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‘Precious’ on path to indie success

Friday bow a record for limited release

This year has seen a number of indie films blossom at the worldwide box office, reminding that the major Hollywood studios don’t always have the only route to commercial success.

Lionsgate’s “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” is the latest example. The Lee Daniels-directed film smashed all records in opening to $585,000 from 18 theaters.

That’s the best gross ever for a film opening in fewer than 100 theaters. Last year, by comparison, Focus Features’ “Milk” grossed $268,487 from 34 theaters on its first Friday.

The robust domestic debut of “Precious” is good timing for Elephant Eye Films, which is repping the title at the American Film Market. A handful of territories had previously been sold, including to Icon Film Distribution in the U.K., ARP in France and Filmax in Spain.

Film, about an obese African-American girl who finds redemption through harrowing circumstances, won’t be an easy sell in certain overseas markets, but success often breeds success through word-of-mouth.

Last year’s indie blockbuster “Slumdog Millionaire” was a financial boon for international distribs taking a stake in the film. No U.S. major studio wanted the picture; in fact, Warner Bros. agreed to let Fox Searchlight release “Slumdog” domestically at the behest of director Danny Boyle.

“Slumdog” went on to gross $239.1 million internationally and $141.3 million domestically for a global haul of $377.4 million.

The micro-budgeted horror pic “Paranormal Activity” is another title that could benefit foreign distribs. The pic, almost not released by Paramount, has become the runaway hit of the hear in the U.S. relative to its cost, grossing $91.7 million domestically through Friday.

Stuart Ford’s IM Global sold “Paranormal” at last year’s AFM. Overseas, the film has only opened in Finland.

Icon Distributing, part of Stewart Till’s newly formed Icon UK Group, is releasing “Paranormal” in the U.K., where it opens in two weeks. Icon Entertainment International is the group’s international sales arm.

“I think what we’ve seen in the last 12 months — and what the theme of AFM is this year — these are difficult times, but if you have the right film, then you can enjoy success to a level as great as ever,” Till said. “The sales (agents) will fight to get it, the distributors will fight to get it, and the audiences will go in droves.”

Paramount has made it a point to note the studio retains international rights on any sequel to “Paranormal.”

Sony did snap up may of the foreign territory rights to South African sci-fi thriller “District 9,” although not all. Film is on the short list of surprise hits of 2009, grossing $115.6 million domestically and $83.8 million overseas.

Likewise, 20th Century Fox released sleeper hit “Taken” in many territories — but not all. Pic grossed $145 million for Fox domestically, and took in a total of $81.8 million overseas for a worldwide haul of $224.9 million.

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