First off, apologies for the break in posting. Between traveling to New York, working on various projects and the start of the Los Angeles Film Festival, I've found myself starting several posts (including the last two Monday Briefs) only to watch them go unfinished.
Truth is, this summer might be somewhat light in our coverage around these parts, although we're gonna endeavor to stay on track this month to cover two of the year's most important festivals for documentary - LAFF, which launched seemingly successfully in its new downtown digs last Thursday, and Silverdocs, which kicks off tomorrow...
In the interim, there's been a lot of news in the documentary world - shifting dates for a top festival, a legal victory for a noted filmmaker and a list that does what lists tend to do: get people talking.
But the past two weekends, the biggest headlines in the doc world were made by a film that premiered at Sundance...
Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg's docu-portrait, JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK, was the big winner at the specialty box office the past two weekends. Opening a week ago at 7 theaters (but as indieWIRE noted - on three separate screens at NYC's IFC Center), the film took in an estimated $24,368 - the biggest per theater debut for a doc this year. In its first weekend, the film took in more than $170K, more than the combined total take of Stern and Sundberg's previous two (critically acclaimed and super serious) docs, THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT and THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK.
In its second weekend, the film cooled off only slightly as it expanded to 29 screens, managing a still strong average of just under $8K per screen, bringing its grand total thus far to more than $475K. According to Peter Knegt's iW piece, IFC Films plans an aggressive rollout for the film, expanding to the top fifty markets by the 4th of July. It could be the doc of the summer (at the box office at least), and seems likely to become the 4th $1M doc of 2010 (following BABIES, OCEANS and EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP).
Also fairing quite well last weekend was Madeleine Sackler's charter schools documentary THE LOTTERY. Variance Films released the doc on a single NYC screen to a potent $17K+. THE LOTTERY screened at this year's Tribeca Film Festival and a handful of top regional fests (Sarasota, IFFBoston, Cleveland among them) before its quick and successful theatrical launch.
This weekend saw the release of another Sundance doc, 8: THE MORMON PROPOSITION, the first out of the box for Red Flag Releasing. Released on 16 screens, the film took in an average of more than $3K.
Segueing out of the theatrical box office, news continued to break last week in the Joe Berlinger/Chevron/CRUDE footage case. And this time the news was good (at least for anyone who cares about documentary)...
A federal appeals court granted Berlinger a temporary stay in the case and will soon rule on his appeal of the lower court judge's decision that he must turn over his raw footage to Chevron. This means Berlinger won't have to turn over the footage immediately, which would have been the case if the appeals court had denied his petition for a stay.
Berlinger's lawyer, Maura Wogan, told the NY Times that if the court hadn't granted the stay, "(Berlinger) would have been forced to turn over this material before the appeal was heard – he would have, in effect, lost his right to an appeal."
Berlinger will join filmmaker Morgan Spurlock for a special Stranger Than Fiction this Tuesday at NYC's IFC Center. The event will be a benefit for Berlinger's legal defense fund.
But perhaps the biggest news of the past week was announced with relatively little fanfare. Confirming rumors that have been circulating for months (we even included them in our festival profile last December), Sheffield Doc/Fest announced that their 2011 edition will be held in early June. That means two Doc/Fests in Sheffield separated by little more than seven months (they will still hold this year's event the first week of November).