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'Duma' wins Chicago reprieve

Duma,” the little movie that could, has won a third week in Chicago-area theaters.

The acclaimed film about a boy and his cheetah, which has struggled for a theatrical release, began its test run in eight Chicago-area theaters on Aug. 5.

It did “disappointing” business that first weekend, averaging about $5,800 per screening, according to Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros.

But business was up slightly for its second weekend, although Fellman sounded less than ecstatic: “While box-office for ‘Duma’ was up eight percent last weekend, due to the rain, so was the movie business in general for Chicago area,” he told me. “We will continue to support the run in Chicago and wait yet another weekend before any decision is made for future release plans.”

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That means that this weekend is make-or-break for the film’s national distribution chances. Directed by Carroll Ballard (“Black Stallion,” “Never Cry Wolf,” “Fly Away Home”) it has received only positive reviews and is generating strong word-of-mouth. But the studio has doubts about its mass audience potential.

“Why penguins and not cheetahs?” Fellman asked me a week ago, musing about how his studio’s “March of the Penguins” is a smash hit.

The studio found that audience exit surveys showed adults liked the film even more than children (for whom its strong narrative might seem slow compared to the nonstop noise and action of video games).

Here is an interesting comment posted on a web message board:

"I spoke to the manager of the AMC Cantera in Warrenville who said that there seemed to be great word of mouth during the week, because the first weekend it seemed like nobody had heard the movie was playing. But the attendance went up every day, and Thursday was especially crowded. The manager said the box office the second Friday (8/12) was larger than opening Friday (8/5), and that never happens, but must mean great word of mouth… They'd also heard this was going on at the other theaters where ‘Duma’ is playing. So keep it up Chicago, we can save this wonderful movie. Go see it this weekend!"

And this “user comment” is posted on the movie’s page of the Internet Movie Database:

“I went to a matinee, fully expecting to be one of only a few in the theater, but was pleasantly surprised to find it almost full. There were more adults than children, so that just shows that the limited press ‘Duma’ received was enough to make others want to see this film while they had the chance. I'm an adult, and have no children, but love films that show the beauty of nature and positive interactions with animals. This would be a great film to bring kids to, particularly boys since Xan had such an amazing coming of age adventure.”

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