By Indiewire | Indiewire April 21, 2008 at 5:41AM
"The Visitor," the Overture Films drama about a middle-aged professor aiding a Syrian street musician, remained atop the specialty charts for a second week with a $9,250 per-screen average. An art-house success for the new film division of Starz Entertainment, filmmaker Tom McCarthy's friendship drama continued to spotlight actor Richard Jenkins in his first leading role. Enthusiastic crowds at Toronto's Cinesphere helped return Abramorama's "The Singing Revolution," about Estonians protesting Soviet occupation through massive song festivals, to the iWBOT Top Five. Other specialty films fronting the iWBOT, which ranks by per-screen average, were "Young@Heart," Fox Searchlight's documentary about a senior choir that performs alternative fare from The Clash and Sonic Youth; "GLASS: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts," filmmaker Scott Hicks' documentary about composer and musician Philip Glass for Koch Lorber Films, and First Run Features' "Constantine's Sword," director Oren Jacoby's documentary about the historical role of Christianity in wars, conflicts and violence. Lagging far behind was director Morgan Spurlock's Middle East road documentary, The Weinstein Company's "Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?"
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 follow up to his 2003 film "The Station Agent," earned $166,499 in weekend box office for Overture Films from 18 locations for total earnings of $280,000. While "Visitor's" per-screen average dipped some 50% from debut weekend marks, the immigrant drama, about a New York professor who befriends a Syrian musician, led all art-house releases with a $9,250 per-screen average. "Visitor" continued to be a career highpoint for Jenkins, the longtime character actor in his first starring screen role. "Visitor" has out-earned celebrity-featured, art-house releases like Weinstein Company's "My Blueberry Nights" and Overture's own "Sleepwalking," featuring Charlize Theron.
A steady platform will capitalize on the film's stellar reviews and a widening audience, said Kyle Davies, executive vice president, theatrical distribution, Overture Films, although the impending arrival of the summer blockbuster season may make expanding difficult. "We sure hope that "The Visitor" is that breakout specialty picture of the summer. The April release date was by design. Specialty exhibitors are in need of product late Spring and early Summer. We hope through the fantastic reviews we have received across the country, backed by the positive word of mouth, we will continue to expand beynd the art house audience."
"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, entered the iWBOT top five for just the second time in twenty weeks of release. "Singing" earned $21,236 in weekend box office from three runs for Abramorama, with the largest crowds coming from Toronto's Ontario Place Cinesphere. Key for a small independent film, said Richard Abramowitz, president, Abramorama, is to market aggressively to a film's core audience, Estonians and Eastern Europeans in the case of "Singing," and try to make every screening a special event. In Toronto, the National Estonian Foundation of Canada presented "Singing" and Tusty along with Estonian-American journalist Priit Vesilind accompanied the film. "There's still hope for a good film with an identifiable audience that can be addressed in a cost-effective manner," Abramowitz said via email. "The important thing to us, from the start, has been to pay attention to the details in each market, working with the local communities to turn out the audience, pre-selling screenings, touring the filmmakers, turning the screenings into cultural events and having a vital, inter-active website so that by the time the film arrives, the audience is invested in the film's success."
"Young@Heart," director Stephen Walker's documentary about a choir of New England seniors that performs alternative fare, earned $151,998 in weekend earnings for Fox Searchlight Pictures from 33 sophomore runs. Its per-screen average dipped approximately 65% to $4,605; still good enough for the iWBOT top five. "Young@Heart's" cumulative box office topped $226,000.
First Run Feature's "Constantine's Sword," documentary director Oren Jacoby's examination of Christianity and its role in past and present- day wars and genocides, averaged $5,066 in debut earnings at New York's Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Quad Cinema. "The Pope's visit definitely helped bring some attention to the film that wouldn't otherwise have been there but the observance of Passover might have been a factor in preventing audiences from making it to the theater over the weekend," said Paul Marchant, director, theatrical sales, First Run Features. "I'm not aware of any organized protests thus far, but starting with the ban from Catholic NY, we've been steadily hearing from those outraged by the film's controversial look at Christianity."
Koch Lorber Film's "GLASS: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts," director Scott Hicks' documentary about acclaimed composer and musician Philip Glass, earned $5,546 from its debut at New York's IFC Center.
The acclaim over the Metropolitan Opera premiere of Philip Glass' "Satyagraha" helped launch the film, said Richard Lorber, president, Koch Lorber Films, who confirmed a release plan for "Glass" outside traditional art-house venues. "With a film like this, it makes huge sense for us to find venues that have built-it constituencies, a membership or subscription base, that have a loyal community following, that are art-centric more than film-centric and give them something that can open the experiences of their devoted members. This is a film that is made to order for that goal. So we're opening beginning in May at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for example, the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis and the Santa Fe Opera Society."
Specialty debuts in the iWBOT top ten included "The Life Before Her Eyes," director Vadim Perelman's drama about a teenage girl whose life is altered by violence. The Magnolia Pictures release, starring Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood, averaged $2,528 from eight debut runs.
"First Saturday in May," co-directors Brad and John Hennegan documentary about six trainers and their horses preparing for the 2006 Kentucky Derby, earned $54,553 from 20 debut locations for Austin-based distributor Truly Indie.
IFC Films' "Anamorph," director Henry Miller's crime thriller starring Willem Dafoe and Scott Speedman, earned $3,120 from its debut engagement at New York's IFC Center.
"Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," director Nathan Frankowski's documentary following actor Ben Stein's search for the theory of life, averaged $2,824 from 1,052 locations for Premise Media and Rocky Mountain Pictures.
Failing to crack the iWBOt top ten was the latest feature from director Morgan Spurlock, the Weinstein Company documentary "Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?" A follow-up to his 2004 documentary "Super-Size Me," with Spurlock traveling throughout the Middle East in search of the Al Qaeda leader, "Osama" earned a modest $148,698 in weekend box office from 102 locations. Despite comical graphics, a funny theme song and Spurlock's clownish behavior, "Osama" suffered the same, lackluster box office fate as more serious, Middle East-themed films like "In the Valley of Elah," "Taxi to the Dark Side" and "Redacted." While "Super-Size Me" debuted with a per-screen average over $12,000 in 2004, "Osama bin Laden" managed a slim $1,458 average.
Luckily, The Weinstein Company had better luck with "The Forbidden Kingdom," their joint release with Lionsgate and the first film financed from their recently announced Asian fund. For the two longtime specialty outfits, "Forbidden Kingdom," a martial arts action movie pairing Jackie Chan and Jet Li for the first time, represented an embrace of mainstream fare and the wide release strategies necessary to support such films. Debuting on 3,151 screens to $21.4 million and a $6,792 per-screen average, "Forbidden Kingdom" became the first, wide-release, specialty company success in the wake of Fox Searchlight's comedy smash "Juno."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the day each Monday.