Australian critics hailed Gurrumul, the bio of Australia’s most successful Indigenous musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, as must-see and moving, mesmerising and genuinely from the heart.
High praise indeed: so with all that plus copious media coverage and Yunupingu’s fourth album Djarimirri debuting at No. 1 on the ARIA chart, why didn’t the documentary open bigger last weekend?
Madman Entertainment launched the poignant portrait of the late singer/songwriter directed by Paul Damien Williams on 25 screens, generating $84,700, which brings the total including festival screenings and previews to $292,000.
“We were hoping for more but this is a word-of-mouth film and sometimes it takes time for word-of-mouth to get around,” Madman MD Paul Wiegard tells IF.
Wiegard was encouraged to see the Saturday-to-Sunday drop-off was 13 per cent, lower than the market’s average 20 per cent decline, and he is showing his faith in the film by more than doubling the number of screens over the next month.
“We remain positive,” he says. “Cinema Nova was the No. 1 site and the Perth market share at the Luna Leederville was above the national average at 11 per cent, a terrific result after the Perth Festival screening. The key locations are all indicating the film is for a long season.”
Wiegard points to Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country, which benefitted from similar acclaim, had a platform release via Transmission Films and went on to gross $2 million.
Based on the opening weekend and advance screenings at Cinema Nova, which were more than three times the overall per-screen average, general manager Kristian Connelly expects the film to run for at least two months, which would be a remarkable testimony to its playability.
Similarly, Gurrumul producer Shannon Swan is confident the film will have a long life in cinemas. “We were very happy with the reviews and the build-up in the mainstream media,” says Swan, who is in Toronto for the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival screening, which moved audiences to tears.
“There is a lot of positivity among those who see the film but there is a ceiling on how much documentaries can earn, particularly Indigenous documentaries and music documentaries. We have grossed more than Paul Kelly – Stories of Me and I think we will do more than Nick Cave’s One More Time with Feeling.”
International sales agent Cinephil has sold Gurrumul to a Canadian distributor and is in negotiations with distributors in the US and other territories. The album will be released before the documentary launches in cinemas in Canada and the US.