First theatrically released Filipino doc grosses $220k

U.S.-based helmer Ramona Diaz’s “Imelda,” the controversial documentary about the Philippines’ former first lady Imelda Marcos, is racing past local features at the box office in its home country.

Pic, the first theatrically released Filipino doc, has grossed a robust 14 million pesos ($220,000) on 20 screens since its July 21 release. By comparison “Naglalayag,” starring box office draw Nora Aunor, has made a paltry $18,000.

Schools have been block-buying tickets and making the doc a requirement for students.

Interest in the doc grew when Marcos filed an injunction, which delayed release of the film by two weeks.

Her temporary victory won free publicity for the doc, which charts Marcos’ rise to power and privilege alongside her husband, the late President Ferdinand Marcos, who was toppled by a popular uprising in 1986.

In a bizarre twist, Marcos withdrew her objections hours before a local high court junked her petition for a permanent ban.

She claimed Diaz and Unitel had agreed to her request to delete the word “documentary” from the film’s title.

“The film ‘Imelda’ is a documentary,” Unitel countered. “It qualified for the Sundance Film Festival because it is a documentary.”

Doc’s d.p., Fearne Pearlstein won, a cinematography award at Sundance.

Pic has grossed $110,000 in the U.S., where it is poised to go on the second wave of its platformed release. Doc hits screens in Los Angeles Aug. 20 and Toronto Oct. 1.

Distrib Unitel is mulling buying more documentaries. “Most Filipinos don’t equate documentaries with entertainment,” said Unitel’s New York-based VP of marketing and acquisitions, Vincent Nebrida.

Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11″ have not been released in the Philippines.

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