Nat'l Geo nabs rights to 'Amreeka' pic

Sundance hit set for fall theatrical release

NEW YORK -- The Sundance crowd-pleaser "Amreeka" has sealed a theatrical deal.

National Geographic Entertainment has bought all rights to the immigrant dramedy, including theatrical, and plans a fall release. William Morris Independent repped the filmmakers in the deal.

The company also bought DVD and television rights but could, as a separate entity within National Geographic, sell the rights to another network or to its sister company.

Writer-director Cherien Dabis' feature debut tells of a Palestinian single mother who comes to the U.S. with dreams of a brighter future but winds up in rural illinois living with relatives and working at a White Castle restaurant while her son struggles to adjust in his homogenous high school. The movie, which also opens the upcoming New Directors/New Films festival in New York, earned some of the loudest cheers from audiences in Park City, who embraced its fish-out-of-water topicality.

Christina Piovesan and Paul Barkin produced, while E1 Entertainment/Levantine Entertainment presented.

National Geographic had worked with Dabris on a short she did via the company's All Roads program, which aims to cultivate young, multicultural filmmakers.

National Geographic as a brand has been known for naturalist and other similarly themed projects. But execs say they hope to reinvent and expand that brand, particularly with its theatrical releases.

"A National Geographic Film is a film that inspires people to care about the world we live in -- that includes human stories, adventures, places, people, environments and the creatures of our planet," National Geographic Films president Adam Leipzig told THR.

Leipzig also noted that the company was "significantly expanding" in areas such as financing, production and distribution; it co-presented WIP 2005 hit "March of the Penguins," and sister unit National Geographic Cinema Ventures produced and distributed concert pic "U2 3D."

"Amreeka" marks yet another Sundance sale for William Morris Independent, which had sealed deals for fest pics including "The Cove" and "Rudo y Cursi."