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Turned down by countless UK distributors and presented to cinema audiences without benefit of a UK film festival platform, British indie Northern Soul has astounded the film industry with a sensational result at the weekend. Landing inside the top 10, despite a release on just 83 screens, and limited showings at many of those venues, Northern Soul grossed a mighty impressive £279,000, according to official data gatherer Rentrak.

The film is the feature debut of acclaimed photographer Elaine Constantine, who has long been connected to the Northern Soul scene. UK distributors were perhaps cautious as the film seemed late to the party: Shimmy Marcus’s SoulBoy, which benefited from more-recognisable lead actors Martin Compston, Felicity Jones and Nichola Burley, premiered in 2010, going on to gross £101,000 at UK cinemas over its lifetime.

Northern Soul was acquired for the UK by Universal Pictures, and it’s reasonable to assume the company was looking at it more for home-entertainment value, since it sub-distributed theatrically through Munro Film Services, and the DVD is already in shops. It may have been taken by surprise at the impressive number of theatrical bookings achieved by Munro, and by the weekend gross.

Constantine said: “No one knew what to expect from this film. We had no star leads and a low budget.” She added that the appeal of the scene in the UK is perhaps underestimated, with more than 1 million people tuning in to watch a recent BBC2 TV documentary. And despite the very short window before DVD release, she always saw her film as a theatrical proposition, best enjoyed communally. “Northern Soul is not a passive audience. People travel across the whole country to experience an all-nighter. Going to the cinema does not present a challenge.”

With the film playing one-off shows at many venues and split screens (ie sharing with another film) at others, Northern Soul has achieved its impressive number from relatively limited play. Munro estimates the film had around 235 showings in total – from a maximum possible 996 slots (a potential four per day per venue, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday). Nottingham Broadway managed seven showings across the weekend, achieving about 97/98% seat occupancy. The Hull Reel achieved a similar result. The film scored particularly well in the Midlands, north-west, Yorkshire and London. Munro’s own weekend figure is in fact a slightly higher £286,000, so this will include some unconventional venues not tracked by Rentrak.

Despite being now available on DVD, more than 30 cinemas are holding Northern Soul this coming weekend, with 40 fresh sites also booking the title.

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