It wasclear to anyone who saw Marilyn Agrelo's appealing Slamdance documentary MadHot Ballroom earlier this year that the picture was special, and so it'sproved to be with filmgoers over the course of a storming run that promisesplenty more to come.

ParamountClassics co-presidents David Dinerstein and Ruth Vitale "fell in love" with thetale of a ballroom dancing competition for children when they saw it inJanuary, according to Dinerstein, and wasted little time in snapping upworldwide rights.

Now, nineweeks after its May release, Mad Hot Ballroom is poised to cross $5m andhas become the ninth highest grossing documentary of all time, according to thefilm site Box Office Mojo. It is already the biggest documentary of 2005 andhas picked up a number of awards, including recent honours for both theaudience award and the jury prize at the Sydney International Film Festival.

"When wesaw Mad Hot Ballroom, we decided this would be the perfect film for usbecause of two reasons," Dinerstein says. "Firstly it generated great buzzamong everyone who saw it at Slamdance - including some very cynical andseasoned filmgoers - and secondly, I realised this was one of the few films I'dbe able to watch with my 10-year-old daughter."

Prior torelease Paramount Classics adopted a spirited grassroots marketing campaignthat brought the film to educational conferences, "every regional film festivalimaginable", dance groups, schools and principals.

"Weweren't afraid of showing this film to as wide a range of people as possible,"Dinerstein says, adding that matters were helped further by an outdoorscreening at Tribeca shortly before the May 13 release that inspired a standingovation from the 4,000-strong crowd.

Thepicture opened in Manhattan's Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Cinema 1 and hasrolled out gradually since then, establishing broad popularity. In its secondweekend it opened in roughly five more markets and by the fourth weekend wasplaying on approximately 100 screens.

"Theidea of opening in May was that we wanted to be the first documentary of thesummer," Dinerstein says. "We knew it would take about two to four weeks toestablish great word of mouth on the film."

Thespecialty division has been fielding calls for prints from exhibitors thatwouldn't typically play arthouse pictures. Now playing in approximately 75markets in the typical metropolitan circuits and far-flung corners of Louisianaand Montana, Mad Hot Ballroom is shaping up to become one of the biggercrossover hits of the year and has drawn children and families, adolescents,senior citizens, and the Latino community.

Over itsninth weekend Mad Hot Ballroom grossed $482,279 for a per-screen averageof $2,538 on 190 screens, and as of July 12 stands at a total cumulative grossof $4,727,000. Grosses have been climbing in many theatres, with Manhattan'sThe Sunshine reporting a 20% climb over four days last weekend [July 8-10]compared to the four-day July 4 holiday weekend.

In SanFrancisco, audiences were so keen to see the picture that when Mad HotBallroom transferred last weekend from Landmark Theatres' The Bridge tosister theatre The Embarcadero across town, ticket sales surged by 164%compared to the July 4 weekend.

"Everyoneat Landmark Theatres has been excited about Mad Hot Ballroom since wefirst screened it,' Ted Mundorff, vice president and head film buyer forLandmark Theatres, says. 'The overwhelming positive audience response tothe film has been refreshing."

Dinersteinpredicts continued longevity and promises the picture isn't going anywhere aslong as there's sustained interest. The television stations are starting tojump on the bandwagon following a recent spot on Barbara Walters' The View, andupcoming bookings are in place for Good Morning America and late-night show JimmyKimmel Live, where some of the children will dance. Charlotte Jorgensen, one ofthe judges in Mad Hot Ballroom, recently featured as John O'Hurley'sdancing partner in the television show Dancing With The Stars.

As the documentary continues to dance its way up thedocumentary charts and consolidate its position as one of the top 30 titles inNorth America, plans are already afoot for international expansion.

Metrodomewill release Mad Hot Ballroom in the UK towards the end of the year, while UGCreleases in France in early 2006. Fortissimo is handling international sales.