Sundance Selects takes 'Art of the Steal'

Doc centers on Barnes Foundation art collection

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NEW YORK -- Rainbow Media label Sundance Selects has picked up North American rights to "The Art of the Steal," the art-heist doc that premiered at the recently ended Toronto International Film Festival.

The company plans what it describes as a wide theatrical release in 2010 and will simultaneously debut it on on-demand platforms.

Don Argott directed and Sheena Joyce produced "Steal," a story of an eclectic Philadelphia collection of art known as the Barnes Foundation and the battle to control it. The collection of post-impressionist and early modern art had been bequeathed to a small black college in the 1950s, but a half-century later, a group of powerful political and cultural interests attempted to get the collection moved to a large Philly museum. The film chronicles the David-and-Goliath battle to stop the move.

Rainbow's Jonathan Sehring said the pic "encompasses everything from backroom politics, claims of a major art heist, and a rags-to-riches American Dream tale crushed by the powers that be."

Sundance Selects, an offshot of Rainbow subsidiary the Sundance Channel, has many ties to IFC Films; indeed, IFC execs Arianna Bocco and Jeff Deutchman negotiated on behalf of the label. The label also is set to release last year's Sundance opener "Mary and Max" as well as Spike Lee theater doc "Passing Strange."

The company outmaneuvered a number of prospective buyers to land "Steal," with Sony Pictures Classics, Goldwyn and Magnolia all said to be expressing interest.

Josh Braun of Submarine Entertainment repped the filmmakers in the sale.

The pickup marks the fourth buy of Toronto and the second for a Rainbow division, with IFC acquiring Nicholas Winding Refn's "Valhalla Rising" early last week.