By Indiewire | Indiewire January 12, 2005 at 2:0AM
Sony Classics' "Merchant of Venice" Leads the Pack; U.A.'s "Hotel Rwanda" and Zeitgeist's "Travelers and Magicians" Follow Strong
by Brian Brooks
Sony Classics' William Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" and United Artists' "Hotel Rwanda" switched positions taking first and second on the iW BOT respectively, calculated on a per screen basis, with "Rwanda" adding nearly 100 sites. Openers, traditionally a rare breed for indie releases this time of year, only saw one title, "Travelers and Magicians" from Zeitgeist Films, joining the chart during the second weekend of January. High averaging films that opened late last year, including "Born into Brothels" and "Bad Education," remained entrenched in the top tier of specialty offerings, while five overall top grossers commanded a very large share of the entire indie box office in the three-day period ending last Sunday.
Sony Pictures Classics' "Merchant of Venice" headlined the specialty weekend with a $12,237 per site average on four screens (unchanged from last week), although that was down 30% from the previous three-day tally. The film's three-week cume is $168,716.
United Artists' Golden Globe-nominated "Hotel Rwanda" added 101 screens, collecting nearly $1.2 million for an $11,155 screen average, down 45%, firmly holding the second position on the chart. The film's total in three weeks is nearing $1.7 million.
"Obviously we're very pleased with the results so far," commented Erik Lomis, president of domestic distribution for MGM and UA in a conversation with indieWIRE yesterday. "It's a terrific film, something that deserves to be seen." Lomis said the film will continue to expand in the 23 markets it is currently screening, while adding additional areas bringing the total number of sites to about 193 by this coming weekend. "Theaters [currently showing the "Rwanda"] want to hold the film," Lomis added. U.A. will continue the film's reach into another 50 markets in the near future.
Zeitgeist's "Travelers and Magicians" by Khyentse Norbu was the weekend's sole addition to the iW BOT in a season of rare newcomers. "Travelers" journeyed to three sites, taking in $22,793 for a $7,598 average, ranking third on the chart.
"We are extremely pleased with the opening numbers this weekend," said Emily Russo, co-president of Zeitgeist Films to iW yesterday. "There were torrential rains in the Bay Area, but we still had sell-out shows at many of the venues. The reviews were also very positive." Russo also added that Norbu fans came out to see the film as well as a "good contingent of the spiritually-oriented community in the Bay Area." Zeitgeist first saw the film as a screener sent by sales company Hanway Films, but had been aware of it since it played last year in Toronto and Venice. Russo said they decided to take advantage of January's relatively low number of debuts for the film.
"The fall is always so crowded and December is really tough with all the holiday films. But we were ready to go and didn't want to wait until the spring." The company decided to start in the Bay Area, as they had done with "The Corporation," to generate what they expect to be "good word-of-mouth." Zeitgeist will open The Quad in New York and The Nuart in L.A. on January 28, followed by other major markets in February and March.
THINKFilm's "Born into Brothels" saw its screen average jump by 16% over the weekend at its one engagement at New York's Film Forum. The doc took in $7,495 and has cumed $66,725 in five weeks. The film is on the short list for a best doc Oscar-nomination.
Sony Classics' "Bad Education" grossed $233,059 on 42 screens, a five-site decline. The Pedro Almodovar-directed feature averaged $5,549 (an 8% decline), rounding out the top five films on this week's chart. "Bad Education"'s two-month cume is nearly $2.13 million.
Along with "Hotel Rwanda," four additional films grossed at least seven figures last weekend, together representing a very disproportionate 81% of last weekend's specialty box office gross. "Rwanda," "Sideways," "The Aviator," "Beyond the Sea," and "Finding Neverland" accounted for nearly $13.9 million of last week's $17.02 million take for the three-day period ending Sunday, January 9. "The Aviator" itself, with nearly $7.5 million on 1,867 screens ($4,013 average) represented about 44% of the whole indie take.
Excluding the five highest grossers, the remaining 48 films took in over $3.18 million on 1,540 screens for a $2,068 average, 31% below the overall $3,190 average when all films are included. Theaters devoted 5,337 screens to indies, an increase of 599 from the previous week, although the average then was $4,327, a 21% higher reading from the current period.
This weekend, openers include Shinje Arimaki's "Appleseed," Carl Bessai's "Emile," and Christophe Barratier's "Les Choristes."