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iW BOT | “Live-In Maid” Packs Film Forum; Searchlight’s “Sunshine” is Bright; Warner Independent Dro

iW BOT | "Live-In Maid" Packs Film Forum; Searchlight's "Sunshine" is Bright; Warner Independent Dro

For its first theatrical release after five years as a sales company, Film Sales Company‘s Spanish-language drama “Live-In Maid” played NYC’s Film Forum and was the top exclusive release on the iW BOT, which ranks by per-screen average, and a grassroots success. Working off ten venues and the vast promotional resources of Fox Searchlight, “Sunshine,” a sci-fi adventure from director Danny Boyle, earned a stellar $242,964 for a stratospheric, per-screen average. The successful launches of “Live-In Maid” and “Sunshine” helped offset the disappointing New York debut of Argot Pictures‘ documentary “Summercamp!” which languished at its run in New York despite positive reviews.

The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available here at indieWIRE.com

With cumulative earnings of $20,463 since its July 18 opening at New York’s Film Forum, Argentine filmmaker Jorge Gaggero‘s class drama “Live-In Maid” is the first Spanish-language hit this summer after a series of popular French-language titles. Boasting a $15,583 per-screen average, “Live-In Maid,” about a Buenos Aires divorcee living beyond her means, is also a breakout for the Film Sales Company.

Asked if they will distribute more films, the company’s president and founder Andrew Herwitz is enthusiastic. “It has been a very eye-opening experience for us,” he said. “It’s been a good one and we’ll see how it works with our business model. “You know if I had to make the decision today regarding our film ‘My Architect,’ I would release it instead of selling it to New Yorker Films. Don’t get me wrong. They did a great job, but I think we would have released that film ourselves.”

Herwitz credits Gaggero’s appearances in front of Film Forum audiences and their partnerships with the Latino film series Cinema Tropical and New York’s Spanish-language media for attracting a crowd more diverse than the typical Film Forum audience. The outstanding debut box office for “Live-In Maid” has earned confirmed bookings in various markets including Seattle and Philadelphia and Herwitz is confident that the film will play more than 25 cities. He’s also confident about its profitability. “You only strike more prints as you need them. You place ads accordingly. Big films have to play a lot of theaters in a lot of markets to make money. ‘Live-In Maid’ is about finding the appropriate scale.”

Fox Searchlight continues its summer win streak of counter-programming debuts with “Sunshine,” about a team of explorers attempting to re-energize the sun. “Sunshine” debuted at ten locations, a mix of commercial venues like the Arclight in Los Angeles and traditional art houses like New York’s Sunshine Cinema, to $242,964 in box office ($24,296 per site average); more than enough to sit atop the iW BOT as the week’s per-screen champ. Fox Searchlight aggressively expands “Sunshine” Friday to 430-plus locations and Boyle’s sci-fi thriller shows the potential to be a bigger crossover hit than their women’s drama “Waitress,” meaning the ability to play extended runs at both conventional multiplexes and art houses.

The flat percentage between theater owners and studios no matter what week a film is in release has made theater chains more supportive of dedicating 3,500-plus screens to a single title like the overall box office champ, “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.” Warner Independent’s James Lewis agrees that the mega-release patterns of studio blockbusters has also made it more difficult for specialty film companies to support limited roll-outs of their titles as well as the occasional wide release. Warner Independent’s bawdy, dysfunctional family comedy “Introducing the Dwights,” featuring Brenda Blethyn, earned $72,458 in weekend box office from 70 locations for a dismal per-screen of $1,035 and a cumulative of $263,040. The result is that just three weeks in release, the company is pulling the plug on its Aussie comedy. The fall of “Dwights,” says Lewis, Director of National Publicity, is proof at how difficult it has become to release alternatives to the summer blockbusters.

A scene from Jorge Gaggero’s “Live-In Maid.” Image courtesy of the filmmaker.

Lewis says they remain convinced that “Dwights,” purchased at Sundance for $4 million, is a broad audience pleaser but mixed reviews in key urban markets cut the legs off the film. “In order to play, to reach the smaller markets, you have to survive New York and LA,” Lewis said. Counter-programming has become more difficult this summer due to the steady stream of blockbusters, but Lewis admits that success is still possible with the right film. “A film has to work critically. We know people love ‘Dwights.’ It’s a film we believe in but when there are only eight people in the auditorium at shows we have to pull out as fast as we can.”

Audience response remained strong in the second week for Focus Features‘ “Talk to Me,” director Kasi Lemmons‘ 1960s-set drama about radio personality Ralph “Petey” Greene (Don Cheadle). “Talk to Me” expanded to 36 locations and earned $355,680; dropping less than 10% from its previous weekend. “Talk to Me” has a per-screen average of $9,880 and a cumulative box office of $909,289. Focus expands “Talk to Me” Friday to 100-plus locations.

Premiering to local fans in Okoboji, Iowa, Lantern Lane Entertainment‘s family drama “Arnolds Park” grossed $13,112 from a single screen, playing alongside Hollywood blockbusters. Appearances by director Gene Teigland and the film’s cast helped attract crowds who watched the film’s production in their own backyards.

In terms of re-issues, the standout was the complete version of Fritz Lang‘s 1927 epic fantasy “Metropolis,” released in a new 35mm print from Kino International. “Metropolis” earned $7,372 from an exclusive engagement at New York’s Film Forum; long considered the top venue for movie classics. But Kino earned 25% more in box office from an exclusive, mid-July run of the Charlie Chaplin classic “City Lights” at The Castro in San Francisco, advancing the idea that New York may no longer be the top market for film revivals. Kino will try to recreate its “City Lights” success with a run of “Metropolis” at San Francisco’s Castro on August 24.

Samuel Goldwyn Films‘ luxurious period drama “Goya’s Ghosts,” featuring Stellan Skarsgard, Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman, failed to crack the iW BOT top ten, taking in only $159,671 from 49 locations for a disappointing $3,259 per-screen average. Magnolia Pictures‘ twenty-something drama “Cashback,” already out on DVD, earned $14,878 from its brief release at nine venues. Brooklyn-based Argot Pictures, meanwhile, watched its kids-at-camp documentary “Summercamp!” flounder at New York’s IFC Center with a single screen gross of $1,597.

After five weeks in theaters, Kino International has taken its adaptation of D.H. Lawrence‘s classic novel “Lady Chatterly” to 22 locations, its widest release so far in 2007. “Chatterly” earned $62,293 in weekend box office, reaching a cumulative take of $296,266; drawing its largest crowds at The Landmark LA, closely followed by Laemmle venues in Pasadena and Encino. Despite the boost in theaters, “Chatterly” experienced a stiff 35% drop from the previous weekend, for a per-screen average of $2,831; just good enough for the 17th spot on the iW BOT. By comparison, the summer’s top-performing French language releases including THINKFilm‘s “Avenue Montaigne” grossed $2,044,614 and Picturehouse‘s “La Vie En Rose” has cumed $7,598.240 so far.

In terms of overall box office, the standout expansion was IFC Films‘ “My Best Friend,” Patrice Leconte‘s witty comedy about an art dealer (Daniel Auteuil) who makes a bet that in ten days he can gain a best friend. “My Best Friend” grossed $84,728 from 13 theaters, an expansion of ten venues, but its per-screen average of $7,372 is a nearly 50% decline from its debut weekend. Werner Herzog‘s Vietnam War drama “Rescue Dawn” expanded by 57 locations and earned $349,842. The MGM release has reached a cumulative take of $1,117,279 and expands to 500 locations Friday.

Time,” Korean director Kim Ki-duk‘s plastic surgery drama from Lifesize Entertainment, lost less than 20% of its audience during its sophomore week at New York’s Cinema Village. “Time” earned $3,204 for a cumulative box office of $10,973. Less successful is Sony Pictures Classics‘ “Interview.” An expanded release to 19 screens earned “Interview” $55,612 but its per-screen average of $2,927 was a near 60% drop from last week’s tally. Experiencing a similar box office drop at five weeks was “Sicko,” Moore’s sassy healthcare documentary. From its 1,117 locations, “Sicko,” financed by The Weinstein Company, with Lionsgate handling US distribution, earned $1,915,723 for a per-screen average of $1,715, only good enough for the 26th spot on the iW BOT. While “Sicko” is guaranteed to surpass the $21.6 million box office of Moore’s 2002 film “Bowling for Columbine,” its 50% drop in per-screen average hints at a film nearing the end of its run.

New entries on the exclusive landscape this week include the Shane Meadows “This Is England” for IFC Films and Sony Classics’ French-language period drama “Moliere.” New documentaries include Magnolia Pictures Iraq film “No End in Sight,” Break Thru Films‘ Darfur doc “The Devil Came On Horseback” and “The Camden 28,” about Vietnam War protesters, from First Run Features. In terms of wide audience potential, the new release with the best box-office prospects is Paramount Vantage‘s nature documentary “Arctic Tale.”

Steve Ramos is a Cincinnati based writer.

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 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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