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February 19, 2004 2:00 AM
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Self-Distributed "Robot Stories" Builds Its Own Box-Office Win; Re-release of "Umbrellas of Cherbour

Self-Distributed "Robot Stories" Builds Its Own Box-Office Win; Re-release of "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" Shines

by Brian Brooks

Jacques Demy's 1964 film "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" gave some box-office shade over the four-day holiday weekend. The Zeitgeist Films re-release, starring Catherine Deneuve, sang all the way to the top of the specialty BOT with the highest per-site average, playing on one New York screen. "Robot Stories," meanwhile also opened at one Gotham venue, placing second on the chart with an impressive weekend gross. Sony Classics debuted "Monsieur Ibrahim," while IFC's "Touching the Void" maintains its elevated numbers in wider release along with Fox Searchlight's "The Dreamers."

Over the President's Day weekend, the specialty box office totaled $12.1 million, the highest number since indieWIRE began tracking figures on a weekly basis last April, and out-grossing last Labor Day weekend (also a four-day box office period), which totaled $11.8 million with "Le Divorce," "American Splendor," "Dirty Pretty Things," and "Whale Rider" collectively bringing in more than $6 million of that figure. For the weekend ending this Monday, once again, the same three films -- "Monster," "Girl with a Pearl Earring," and "Lost in Translation" -- dominated the overall BOT, representing more than half of the total with a combined gross of nearly $6.5 million. The specialty per-screen to industry per-screen ratio dipped last weekend, withthe Hollywood high per-screen averages on "50 First Dates," "Miracle," and "Barbershop 2" producing a better per-site average for industry films than indies for the first time this year.

Zeitgeist Films re-released "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" last Friday in Time for the long holiday weekend, which also included Valentine's Day. The classic love melodrama dominated the specialty box office with an $18,425 gross on one screen.

Greg Pak's "Robot Stories" scored a second place on the chart after its theatrical debut in New York over the weekend at Cinema Village. The self-distributed pic took in an electrifying $11,806 during the four-day period. In comparison, the last self-distributed film to appear on the iW BOT, "Empathy," which screened at New York's Film Forum last month for two weeks, took in $11,975 its first full weekend. "I was thrilled," Pak told indieWIRE Wednesday afternoon by phone. "We were distributing this on a tiny budget and [even] our New York Times ad was tiny (laughs), yet [the film] had tremendous turn out, and sold out four shows. We had a lot of word of mouth and lots of outreach."

Pak continued to say the film's big three audiences were Asian Americans, science fiction fans, and art-house audiences. "In the end, we think we had all three turning out," he said. "Robot Stories" received a good amount of exposure at film festivals, especially Asian American Film Festivals, which Pak credited with helping the feature's awareness among audiences. "We collected email addresses while traveling around Asian American festivals, then we sent out word [about the film's release], which really helped."

Additionally, Pak attended science fiction festivals garnering exposure, but credited a listing on one particular web site for adding to the film's debut success. "Slashdot.org also really helped, it's a site [for people] really into science and the Internet world. Someone placed a listing [of 'Robot Stories'] on the site, and literally hours afterward, we got hundreds of people signing up on our ["Robot Stories"] site." Pak plans to take the film to Washington, D.C., next weekend where he will be present for Q&A discussions. The film will open on February 27 at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Mass., followed by March 5 at the Facets Cinematheque in Chicago and at the Laemmle Fairfax in L.A. on March 12. Additionally, the film will continue in Manhattan. "The big goal was to do well enough to get a second week, and we did that," commented Pak. "Hopefully, we'll just be able to keep it going. It's the indie thing that you have to do well enough to keep the theater, and so far, it's working."

United Artists added one screen for "Osama," taking in $50,755 for a still-respectable $10,151 per-screen average at five sites ($12,992 last week). Since its release the previous weekend, the film has cumed $139,026.

Sony Classics debuted Toronto 2003 feature, "Monsieur Ibrahim" on seven screens, grossing $65,696 during the four-day period. The film, directed by François Dupeyron and starring Omar Sharif, averaged a decent $9,385 per screen and a fourth place rank on our chart. The cume of $90,750 includes grosses from a special screening of the film prior to its official theatrical opening.

Rounding out the top five was "Touching the Void" from IFC Films, which added 22 engagements, grossing $350,462 at 40 sites for an $8,762 per screen (compared to the previous $9,995). Since release one month ago, the film has cumed $830,240.

Fox Searchlight took its Bertolucci-directed film "The Dreamers" from five screens at its debut the previous weekend to 66 for weekend number two, grossing $511,207 for a per screen of $7,746, a drop from its debut average of $28,526. The film has now cumed $714,458.

New Yorker Films' "My Architect" added four venues in its 14th weekend in theaters, taking in $106,182 ($5,589 average, up from $4,931 previously). The film is now poised to easily pass the $1 million mark this week.

Cinema Guild opened "The Seagull's Laughter" in two NYC sites, grossing $7,791 for a per screen of $3,896. Also making its debut was "La Mentale: The Code" from Samuel Goldwyn, which took in $8,704 on four screens ($2,176 average).

Newmarket's "Monster" added more screens, unspooling at 1,093 venues (892 the prior weekend) earning just over $3.57 million for a per screen of $3,269, down from $3,939. "Monster" has now totaled more than $20.3 million.

Fellow Oscar contender "Girl with a Pearl Earring" shed 28 venues for a total of 374, grossing more than $1.17 million. The film averaged $3,140, up from $2,741 when last reported. "Girl" has cumed cumed $7.47 million.

Also a specialty heavy-hitter, Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation" continued its box-office blitz, showing on 600 screens, down from 630, taking in almost $1.75 million for a per screen of $2,915, an increase from the previous number of $2,749.

Miramax again expanded its engagements for "City of God," playing the multiple Oscar contender in 242 venues, up from 172 last week, and only 11 at the end of last month. The Brazilian film grossed $550,581 for a $2,275 per screen, up from $2,192 a weekend earlier. The film has now been in theaters for 13 months, with a cume of just under $6 million.

Coming up this week, IFC Films opens Bent Hamer's "Kitchen Stories." Also opening is Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk's "Lost Boys of Sudan," Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's "Abouna," and Jean-Claude Brisseau's "Secret Things."

[Brian Clark contributed to this report]

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