Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Peter Knegt
August 26, 2012 12:54 PM
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Specialty Box Office: 'Sleepwalk,' 'Samsara' Among Year's Best Indie Debuts; 'Obama's America' Soars To Overall Top 10

Mike Birbiglia in 'Sleepwalk With Me.' IFC Films
It was an unexpectedly potent late-summer weekend at the specialty box office, with two openers -- "Sleepwalk With Me" and "Samsara" -- scoring among the best limited debuts of the year and anti-Obama doc "2016: Obama's America" soaring into the overall top 10 to become the highest-grossing conservative documentary ever.

"Sleepwalk With Me" -- directed by Mike Birbiglia and released by IFC Films -- broke some records of its own. At New York's IFC Center (and helped by personal appearances by Ira Glass -- who co-wrote the film -- at nearly every Q&A), it broke the IFC Center's house record and attained the third best per-theater average of the year so far, behind arthouse sensations "Moonrise Kingdom" and "To Rome With Love."

Oscilloscope-released "Samsara" had many reasons to celebrate as well. The Ron Fricke- and Mark Magidson-directed documentary -- which is a non-verbal continuation of the 1992 film "Baraka" -- grossed $73,792 from two screens, averaging $36,896. That's the fifth best debut of the year in terms of per-theater average (after "Moonrise," "Rome," "Sleepwalk" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild") and the best overall for a documentary.

Meanwhile, things weren't so celebratory for some other holdovers. David Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis" stumbled considerably in its second frame, despite the attention Robert Pattinson's love life is bringing to the film.

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

The Debuts:

"Sleepwalk With Me" (IFC Films)
Mike Birbiglia's semi-autiobiographical "Sleepwalk With Me" scored a massive $65,000 this weekend at a single engagement at New York's IFC Center, giving it the third best per-theater average of 2012 so far. It's also the best number in that regard for an American non-animated film from a first-time filmmaker, and for the IFC Center itself.

Birbiglia directed, wrote and stars in the film, which tells the autobiographical story of a burgeoning stand-up comedian's struggles with the stress of a stalled career, a stale relationship and the wild spurts of severe sleepwalking he is desperate to ignore. It was co-written and produced by Ira Glass, who made multiple appearances at the IFC Center this weekend, clearly aiding its grosses.

"We are all thrilled for Mike and Ira," IFC Films president Jonathan Sehring said. "We worked closely with them on the marketing of the film, targeting their respective fan bases, aggressively building word-of-mouth in advance of the opening and eventizing the film at the Center. We are also well set up in the regional markets around the country."

Birbiglia added: "At every step of this process, when we wrapped, when we finished editing, when we went to Sundance, Ira would turn to me and ask, 'What's gonna happen?' It's amazing to see that this is what's finally happening."

Joss Whedon, the director of the year's highest-grossing film, "The Avengers," posted a video earlier in the month stating that he was concerned that "Sleepwalk" was creeping up on "The Avengers'" dwindling screen count and (jokingly) calling for a boycott of the independent release.

Said Ira Glass: "As a joke, 'Avengers' director Joss Whedon recently declared war on our film, so we're surprised to see that our per screen average is so much higher than 'The Avengers'" $47,698 per screen. We look forward to beating his worldwide gross of $1.5 billion in the coming weeks."

"Sleepwalk" expands to the top 20 markets August 31 and will continue to platform across the country over the coming weeks. Check back with Indiewire to see how that pans out.

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

"Samsara" (Oscilloscope)
Also managing rather stunning 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. On two screens, "Samsara" grossed $73,792, averaging $36,896. That's the fifth best debut of the year in terms of per-theater average (after "Moonrise," "Rome," "Sleepwalk" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild") and the best overall for a documentary.

"We couldn't be happier with the turnout this weekend," Oscilloscope said. "We're really excited to be able to bring a truly cinematic experience to audiences, and it's great to see so many people coming out to theaters for the film. Word of mouth has been incredible, and we look forward to the expansion in the coming weeks."

"Somewhere Between" (Long Shot Factory)
On a single screen at the same theater in New York where "Sleepwalk With Me" broke records, Long Song Factory's "Somewhere Between" had a respectable debut. "Between" is a documentary about four teenage girls living in different parts of the U.S. united by the fact that they were adopted from China because of family situations that collided with the country's "One Child Policy." It grossed $7,877 at the IFC Center.

“We’re very pleased with the strong, steady business for 'Somewhere Between,'" Erin Owens of Long Shot Factory said. "We sold out show after show, and the audience’s positive and emotional response has been overwhelming. We see the film’s potential as even greater given that personal appearances at every show of 'Sleepwalk With Me' by NYC-favorite Ira Glass limited our house size to only 60 seats. We look forward to our next opening, in Los Angeles at the Nuart, on September 14. Hopefully, Ira Glass won’t show up there too — though if he’d like to see the film we’re happy to comp him a ticket."

"Neighboring Sounds" (The Cinema Guild)
Also opening opposite "Sleepwalk" (at least on one of its screens) was Brazillian import "Neighboring Sounds," directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho. The Cinema Guild released the film on two New York screens -- at the IFC Center and the Bunin Munroe Film Center. The result was a decent $14,157 gross, $10,167 of which came from the Bunin Munroe. The Cinema Guild noted that it played the small theater at the IFC Center and managed to sell out multiple screenings there.

"Little White Lies" (MPI Media)
Guillaume Canet's "Little White Lies" had a decent start this weekend (though one might have expected more considering its cast includes Marion Cotillard and Jean Dujardin). On three screens, "Lies" managed $26,500 for an $8,833 average. Like many foreign-language films, "Lies" could very well end up having stamina that this opening doesn't quite suggest, so check back to see how it expands in coming weeks.

For news on holdover releases, including "2016: Obama's America," "Cosmopolis," "2 Days in New York," "Celeste and Jesse Forever," "Ruby Sparks," "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Moonrise Kingdom," continue to the next page.

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  • bob hawk | August 27, 2012 4:06 AMReply

    Steve brings up an interesting point that I'd never thought of before. When the term "per screen" is used, does it actually mean "per venue"? When big studio films open in multiplexes that are sometimes on 4 or 5 screens, often offering some films in multiple formats (2D, 3D and Imax), are the number of screens in a single venue factored in? An "art house" theater such as the Sunshine Cinema in New York has certainly been opening some titles (like TREE OF LIFE) on multiple screens. Has the IFC Center used multiples before SLEEPWALK -- and how many screens is it on?

  • nope | August 26, 2012 1:07 PMReply

    It's really nothing to celebrate. These independent movies do well in places like New York City but falter when they reach middle America and end up grosses less than $1 million in the total run. The headline is misleading.

  • Dianne Prichard | September 6, 2012 10:37 PM

    I'm trying to show more indies in the Midwest; have shown five in two years; plan to start a subscription series--one a month, for 2013. What would you suggest for a small town theater that draws form 45 zip codes?

  • Peter Knegt | August 26, 2012 1:25 PM

    $65,000 and $37,000 averages -- even if in New York exclusive engagements -- are most definitely something to celebrate. Even when these two films drop off when they head to smaller markets (which they will), they are off to incredible starts. And the headline simply states that had two of the year's best indie debuts, which in terms of per-theater-averages, is the technical truth.