Buyers circle Ledger's last

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Backstage at the Oscars on Sunday, Kate Ledger told reporters that her family is very much in the loop on her brother's final movie.

"We've seen a little bit of the footage," she said of Terry Gilliam's "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," Ledger's last film. "I think it's going to be amazing."

But the comments only highlighted a larger question: When will U.S. audiences get to see it?

The head-trippy "Parnassus" is a joint production of financial entity Grosvenor Park and sales mogul Samuel Hadida of Davis Films. It was gliding along as just another independently financed production when Ledger died early last year in the middle of production.

The project's fate was thrown into question until Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp stepped in as part of an elaborate workaround that has the actors playing different parts of Ledger's role.

That saved the production. But the sales process since then has been nearly as complicated.

A number of U.S. buyers in the summer and fall were said to be interested in acquiring stateside rights — Lionsgate and Overture were reportedly among the suitors — but word of a deal quieted down.

That has fueled all sorts of rumors in indie circles, ranging from dissent over finances on the producers' side to outsized expectations on the part of filmmakers.

The presence of a key marketing element like Ledger makes sellers and investors aim for higher dollar figures — especially true for a film whose budget is thought to be upward of $20 million.

But even with Ledger, a distributor would have a hard time with marketing: Experts say retailing "Parnassus" as a Ledger film risks running a word-of-mouth problem with general audiences unaccustomed to Gilliam's experimental material.

A U.S. deal is expected shortly, with a mini-major or larger indie expected to make the play. (partialdiff)



(The movie already has a deal with Lionsgate in the U.K., where Gilliam tends to fare better, and is expected to open there in the summer.)

Still, the absence of a sale nearly six months after talks began speaks to the difficulty of selling art house films to the domestic market. "This movie stars Heath Ledger in his final performance — it will get a deal and come out in the U.S.," said one indie film veteran. "But it's no accident that it's taking this long." (partialdiff)
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