ImaginAsian's Vietnamese-American "Journey From the Fall" had a second strong weekend to finish first on the indieWIRE Box Office Tracking Report (iWBOT) of independent/specialty films, while Milestone Films could have an art-house sensation on its hands after the second-pace finish of its theatrical release of Charles Burnett's "lost" 1977 film about life in Watts, "Killer of Sheep." Debuting on the chart in third place was IFC Films' "After the Wedding," which shows signs of establishing Danish director Susanne Bier in America. Also from IFC is Ken Loach's "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" from the company's IFC First Take label, but its place on the chart was in question on Tuesday due to a problem with numbers initially reported to Rentrak (the film is not in the number four slot as initially reported by indieWIRE).
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available here at indieWIRE.com
Unquestionably in the top five is Mira Nair's "The Namesake" from Fox Searchlight which is continuing to do good business from both the art-house audience and Indian-Americans as it expands. It grossed $1.55 million from 237 prints over the three-day weekend, far and away the chart's biggest grosser even though two films - "Amazing Grace" and "The Lives of Others" -- are on more screens.
Curiously, reflecting the unusualness of ImaginAsian's marketing strategy, director Ham Tran's "Journey" finished first again even though its distributor pulled it out of Manhattan - out of a Manhattan theater that it owns, no less. ImaginAsian is mostly using grassroots marketing in Vietnamese communities rather than print ads in mainstream newspapers, a strategy that hasn't worked in New York. It's also booking the film near to those communities rather than at print ad-dependent art houses or multiplexes. Because of that, says Dylan Marchetti - ImaginAsian's director of theatrical programming and acquisitions - some chains like AMC and Landmark have been slow to warm to bookings. "Some chains like Cinemark and Regal have gotten what we're doing," he said. "We're putting our print ads in Vietnamese publications but otherwise put that money (elsewhere)."
Opening at Houston's centrally located Cinemark Westchase 24, the film did $32,745 on two screens. In Dallas, where it played in two suburbs with sizable Vietnamese populations, it grossed $11,091 at Cinemark Grand Prairie 15 and $7,300 at Cinemark's Garland 15. This weekend, it holds at existing screens while expanding in Dallas and opening in Washington, D.C., San Diego and Long Beach. The film is still not in central Los Angeles.
"Killer of Sheep" grossed $26,155 at two theaters for a second-place average of $13,077. But that doesn't begin to tell the story. It set a house record at Manhattan's IFC Film Center of $22,747, forcing a move to a bigger screen and generating $8,519 on Sunday alone. Burnett's film about everyday life in Watts, made while he was a student but never released in theaters because of music-licensing problems, was named a "national treasure" by the Library of Congress in 1990. "The reviews were so incredibly glowing and enthusiastic that it made people want to see it," said Amy Heller, Milestone's president. "But also, the film has acquired a reputation over the years even if you couldn't see it (in theaters). There were 16 millimeter prints available at colleges, museums and film festivals, so many people had heard about and had wished they'd seen it."
Heller also credited Imagenation, a Harlem-based organization devoted to independent cinema and opening its own art house in Harlem called Imagenation Soul Cinema, with doing grassroots support for the film's re-release. "They did a closed screening for movers and shakers of the African-American community at Lincoln Center's Kaplan Penthouse and filled every seat with people. They got it loved it in a great way," Heller said.
In suburban Westchester County, however, at the Jacob Burns Film Center gross was just $3,416. "It didn't get reviewed in the suburbs (from the daily Journal News)," Heller said. "I would have thought all the coverage from The Times would have mattered but I don't know. Maybe we should have waited a week to open there.
This week, "Killer of Sheep" opens at Landmark's NuArt Theatre in Los Angeles with the Los Angeles Times already having done a major Sunday feature on its reemergence, including an interview with Burnett. Meanwhile, Heller said, she's been so inundated with booking requests - not just from theaters around the country but places like University of Cincinnati and a film festival in Athens, Ohio - that she's already pushed back the DVD release to November and is making five new prints to go with the four on hand. In April, it also opens in Denver and Hartford in addition to L.A.
Interestingly, "Killer of Sheep's" reputation in recent years has been aided by its prominence in Thom Andersen's film "Los Angeles Plays Itself," an essayist look at the way the City of Angels has been portrayed in cinema. Another "lost" film that Andersen heralds as providing an authentic vision of the city - Kent MacKenzie's 1961 "The Exiles," about the life of native Americans in downtown L.A. - will be Milestone's next restoration project.
Bier's "After the Wedding," nominated for an Oscar, averaged $9,462 at five theaters in New York and L.A. "'Wedding' played very strong at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, grossing just under $18,000 for the weekend and over $13,000 at the Angelika in downtown New York," said Mark Boxer, IFC's vice president of sales and distribution, via E-mail. "The film will expand on April 13th to the top 10 markets while expanding to the suburbs on New York and Los Angeles."
"Barley," Loach's drama about the Irish rebellion which last week finished eighth on the iWBOT with a $5,969 average from 14 locations, increased to 40 North American play dates, earning more than $124,000. It made just under $70,000 in the U.S. and has made about $303,000 in the country so far and a total of $546,000 in North America. Final figures had yet to be confirmed for the iW BOT when this article was published early Wednesday, but the revised figures were confirmed by IFC Films. The final chart published later today will reflect the corrected grosses. The previously reported Rentrak figures highlighted on Monday by indieWIRE were challenged by a rival distributor and subsequently corrected by IFC Films which apologized for the error.
"The Namesake" jumped to 237 locations from 117 and saw its per-theater average remain strong at $6,523, down about 40% from the previous average of $11,168 as it slid to fifth from second in its fourth week.
Overall, the 59 titles on the iWBOT last weekend did $4.9 million gross from 2,252 screens - down from the previous weekend's $6.1 million business by 70 titles 2,839 screens. The per-screen average of $2,176, however, was virtually identical with the previous $2,149.
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 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.