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Biz shows strength across the board

Indie summer hard to beat

At this point, it will be news when “Memento” stops being the top story in independent film.

While the summer 2001 box office for indie films showed growth, the performance of Newmarket Films’ “Memento” towered above all titles in the summer sked — as it has since its March 16 release.

Indeed, the performance of Newmarket’s lone theatrical release to date bested all other indie distributors for the summer.

Fox Searchlight was a close second with the combined efforts of its two titles, “Sexy Beast” and “The Deep End” — films that took the No. 2 and 3 spots on the countdown, respectively.

While the drop from “Memento’s” $11.6 million to the $6.5 million of “Sexy Beast” is a precipitous one, the numbers are unusually strong across the board in an industry in which the majority of films fall short of the $1 million mark.

“There is a big gap, but (the performance of “Sexy Beast”) is a really strong number, and I think it bodes well for the indie business,” says Bob Berney, IFC Films’ senior VP of marketing and distribution as well as Newmarket’s consultant on the “Memento” release. “If we’d done (“Sexy Beast’s”) business, we’d be thrilled.”

Newmarket will face its tall order of avoiding a sophomore slump on Oct. 26 with the Jake Gyllenhaal-starrer, “Donnie Darko,” via a service deal with IFC Films.

Foreign-language films also made a strong showing, with Miramax’s release of the French-language “The Closet” and the Spanish-language “Amores Perros” from Lions Gate each earning about $5.5 million.

And like every season, this one had its disappointments: Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Princess and the Warrior” –Tom Tykwer’s follow-up to “Run Lola Run” — earned $750,000, while the Johnny Depp-Cate Blanchett starrer “The Man Who Cried” made just $717,000.

However, the bulk of the indies’ $95 million summer was made up of solid if unspectacular base hits like United Artists’ “Ghost World” ($3.7 million), Artisan Entertainment’s “Made” ($4.8 million), Fine Line Features’ “The Anniversary Party” ($4 million) and Lions Gate’s “Songcatcher” ($3 million).

While those aren’t the kind of numbers to spark talk of a renaissance, it steers well clear of the gloom and doom that often dogs the industry.

“There’s a great deal of dissatisfaction with the quality of (studio) films, and there’s a segment of the audience that will seek alternatives,” says Artisan chairman Amir Malin. “It could happen at Christmas again or in the summer — any time there’s a bevy of wide- release films and they don’t provide the audience with sufficient satisfaction.”

So what will the indies do for an encore?

Anticipated titles for the fourth quarter include Miramax’s Toronto Film Fest winner “Amelie” and “In the Bedroom,” SPC’s Jerry Garcia documentary “Grateful Dawg” and “Pauline and Paulette,” Fox Searchlight’s “Waking Life” and “Super Troopers,” Artisan’s “Novocaine,” Paramount Classics’ “Sidewalks of New York” and Lions Gate’s “Monster’s Ball.”

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