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July 29, 2008 1:59 AM
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iW BOT | Sky-High Crowds Make 'Man on Wire' 2008's Top Doc

A scene from James Marsh's "Man on Wire." Photo: (c) 2008 Jean-Louis Blondeau / Polaris Images.

Reports of New York audiences breaking into applause at weekend shows of the debut documentary "Man on Wire," about high-wire artist Philippe Petit and his walk on a wire between the rooftops of the World Trade Center, led to Magnolia Pictures execs cheering chart-topping, weekend box office figures. While the overall domestic box office continued to be robust thanks to strong hold-over business by Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures' Batman installment "The Dark Knight," art house films only recently sprung to life with five new releases leading the top six spots on the weekend specialty charts. Magnolia Pictures achieved the best debut grosses for a documentary since last summer's Michael Moore healthcare documentary "SiCKO" with "Man on Wire," director James Marsh's documentary about Philippe Petit's notorious high-wire act atop the World Trade Center towers. 'Man on Wire" earned $51,392 for Magnolia Pictures.

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

"Brideshead Revisited," British filmmaker Julian Jarrold's adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's 1945 novel about aristocratic English life, also debuted strong; earning $339,616 for Miramax Films from 33 runs. "American Teen," director Nanette Burstein's documentary about four high school seniors in rural Indiana, earned $45,589 for Paramount Vantage from its debut weekend in New York and Los Angeles. Rounding out the iWBOT, which ranks films by per-screen average, were "Transsiberian," director Brad Anderson's thriller for First Look Studios, set aboard the famous Russian railway; and "The Order of Myths," director Margaret Brown's documentary about longstanding racial strife at Mobile, Alabama's Mardi Gras for the Cinema Guild.

Magnolia Pictures topped the 2008 iWBOT for the first time with "Man on Wire," director James Marsh's documentary about French high-wire artist Philippe Petit's amazing walk 1,350 feet above the ground between the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center in 1974. Featuring interviews with Petit and the numerous people who helped him plan and implement the "artistic crime of the century," "Man On Wire" earned $51,392 in debut earnings from New York's Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and its top performer, Sunshine Cinema, for a sky-high $25,696 per-screen average. "The most impressive testament to how well the film is going over is that we performed way over a traditional Sunday pattern despite having no personal appearances," said Eamonn Bowles, president, Magnolia Pictures. "I reported an estimate of $48,000 for the weekend and we actually ended up grossing over $51,000. That's just word of mouth revving up, It's also pretty impressive how we performed against our doc competition that mightily outspent us."

Beyond out-performing the weekend's other documentary debut, Paramount Vantage's high-school set "American Teen," as well as previous Magnolia docs "Bigger, Stronger, Faster," "Surfwise" and "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson," "Man On Wire" became 2008's top documentary debut unseating the Zeitgeist Films release "Up the Yangtze." "This is by far the biggest doc opening since "Sicko," Bowles continued. "I just think that in many ways this plays more like a poetic adventure film than a standard issue doc and for that reason it may have a shot at a larger audience. But let's not write off the doc yet. We've done healthy business with "Gonzo" this summer as well." Bowles confirmed additional national openings for "Man on Wire" August 8.

"Brideshead Revisited," British filmmaker Julian Jarrold's adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's 1945 novel about aristocratic English life prior to World War II as well as the popular 1981 TV miniseries, earned $339,616 from its debut release on 33 screens. With a per-screen average of $10,291, "Brideshead Revisited" edged out the debut average of Jarrold's previous feature, the 2007 Miramax period drama "Becoming Jane," although Miramax's top 2008 per-screen debut remained with the Norwegian drama "Reprise." "Exit polls showed that 70% of the audience thought it was a good picture," said Elliot Slutzky, senior vice president and general sales manager, Miramax Films. "The only thing about specialty films is that this year they have not been very good, which is why they aren't doing well. It always comes down to the picture and the audience found it this weekend with "Brideshead." Slutzky confirmed an expansion of 200 additional screens Friday and more screens on August 8 depending on the film's ongoing performance. "The remaining weeks of summer still have lots of coin left. 'Pineapple Express,' 'Traveling Pants 2,' 'Tropic Thunder,' 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona' are coming out in the next three weeks and we hope 'Brideshead' will continue to expand and do well."

"American Teen," director Nanette Burstein's day-in-the-lives documentary about four high school seniors in a rural Indiana town; earned $45,589 for Paramount Vantage from its debut weekend in New York and Los Angeles. Despite a $9,118 per-screen average that's far behind the debut figures for "Man on Wire," "American Teen" joined "Planet B-Boy" and "Young@Heart" as one of the year's top-performing documentary debuts. "After opening weekend results, we are cautiously optimistic," said Steve Garrett, vice president, distribution, Paramount Vantage. "Exit polling from this weekend demonstrated that audiences continue to love the film and we hope that will translate into more success at the box office," "From a promotional standpoint the film will benefit from events still to come. The kids from the film are continuing to tour the country as we open new markets. In addition, there will be appearances on MTV's "TRL" and feature stories in national magazines that will also help drive the success of "American Teen." Garrett confirmed an expansion of "American Teen" to the remaining top twelve markets Friday.

"The Order of Myths," director Margaret Brown's documentary about longstanding racial and class divisions behind the colorful floats, parades, parties and secret societies that make up Mobile, Alabama's Mardi Gras. "The Order of Myths" earned $7,056 per-screen from its exclusive debut at New York's IFC Center for the Cinema Guild. "Everyone involved in this release really gave it their all," said Ryan Krivoshey, director of distribution for the Cinema Guild. "In addition to the strong "Times" review, the film had great online presence, on doc blogs and film sites and received strong support from African-American press and community organizations. All of which contributed equally to a great audience comprised almost equally of white and black, young and old."

The top performing hold over was "Transsiberian," filmmaker Brad Anderson's Hitchcock-inspired thriller for First Look Studios, about an American couple facing danger while traveling aboard the Trans-Siberian Express railway. "Transsiberian" remained in the iWBOT top five for the second week with earnings of $26,560 from two locations; a modest 25% drop from its debut weekend.

Debuting in the iWBOT top ten was "Boy A," Irish director John Crowley's powerful drama about a young man trying to re-start his life after a long stint in juvenile prisons. "Boy A" averaged $6,512 from two exclusive runs in New York and Los Angeles and earned $13,024 in total box office for the Weinstein Company.

Debuting outside the iWBOT top ten was "CSNY: Deja Vu," Neil Young's concert documentary about his 2006 "Freedom of Speech" tour with Crosby, Still and Nash. "CSNY" managed only $1,371 per-screen and $32,910 from 24 debut runs for Roadside Attractions.

Director Guillaume Canet's French mystery "Tell No One" continued to be the top specialty earner for Chicago-based Music Box Films. "Tell No One" averaged $5,478 from 77 locations. In its fourth weekend, "Tell No One" made $421,821; good enough for a spot on the overall top twenty box office charts and has reached $1,653,434 in cumulative box office.

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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