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Independent Box Office: ‘Searching for Sugar Man’ Surges, Storm Closures Limit Openers

With several key indie theaters closed in NY, holdovers "Searching for Sugar Man" and "The Sessions" provide the good news

With several popular New York indie venues including the Angelika, the IFC Center and Film Forum shut down in the wake of Hurricane Sandy for at least part of the weekend, several specialty releases sputtered in their debuts.

While the wide releases were able to absorb the loss of venues, the closures surely cut into the grosses for several films opening in limited release. The best news came from two holdovers.

The Sony Pictures Classics documentary “Searching for Sugar Man” surged in its 15th week of release, taking in $162,675 over the weekend from 105 screens. That’s a $1,549 per-screen average and an 18 percent rise from last week, all the more impressive since SPC dropped the theater count by nine.

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"Searching for Sugar Man" secured its second major documentary-award nomination on Friday afternoon, landing a nod for the Cinema Eye Honors' top award 11 days after earning the same from the International Documentary Association.

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The overall gross for the film, which won the Audience Award earlier this year at Sundance, is $2.4 million. Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary follows two South Africans who set out to find their musical hero.

Another Sundance award winner, “The Sessions,” expanded from 20 to 60 theaters and took in $455,899 for a $6,607 per-screen average.

Writer-director Ben Lewin's R-rated film is based on a true story and follows a 36-year-old writer (John Hawkes) who was afflicted with polio as a child and who has to spend as many as 20 hours a day in an iron lung. He decides he wants to lose his virginity, and enlists the aid of his parish priest (William H. Macy) and a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to do the deed.

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Jean-Marc Vallee's French-Canadian import "Café de Flore" did the best of the openers from a per-screen standpoint. It opened in one suburban Miami theater and took in $10,000. Adopt Films say it will open it in New York on Friday and in L.A. on Nov. 16.

Entertainment One’s “A Late Quartet” averaged $8,433 per screen after taking in $75,899 from nine theaters. The R-rated drama from Entertainment One stars Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Catherine Keener. It is scheduled to expand to 25 markets for its second weekend.

Paolo Sorrentino's  “This Must Be the Place," starring Sean Penn and Frances McDormand, took in $7,052 from two screens for a $3,526 average in its debut for the Weinstein Co.

Barry Levinson's Toronto pick-up "The Bay" took in just $21,400 from 23 screens, a weak $930 per-screen average for the Roadside Attractions release.

Amy Heckerling's vampire comedy "Vamps,” already out on DVD, took in $500 from a single screen for Anchor Bay.