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iW BOT | Sundance Trio Takes On The Specialty Box Office

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire August 25, 2008 at 10:05AM

Three very different Sundance acquisitions found their way into the specialty marketplace this weekend. Two led the iW BOT, which ranks based on per-theater-averages, in small bows. Tia Lessin and Carl Deal's Katrina doc, "Trouble the Water," grossed $28,606 on 3 screens for Zeitgeist Films," and Azazel Jacobs' "Momma's Man" grossed $11,072 from one engagement in New York for Kino International. The film with the most box office potential of the three, Andrew Fleming's "Hamlet 2," was also the most disappointing, grossing $439,925 on 103 screens. That gave the Focus Features purchase a $4,271 average. Meanwhile, two Penelope Cruz starrers, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "Elegy," held up very well in their second and third weekends, respectively.
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Three very different Sundance acquisitions found their way into the specialty marketplace this weekend. Two led the iW BOT, which ranks based on per-theater-averages, in small bows. Tia Lessin and Carl Deal's Katrina doc, "Trouble the Water," grossed $28,606 on 3 screens for Zeitgeist Films," and Azazel Jacobs' "Momma's Man" grossed $11,072 from one engagement in New York for Kino International. The film with the most box office potential of the three, Andrew Fleming's "Hamlet 2," was also the most disappointing, grossing $439,925 on 103 screens. That gave the Focus Features purchase a $4,271 average. Meanwhile, two Penelope Cruz starrers, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "Elegy," held up very well in their second and third weekends, respectively.

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

"Man" and "Water" Debut Nicely

Azazel Jacobs' "Momma's Man" led all specialty per-theater averages this weekend, taking in $11,072 from its exclusive engagement at the Angelika in New York. "I was at three shows of 'Momma's Man' this weekend and there was a lot of love for director Azazel and his "starring" parents Ken & Flo Jacobs," said Kino International's Gary Palmucci in an interview with indieWIRE. "Ellen Cotter at the Angelika is really behind the film and is giving it every chance to continue to 'grow' its audience." The film, which stars Jacobs' own parents and was filmed in their actual New York City apartment, has received very good notices from critics, and has two as-yet-planned expansions. On September 5th it will open at the Laemmie Sunset 5 in Los Angeles and on September 12th it will begin a run at Seattle's NW Film Forum.

"Trouble The Water," which won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at Sundance, debuted on two more screens than "Man," and found a $28,606 total. Its $9,535 average put it close to distributor Zeitgeist's June opening of "Chris and Don. A Love Story" (which averaged $10,531 on one screen), and a bit behind its biggest 2008 hit, "Up The Yangtze," which debuted to a $15,851 average back in April. However, the distribution of grosses between its theatres could be very telling. "Water" grossed a stellar $21,501 at New York's IFC Center, the same theater that "Yangtze" soley debuted at. "We had a really terrific team working on the film so our expectations were pretty high and I think high expectations have been fulfilled because the IFC gross was stupendous," said Nancy Gerstman, co-president of Zeitgeist, in an interview with indieWIRE. "'Up the Yangtze' has done really well. And for this film, I have higher expectations."

At the other end, "Water"'s engagement at the Regal Westpark 8 in Irvine, California, "Water" took in just $1,266. "I think Orange County is a certain audience," said Gerstman. "We open our films in Orange County. We do it normally and it was requested so we assumed the theater owners would know whether their audience would like it. But its probably a rather conservative audience, and that this film is going to play at least initially better to a more open-minded, liberal audience." Also perhaps a factor is Irvine's miniscule African-American population (at under 2%). The doc, which centers on an African-American couple in the midst of Katrina, found very strong sales in heavily African-American Harlem. Though not reported to Rentrak (or included in the figures listed here), "Water" also screened at a 100 seat Harlem live theatre, Imagenation at the Faison Firehouse. Box office was approximately $4,700 for the weekend based on advanced sales, which is very good for such a small venue.

The expansion will be an interesting in terms of how it film plays out in certain regions and demographics. Gerstman said the film is already booked into 50 cities across the country (check out "Water"'s expansion schedule here). "Since the grosses at IFC was really so good the expansion will grow by leaps and bounds," she said. "We've already been called by a lot theaters today and we will continue to book theatres."


"Hamlet 2" Underperforms

Focus Features had high hopes for "Hamlet 2." But the distributor's over $10 million Sundance purchase looked weak this weekend. In its aggressive 103 screen debut before a wide expansion this Wednesday, it grossed $439,925 for a $4,271 average, which is far below Focus' "In Bruges," which opened on a similar 112 screens earlier this year and managed over double the average at $10,420. And that film had much lower expectations. "In a lot of markets it underperformed," admitted Jack Foley, president of theatrical distribution for Focus, told indieWIRE in an interview.

Foley remained optimistic, particularly in regard to the film's approximate $30,000 gross at Hollywood's Arclight Cinema and some promising exit polls and demographic numbers. "The process that we are exploiting in the marketing, publicity and distribution strategy [of the film] is one where we wanted to get the word of mouth from the ground," said Foley. "Which is why a lot of people were surprised we went so wide... And we know that word of mouth works and we know the playability of the film is strong so we took that approach and hoped that the total impact of that stategy would be a slightly better gross than we got from the weekend. But at the same time, feed into Wednesday's expansion as well." The film will expand to over 1,500 venues next weekend, and Foley said he'd be happy with a $4,000-$5,000 print average. That would mean at least maintaining if not growing its average in 15 times the runs, despite a very crowded marketplace.


Cruz Controls Specialty Holdovers

Late summer's apparent specialty queen, Penelope Cruz, found herself in two of the strongest releases on the iW BOT. Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" remained at 692 screens this weekend, and dropped only 20%. The Weinstein Company's release grossed an additional $3,005,031, for a per-theater average of $4,343 and a promising ten-day total of $8,571,505. It will add markets over the upcoming holiday weekend. Meanwhile, Cruz's other release, Isabel Coixet's "Elegy," began to expand in its third weekend. Adding 88 screens to 92, "Elegy" grossed $492,268 for a $5,351 average. On a similar amount of screens, that's higher than "Hamlet 2." The IDP/Samuel Goldwyn release's total now stands at $739,357 as it continues to expanding in the coming weeks.

"Elegy"'s speciality box office competition next weekend is much milder than the previous two weeks. Besides "Hamlet"'s wide expansion, the weekend will see the debuts of Sony Pictures Classics' "I Served The King of England," First Look's "Sukiayaki Western Django and TLA Releasing's "Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild."

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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