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iW BOT | “Duchess” Gives Fall Specialty Season Royal Kick-Off

iW BOT | "Duchess" Gives Fall Specialty Season Royal Kick-Off

With a scorching $27,204 per-theatre-average, Saul Dibb‘s “The Duchess” found 2008’s second highest specialty average (behind arguable inclusion “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl“) and gave the competitive fall season a royal beginning. In 7 locations, the Paramount Vantage release grossed $190,426. A slew of other, lower-profile films also found decent numbers, including a Texas screening of Chris Eska‘s “August Evening,” the debut of Stuart Townsend‘s “Battle in Seattle” and the second weekend of yoga doc “Enlighten Up!

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

“Duchess” Draws Big Numbers

After a generally favorable screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, Saul Dibb’s “The Duchess” found itself high atop the iW BOT this weekend. The Keira KnightleyRalph Fiennes starrer, a dramatized chronicle of the life of 18th century aristocrat Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, scored the second-highest iW BOT debut in 2008 (after Patricia Rozema‘s “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl”). The film grossed $190,426 on 7 screens for a whopping average of $27,204.

The film found itself only moderately under the opening averages of two of the most successful recent royal accounts, Stephen Frears‘ 2006 “The Queen,” which averaged $40,671 on 3 runs in its debut weekend, and Shekhar Kapur‘s 1998 “Elizabeth,” which averaged $30,570 on 9 runs. It far surpassed Kapur’s 2008 follow-up, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” which averaged $3,075 last October on a perhaps incomparable 2,001 theaters.

“We were very pleased with the grosses from this past weekend,” said “Duchess” distributor Paramount Vantage’s Senior Vice-President Kevin Grayson in an interview with indieWIRE. “The film showed very good success at our core theatres on both coasts with strong per screen averages at all our locations.” The film played particularly well with women, as Grayson had expected, and will slowly find more theaters in the coming weeks. “We are expanding our initial runs [in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto] as well as introducing the film into the top 20 markets in a limited fashion,” he said. “That combined with Keira’s strong cross over ability, good word of mouth and solid reviews we feel we are on the right road to reach and exceed our goals.”

However, it might increasingly become a rocky road for “The Duchess” to maintain this weekend’s success. The next two weekends alone see the openings of potential specialty powerhouses like Jonathan Demme‘s “Rachel Getting Married,” Larry Charles‘ “Religulous” and Fernando Meirelles‘s “Blindness.”

“Battle,” “August,” “Enlighten” Also Show Strength

Though without the backing of a “Duchess”-like studio subsidiary, a wealth of other films crowded the iW BOT’s top slots with less-dramatic but certainly promising numbers. Redwood Palms release of “Battle in Seattle” opened on 8 screens and found a decent $46,903 gross. Stuart Townsend’s fictionalized account of the 1999 riots to stop a World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle averaged $5,863, from a $9,718 high at New York’s Angelika Film Center to a $2,188 low at Minneapolis’ Uptown Theatre. “Seattle” will battle the box office at 11 additional theaters this upcoming weekend, including in Chicago, Boston and Detroit.

A scene from Chris Eska’s “August Evening.” Image courtesy of Maya Releasing.

“Seattle” ranked behind two iW BOT underdogs. Maya Releasing‘s “August Evening,” which opened to a disappointing $3,296 at New York’s Village East Cinema two weekends ago, managed $11,033 from its debut weekend at San Antonio’s Santikos Bijou Theatre. Directed by Texas native Chris Eska, “Evening” won the John Cassavetes Award at the 2007 Gotham Awards, and now has a cumulative gross of $15,576. It opens in Los Angeles this Friday.

Just behind “Evening” was the surprising second weekend of Kate Churchill‘s yoga documentary, “Enlighten Up!,” which grossed an impressive $8,598 in its sole run at the Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge, Massachusetts. That takes “Enlighten”‘s total up to $20,397 after two weekends. And while one must consider that the screenings did include actual free yoga classes led before select screenings, there is still something to be said for such grassroots marketing.

Finally, in what might be one of the year’s biggest – and most expected – specialty disasters, Empire Film Group opened long-shelved 2007 Sundance entry “Hounddog,” best known for its Dakota Fanning rape scene, on 11 screens. It averaged $1,249.

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 by the end of the day each Monday.

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