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Arthouse Audit: Niche Docs Lead Specialized Openers, Oscar Contenders Tally

Photo of Tom Brueggemann By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood February 9, 2014 at 7:28PM

Art-house exhibitors eagerly await the Fox Searchlight stateside release of Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which premiered in Berlin to wide acclaim, but it's still a month away. In the meantime, award season releases continue to show uneven results, although non-nominated "Gloria" is expanding well. As was the case last week, the leading new openers are documentaries with more limited appeal. 
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Balanchine and Tanaquil le Clerq in dance doc 'Afternoon of a Faun'
Balanchine and Tanaquil le Clerq in dance doc 'Afternoon of a Faun'

Art-house exhibitors eagerly await the Fox Searchlight stateside release of Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which premiered in Berlin to wide acclaim, but it's still a month away. In the meantime, award season releases continue to show uneven results, although non-nominated "Gloria" is expanding well. As was the case last week, the leading new openers are documentaries with more limited appeal. And "Kids for Cash" took an unusual route, opening in three Pennsylvania cities before going into a more conventional release pattern.

New releases

"Kids for Cash" (Paladin/SenArts) 

$40,800 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $12,200

With so many quality documentaries competing for attention, and those focusing on tough issues facing even greater obstacles in attracting theatrical audiences, enterprising filmmakers and distributors increasingly are thinking outside the box. Sometimes it pays off, as with this harrowing tale of how a corrupt Pennsylvania judge financially gained by sending young defendants to a privately-owned juvenile facility. With no significant festival exposure, this opened atypically in four theaters in the eastern Pennsylvania area most familiar with the case, with a result that would have been decent had they been four New York/Los Angeles theaters.

Clearly helped by awareness of this still-resonating case, the gross includes a sold-out Thursday night premiere in Wilkes-Barre, near where the events took place. But overall, they are strong enough (clearly helped by the attention this will now receive) to elevate the film for forthcoming playdates and to help land additional ones.

First-time director Robert May previously produced "The Station Agent" and was executive producer for two earlier major docs, "Stevie" and "The Fog of War."  Like the veteran directors of "Detropia," another guerilla-distribution effort whose creators took a hands-on approach to its release, May had enough confidence in his film to take an unconventional approach that, in its first stage at least, is showing success.

What comes next: More Pennsylvania dates next Friday, followed by other big city dates (including New York and Los Angeles) in the following weeks.

"Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil le Clerq" (Kino Lorber) - Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 83; Festivals include New York 2013

$16,500 in 1 theater; PSA: $16,500

Opening in the epicenter of New York's dance world at Lincoln Center's Elinor Bunin Monroe Theater (with an estimated 5-day gross of $22,718) this is another performance-based documentary that starts off with sold-out shows where the core interest lies. Most often, this happens at the downtown Film Forum, but this time around (near where present-day dance students are housed and where "Black Swan" was set) this tragic story of an aspiring 1950s prodigy hit its marks uptown.

What comes next: Docs like this often need this sort of initial response to garner elevated exhibitor response in other markets. This gross will get this a lot more interest.

This article is related to: Box Office, Box Office, Box Office, Arthouse Audit


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.