By Indiewire | Indiewire April 15, 2008 at 1:06AM
"The Visitor," filmmaker Tom McCarthy's acclaimed drama about a lonely professor befriending a Syrian street musician and his family, distanced itself from all specialty releases with weekend earnings of $86,488 and a $21,622 per-screen average for Overture Films. "Visitor," McCarthy's sophomore picture, as well as Overture's first art-house buy, became the first specialty chart topper for the fledgling film division of Starz Entertainment. Second place belonged to "Young@Heart," director Stephen Walker's documentary about a New England senior choir whose eclectic repertoire includes The Clash and James Brown. "Young@Heart" averaged $13,078 from four debut locations for Fox Searchlight Pictures. Rounding out the iWBOT top five, which ranks films by per-screen average, were "Flight of the Red Balloon," Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien's drama for IFC First Take, "My Blueberry Nights," Hong Kong master Wong Kar Wai's debut English language film for The Weinstein Company and "Dark Matter," director Chen Shi-Zheng's drama about a troubled Chinese college student for First Independent Pictures.
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available at indieWIRE.com.
"The Visitor" filmmaker Tom McCarthy's drama featuring veteran character actor Richard Jenkins as a lonely professor whose life changes after befriending a Syrian street musician and his family, reached a $21,622 per-screen average from four debut engagements for Overture Films. Featuring Jenkins in his first starring film role, "Visitor" out-performed more celebrity-driven, specialty fare like Weinstein Company's "My Blueberry Nights," featuring Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Norah Jones, as well as Overture's previous platform release, the Charlize Theron drama "Sleepwalking." Key to the film's strong debut, said Kyle Davies, executive vice president, distribution, Overture Films, was its glowing reviews. "We want moviegoers to know that we are one of the most well reviewed movies of the year," said Davies. "We've done a lot of groundwork. Now the exciting part is to roll the picture out and see how we do. I think we're going to do great. It's really gratifying to see picture like this get the reviews and it's a progression. You get the good reviews. You get the good of word of mouth and we keep adding markets. It's a wonderful trip." The first specialty chart topper and just the third release for Overture Films, the 18-month-old division at Starz Entertainment, Davies confirmed an aggressive expansion plan for "Visitor" with seven new markets Friday and an additional 25 markets April 25. "We are well poised to be the specialty film of choice as we head into late spring and early summer," said Davies. "While it's competitive, I think we're riding a tide here."
"Young@Heart," director Stephen Walker's documentary about a seniors choir in New England who perform alternative fare by The Clash and Sonic Youth, earned $50,937 in weekend earnings for Fox Searchlight Pictures from four debut runs in New York and Los Angeles and $62,231 since its April 9 opening. "It's a different kind of documentary," said Sheila Deloach, senior vice president, Fox Searchlight Pictures. "It's fun. Most documentaries are informative but they're not fun like this one. If there's a message to the movie, it's that just because you're old doesn't mean you have to die away. You can still contribute and be valuable. There are 78 million baby boomers in the United States and they all ought to go out and see this movie in order to see something they can look forward to."
Remaining in the iWBOT top five was "Flight of the Red Balloon," Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien's family drama inspired by French director Albert Lamorisse's "The Red Balloon." The IFC First Take release continued to draw well at its two New York venues with $23,918 in weekend earnings. "Flight of the Red Balloon," featuring Juliette Binoche as a Parisian mother and Simon Iteanu as her young son, out-earned the total domestic earnings of Janus Films' recent re- release of a restored version of the 1956 French art-house classic.
"My Blueberry Nights," Hong Kong master Wong Kar Wai's first English language film, earned $43,753 for the Weinstein Company from its six runs in New York and Los Angeles for a sophomore weekend per-screen average of $7,292. Featuring Natalie Portman, Jude Law and singer Norah Jones in her screen debut, "Blueberry Nights" dropped 40% from its debut average.
Also entering the iWBOT top five was "Dark Matter," director Chen Shi- Zheng's drama about a Chinese student at a large U.S. university battling his science professor. The debut film for Chen, an acclaimed opera director, "Dark Matter" earned $8,701 from exclusive debuts in New York and Boston for First Independent Pictures, with stronger audience response in New York.
Other specialty debuts in the IWBOT top ten included "Smart People," director Noam Murro's relationship comedy starring Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker and Ellen Page. "Smart People" averaged $3,700 from 1,106 theaters for $4,092,465 in weekend earnings, ranking seventh on the overall top ten box office chart. Balcony Releasing's "The Dhamma Brothers," a documentary about Alabama prison inmates improving their lives through Vipassana meditation, earned $3,710 from its exclusive debut at New York's Cinema Village.
Further behind was "Refusenik," director Laura Bialis' documentary about the thirty-year effort to free Soviet Jews. "Refusenik" earned $3,265 from exclusive debuts in Seattle and San Francisco for Abramorama Films. Director Gina Kim's melodrama "Never Forever," featuring Vera Farmiga as an unfaithful wife, earned $6,529 from two debut engagements for arts Alliance America. "Bra Boys," director Sunny Abberton's documentary about a clan of surfers from a Sydney, Australia suburb, reached a $1,981 per-screen average from 23 debut runs for Berkela Films and VAS Entertainment.
Right behind the iWBOT top five, reaching its highest rank since its March 10 debut, was "Body of War," directors Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro's Iraq War documentary for The Film Sales Company. "Body of War," about Tomas Young, a young soldier who becomes an anti-war activist after a disabling combat injury, earned $11,549 in weekend earnings from three engagements with New York's IFC Center being the top performer. "It feels like it broke out of the doldrums," said Andrew Herwitz, president and founder of The Films Sales Company. "We've been fortunate to get great publicity. Phil Donahue has worked like no one else. He's a tireless advocate for the film and audiences are dying to see it due to the characters and the message of the film."
Failing to generate new audiences as an English-language movie was Sony Pictures Classics' animated drama "Persepolis." Based on Marjane Satrapi's four graphic novels about growing up in pre-revolutionary Tehran, and co-directed by Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, the French- language film expanded to 147 runs; with 136 theaters showing the English-language version. "Persepolis" averaged a paltry $561 per- screen; meaning a lack of subtitles weren't enough to generate new fans for the acclaimed animated drama.
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.