Tribeca reels bulging with features for sale

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Premiering a movie at a festival can be a nerve-racking experience, especially if it's up for sale. But when it's at the current Tribeca Film Festival, a large and largely untested film market, rolling the dice on an acquisition can be an even bigger gamble.

As the Sundance feeding frenzy proved, there's no shortage of indie buyers looking to fill their slates this year, but there's also a lot of competition. Many of Tribeca's 159 features are up for grabs, a number comparable with the Sundance sales slate. "Tribeca is growing more important as a market every year," Lionsgate Films Releasing president Tom Ortenberg says.

Indie sales stalwart Cinetic Media is repping 10 titles, including documentaries on graffiti ("Bomb It"), soccer ("The Power of the Game") and 2004 tsunami in South Asia ("The Third Wave"). CAA has a little tsunami of its own with 10 films, from the family drama "The Cake Eaters" to the TV satire "Live!" which is co-repped with attorney Linda Lichter and Fortissimo.

Two of the hotter CAA titles (the music docu "Chops" and the drama "Take") are co-repped by emerging powerhouse Submarine, which also is handling three docus: "The Business of Being Born," "Steep" and "Autism: The Musical." The latter is co-repped with William Morris Independent, which has two character-based dramas on its slate: "The Education of Charlie Banks" and "Where God Left His Shoes."

Not to be outdone, Endeavor Independent is selling three films, including the poker mockumentary "The Grand" and "Chavez," a biopic of boxer Julio Cesar Chavez. Attorney Andrew Hurwitz has the draft drama "Day Zero" and a breakdancing docu "Planet B-Boy." And the list goes on ...

Tribeca executive director Peter Scarlet says the fest has programd most of the potential acquisition titles during the first weekend, helping film execs take a breather before next month's Festival de Cannes. But sorting through so many titles against such a large canvas is still enough to make any buyer dizzy -- and as some can attest, being at the center of the storm can be equally unsettling.

Paul Soter, a writer for the Broken Lizard comedy troupe, has seen success with "Super Troopers" and "Club Dread." But as he premieres his directorial debut, the film-buff satire "Watching the Detectives," he says: "My worst dread is the time immediately leading up to the festival. You end up in the heat of a chess game to get the right distributors to see a film."

Soter says Tribeca was ideal in part for the "heavy hitters there, but I hate that it has to be that crass." Right now he expects more than 15 distributors to attend the premiere, with just one (Fox Searchlight) sent a screener due to top execs' scheduling conflicts. "It's been four weeks of making phone calls and lobbying, but between UTA, Peace Arch and (New York-based producer) Plum Pictures, it feels good having people on both coasts."

Eden Wurmfeld, a producer of the boxing comedy "The Hammer," faced a tough dilemma: accept an invitation to compete at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin or take a non-juried Encounters slot and be part of the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival. With Cinetic's advice, "Hammer" chose Tribeca. "It was a hard decision, but the ESPN sports tie-in is a huge coup for us, both for the film's marketplace potential and to attract buyers," Wurmfield says.

First-time feature director Marshall Lewy is holding up relatively well. His satire about distraught liberals who move to Canada, "Blue State," is repped by the Film Sales Co., which is selling four other films. Although he's "feeling good and nervous," Lewy is calmed by his faith in sales agent Andrew Herwitz. "His job is to make buyers aware of the film," Lewy says. "I'm letting him worry about it."
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