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June 23, 2004 2:00 AM
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"The Hunting of the President" Opens Well in Limited Runs in Crowded Market

"The Hunting of the President" Opens Well in Limited Runs in Crowded Market

by Brian Brooks

Regent Releasing staged a box office coup over the weekend with the debut of Nickolas Perry and Harry Thomason's doc "The Hunting of the President." The film opened on two screens, edging out last week's number one specialty release, "Napoleon Dynamite," which came in second on the chart, measured by per screen average. Seven additional specialty releases debuted over the weekend to mediocre grosses in a market crowded with new films, while two recent big titles "Super Size Me" and "Saved!" again took a large share of the specialty gross, although with declining averages well into their runs.

One fewer title was tracked by the iW BOT last weekend, while the number of specialty screens declined by 87 to 1,799. Indies grossed $3.45 million from 65 films, a decline of $1.45 million following the previous weekend, with an overall per screen average of $1,918, a decline of 26% versus a $3,867 industry-wide average (down 22%). Combined grosses for "Super Size Me" and "Saved!" however, represent about 53% of the total weekend take. Ignoring those two films, the specialty gross would have come to about $1.61 million.

"The Hunting of the President" debuted in New York and Little Rock, AR ascending to the pinnacle of the specialty box office, reigning at number one. The film's release, the weekend prior to former President Bill Clinton's autobiography "My Life" went on sale, grossed $23,298 on two screens for a decent $11,649 average in a week that saw rather banal numbers.

"We're very pleased with the gross," commented John Lambert, Sr. VP of Regent Releasing, which is distributing the film, in a conversation with indieWIRE Tuesday afternoon. "The response to docs in the recent past has been very exciting, [and] we're finding the audiences are very pleased with this kind of filmmaking." In reference to other issue-oriented documentaries that have made their way to screens, such as "The Corporation," "Control Room," "Super Size Me" and the hotly anticipated "Fahrenheit 9/11," Lambert seemed sanguine about the release life of "Hunting" going forward. "[We're] pleased to be in the marketplace and pleased to be a part of the political docs that are coming out now. We look forward to taking [the film] into each market."

Lambert also felt confidence that Bill Clinton's new book, which was released Tuesday, would also fuel interest in the doc. "Hunting" chronicles the point-of-view of the president's supporters, looking back at the tumultuous events and subsequent investigations surrounding Whitewater, Clinton's alleged affairs with Paula Jones and others, as well as his sexual liaison with Monica Lewinsky that ultimately lead to his impeachment. "Bill [Clinton] being a part of the book tour is very valuable to the film," said Lambert. "And, it's great to see him in the limelight [again], we tried to make the film's release a simultaneous marketing experience."

"The Hunting of the President" will open Friday in Washington, D.C. at the Visions Theater, and in San Francisco at the Roxy July 16th. The film will open in a number of venues July 23rd in Los Angeles as well as in Boston the same day.

The previous weekend's number one film, "Napoleon Dynamite" added 12 screens in its second weekend of release. The Fox Searchlight release grossed $193,506 at 18 sites for a $10,750 per screen average (a decline from last week's $19,444) and has cumed $404,136.

TLA Releasing's "Latter Days" paraded its way back into the top tier of the iW: BOT in its 21st weekend of release, opening at the Harkins Camelview 5 in Scottsdale, AZ where it was the number one film of the weekend, grossing $8,626 on one screen. Since it January debut, the film has cumed almost $800,000.

Wellspring's Quebec-produced feature, "Seducing Dr. Lewis" opened at The Paris theater in New York for an exclusive engagement. The French-language comedy took in $7,164 during the three-day period, and has totaled $10,538 since opening one week ago, placing fourth on the BOT.

"The number of films opening each weekend is quite staggering," commented Wellspring's Ryan Werner who is attending the IFP/Los Angeles Film Festival. "We were obviously disappointed that 'Seducing Dr. Lewis' didn't open bigger. It's a film that audiences have really enjoyed."

Werner cited the saturation of films out there as well as the current focus on issue-oriented work as causing the film's mediocre numbers. "It is an incredibly crowded marketplace but we thought this could be a good antidote to what is out there. The media is obviously focusing their attention to the political documentary trend, and the blockbusters, which didn't make it easy to create awareness in New York. Still we believe this is an incredibly well made film and we have seen amazing audience response to it, and we are going to keep pushing it out there." Wellspring will open "Lewis" in L.A. on July 7th and will begin rolling it out around the country beginning July 16th.

Other theatrical openings experienced blasé debuts last weekend, reflecting the current challenge in the market. Paramount Classics opened Mike Hodges' thriller "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" on two screens, grossing $13,415 for a $6,708 average. Picture This! Entertainment, meanwhile, debuted "You'll Get Over It" at one site, grossing $5,384.

In other openers, Sony Classics' "Facing Windows" rolled onto seven screens grossing $36,061 for a $5,152 per screen average, while First Run Features' "Howard Zinn" chalked up $4,658. Wellspring's other release, "Father and Son," took in $4,541, while Avatar Films' "Saints and Sinners" grossed $2,401.

Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me" remained on 230 screens, taking in $616,670 for a $2,681 per screen average, down about 25% from last week. The film has now cumed over $8.67 million. U.A.'s "Saved!" added three sites, grossing almost $1.27 million from 592 screens. The film averaged $2,071, a drop of slightly more then 50% with a four-week cume of over $6.5 million.

Michael Moore's Palme d'Or winner "Fahrenheit 9/11" opens nationwide this weekend. Also debuting is Takeshi Kitano's "Zatoichi," as well as Kristian Levring's "The Intended," Nick Cassavetes' "The Notebook," Michael Haneke's "Time of the Wolf," and Jean-Jacques Annaud's "Two Brothers."

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