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by Indiewire
October 21, 2003 2:00 AM
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"Sylvia" Debuts Solidly During Another Tough Autumn Weekend at the Box Office

"Sylvia" Debuts Solidly During Another Tough Autumn Weekend at the Box Office

by Brian Brooks

Focus Features debuted Christine Jeff's "Sylvia" on three screens in New York and Los Angeles over the weekend, easily capturing the number one position on the indieWIRE: BOT, as measured by per screen average. Brazilian doc "Bus 174" remained in the second spot, while "The Station Agent," which ruled the chart for two weekends, slipped to fifth place. U.A. opened "Pieces of April" while "9 Dead Gay Guys" and "Returner" bowed in theaters to mixed results demonstrating that the current marketplace for specialty films is a tough one.

The true story of troubled American poet Sylvia Plath starring Gwyneth Paltrow opened at three sites over the weekend grossing $58,940. "Sylvia" averaged $19,647, the highest number for a specialty release over the weekend, with a per site dollar amount that was $10,000 higher then "Bus 174," which took the second spot on the iW BOT. "I couldn't be happier about the New York results, but I wish L.A. would've been better," confided Jack Foley, president of theatrical distribution at Focus Features in a conversation with indieWIRE yesterday. "It's [an] accomplished opening in what has been a vicious, brutal and deadly market."

Foley decried the state of the fall film market, saying that theaters are saturated with big films targeting the 'sophisticated' moviegoer. "You don't release films on the same weekend [as] the [big] auteur guys," he said, or, "You're going to fracture and split the market." Foley went on to say that titles such as "Intolerable Cruelty" (the Coen Brothers), "Kill Bill" (Quentin Tarantino), "School of Rock" (Richard Linklater) and even their own title, "Lost in Translation" (Sofia Coppola) have diverted audiences who typically attend specialty releases. "The sophisticated moviegoers [are] going to go to the auteur films."

Foley credited "Sylvia"'s successful opening on the story and on the appeal of the film's lead actor. "We had two things going for us with Paltrow and [the story] of Sylvia [Plath]. Brand is important, and it worked for us." Foley said Focus will be careful with how it will release the film going forward in order to "protect the film" and will hold off expanding further in New York and L.A. although it may add a screen in Orange County, south of Los Angeles. The plan for now is to open the film in 14 markets across the country in the coming weeks including Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Boston, Dallas, San Diego, Portland, Minneapolis and Denver. "These markets [should] work really well, especially if we get the same good reviews we had in New York and L.A.," Foley added.

"I think it should fare well. The picture is going to be treated very tenderly considering how brutal the market is right now," Foley said, "In light of all the pressure, we did well."

Eamonn Bowles, president of Magnolia Pictures, which released the highly successful doc "Capturing the Friedmans" earlier this year agreed with Foley's general assessment of the market during a separate telephone conversation with iW yesterday. "They're the cream of the crop [of] 'indie' directors [whose films are] siphoning off audiences," commented Bowles on the current releases of films by Linklater and the Coen Bros. etc. "It's good that they're coming out, but they're cutting into the pie, which is -- let's face it -- finite." Bowles also attributed the logjam of titles in cinemas to the Oscar race, which is heating up sooner then in the past with the Academy Awards' new late February date.

Peter Hedges' "Pieces of April" opened in six cinemas over the weekend, taking in $48,422 for a moderate opening per screen average of $8,070. Also opening over the weekend was TLA Releasing's "9 Dead Gay Guys," which played one venue, taking in a more modest $3,462, while "Returner" from Destination Films/Samuel Goldwyn fared less well with a per screen average of $2,247 on a gross of $29,214 on 13 screens. Numbers for MAC Releasing's "Prey for Rock and Roll," which opened in New York over the weekend following its theatrical debut earlier this month on the West Coast, were not reported to iW by the 6pm EDT deadline Monday.

THINKFilm's explosive doc, "Bus 174" maintained its hold to the number two spot on the chart, continuing in one Manhattan theater with a gross of $9,640, down slightly from last week's $10,385. The film has cumed $26,530 so far.

Miramax's "The Station Agent" expanded to 50 screens, up from three last weekend, taking in $221,166 for a $4,423 average, down from the previous weekend's $16,853 average. So far, the film has totaled $396,827.

Coppola's "Lost in Translation" decreased its number of screens from 882 to 771 over the weekend, grossing a little over $1.9 million. The film averaged $2,468, down from the previous weekend average of $3,589. Total cume for the Venice 2003 award-winner is almost $21 million.

Gus Van Sant's 2003 Palme d'Or winner "Elephant" opens this week from HBO Films/Fine Line, along with Keith Gordon's "The Singing Detective" starring Robert Downey Jr., from Paramount Classics.

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