Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 took in a whopping $21.8 million (all figures U.S., except where noted) in North America over its first three days, becoming the first documentary to debut as Hollywood's top weekend film.

If yesterday's estimates hold when final numbers are released today, Fahrenheit 9/11 would set a record in a single weekend as the top-grossing documentary, outside of concert films and movies made for huge-screen IMAX theatres.

Adding the film's haul at two New York City theatres, where it opened Wednesday, two days earlier than the rest of North America, boosted Fahrenheit 9/11 to $21.96 million (U.S.).

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Bowling For Columbine, Moore's 2002 Academy Award-winning documentary, previously held the documentary record with a final North American total of $21.6 million. Canadians accounted for 23 per cent of that total.

Weekend attendance in Canada for Fahrenheit 9/11 was "absolutely incredible," said Jim Sherry, vice-president of marketing for Canadian distributor Alliance Atlantis Communication. He predicted it will easily top the weekend box office in Canada, grossing about $2.4 million. He compared it to My Big Fat Greek Wedding and The Passion of the Christ, averaging $40,000 per theatre in Canada.

"It's on three screens at the Cumberland (in downtown Toronto) and sold every ticket available on Friday and Saturday," he said.

It will be on 200 screens across Canada next weekend, double the opening weekend figure.

Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore's assault on U.S. President George W. Bush's actions after the 2001 terrorist attacks, won the top honor at last month's Cannes Film Festival and has attracted attention from both sides in the presidential campaign.

The movie has been embraced by left-wing groups, which mobilized members to see it during the opening weekend. American conservative groups sought to discourage theatres from showing it and asked the Federal Election Commission to examine its ads for potential violations of campaign-finance law regulating when ads may feature a presidential candidate.

"I want to thank all the right-wing organizations out there who tried to stop the film, either from their harassment campaign that didn't work on the theatre owners, or going to the FEC to get our ads removed from television, to all the things that have been said on television," Moore said. "It's only encouraged more people to go and see it."

The Wayans brothers' comedy White Chicks, about two black FBI agents who go undercover as white debutantes, opened in second place with $19.6 million for the weekend. That pushed its total to $27.1 million since opening Wednesday.

The previous weekend's No.1 movie, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, slipped to third place, taking in $18.5 million and pushing its 10-day total to $67.2 million. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks' The Terminal fell from second to fourth place with $13.9 million, raising its 10-day gross to $41.8 million.

Premiering in fifth place with $13 million was the tearjerker romance The Notebook, featuring Canadians Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, plus James Garner and Gena Rowlands.

Despite good reviews, the family film Two Brothers, about tiger siblings separated in youth and reunited as opponents in the ring, opened weakly at No.9 with $6.2 million.

Fahrenheit 9/11 opened in 868 theatres, a wide release for a documentary — but narrow compared to big Hollywood flicks. The film averaged $25,115 a theatre, compared to $7,190 in 2,726 cinemas for White Chicks.

U.S. distributors Lions Gate and IFC Films plan to put Fahrenheit 9/11 into a couple of hundred more theatres.

Vancouver-based Lions Gate, and IFC, came on board after Disney refused to let subsidiary Miramax release Fahrenheit 9/11 because of its political content. Miramax bosses Harvey and Bob Weinstein bought back the film for a reported $6 million and sought independent distributors. Alliance Atlantis won the Canadian rights.

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Brian B.