versus the more mainstream marketing in New York," Marchetti said. "We did a multi-pronged approach. We spent a lot of ad dollars in the Vietnamese media and engaged every group we could find from student groups to the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce."
On Friday ImaginAsian will expand the film to Dallas and Houston and elsewhere, with an eye to getting it quickly into Los Angeles proper. The following week, it opens in Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland.
"The Namesake," which Nair directed from a novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, is breaking out quickly. After just three weeks in release, it has a total gross of $2.64 million - half of which was generated last weekend. So far, it's performing well ahead of Nair's 2002 "Monsoon Wedding" - another India-themed film popular in the U.S. - as well as Gurinder Chadha's "Bend It Like Beckham." "It's appealing to two generations - young and old - and to two cultures," said Sheila DeLoach, Fox Searchlight's general sales manager. "It's so strong."
At the Film Forum, which has done good recent business reviving "lost" or "forgotten" movies like "Army of Shadows" and "The Fallen Idol," the potent weekend gross of "The Earrings of Madame de..." has proven that there's still interest in more familiar classics. Its $18,107.50 take was almost $2,700 higher than the previous weekend's revenue. It is not scheduled to hold over for a third. The German-Jewish Ophuls, who had become a French citizen before moving to Hollywood for a problematic stay after France fell to the Nazis, made "Earrings" after returning to France in the early 1950s.
"We're ecstatic it's doing so well," said Gabriele Caroti, Film Forum's repertory programming publicist, via E-mail. "It's an undisputed classic in a brand new print that isn't available on DVD domestically, a very rare occurrence these days. But its success is much more than that, stemming mostly from good old fashioned word of mouth as well as Andrew Sarris. He's called it 'the greatest film of all time' more than once and did so again this time in a review that ran the week prior to opening, which started a big momentum in the press."
Overall, the 70 titles on the iWBOT commanded 2,839 screens and did $6.1 million business - way up from the previous weekend's Northeast snowstorm-plagued doldrums of $2.85 million at 2,930 sites. This weekend's per-screen average of $2,149 more than doubled the previous weekend's paltry $970. But business still is slow compared to the weeks when Academy Award nominations fueled grosses that regularly crossed the $10 million mark, reaching a high of $19.77 million on Jan. 30.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles-based film writer and former movie critic at the Denver Post.
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 submit information about your film to Rentrak, please email firstname.lastname@example.org