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May 5, 2004 2:00 AM
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"Saddest Music" Brightens Up Generally Downtrodden BOT

"Saddest Music" Brightens Up Generally Downtrodden BOT

by Brian Brooks

IFC Films' "The Saddest Music in the World" trumpeted to the specialty box office apex, making its theatrical debut in several venues last weekend. International film fest fave "Since Otar Left" opened in the U.S. as well with solid numbers, while TLA Releasing's "Bulgarian Lovers" opened in New York to a respectable b.o. take. The specialty BOT, however, generally experienced blase earnings as the summer blockbuster season approaches.

Weekend box office results were fairly dismal with indieWIRE's ratio of specialty to industry-wide per-screen averages descending to levels not seen since May of last year. Venues devoted to a specialty title earned an average of only 45% of what a typical non-specialty screen grossed over the weekend. New specialty releases, however, including a pair of films each from Sony Picture Classics, Miramax and IFC Films were in indieWIRE's top ten films list. Those ten films were responsible for $458,000 of specialty film's overall $3 million three-day take (down from $3.95 million), or about a third as much as the $1.47 million that "The Passion of the Christ" brought over the weekend. Sixty-six films were tracked during the reported period, down from 70 previously.

Guy Maddin's "The Saddest Music in the World" opened at four sites over the weekend, topping the iW: BOT by a decently large margin compared to the number two film, "Since Otar Left." The film, starring Isabella Rossellini grossed $37,743 for an elated $9,436 per screen average. "We're very happy [and] the number was solid," IFC Films' V.P. of sales and distribution Greg Forston told indieWIRE yesterday. A lot of people in exhibition were happy because many films haven't been working lately." Forston credited the film's strong weekend debut on three factors including Maddin's loyal following, the strong public relations push behind the project, and "great reviews."

"The [New York] Times review was great, and Isabella [Rossellini] did a lot of [national] shows last week, [while] the marketing department did a lot of grassroots work." Screenings of Maddin's short films at New York's Knitting Factory were a part of the 'grassroots' push that Forston believes raised the film's awareness during a 'challenging' box office period. "We were a little nervous with the opening weekend of Tribeca and with how the market has been going, but it really came together," said Forston who then added, "We were keeping our fingers crossed for a nice Saturday number."

Audiences ranging from college students to people in their mid-20s were dominant at screenings, according to Forston. Additionally, there were significant numbers of people he described as "New York Times readers" who were lured to the film due to its coverage. Moving forward, IFC Films will continue to emulate their New York strategy using what Forston termed "customized PR." "We will continue to do what we did in New York, [taking] a customized grassroots approach, and not going real wide. [The film will] open one or two venues per city including the New York suburbs on May 14th."

Zeitgeist Films debuted Julie Bertuccelli's "Since Otar Left" at two sites over the weekend, taking in $13,763. The film, mostly set in the former Soviet state of Georgia, averaged $6,882.

TLA Releasing opened "Bulgarian Lovers" at the Quad in New York, grossing $6,345 over the weekend, taking a third place spot on the chart. "We're thrilled [the film] debuted so strongly this weekend," said TLA's national press liaison Lewis Tice to indieWIRE Tuesday. "[The opening] shows audiences are still hungry for quality Spanish and gay films, and since this is director Eloy de la Iglesia's return to filmmaking after a fifteen year absence, he's a prime example of a filmmaker who can create an engaging, entertaining and incredibly sexy film."

"Bulgarian Lovers" will open in limited markets Tice described as "supportive of Spanish and gay film," including Chicago, L.A., San Francisco, Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. Tice singled out Ft. Lauderdale as a market that has worked for TLA Releasing films in the past including "Latter Days."

First Run Features opened its feature "Secret Things" in Chicago, grossing $5,288 in one venue over the weekend, placing fourth on the chart in its 13th week of release. The film has cumed $79,364.

Next weekend, Strand Releasing opens Sundance hit "The Mudge Boy" while Lantern Lane Entertainment debuts "Seeing Other People." Miramax will roll out Argentine feature "Valentin," and "Off the Lip" will open from Hanover House and Abandon Pictures.

[Brian Clark contributed to this article]

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