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"Truth" Conveniently Heats Up Specialty Box office Again

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire June 6, 2006 at 12:34PM

In leading the indieWire Box-Office Tracking report (iWBOT) of independent/specialty films for a second straight week, Paramount Classics' "An Inconvenient Truth" posted a bevy of impressive numbers. In expanding from four to 77 theaters - from two each in New York and L.A. into the Top Ten markets in North America - director Davis Guggenheim's stylishly filmed presentation of Al Gore's lecture on the threat of global warming had the best per-location average of any major film in theatrical release, and screened on multiple screens at some theaters.
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In leading the indieWire Box-Office Tracking report (iWBOT) of independent/specialty films for a second straight week, Paramount Classics' "An Inconvenient Truth" posted a bevy of impressive numbers. In expanding from four to 77 theaters - from two each in New York and L.A. into the Top Ten markets in North America - director Davis Guggenheim's stylishly filmed presentation of Al Gore's lecture on the threat of global warming had the best per-location average of any major film in theatrical release, and screened on multiple screens at some theaters.

[View the indieWIRE:BOT Box Office Table for this week's films here.]

The film's $17,615 average bested the surprise second film on iWBOT, a self-distributed documentary about the Iraq War called "The War Tapes," by almost $5,500, and "War Tapes" was just at one New York theater. Also doing well in the second week of an exclusive New York release was Cinema Guild's "La Moustache," Emmanuel Carrere's adaptation of his own novel about the complications that arise when a man shaves his mustache. At IFC Film Center in the West Village, it earned $10,150. (Numbers are provided by Rentrak.)

"Inconvenient Truth's" $17,615 figure was also noticeably higher than the $12,759 average racked up by "The Break-Up" - the nation's top movie last weekend in terms of overall gross and considered a major hit - at 3,070 theaters. In fact, "An Inconvenient Truth" itself finished in the Top Ten in terms of overall weekend gross with $1.356 million despite its limited run, placing ninth. ("An Inconvenient Truth" is being released under Paramount Vantage's former moniker.)

But to Rob Schultz, Paramount Classics' executive vice president of specialty film distribution, one of the most interesting statistics came out of the Dallas film-distribution region. There, the film opened at three theaters - Landmark's Magnolia in Dallas, the Angelika Film Center in Plano and the Arbor in Austin (part of the Paramount Classics' Dallas market). Exit polling showed that 80+% of viewers who consider themselves Republican said they'd recommend the film. (The first weekend, in New York and L.A., 90+% of viewers said they'd recommend it.)

"We went into Texas because it's not homogenous politically," Schultz said. "The Republicans had a high recommend rate. It's low-80s instead of the 95% range, but that's still huge. So everyone finds it rewarding."

Schultz acknowledges that so far the majority of "Inconvenient Truth's" customers have been politically liberal. "But what we're seeing in the Texas market is it doesn't have to be that way," he said. And that should fit in with Gore's approach to delivering his message in the film. "He goes out of his way to be as broad as possible to reach out on a topic that should be nonpartisan," Schultz said.

Nationwide, Schultz said, two other encouraging trends are emerging. First, young people are going to the movie sooner than Paramount Classics assumed. Second, local corporations in various cities are calling to ask about sponsoring screenings. "They feel it's a topic that warrants their involvement and they want their employees to be part of the discussion," he said. He declined to name any specific firms.

In another interesting development, the film indexed above its national per-theater average at the 11 multiplexes where it was booked as part of the new AMC Select program of dedicating screens to indie/specialty films. AMC's per-theater gross was $18,800 for "Inconvenient Truth," said Zach Baze, of AMC's corporate communications office. That's an encouraging sign as the film tries to cross over from urban locations to more suburban ones.

Besides New York, L.A. and Dallas, "An Inconvenient Truth" was playing last weekend in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington, Seattle and Toronto. It moves into 122 theaters in the Top 25 markets on Friday, and then expands wider on the 16th.

But while "Inconvenient Truth" was finding an audience for its message about global warming, the Iraq War proved - on a much smaller but still potent scale - to also be of interest and concern. In "The War Tapes," three National Guardsmen sent to Iraq recorded their activities with mini-DV cameras provided by SenArt Films, a production company that is self-distributing the movie.

Director Deborah Scranton and producer/co-editor Steve James then supervised the shaping of the 1,000 hours of raw footage the soldiers show - 800 in Iraq and 200 in the U.S. - into a film. It opened exclusively at Landmark's Sunshine 5 in Manhattan's East Village.

"We were very pleased with the results, especially given the torrential downpour that hit New York (last weekend)," said producer Robert May, who previously served as executive producer on Errol Morris' Oscar-winning "The Fog of War." "In this film, the soldiers aren't telling their story as much as experiencing it, and it gives the audience a chance to experience the war as the soldiers are in real time. And it has no position because the soldiers have no position. We made a decision to let it take its organic source, so we see the war as the soldiers do."

The film has bookings set in Cambridge, Washington and San Francisco on June 30, Chicago, Los Angeles and Pasadena on July 7, and other locations afterward. And there's more where it came from. The producers gave a total of 10 Guardsmen cameras and five filmed for a solid year. All 10 survived, although several had non-life-threatening war-related injuries and illnesses. "There are three other compelling stories that are not in the film, but maybe we can include them in a companion DVD," May said.

Not doing so well, and yet another example that martial-arts films are meeting consumer resistance, was Magnolia Pictures' release of Pierre Morel-directed, Luc Besson-produced thriller "District B13." It finished 16th with a $2,725 average from its opening at 151 theaters.

With 77 indie/specialty films in the marketplace last weekend, variety was down a bit from the 81 choices available on the previous four-day Memorial Day weekend. But the number of theaters showing them jumped pronouncedly, to 1,915 from the previous 1,803. Overall gross was $4.7 million, compared to $5.48 million during the previous weekend's four-day holiday.

For last weekend, the per-theater average was $2,455. While that was obviously down from Memorial Day weekend's average of $3,039, it was substantially better than the average for the dog days of the May 19-21 weekend, when the average was just $1,559 in the face of then-new "The Da Vinci Code." But as the so-called Hollywood blockbusters seem to burn out in their second weekends, the summer indie/specialty market seems to be quietly getting stronger.

[Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles-based film writer and former movie critic at Denver Post. James Israel contributed to this story.]

indieWIRE:BOT 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 submit information about your film to Rentrak, please email studiogrosses@rentrak.com