Sundance sees flurry of pic deals

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The specialty divisions of the Hollywood studios have begun rattling their pocket change at the Sundance Film Festival. Sort of.

Fox Searchlight, one of the heavyweights at recent fests, made its first buy late Monday night. But instead of picking up a high-profile movie that everyone was tracking, it settled on a small movie few had been focusing on — Max Mayer's "Adam."

The crowd-pleaser, which stars Rose Byrne and Hugh Dancy in a New York romance, played well in its Monday afternoon premiere, and Searchlight, which bought worldwide rights, hopes to turn it into the next "Once," which it acquired here in 2007.

The buy followed a complicated day in which Searchlight made an offer in the $1 million range for the high-buzz title "An Education" but then decided not to pursue that film when seller CAA asked for a number in the high-seven-figure range.

The decision suggests a new specialty mentality: The units are in the market for films — but only for a price. "Adam" is thought to have gone for a relatively low number, one in the high-six/low-seven-figure range.

"Education," a period coming-of-age story directed by Lone Scherfig and written by Nick Hornby, did sell to Sony Pictures Classics a short time later for a price in the $3 million-$4 million range for North American and select Latin American rights.

The movie generated tremendous buzz after its Sunday debut, with star Carey Mulligan in particular being singled out. The purchase was SPC's first of the fest.

Shortly after news of that deal surfaced, Lionsgate made its first buy, picking up "The Winning Season," James Strouse's tale of a high school girls' basketball team starring Sam Rockwell. It bought U.S. and U.K. rights from Cinetic Media, which repped producers Plum Pictures and Gigi Films.

Other divisions, though, remained quiet.

Focus and Miramax — along with such mini-majors as Overture and the Weinstein Co. — have not made any purchases.

For its part, Summit was said to be circling the Jim Carrey starrer "I Love You Phillip Morris," but it apparently walked away, at least for the moment, from "Spread," the Ashton Kutcher dramedy in which it had expressed interest.

Meanwhile, at the Slamdance fest, Panorama Entertainment grabbed North American rights to dark comedy "The Ante," a competition entry directed by Max Perrier. (partialdiff)
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