By Indiewire | Indiewire July 28, 2004 at 2:0AM
"Maria" Blesses the Specialty Box Office Twice; "Zatoichi," "A Home at the End of the World," and "Festival Express" Debut Strong
by Brian Brooks
The HBO Films/Fine Line release "Maria Full of Grace" proved resilient to the tough competition from new releases, remaining the specialty box office's top film as measured by per screen take, for a second weekend. Miramax's Japanese action/adventure film "The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi" and Warner Independent's "A Home at the End of the World," along with ThinkFilm's "Festival Express," provided a healthy boost to the screen averages in the top tier of the iW: BOT, although the overall 'indie' box office gross declined again, mostly reflective of "Fahrenheit 9/11"'s easing at theaters after a blistering release, which gave the Bush doc a new b.o. milestone last week. Meanwhile, fellow doc, "Orwell Rolls in his Grave" opened in the top ten.
The weekend ending Sunday, July 25th saw the overall indie box office gross decline by $2.24 million to $9.5 million from 56 titles tracked on 3,548 screens for an overall $2,678 average. The decline reflects a $2.4 million drop in the take of "Fahrenheit 9/11," which continues to consume a lopsided proportion of the indie b.o. "Napoleon Dynamite," meanwhile, saw its fortunes surge, with a gross of over $1.6 million on 389 screens ($4,135 average and a six week cume of over $6.5 million). Interpreting the numbers without "Fahrenheit" or "Napoleon," the specialty gross would stand at $3.13 million ($2,400 average on 1,065 screens), a drop of just over 4% from last week using similar calculations. The remaining iW: BOT titles, therefore, shared the remaining 33% of the specialty grosses, of which 10 films saw weekend takes in the six-figures.
Josh Marston's "Maria Full of Grace" smuggled a second weekend atop the indie box office chart, remaining at seven sites with a $136,932 gross. The Sundance 2004 winner averaged $19,562, an incredible decline of only $305 or just under 2%. The film's two-week release has cumed $365,456.
Miramax debuted "The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi" on four screens, taking in $61,104. The Japanese feature averaged $15,276. "[We had] solid numbers, especially out of Los Angeles, where we topped $20K per screen, something rare nowadays in the specialty front in that market," Miramax's Gary Faber, senior vice-president of marketing told indieWIRE. "[It was] good to see strong exit reactions, especially out of San Francisco, where we feel word-of-mouth can really take hold." Faber commented that the film "plays very strongly," according to exit polls, to both Kitano's art-house fans as well as fans of the martial arts and action films. "We instituted a strong word-of-mouth screening program around the country, and we feel that definitely gave the film a kick," Faber said. He also cited positive reviews as helping the film's strong showing.
This weekend, Miramax will open the film on an additional screen in New York -- the AMC Empire in Times Square -- as well as expand outside of San Francisco into Berkeley and San Jose, and as into Orange County, south of Los Angeles. "After that, it's the top 20 or so markets on August 6th, followed by the top 30 on August 17th," Faber said.
Warner Independent Pictures, meanwhile, opened its second feature, "A Home at the End of the World" at five sites, with the film placing third on the chart with a very solid $12,946 average and grosses of $64,728. "We're very pleased with the opening numbers," commented Steven Friedlander, executive vice-president of distribution at Warner Independent Pictures told indieWIRE yesterday. "The film performed extremely well in all three markets, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco." Friedlander said that the film played well with both the hip and young gay audiences as well as to "an older, sophisticated art-house" crowd. He also said that positive exit polls indicate "Home" will "garner very strong word-of-mouth," and he credited actor Colin Farrell and writer Michael Cunningham, the author of the novel of the same title as well as the film's screenplay, for the film's opening weekend strength, also saying the two will continue to be a draw as the movie expands.
Going forward, Warner Independent will increase the film's engagements to 26 in the top 15 markets on July 30th, and will continue to expand to "approximately" 100 runs in the top 50 markets over the next several weeks.
ThinkFilm released Bob Smeaton's "Festival Express" at San Francisco's Bridge theater over the weekend, grossing $12,074. The film is a doc about the 1970 cross-Canada journey of music artists "The Grateful Dead," Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy and others who traveled by train stopping at major cities for concerts and partying. "I'm very pleased with [the opening]," ThinkFilm distribution head Mark Urman told iW yesterday afternoon. Urman trumpeted the film's opening, saying it did "considerably better" than "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster," which debuted at the same theater three weeks ago. Metallica, as well as "Festival Express" acts The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin called the Bay Area home. "There's the hometown angle of the Grateful Dead, and we picked a moment when we could involve the Dead at the premiere at the Bridge" (the surviving members changed the name of the band to The Dead after the death of front man, Jerry Garcia). Additionally, Urman indicated that opening the film in San Francisco was more cost effective. "The left coast mentality was not uninteresting for us in launching the film. Also, it's not as big a buck."
"The press was very receptive," said Urman, continuing, "[and] the overall atmosphere was much more fertile than one might have found in Los Angeles or New York." Urman also said he expects the film's San Francisco run will contribute significantly to its overall gross. "We could see hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Bay Area alone," he said. ThinkFilm will roll the film out slowly in August, with the vast majority of openings in September. "We want to make sure the vast majority of audiences who will see this film are back from vacation and available."
Another ThinkFilm release, "The Story of the Weeping Camel," passed a box office milestone over the weekend, with its cume surging passed the $1 million mark on a $103,164 gross (with a $1,878 average) on 55 screens. "We never forgot it was a doc in the Mongolian language, made by students no less," commented Urman. "So for us, too see a film like that move into the seven figures, is a good thing."
Newmarket pushed its re-release of "Donnie Darko" in additional venues, giving the director's cut version of the film a fifth placement on the chart with a $53,507 weekend (an $8,918 average this past weekend, versus $1,089 on one screen last week). The film has cumed $150,130.
Zeitgeist expanded "The Corporation" to 28 venues, up from 16 last week, taking in $128,591 (for a $4,593 average and a 31% decline). "The Corporation" has spent two months in release and has cumed $808,042.
Self-distributed doc "Orwell Rolls in his Grave," by Robert Pappas opened on one screen, taking in $6,059. The doc, which is a critical look at the wave of media consolidation in the United States, placed sixth for the weekend.
Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" shed 149 screens taking in almost $4.76 million from 1,855 sites nationwide. The film averaged $2,566, down from $3,581 last weekend, a decrease of over 28%. Still, as predicted, the film is the first doc to reach the nine-digit threshold, with a cume of over $103.11 million. During a weekend conference call with journalists, Steve Rothenberg, executive vice-president of theatrical distribution at Lions Gate, said that the film has performed strongly throughout the country. "[It has done] better on the two coasts, [but] you can't gross $100 million and not perform well across the board."
For his part, during the call Moore said he believed the film has helped other docs currently in release. "I have noticed in recent weeks other documentaries in this country have had a surge in interest and support. People are writing and talking about 'Control Room,' [and] 'The Corporation.' This is all very good news and I think it means that we're going to see a new era of non-fiction filmmaking, and a lot of it I hope will be very good." Moore also gave an assessment of the political mood in the country, saying, "It's very cool to talk about politics and this is the first time that I have seen this happen in decades. Being apathetic right now is very un-cool."
Fox Searchlight and Miramax will release Zach Braff's "Garden State" at limited locations this coming weekend, while "Gozu" will be released by Pathfinder Pictures in New York. Paramount Classics, meanwhile, will open Patrice Leconte's "Intimate Strangers."