ANOTHER UPDATE: Respected journalist Anthony Kaufman has called me out for missing the point on this blog post. Two things to keep in mind: 1. I’m not making any huge claims here about the international scope of world-cinema, just celebrating a robust season for U.S. audiences attracted to foreign films. 2. I’m not a distributor, or a journalist, so no one should give me that much credit.
UPDATE: On his blog, indieWIRE editor-in-chief Eugene Hernandez brings attention to the inaccurate box office figures for this weekend’s ‘Wind That Shakes the Barley’ expansion. Regardless of the faulty numbers (it’s passed the $300,000-mark), the film is still performing beyond expectations and the rest of the solid foreign performers are accurate. Thus, the whole point of my own post still carries some weight. The inaccurate ticket reporting, on the other hand, is a completely different matter.
A few days ago, I blogged why people should see The Wind That Shakes the Barley (pictured on the right), which is out now in limited release. Well, the 1920s Irish/English drama has found quite a little niche. It was doing great business in just a few theaters, but tripled its theater count (to 38) this weekend, and surprisingly hasn’t lost any momentum. The film averaged nearly $9,000 per screen after this expansion and has already crossed the $500,000-mark for its box office gross.
For a small, violent Ken Loach film, this is huge. Maybe there’s hope for international cinema (released in the U.S.) after all. It’s worth noting that this film’s post-Cannes acquisition and release was guided by IFC’s Ryan Werner, who found success at the now-defunct Wellspring for taking risks on exactly these kinds of films. When Wellspring died in 2005, many of us bemoaned the end of theatrical runs on new international cinema… but maybe IFC and its competitors, will help pick up some of the slack.
Other signs of international cinema hope from this past weekend’s box office include: the mediocre-but-well-marketed Journey from the Fall (crossing the $200,000-mark after only two weeks in major release), Magnolia’s strong performance for the terrific Korean horror flick The Host (which is poised to hit $2 million in tickets), IFC’s debut of Susanne Bier’s stirring Danish Oscar nominee After the Wedding (making a little under $10,000 per screen), THINKFilm’s French comedy/drama Avenue Montaigne (which should break $1 million by the middle of the month), Eros’ Indian/British release Namastey London (which will pass the million-dollar barrier in a dozen or so days), and Oscar’s Foreign Language film champion The Lives of Others (courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics) is rocking and rolling in the wake of its win, topping the $6 million threshold. Let’s also not forget the grandaddies of this recent trend: Pedro Almodovar’s Volver and, of course, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. The latter is currently sitting pretty with a $37 million gross. That’s not to say there aren’t a few duds along the way. For example, Iranian soccer film Offside, is not getting off to the best start after just two weeks in American theaters. Neither did a certain Cannes award-winner, the French-African war film Days of Glory.
Perhaps this will reinvigorate the optimism of U.S. distributors when they make the annual trek to the Cannes market and film festival late next month? Maybe we’ll find a few more acquisitions happening for the usually-tough foreign product coming out of there? Speaking of which, all eyes will be set on how Andrea Arnold’s U.K.-set, bleak-fest Red Road will perform once Tartan releases it stateside on April 13. I loved that film when I saw it at Cannes last year (where it also picked up an award), but would have predicted a box office death. Maybe not so, seeing the climate (no pun intended) out there today.
The not-so-great news, though? The American-made indies aren’t really matching biz with their international counterparts in release. American indies like First Snow, The Hawk is Dying, and Live Free or Die unfortunately are having a hard time catching on with the arthouse crowds. And, as much as I would love to claim it, Mira Nair’s The Namesake would be a hard one to call entirely American. Hell, the biggest American-made earner from this weekend was a 30-year old film by Charles Burnett, currently in re-release. And, I’m not even gonna talk about the box-office state of American docs. I’ll leave that to AJ Schnack or any of these fine folks.