'Stronger collection' nets Sundance sales boom


Amid an unexpected feeding frenzy at the Sundance Film Festival, indie mogul Harvey Weinstein continued to gobble up a smorgasbord of films. In the wake of deals for "Grace Is Gone" and a co-buy with Lionsgate of "Teeth," the Weinstein Co., partnering with First Look Studios, bought worldwide rights to the Justin Theroux-directed romantic comedy "Dedication" for $4 million. Then, partnering with Fox Searchlight, it took world rights on the Mexican heart-tugger "La Misma Luna" for $5 million-$6 million.

"It's like Bloomingdale's before Christmas," said ThinkFilm's Mark Urman, who plunked down a hefty sum -- more than $2.5 million -- for the docu "In the Shadow of the Moon." "It's a stronger collection of films. It's ironic that Sundance wanting to focus on films that were less commercial has made the festival more of a market than ever."

Paramount Vantage, which seemed to be staying out of the spotlight, announced Tuesday the acquisition of worldwide rights to two films, "How She Move," for which it paid slightly $3 million in partnership with MTV Films, and "Son of Rambow," the fest's biggest buy so far at about $7 million. Those two purchases were notable because neither film features any recognizable actors.

After the Cinetic Media party Monday night at Zoom, a number of deep-pocketed buyers, from Sony Pictures Classics to Lionsgate, jumped into yet another bidding war over the Mexican film "Luna," directed by Patricia Riggen. The bilingual, border-crossing drama about a boy searching for his mother, eventually sold at dawn Tuesday to Searchlight and the Weinstein Co.

Weinstein and Searchlight president Peter Rice partnered on Zach Braff's 2004 Sundance pickup "Garden State." Searchlight will take the lead in North America and South America, while the two companies will pick and choose which will handle international territories on a case-by-case basis, they said. They will split the global pot 50-50.

The film has the potential to reach Latin American moviegoers and a wide crossover audience not only in the U.S. but around the world, producer Ram Bergman said. "Harvey was passionate about the picture," he said. "He got the movie. The combination of Fox domestic and Weinstein international is the best of both worlds."

"Luna" stars recent Golden Globe winner America Ferrera ("Ugly Betty") as well as Adrian Alonso ("The Legend of Zorro"). Written by Ligiah Villalobos, Riggen and Villalobos produced the film along with Gerardo Barrera, Norman Dreyfuss and Bergman.

Senior vp acquisitions Tony Safford and senior vp business affairs Stephen Plum negotiated on behalf of Fox Searchlight and Weinstein. Co-head of production Michael Cole negotiated the deal on behalf of the Weinstein Co. Cinetic Media represented the filmmakers. Genna Terranova, vp acquisitions, and Michael Schaefer, vp production, identified the project on behalf of the Weinstein Co.

Weinstein also nabbed a fourth Sundance picture, "Dedication," on Tuesday. His company bought the comedic love story in conjunction with First Look for $4 million. The Weinstein Co. will take the lead on domestic and First Look International's Stuart Ford will handle overseas. From first-time director and longtime actor Theroux, the film stars Billy Crudup, Mandy Moore, Tom Wilkinson and Martin Freeman.

Weinstein pursued both the film and the filmmaker, waiting outside the screening Monday afternoon to meet the director and then attending the party, UTA's Jeremy Barber said.

The film was produced by Plum Pictures partners Celine Rattray, Daniela Taplin Lundberg and Galt Niederhoffer. The deal was negotiated by Weinstein and one of his acquisitions execs, Michelle Krumm, with First Look execs Henry Winterstern, Ruth Vitale and Ford.

The deal was finally closed in the early morning, with UTA and Cinetic Media representing the filmmakers.

Vantage, in association with MTV Films, picked up virtually all worldwide rights to "Move." The step-dancing urban drama closed early Tuesday morning after an all-night bidding fracas that attracted several specialty divisions, including Searchlight, Focus and Warner Independent Pictures. The Canadian film is the work of director Ian Iqbal Rashid ("Touch of Pink") and first-time feature screenwriter Annmarie Morais.

It was produced by Jennifer Kawaja, Julia Sereny and Brent Barclay. Vantage co-president Nick Meyer and executive vp business affairs and operations Jeff Freedman brokered the deal, with UTA and Celluloid Dreams Prods. representing the project.

Vantage also picked up worldwide rights (excluding Japan, Germany and French free TV) to "Rambow," an 1980s-era tale of young friends inspired to become filmmakers by their favorite Sylvester Stallone movie. Miramax, Picturehouse and Focus were among those in the final running for the film from writer-director Garth Jennings ("The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy").

"Rambow" was produced by Jennings and Nick Goldsmith's company Hammer & Tongs, along with Celluloid Dreams, Reason Pictures/Good and Arte. Celluloid Dreams president Hengameh Panahi, the Gersh Agency and attorney Andrew Hurwitz repped the filmmakers in a deal with Vantage executive vp production and acquisitions Amy Israel and Freedman.

Magnolia Pictures also has been hyperactive, negotiating its second Sundance purchase into the wee hours Tuesday morning when it bought North American and U.K. rights to the horror film "The Signal" at 3 a.m. Magnolia bought the picture for slightly less than $2 million, an hour after it first screened at a midnight showing at the Egyptian Theatre. Magnolia's Eamonn Bowles confirmed that he was finalizing the sale.

From writer-directors David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry and Dan Bush, "Signal" centers on a mysterious transmission that invades every cell phone, radio and TV in a city, turning its inhabitants into killers.

In other Sundance news, Fortissimo Films acquired all international sales rights (excluding China) to the World War II docu "Nanking." Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman's film was produced by AOL vice chairman Ted Leonsis. The deal was negotiated by CAA on behalf of Leonsis and by Wouter Barendrecht and Winnie Lau on behalf of Fortissimo. A North American sale is expected this week.

While several buyers from ThinkFilm to SPC were circling John Carney's unconventional $100,000 Irish musical "Once," producer Samson Films chose to partner with Summit Entertainment to sell worldwide rights (excluding Ireland).

Summit Entertainment executive vp David Garrett brought the project to his company. Summit president and CEO Patrick Wachsberger, Garret and president of production Erik Feig negotiated the deal with Samson Films managing director David Collins and Samson's production counsel James Hickey of Irish law firm Matheson Ormsby Prentice.

New distributor After Dark Films ("An American Haunting") picked up worldwide rights to writer-director Adam Bhala Lough's "Weapons" for a little more than $1 million. The violent drama probably will be released through After Dark's nonexclusive 30-picture output deal with Lionsgate. "Weapons" is set for release in the fourth quarter.

Shaun Redick of the Collective and attorneys Linda Lichter and Jonathan Shikora of Lichter, Grossman, Nichols & Adler represented the filmmakers in the deal with After Dark's Courtney Solomon and Stephanie Caleb, with attorney Greg Bernstein.

Other films still in play are "Chicago 10," which docu-friendly ThinkFilm is circling as well as "Snow Angels" and "The Ten," which buyers are hoping will get cheaper as time goes by. "Hounddog," the Dakota Fanning Southern gothic picture that drummed up a hailstorm of controversy before its first screening, earned a mixed response from audiences, critics and distributors, who admired Fanning's performance more than the filmmaking.

Gregg Goldstein and Anne Thompson reported from Park City; Nicole Sperling reported from Los Angeles