A riotous weekend debut of $20,880 at New York's IFC Center and the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles made "Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten," IFC First Take's documentary about the Clash figurehead," the top release on the iWBOT. ThinkFilm's crime story "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" continued to be the top narrative feature on the iWBOT, which ranks films by per-screen average. Rounding out the iWBOT Top Five were "Lagerfeld Confidential," "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song" and newcomer "Darfur Now," the latest in a steady stream of political documentaries.
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available at indieWIRE.com.
"Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten" was IFC First Take's first iWBOT topper since its nautical documentary "Deep Water" in late August. Acclaimed at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, "Future Is Unwritten" earned $20,880 from exclusive runs in New York and Los Angeles and a per-screen average of $10,440. "Future Is Unwritten" was a musical follow up for filmmaker Julien Temple, who previously directed the concert documentary "Glastonbury" and the Sex Pistols doc "The Filth and the Fury." While its per-screen debut ranked below recent music docs "Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster," the Dixie Chicks film "Shut Up And Sing," "Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man" and "The U.S. Vs John Lennon," IFC First Take plans to capitalize on nostalgia for the Clash as well as Strummer and expand "Future Is Unwritten" to the top ten markets Friday. "Joe Strummer was an inspiration to musicians and fans alike and audiences looking for a sense of nostalgia found it this weekend with a solid opening for the film's platform release," said Mark Boxer, VP Sales and Distribution for IFC Films. "Julien Temple brings a remarkable look at a talented individual before, during and after his rise with the Clash."
Close behind was Koch Lorber's documentary "Lagerfeld Confidential," about fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. Director Rodolphe Marconi's film earned $9,267 at New York's Film Forum, a slight 20% drop from its debut weekend.
"Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," veteran director Sidney Lumet's drama about two brothers robbing their family's jewelry store, expanded to 43 runs and continued to attract sizable crowds in its second week in release. "Devil" earned $370,542 for its distributor ThinkFilm; a $8,617 per-screen average. Its cume has reached $484,770. Think expands "Devil" to ten additional markets Friday and reaches the top 35 markets by Nov. 16 - a step closer to the all-important year-end awards announcements.
Far less successful was director Ash Christian's coming-of-age gay comedy "Fat Girls" for Regent Releasing and Here! Films. "Fat Girls" failed to crack the iWBOT top fifteen on debut earnings of $4,465 from two locations.
"Pete Seeger: The Power of Song," The Weinstein Company's documentary about the iconic folk singer, earned $15,902 at New York's Film IFC Center and the Dobie Theatre in Austin, Texas.
"Bella," director Alejandro Monteverde's Bible-inspired romance between a former soccer star and a pregnant waitress, expanded to 186 runs and earned just over $1 million for Roadside Attractions. Its $5,758 per-screen average was good enough for a second week in the iWBOT top ten.
Top re-issues continued to be Warner Bros.' "Blade Runner: The Final Cut," which earned $95,946 from an expanded platform of 13 runs and a restored 35mm print of Jean-Jacques Beineix's 1982 new wave caper film "Diva," which earned $5,672 at the Film Forum for Rialto Pictures.
The top political documentary was Warner Independent Picture's "Darfur Now," featuring first-hand accounts of six people trying to make a difference in Darfur, including actor Don Cheadle. "Darfur Now" earned $23,217 from three runs for a strong per-screen average of $7,739. Farther behind in earnings was the environmental documentary "Sharkwater," which grossed $16,693 from 15 runs for a modest per-screen average of $1,112. For "Sharkwater" director and on-camera adventurer Rob Stewart, the box office for his film (released with the support of Freestyle Releasing and Rocky Mountain Pictures) was disappointing after the film's successful release earlier this year in Canada. In light of Michael Moore's healthcare documentary "Sicko," whose cume for Lionsgate and the Weinstein Co. has reached $25 million, Stewart admitted to harboring high expectations for his documentary. "I have high expectations for 'Sharkwater,' of course I do," Stewart said. "It's five years of my life. But I don't think 'Bowling for Columbine' and 'Fahrenheit 9/11' and 'An Inconvenient Truth' are the norm. Once a year, a mega doc hits and this year we had 'Sicko' and last year there was 'An Inconvenient Truth.' I don't expect 'Sharkwater' to make the same amount of box office as 'Bowling for Columbine' but I do think there is potential for any doc to hit and hit well."
Other political docs competing with "Darfur Now" and "Sharkwater" included ThinkFilm's abortion rights film "Lake of Fire," "Crossing the Line," about American defectors in North Korea, "Terror's Advocate," director Barbet Schroeder's look at controversial French lawyer Jacques Verges and "King Corn" about U.S. agronomics. All documentaries, despite their timely topics, have achieved box office totals less than $45,000.
Expectations for documentary films are too high, agreed Greg Kendall co-head of Balcony Releasing, the distributor of "King Corn." More importantly, don't expect things to improve. "Documentary film experienced an exciting period following the relative success of films such as "Bowling For Columbine", "Winged Migration", "My Architect" and "Spellbound", in which audiences and the industry discovered something that the doc community already knew: that non-fiction films could be as dramatic as any narrative," Kendall said. "This, among other reasons (including of course the advancement of affordable film-making technology), has led to a glut of documentary films in release, including the category loosely known as "political docs." Audience attention in general is distracted, fragmented, whatever you want to call it - but that is the case for all film, independent and studio, doc and narrative, in this crazy, busy, Oscar-chasing, one-film-after-another theatrical environment."
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.