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Specialty Box Office: Self-Released 'Detropia' Tops Newcomers; 'Lights,' 'Hello' Also Strong

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire September 9, 2012 at 1:22PM

While most of the film industry set up shop in Canada for the Toronto International Film Festival, a bunch of alums from the Sundance Film Festival made their way to theaters to varying results.
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Sundance "Detropia."

While most of the film industry set up shop in Canada for the Toronto International Film Festival, a bunch of alums from the Sundance Film Festival made their way to theaters to varying results.

Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's "Detropia," Ira Sachs' "Keep The Lights On," Todd Louiso's "Hello I Must Be Going," Leslye Headland's "Bachelorette" and So Yong Kim's "For Ellen" all hit theaters, with "Detropia," "Hello" and "Lights" finding the best results so far.

Among holdovers, anti-Obama doc "2016: Obama's America" became the sixth highest grossing doc ever, while "Beasts of the Southern Wild" joined the $10 million club.

Full rundown on these films and over a dozen more below.

The Debuts:

"Detropia" (Loki Films Release)
"Detropia" -- a doc directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady -- opened to a very strong $18,350 from an exclusive engagement in New York at the IFC Center.

The film -- self-released by Ewing and Grady -- featured multiple sold out shows over the weekend. It began the weekend playing in a 110-seat screen but was quickly promoted over other films in the complex to the largest screen of 200 seats by early Friday afternoon for the rest of the weekend after evening shows had sold out early on Friday.

The film will open engagements in Washington DC and Detroit next weekend before rolling out to markets including Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and Seattle in the weeks to follow.

READ MORE: 'Detropia' Filmmakers Explain DIY Distribution and How the Sundance Institute Artist Services Program Works

"Hello I Must Be Going" (Oscilloscope)
Todd Louiso's "Hello I Must Be Going" -- starring Melanie Lynskey in an acclaimed performance as a divorced and depressed woman -- opened on 2 screens this weekend care of Oscilloscope. It took in $26,764 as a result, averaging a strong $13,382. Oscilloscope will expand the film next weekend.

"Keep The Lights On" (Music Box Films)
Gay relationship drama "Keep The Lights On" -- which competed with "Hello" in Sundance's U.S. Dramatic competition (where both lost to "Beasts of the Southerm Wild") -- opened on 5 screens this weekend. The result was very good, with the film grossing $56,288 for a $11,258 average. The grosses were led by the Clearview's Chelsea/NYC location at approximately $20,000.

The Ira Sachs-directed film expands to the top ten markets in the next several weeks with San Francisco and Berkeley opening on September 14.

"Bachelorette" (RADiUS-TWC)
After a very strong run on VOD last month, RADiUS-TWC released Kirsten Dunst led dark comedy "Bachelorette" on 47 screens in 16 markets this weekend to so-so results. The film grossed $191,033, averaging $4,065. That's a disappointing number, though the folks at RADiUS-TWC remained optimistic.

"We're extremely pleased that the film is outpacing much wider releases vying for the same demographic," RADiUS-TWC Co-Presidents Tom Quinn and Jason Janego said.  "Our rollout will continue to build on this success in the weeks to come."

READ MORE: RADiUS-TWC Gets Auspicious Start With VOD Release of 'Bachelorette' Hitting iTunes #1

"For Ellen" (Tribeca Films)
Finally, So-Yong Kim's "For Ellen" hit a single screen at New York's Film Forum this weeknd care of Tribeca Film. The result was a weak $6,100 gross over the weekend, and a total of $7,282 since opening weekend.

The film -- which becomes available on VOD on 9/18 -- will open select markets in the weeks to follow including Chicago, Boston and Seattle.

For news on holdover releases, including "For a Good Time, Call..." "Sleepwalk With Me," "Samsara," "Little White Lies," "2016: Obama's America," "Celeste and Jesse Forever," and "Beasts of the Southern Wild," continue to the next page.

Focus Features Lauren Miller in "For A Good Time, Call..."
The Holdovers:

"For a Good Time, Call..." (Focus Features)
Jamie Travis' comedy "For a Good Time" -- starring Lauren Miller (who also co-wrote) and Ari Graynor -- expanded from 23 to 56 screens in its second weekend care of Focus Features. Taking in $212,376 over the weekend, the film averaged a respectable $3,792. That made for a 48% jump from last weekend, and took the film's total to $446,395.

"'For a Good Time' showed decent holding power in theaters that opened last weekend: a number of houses had BO increases over last weekend and others had minimal drops," Focus Features said in a statement. "This is a good indicator that positive word-of-mouth is percolating in those markets... The new markets opened to mixed results - some really popped, but a number had more modest BO."

Focus will expand the film further next weekend.

READ MORE: FUTURES | "For a Good Time, Call..." Director Jamie Travis

"Little Birds" (Millennium Entertainment)
The long-delayed "Little Birds" -- which premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival -- was finally released last weekend to dismal results via Millennium Entertainment. This weekend it held static on a single screen, and dropped 66%, taking in just $1,564. Directed by Elgin James, the film stars Juno Temple, Kay Panabaker, Kate Bosworth and Leslie Mann. The film's total stands at $11,843.

"Sleepwalk With Me" (IFC Films)
Mike Birbiglia's semi-autiobiographical "Sleepwalk With Me" came off a fantastic first two weekends to very strong numbers in its third frame.

Expanding from 29 to 73 theaters, the film scored a $343,100 gross, giving it a $4,700 per-theater-average.

"'Sleepwalk With Me' continues to expand to rave reviews and strong word of mouth," IFC Films SVP of Sales and Distribution Mark Boxer told Indiewire. "We will roll the film out to 100 markets by next weekend."

Its total now stands at $882,250.

READ MORE: FUTURES: 'Sleepwalk With Me' Writer-Director-Star Mike Birbiglia Builds a Career Out of 'Funny With Pathos'

"Samsara" (Oscilloscope)
Also managing fantastic third weekend numbers this weekend was "Samsara," the non-narrative film created by Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson. The film is a sort of sequel or continuation of the acclaimed 1992 film "Baraka," which also was directed by Fricke and produced by Magidson. "Samsara" was shot in about 100 locations in 25 countries and took four years to make. As described on the film's website, it "explores the wonders of our world from the mundane to the miraculous, looking into the unfathomable reaches of man’s spirituality and the human experience. Neither a traditional documentary nor a travelogue, 'Samsara' takes the form of a nonverbal, guided meditation."  

While that synopsis definitely doesn't scream "blockbuster," it clearly appealed to many folks. Expanding from 9 to 25screens, "Samsara" jumped 43% to gross $200,000 and average $8,000. The film's total now stands at  $487,748

"Little White Lies" (MPI Media)
Guillaume Canet's "Little White Lies" had a weak third weekend (especially considering its cast includes Marion Cotillard and Jean Dujardin). Expanding from 11 to 14 screens, "Lies" took in $28,389 for a $2,027 average (dropping 34%). Like many foreign-language films, "Lies" could very well end up having stamina its first few frames don't quite suggest, so check back to see how it expands in coming weeks. Its total stands at $124,989 so far.

"2016: Obama's America" (Rocky Mountain Pictures)
The anti-Barack Obama documentary “2016: Obama’s America" -- written and directed by John Sullivan and “The Roots of Obama’s Rage” author Dinesh D’Souza -- had another big weekend as it expanded from 1,747 to 2,017  screens and managed an overall top-10 finish.

Released by Rocky Mountain Pictures (the same folks that brought you "Atlas Shrugged, Part I" and "An Inconsistent Truth"), the film actually dropped 42% in grosses despite the screen jump as it took in $3,281,259. Its $1,627 average helped take its total to $26,087,550. That tops "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" (also released by Rocky Mountain) as the highest-grossing conservative documentary ever, and it is now the sixth highest-grossing documenatries of all time (ahead of, among others, "Sicko," "An Inconvenient Truth," "Bowling For Columbine," "Hoop Dreams," and "Roger & Me").

The film aims to show how the future of the United States might unfold should Barack Obama be elected to a second term as president. It should easily top out with a final gross north of $30 million.

READ MORE: Why the Success of Anti-Obama Doc "2016" Doesn't Mean Anything for the Presidential Election

"Robot and Frank" (IDP / Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Fairing quite well in its fourth frame was Sundance Film Festival alum "Robot and Frank," which aggresively went from 144 to 202 screens. Grossing $540,148 weekend, the film averaged $2,674.

Starring Frank Langella, James Marsden, Liv Tyler and Susan Sarandon, the comedy follows an aging ex-convict (Langella), whose children hire a robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) to care for him. The film's total now stands at $2,048,577.

"Celeste and Jesse Forever" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Sony Classics' Sundance pickup "Celeste and Jesse Forever" dropped from 586 to 441 screens in its sixth weekend. The film -- written by real-life best friends Rashida Jones (who also stars) and Will McCormack -- grossed $400,094, averaging only $907. That brought the film's total to $2,658,568.

"Celeste and Jesse" stars Jones, Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts and Ari Graynor. It follows a married couple (Jones and Samberg) who try and remain best friends after breaking up.

READ MORE: Rashida and Will Forever: Screenwriting Duo Invents Words, Talks Sundance's 'Celeste and Jesse'

"Killer Joe" (LD Entertainment)
LD Entertainment continued to see very good numbers from its release of William Friedkin's crime thriller "Killer Joe," despite its NC-17 rating. Starring Matthew McConaughey (who is having an incredible year between this, "Magic Mike" and as-yet-unreleased Cannes titles "Mud" and "The Paperboy") in the title role, the film dropped from 74 to 68 theaters in its seventh weekend and held on decently. It took in $128,980 for a $1,895 average. Its total now stands at $1,664,479. That makes it one of just 14 NC-17 rated films to cross the $1 million mark. It stands a good chance at soon becoming one of just 11 to hit $2 million.

"Searching For Sugar Man" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Sony Pictures Classics expanded Malik Bendjelloul's doc "Searching For Sugar Man" from 32 to 33 screens in its seventh weekend. The film -- which won the Audience Award at Sundance earlier this year  -- follows two South Africans who set out to discover what happened to their unlikely musical hero, the mysterious 1970s rock'n'roller Rodriguez. It took in $132,062 over the weekend, dropping just 6% and averaging a strong $4,002. Its total now stands at $910,203 with the $1 million mark not too far ahead.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" (Fox Searchlight)
Finally, Benh Zeitlin's Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner "Beasts of the Southern Wild" saw its grosses drop 30% in its 11th weekend as it went from 267 to 269  screens. The film took in  $370,000  over the weekend to cross the $10 million mark. Averaging $1,375, the film's total now stands at $10,283,139, with the $15-million mark not out of the question. The film has now impressively topped the grosses of recent Sundance Grand Jury Prize winners "Like Crazy" and "Winter's Bone."

Peter Knegt is Indiewire's Senior Editor. Follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

Indiewire 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 studiogrosses@rentrak.com by the end of the day each Monday.