BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE: THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, the debut feature by actor Michael Rapaport, finally landed in theaters last weekend after months of behind-the-scenes and in-the-press strife between the director and several of his subjects. But in the end, the formerly, vocally-opposed Q-Tip and his fellow members of A Tribe Called Quest encouraged fans to see the film - and indeed they did, giving the BEATS the biggest documentary opening of 2011: the film took in a stellar average of nearly $28,000 in 4 theaters.
That tally just edged the opening weekend for one of the biggest docs of the year, Werner Herzog's CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS, which averaged $27,820 on five screens back in late April. After 11 weeks, CAVE is now zeroing in on $5M, a box office record for Herzog and a signal that he is one of the few directors working in nonfiction who have the strength to pull in an audience based on their name.
BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK, which is nearing the end of its run (with a cume of nearly $1.4M), still holds the per screen record for docs this year. It opened at the Film Forum in March and took in $33K during its first weekend.
[Full disclosure: I contributed to the editing of BEATS, RHYMES AND LIFE.]
The Tribe documentary was clearly the big story at the indie theatrical box office, but the background was that a number of docs were in the marketplace and many were doing strong or decent business. Cindy Meehl's BUCK expanded to 151 and is now closing in on $2M in box office receipts. The single screen SHOLEM ALEICHEM: LAUGHING IN THE DARKNESS took in a potent $20,247 for distributor International Film Circuit at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas. Even PAGE ONE: A YEAR INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES is expanding with much greater success than its initial reception indicated. In its 4th week, the film is averaging $2,235 in 52 theaters, bringing its total to $429,766.
The double successes of BUCK and CAVE are a huge boon to the recent rebranding of IFC Films' Sundance Selects label, which now looks to be their home for high profile, theatrical docs. Next up from Sundance Selects is Errol Morris' TABLOID, which is getting a lot of recent press play over the hijacking of Morris' post-screening Q&A's by subject Joyce McKinney. With BUCK and CAVE already strong players in post-season awards talk, it's possible that Sundance Selects could have 3 strong competitors for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar.
The week's other big debut was PROJECT NIM, James Marsh's follow-up to his Oscar-winning MAN ON WIRE. Given its pedigree and a combination of awards (James took the Directing Award at Sundance) and sensational reviews (even from Kyle Smith!), some observers were surprised by the film's slightly underwhelming theatrical take of $6,455 average per screen. The film's weekend cume was just under $26K.
The year's top box office figures to date are here.