By Indiewire | Indiewire March 20, 2007 at 5:29AM
In a week in which multiplex business was dominated by movies that critics lambasted as shallow, the independent/specialty market fulfilled its mandate by providing a clear alternative as well-reviewed, thought-provoking titles like Fox Searchlight's "The Namesake," IFC's "The Wind That Shakes the Barley," Zeitgeist's "Into Great Silence," Thinkfilm's "Avenue Montaigne" and Sony Pictures Classics' ongoing hit "The Lives of Others" did well. All placed in the indieWIRE Box Office Tracking Report's (iWBOT) Top Ten -- "Namesake" at the top, "Barley" debuting in second place, "Silence" in third, "Montaigne" in sixth and "Lives of Others" in seventh. Two new films in exclusive one-screen engagements, First Run/Icarus' "Blockade" and Lifesize Entertainment's "American Cannibal," did well enough to finish third and fifth, respectively, with their moderate grosses. Overall, it was a quiet weekend as northeast snowstorms hurt Friday business.
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available here at indieWIRE.com
Mira Nair's "The Namesake," an adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's novel about an Indian family in America, averaged $17,439 at 41 theaters in its second weekend, quite impressive following a broadening of play dates from opening weekend's six sites and $41,425 average. It already has grossed $1 million as it played well to the traditional upscale art-house audience and to others. Its per-screen average beat every other film in circulation last weekend; its opening per-screen average the previous weekend was the year's best. It set the house record at Manhattan's venerable Paris art house, grossing $101,939 in its first seven days. Originally, the film was planned for a fall release.
Stephen Gilula, Fox Searchlight's chief operating officer, said "The Namesake's" start shows that its target audience is sophisticated enough to not need a fall or year-end release -- with expansions tied to award nominations -- to validate a prestige title as important. And that's important for distributors, since it could mean more such "quality" releases in the spring and summer. "As we had hoped, there was not as much competition as there would have been in fall if we'd stuck to our original plan," Gilula said. "Spring gave us an opportunity for a larger gross.
"We wondered would it be treated as an important movie in spring, because the media have a tendency to treat the season for important movies as fall to the end of the year," he said. But so far, it has. The film jumps to 110 runs this Friday, when it will be in 23 cities. In cities with a sizeable Indian/South Asian population, about half the audience is comprised of its members, Gilula said.
One big surprise last weekend was the strong initial showing of Ken Loach's "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" -- and not just because it brought a taste of "Barley" -- a word not often seen on theater marquees -- to the iWBOT. The opening proved Loach is still a potent name in America. IFC released the film, a drama about the Irish rebellion that won last year's Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, at two theaters each in New York and Boston and five in metropolitan L.A. It averaged $8,465 per locale and took in a total of $76,190.
Loach, a leftist British filmmaker whose early-1990s titles like "Riff-Raff" and "Raining Stones" were essential indie-film viewing, had seen declining impact from his more recent, Scottish-set contemporary dramas. His Lionsgate-distributed "Sweet Sixteen" from 2003 only opened at three theaters and never made it past 21, according to Box Office Mojo, while 2004's "A Fond Kiss" from Castle Hill only netted $30,148 total in the U.S.
"You have to go well back into his filmography to find a booking that did as well," said Greg Laemmle, whose Laemmle theater chain showed "Barley" in three L.A. locations and did well. "IFC did a terrific job of getting it out there and making people aware. We've had other films of his that also were solidly reviewed but didn't do so well. I can't say why this is doing better than his recent modern-set films, I'm just glad it did."
Mark Boxer, IFC's VP of Sales and Distribution, said via E-mail: "We are very encouraged and excited about the opening. Despite the storm, 'Barley' was sold out through the weekend at (Manhattan's) IFC Center and the Lincoln Plaza cinemas. (It) expands to the suburbs of New York this upcoming weekend and top ten markets open on April 6th." (It also be available through video-on-demand on March 28th.)
Another film that is performing impressively -- but quietly, as it befits the subject matter -- is Philip Groning's three-hour "Into Great Silence," about the year he spent observing monks in the Grand Chartreuse Monastery in the French Alps. In its third weekend, it expanded to six from two theaters and finished fourth on the iWBOT with a $5,162 average, down from the previous weekend's $11,566. New York's Film Forum, where it originally had been booked for just two weekends, is continuing the run open-ended. It did $11,423 there last weekend, its third. Opening at Boston's Landmark Kendall Square, it was the top-grossing film with a $7,345 gross, despite the Friday weather. It did $3,628 in its opening at Berkeley's Shattuck and $3,567 at San Francisco's Lumiere.
Emily Russo, Zeitgeist's co-president, said the word about the film -- that it is for the patient seeking a meditative, calming, spiritual cinematic experience in which slowness is savored -- is reaching an audience that wants exactly that. And that audience, in turn, is spreading the word -- slowly, of course. "We're getting people seeking a different experience, who want to see a movie on the big screen with other peope also into it. And, obviously, there are enough who are."
The film opens in Washington, D.C., this Friday and will be on 10-12 screens nationwide by month's end.
The iWBOT film with the highest weekend gross was Michael Apted's "Amazing Grace" from Samuel Goldwyn in association with Roadside Attractions. It took in $2.11 million last weekend from 1,817 screens for a $1,162 per-screen average. It has grossed $14.46 million in four weeks, as those interested in the biopic's inspiring message seek it out.
Overall the inclement weather and the end of the road for most Oscar-nominated or - awarded titles depressed business. The 58 titles collected $2.85 million at 2,930 sites; the previous weekend the same number generated $8.63 million at 4,840 sites. That brought last weekend's per-screen average to under $1,000 -- about $970.
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