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April 8, 2008 2:07 AM
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iW BOT | "Red Balloon" Soars in New York Debut; "Blueberry Nights," "Jellyfish" Dazzle Audiences

A scene from Hou Hsiao-hsien's "The Flight of the Red Balloon." Image courtesy of IFC First Take.

"Flight of the Red Balloon," Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien's drama inspired by the 1956 French classic "The Red Balloon," soared above its art-house competitors with earnings of $35,222 for IFC First Take at New York's Paris Theatre and IFC Center. Close behind was "My Blueberry Nights," Hong Kong master Wong Kar Wai's debut English language film. "Blueberry Nights" struck a $12,358 per-screen average from six runs for the Weinstein Company. "Jellyfish," a Tel Aviv-set drama from husband-and-wife filmmakers Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen, earned $25,352 for Zeitgeist Films from four Greater New York locations. Returning to the iWBOT top five, which ranks films by per- screen average were Abramorama's "The Singing Revolution," a documentary about Estonia's struggle to end Soviet occupation through song festivals, and Cinema Guild's "Alexandra," Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov's war drama.

The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available at indieWIRE.com.

"Flight of the Red Balloon" Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien's family drama inspired by French director Albert Lamorisse's "The Red Balloon" averaged $17,611 from debut engagements at New York's Paris Theatre and IFC Center. With weekend earnings of $35,222, "Flight of the Red Balloon" starring Juliette Binoche as a Parisian mother and Simon Iteanu as her young son, earned more than half the total domestic earnings of Janus Films' recent re-release of a restored version of the 1956 French art-house classic. "The strong response to the movie is likely attributable to the very favorable reviews the film received, which both elucidated and extolled Hsiao-hsien Hou's enormous gifts as a filmmaker and recognizing him as one of contemporary cinema's true masters," said Cary Jones, director, national sales, for IFC Films. "Flight" also tripled the domestic per-screen debut of Hou's previous film, 2006's "Three Times." "While we didn't conduct exit polls this weekend, the box office grosses were virtually identical at both the Paris and IFC Center, which would suggest that "Flight of the Red Balloon" appeals to avid filmgoers across the demographic spectrum." Jones confirmed a slow roll out, with IFC bringing "Flight" to the top ten markets in the next six weeks.

"My Blueberry Nights," Wong Kar Wai's first English language film, earned $74,146 for the Weinstein Company from six debut runs in New York and Los Angeles for a per-screen average of $12,358. "The grosses speak for themselves and the Angelika in the Village in New York was the biggest grosser for two reasons," said Steve Bunnell, chairman of distribution at the Weinstein Company. "It's more of a villagy, hip kind of film. We also attracted a large Asian audience, particularly in New York." Despite being Wong's first English language film and featuring Natalie Portman, Jude Law and singer Norah Jones in her acting debut, "Blueberry Nights" failed to match the per-screen debuts of Wong's recent films "2046" and "In the Mood for Love." Bunnell confirmed a release strategy supportive of a steady, word-of-mouth build up, with expansions to five markets like Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle on April 18. "Wong Kar Wai has a great following, you can tell that by the reviews" Bunnell said. "He has a great stature for making visually beautiful films and that's come across in the reviews. With Norah Jones, Natalie Portman and Jude Law and Wong's following, we feel we have a winning combination."

"Jellyfish," the debut feature from husband-and-wife filmmakers Shira Geffen and novelist Etgar Keret, reached a $6,338 per-screen average from four Greater New York runs for Zeitgeist Films and $25,352 in weekend box office. A drama about three Tel Aviv women whose lives crisscross at a wedding, "Jellyfish" expands nationwide through June. Remaining in the iWBOT top five was "Alexandra," Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov's drama about a grandmother visiting her soldier grandson in Chechnya. "Alexandra" earned $9,086 from an exclusive run at New York's Film Forum for Cinema Guild and reached $25,867 in total box office after two weeks. Entering the iWBOT top five for the first time since its Dec. 2007 debut, "The Singing Revolution, co-directors James Tusty and Maureen Caste Tusty's documentary about Estonia's struggle to end Soviet occupation via popular song festivals, earned $30,916 in weekend box office from five runs across North America. The Abramorama release reached $72,820 in total box office.

Other specialty debuts in the IWBOT top ten included "Shine A Light," director Martin Scorsese's concert documentary of the Rolling Stones performing at New York's Beacon Theatre in 2006. "Shine A Light" earned $1.5 million for Paramount Classics and Shangri-La Entertainment from 276 locations for a per-screen average of $5,392. Koch Lorber's "Water Lillies," French writer/director Celine Sciamma's teenage girls, coming-of-age drama earned $7,418 in weekend grosses from two engagements. "Tuya's Marriage," director Wang Quan An's Mongolia-set family drama, the debut release from fledgling, Chicago-based film outfit Music Box Films, earned $2,619 from its exclusive run at New York's Cinema Village.

Lagging behind was "Meet Bill," directors Bernie Goldmann and Melissa Wallack's male midlife crisis comedy for First Look Studios. Starring Aaron Eckhart and Jessica Alba, First Look debuted "Meet Bill" on 36 screens in mid- sized markets, earning $35,201 in weekend box office. Sony Pictures Classics' animated drama "Persepolis" closed out its chapter as a foreign-language film with $23,510 in weekend revenue from 30 runs and $4.2 million in total box office. The film based on Marjane Satrapi's four graphic novels about growing up in pre-revolutionary Tehran, and co-directed by Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, re-emerges Friday as an English-language movie in over 100 theaters.


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 studiogrosses@rentrak.com by the end of the day each Monday.

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