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Specialty Box Office: 'Sleepwalk,' 'Samsara' Among Year's Best Indie Debuts; 'Obama's America' Soars To Overall Top 10

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire August 26, 2012 at 12:54PM

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. On a single screen at New York's IFC Center (and helped by personal appearances by Ira Glass, who co-wrote the film), it broke the IFC Center's house record and found the third best per-theater-average of the year so far, behind art house sensations "Moonrise Kingdom" and "To Rome With Love."
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IFC Films Mike Birbiglia in 'Sleepwalk With Me.'

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."

Samsara
"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.

"2016 Obama's America"
The Holdovers:

"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 its best weekend yet as it expanded from 169 to 1,091 screens and managed an overall top-10 finish despite playing on fewer than half the screens of every other film to place there.

Released by Rocky Mountain Pictures (the same folks that brought you "Atlas Shrugged, Part I" and "An Inconsistent Truth"), the film jumped 401% in grosses as it took in $6,237,517. Its impressive $5,717 average (by far the best in the overall top 10) helped take its total to $9,075,393. That tops "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" (also released by Rocky Mountain) to become the highest-grossing conservative documentary ever, and among the top 20 highest-grossing documenatries of all time (ahead of, among others, "Hoop Dreams," "Roger & Me" and "Cave of Forgotten Dreams").

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.

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

"Cosmopolis" (Entertainment One)
David Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis" -- coming off a considerable amount of press thanks to its star Robert Pattinson's tattered love life -- expanded from 3 to 63 screens this weekend to disappointing numbers. Grossing $153,420, the film averaged just $2,435 per theater (down from $24,109 last weekend).

The film's total now stands at $447,240, which includes the film's numbers from a release in Cronenberg's native Canada earlier this year. Even with the Canadian numbers included, the $1 million mark is about the only milestone "Cosmopolis" can hope to make, even with the attention Pattinson has brought to the film.

"Robot and Frank" (IDP / Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Fairing much better in its second frame was Sundance Film Festival alum "Robot and Frank," which went from 2 to 46 screens and jumped 719%. Grossing $290,950, the film averaged a strong $6,325.

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 $342,259. Further expansion to the top 40 markets are slated for Labor Day weekend.

"Compliance" (Magnolia)
Also in its second weekend was Craig Zobel's acclaimed thriller "Compliance." Expanding from 1 to 10 screens, it took in $48,000 for a $4,800 per-theater average. Respectable numbers, but still something of a dissapointment considering the attention the film has gotten, largely due to its plot. Inspired by true events, the film focuses on a prank caller who pretends to be a police officer and convinces the manager of a fast food restaurant that one of her employees has committed a crime. Its total now stands at $73,344. Unlike the majority of Magnolia-released films, it is not being released on VOD alongside its theatrical release.

READ MORE: FUTURES: 'Compliance' Star Dreama Walker on the Controversial Film: 'I felt a tremendous desire to be a part of the whole discussion'

"Chicken With Plums" (Sony Pictures Classics)
"Chicken With Plums" -- Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud's follow-up to "Persepolis" -- held steady on two screens in its second weekend to underwhelming numbers. Taking in $6,745, the film averaged $3,373. Including its grosses from a release in Canada earlier this year, the film has a North American total of $85,713.

"The Awakening" (Cohen Media Group)
British horror film "The Awakening" dropped from an aggressive 70 screen debut this weekend to 31 screens care of Cohen Media Group. The film -- directed by Nick Murphy and starring Rebecca Hall, Dominic West and Imelda Staunton -- grossed a weak $19,973 as a result, for a per-theater average of just $644. Its total stands at $152,670.

"2 Days in New York" (Magnolia Pictures)
Julie Delpy's "2 Days in New York" expanded from 14 to 40 screens in its third weekend care of Magnolia Pictures (which also is releasing the film on VOD). The result was a $102,000 gross and a $2,550 average, helping take the film's total to $290,674.

A sort-of-sequel to "2 Days in Paris," the film stars Delpy and Chris Rock. The film's numbers so far pale in comparison to "Paris." That film ended up totalling $4,433,994, a number it will be tough for "New York" to come close to.

"Celeste and Jesse Forever" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Sony Classics' Sundance pickup "Celeste and Jesse Forever" expanded from 67 to 115 screens in its fourth weekend. The film -- written by real-life best friends Rashida Jones (who also stars) and Will McCormack -- grossed $300,611, averaging $2,614. That  brought the film's total to $1,041,207 ahead of further expansion.

"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'

Lionsgate "Killer Joe"
"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 expanded from 42 to 50 theaters in its fifth weekend and held on strong, jumping 32% from last weekend. It took in $198,719 for a $3,312 average. Its total now stands at $936,821. The film will continue to expand through August, and it will soon become one of just 14 NC-17 rated films to cross the $1 million mark.

"Ruby Sparks" (Fox Searchlight)
Also in its fifth weekend was Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris's long-awaited follow up to "Little Miss Sunshine," "Ruby Sparks." Fox Searchlight saw the film -- which stars Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan (who also wrote the script) -- drop from 218 to 135 theaters. The result saw "Sparks" drop 44%, taking in $168,000 for an unimpressive $1,244 average. The film has totalled $2,109,846 so far.

"Searching For Sugar Man" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Sony Pictures Classics expanded Malik Bendjelloul's doc "Searching For Sugar Man" from 27 to 29 screens in its fifth weekend. The film -- which won the Audience Award at Sundance earlier this year (and, as you see below, is one of three Sundance docs in current release and doing quite well) -- 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 $128,833 over the weekend, jumping 21% and averaging $4,425 (impressively an increase in average from last weekend). Its total now stands at $502,275.

"The Queen Of Versailles" (Magnolia)
Magnolia saw yet another Sundance doc, Lauren Greenfield's much-discussed "The Queen of Versailles," jump from 77 to 85 screens in its sixth weekend to strong results. The film -- which won the best directing award at Sundance -- took in another $192,000 (down just 8%) as it averaged $2,259 per theater. That made for a new total of $1,539,193 and it looks likely to hit the $2 million mark in the coming weeks.

"Queen" follows a couple building the second-largest and most-expensive single-family house in America and the crisis they're going through as the U.S. economy goes down. It's definitely becoming one of summer 2012's rare documentary breakouts.

READ MORE: 'The Queen of Versailles' Director Lauren Greenfield Explains Why Two Billionaires Let Her Into Their Mansion

"The Imposter" (Indomina)
Indomina expanded acclaimed doc "The Imposter" (which, yes, debuted at Sundance) from 19 to 24 screens in its seventh weekend. The film -- directed by Bart Layton -- centers on a young Frenchman who convinces a grieving Texas family that he is their 16-year-old son who went missing for 3 years. Indomina saw an $86,486 gross from the film, averaging $4,604 per screen. The film's total stands at $391,610.

"Farewell My Queen" (Cohen Media Group)
Benoît Jacquot's "Farewell My Queen" -- a look at the relationship between Marie Antoinette and one of her readers during the final days of the French Revolution -- went from 60 to 64 theaters in its seventh weekend. The result was respectable as the film took in another $101,376 for a $1,574 per-theatre average. That helped push the film past the $1 million mark as its total now stands at $1,111,138.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" (Fox Searchlight)
Benh Zeitlin's Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner "Beasts of the Southern Wild" saw its grosses decline slightly in its ninth weekend as it lost 24 screens (it went from 236 to 212). The film dropped 18% as it took in $460,000 to push past the $8.5 million mark. Averaging $2,170, the film's total now stands at $8,856,593, with the $10-million mark a sure thing in the coming weeks. The film has now impressively topped the grosses of recent Sundance Grand Jury Prize winners "Like Crazy" and "Winter's Bone."

"Moonrise Kingdom" (Focus Features)
In its whopping 14th weekend, Focus Features' "Moonrise Kingdom" continued to prove itself one of the summer's biggest indie hits. It added screens as it went from 282 to 332 and dropped just 17% as a result. It still took in another $418,514, averaging $1,261 (for a film to have 14 straight weeks of $1,000+ averages is a feat in itself). That took its total to $43,688,282. "Moonrise Kingdom" is the second-highest-grossing Anderson film, after 2001's "The Royal Tenenbaums." And at this rate, it should be set to pass the $45 million mark -- rivalling "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" as the highest-grossing indie of 2012 so far (that film's total now stands at $45,751,024).

"The Intouchables" (The Weinstein Company)
Finally, Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano's "The Intouchables" also held on in its 14th weekend, holding steady in 194 theaters. It dropped only 1.3% in its grosses with an estimated $362,000, averaging $1,866 (which, like "Moonrise," gives it 14 straight weekends with averages north of $1,000). That helped it cross the $10 million mark, taking its total to $10,457,000. It is by far the highest-grossing foreign-language film of 2012, and it's among only 24 foreign-language films to cross that mark in the United States. Its worldwide total now stands at a staggering $365,516,346.

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.

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