Sundance starts on cool note


The dropping temperatures at the Sundance Film Festival seem to be tempering the acquisition fever that usually accompanies the annual Utah confab. While acquisition executives are looking at a healthy number of films premiering at the event, no one title has sent any firm into an unreasonable bidding war.

That being said, a number of titles have been sold or are in the process of being sold to a wide array of distributors.

Although opening-weekend deals didn't reach the stratospheric heights of last year's $10.6 million price tag for "Little Miss Sunshine" or the $6 million sale of "The Science of Sleep," or 2005's "Hustle & Flow," which went for $9 million, they still retained some of the late-night negotiating hustle that has become a Sundance staple.

James C. Strouse's John Cusack starrer "Grace Is Gone" lived up to its prefest buzz, luring the likes of the Weinstein Co., Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures Classics into an all-night bidding war. The Weinstein Co. nabbed worldwide rights to the movie for $4 million, closing the sale at 4:30 a.m. in co-seller Cinetic Media's Deer Valley condo.

Dan Klores' documentary "Crazy Love" marked the first sale of the festival, fetching mid-six figures from Magnolia Pictures for North American rights excluding television. The film tells the bizarre, half-century love story of Burt and Linda Pugach, a New York couple who got married decades after Burt spent years in jail for blinding Linda.

Negotiations also heated up Sunday afternoon on the George Ratcliff-directed "Joshua," with multiple parties entering the talks. Fox Searchlight was among several distributors vying for the psychological thriller, which centers on a precocious child who wreaks havoc on his family. Although the deal hadn't closed by press time, Searchlight is almost certain to be the buyer. UTA and Andrew Hurwitz are co-selling the project.

Despite repeated denials that they were buying the feature, sources said late Sunday that the Weinstein Co. and Lionsgate are in final negotiations to partner on the distribution of "Teeth," the story of a virginal girl whose vagina turns into a secret weapon. After initially passing on the film, the distributors revisited the project Sunday after a noon screening at the Eccles Theatre. It's not clear which studio will take the lead on theatrical distribution or video, but the Weinsteins and Lionsgate have a strong history releasing controversial product together, including 1999's "Dogma" and 2004's "Fahrenheit 9/11."

By partnering with indie Lionsgate, the Weinstein Co. won't have to deal with the MPAA signatory rules that would require the film to carry a rating, as it would if it went with its traditional distributor, MGM. The Weinsteins intend to release the film in its current form, not cutting any of the profane material that likely would prompt an NC-17 rating.

The "Grace" deal went into after-hours negotiations, with the Weinstein Co. clinching it because of its passion for the project, said sources close to the film. Harvey Weinstein, reverting to his old Sundance strategies, didn't leave the negotiating table from 9 p.m. until 4:30 a.m. "The company got its groove back last night," an ebullient Weinstein said. "I'm happy to be back in this game. Fuck it. I'm good at this. It's fun."

The Weinstein Co. paid $4 million for world rights, Weinstein said. Cusack and his New Crime Prods. will partake in a robust backend participation as part of the deal.

Weinstein wept along with other audience members at the film's initial screening Saturday night at the Racquet Club. "It"s definitely an Oscar-season awards festival October/November release," he said. "It's Cusack's turn."

Cinetic Media co-repped the film, which cost about $3 million, with William Morris Independent. Cinetic reps the producers, while WMA is behind screenwriter-director Strause, Cusack and supporting actor Shelan O'Keefe.

Weinstein, co-head of production Michael Cole and executive vp acquisitions and co-productions Michelle Krumm negotiated on behalf of the Weinstein Co.

Magnolia Pictures was hot for "Crazy Love" from the moment it premiered Friday night.

" 'Crazy Love' is one of those rare pictures, like 'Capturing the Friedmans,' that's so rich and intriguing that it has a strong chance of emerging as a cultural reference point," Magnolia president Eamonn Bowles said. "Dan Klores has done an unbelievable job in handling this unbelievable story, one that truly defies fiction."

The company is planning a spring release for the film.

The deal was negotiated by Bowles, Magnolia head of acquisitions Tom Quinn and head of business affairs Jason Janego, with Klores and Endeavor Independent's Graham Taylor and Mark Ankner. Foreign sales are being handled by Andrew Hurwitz of the Film Sales Co.

Buyers are circling a number of films, both docus and features. Theatrical rights to the docu "In the Shadow of the Moon," from director David Sington, are now in play. Discovery Films already has secured North American television rights to the film, which tracks the moon walks between 1968-72. Some think a deal could close as early as this morning.

Two of the most talked-about films before the fest, David Wain's comedy "The Ten" and Brett Morgen's "Chicago 10," which combines animation with re-enactments, have created some interest, but the dealing is proceeding more slowly. Each opened to mixed reactions, though both are expected to close a deal by midweek.

The "Ten" filmmakers are holding out for a higher price than "Grace" earned, and such distributors as the Weinstein Co., ThinkFilm and First Look have expressed interest.

"The film is very much in play," said Morris S. Levy, one of the film's producers. The "Chicago 10" filmmakers are holding out for a solid P&A commitment and willing to wait, courting four potential buyers.

Smaller-budget films seeing activity on the acquisitions front include the nontraditional Irish musical romance "Once," which follows two aspiring musicians around Dublin, and the art world docu "My Kid Could Paint That," examining the scandal surrounding a prodigy painter.

Anne Thompson contributed to this report.