Caution signs at Sundance


PARK CITY -- With buyers exercising caution at Sundance, a documentary about the trials of being a teenager offered the most suspenseful dealmaking plotline.

In a protracted negotiation for a sought-after title, bidders continued to circle "American Teen," Nanette Burstein's narrative-driven docu that bowed strongly during the weekend but as of Monday afternoon had not completed a sale.

The A&E Indie Films production examines high school seniors at a school in Warsaw, Ind., in the manner of previous teen-themed hits like "The Breakfast Club." A cheerleader, hipster, jock and band geek are all featured in a film one insider dubbed "a smarter 'Laguna Beach.' "

In the wake of the blockbuster success of Fox Searchlight's "Juno," a fictional account of a resolute and colorful teenager, buyers were showing keen interest in "Teen."

Searchlight made an early play for the film Saturday, then decided to drop out at the $1 million-$2 million mark. Paramount Vantage also was showing strong interest as buyers met Sunday with sellers CAA and Cinetic.

But by Monday, Sony Pictures Classics, which had entered the mix, was said to have the inside track, though the sellers were still weighing an offer from Vantage.

Elsewhere -- save for some smaller buys like PBS' pickup of the slave trade docu "Traces of the Trade: Stories From the Deep North" for its "POV" series -- buyers and sellers seemed to be locked in a standoff.

A quartet of prestige films that debuted Sunday attracted interest but no immediate top-level bids.

They included the dark literary drama "Incendiary," starring Ewan McGregor; Rawson Marshall Thurber's "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh," based on the early novel by Michael Chabon; the Elle Fanning and Felicity Huffman family drama "Phoebe in Wonderland"; and Paul Schneider's quirky tale of hucksters and science "Pretty Bird."

Attention shifted to Andrew Fleming's "Hamlet 2," set for a Monday night screening, in hopes that it might jumpstart the sales action.

The film, which stars Steve Coogan as a high school drama teacher who attempts to stage a musical sequel to Shakespeare's play, was set for an evening screening at the Library.

Two of the weekend's high-profile debuts appear to have been temporarily left by the wayside.

While a handful of buyers continued to eye "The Wackness," they were waiting for the price to drop on the coming-of-age stoner comedy.

There also were predictions that Barry Levinson's "What Just Happened?" will end up with a deal thanks to its all-star cast, but the chances for the most expensive film of the fest to make a record sale were dwindling.

The slow market is being attributed to a resistance to the prices being asked and an array of films that present marketing challenges.

One other factor affecting salesis the DGA settlement with the AMPTP on the eve of the fest, which raised hopes for an end to the WGA strike and the possibility of averting a SAG strike. Specialty divisions of the Hollywood studios are breathing more easily about potential labor-related holes in their upcoming schedules.

While they are holding onto their wallets, a number of distributors are using the fest to launch films they are readying for release.

Searchlight debuted Stephen Walker's docu "Young at Heart," which follows a senior-citizen choir that sings rock covers, by screening it in several Utah cities and also bringing members of the chorus to Sundance.

Miramax launched "Smart People," the Michael London-produced academia dramedy, following up with a glitzy dinner Sunday.

On Monday night, the Weinstein Co. took the wraps off "Where in the World Is Osama?" Morgan Spurlock's one-man quest to track down the terrorist leader.