'Eclipse' ignites Tribeca sales talk

Film could be festival's first sales breakout in four years

NEW YORK -- Seeking its first sales breakout in four years, the Tribeca film festival appears to have found it in "The Eclipse," Conor McPherson's character drama tinged with supernatural elements.

Several distribution executives turned out Friday for the film's world premiere, and several more made their way to Saturday's press-and-industry screening, setting off a series of sales discussions generally seen only at more acquisition-minded festivals. By Sunday afternoon, sales agent Submarine Entertainment seemed likely to close a deal shortly for "Eclipse."

Lionsgate, Magnolia and Roadside were said to be circling the playwright's directorial effort, which centers on a recently widowed man in a seaside Irish town (Ciaran Hinds) who believes he is seeing ghosts and the relationship he develops with a visiting horror novelist (Iben Hjejle). Aidan Quinn also stars in the Treasure Entertainment production as a smarmy American writer trying to win Hjejle's affections.

The tightly constructed film is viewed by buyers as a potential word-of-mouth hit along the lines of Thomas McCarthy's "The Visitor" and Guillaume Canet's "Tell No One," both of which rolled out slowly last year but racked up $9.4 million and $6.2 million, respectively, at the domestic boxoffice.

A deal for "Eclipse" would mark the first major sale off a Tribeca screening since 2005, when the Weinstein Co. purchased Duncan Tucker's "Transamerica," which went on to earn $9 million domestically for TWC and co-distributor IFC as well as an Oscar nomination for star Felicity Huffman.

Buyers also were tracking "Serious Moonlight," an Adrienne Shelly-penned black comedy that marks Cheryl Hines' directorial debut. The movie premiered Saturday, with a Sunday P&I screening also expected to drive acquisition interest. The Film Sales Co.'s Andrew Herwitz reps the pic, produced by Night & Day Pictures and Shelly's widower, Andy Ostroy.

A title on the fest's trademark roster of documentaries, Marshall Curry's Go-Kart tale "Racing Dreams," stirred interest after its Saturday bow, and the relationship drama "Don McKay," Jake Goldberger's directorial debut starring Thomas Haden Church and Elisabeth Shue as former lovers who reconnect, also was in play Sunday afternoon.

Apart from potential sales activity, several high-profile, publicity-oriented debuts came during the weekend. Spike Lee premiered ESPN Films' "Kobe Doin' Work," his game-in-the-life doc about Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, which had a splashy premiere Saturday night at Tribeca's Borough of Manhattan Community College flagship venue.

Also on the publicity front, Kirby Dick, who directed 2006's provocative MPAA exploration "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," unspooled "Outrage," his look at allegedly closeted politicians.

The Magnolia release looks at what Dick alleges is hypocrisy on the part of legislators, mostly Republicans, who vote and rail against gay rights even as they privately lead homosexual lifestyles. Dick saves his harshest criticisms for Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, who he alleges are closeted homosexuals who have taken anti-gay-rights positions to deflect attention from their homosexuality.

The screening was attended by such industry fixtures as documentarian Morgan Spurlock and producer Bruce Cohen, as well as national figures like former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey.

Since its inception, Tribeca has been an important media platform for studios' spring releases. During recent years, though, the fest has moved to become more of a market, selecting films and reaching out to the industry in the interest of spurring sales.

By Sunday afternoon, with "Eclipse" on the cusp of a deal, it seemed to have gotten its wish.