Sundance tally: 10 titles sold during festival

On par with 2009 event; sales continue through weekend

PARK CITY -- Sundance 2010 has been like a kids birthday party: Everyone goes home with a gift bag.

Despite pre-fest concerns about moribund sales activity, this year's Sundance has kept pace with 2009's iteration, when 10 titles sold during the 10-day fest. Most everyone has gotten into the game, with Roadside Attractions, IFC Films, the Weinstein Co., Newmarket, Focus Features, Wolfe Releasing, Paramount Vantage and Lionsgate all picking up titles, and newer outfits such as Hannover House and OWN acquiring pics.

The action continued into the final weekend.

The Weinstein Co. grabbed North American theatrical and Pan-Asian satellite rights to the drama "Blue Valentine" on Friday in a low seven-figure deal. Derek Cianfrance co-wrote and directed the Michelle Williams-Ryan Gosling feature about a disintegrating marriage. TWC plans a 2010 release. WME Global handled the deal for Incentive Filmed Entertainment, which financed the picture, produced by Lynette Howell, Jamie Patricof and Alex Orlovsky.

In the early morning hours Saturday, IFC Films acquired U.S. rights to Michael Winterbottom's controversial thriller "The Killer Inside Me" for north of $1 million. WME Global and Wild Bunch handled domestic and foreign sales, with most of the latter territories being sold as well. IFC plans a theatrical and VOD release during the summer.

The violent thriller, adapted by John Curran from the 1952 Jim Thompson pulp novel, also screened nearly a week before a deal was concluded -- to noisy audience response, with some viewers offended by the graphic, cold-blooded beatings of several female characters.

Saturday afternoon, Roadside acquired North American rights to "Winter's Bone," a dark thriller from director Debra Granik. The dramatic competition entry premiered a week earlier at the Eccles Theatre, and it ultimately went on to pick up the grand jury prize and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the awards ceremony. Roadside plans a theatrical release this summer, with Lionsgate handling ancillaries. Submarine Entertainment repped the filmmakers in the deal.

Only a couple of the more prominent distributors went home without dropping a dime.

Fox Searchlight debuted the Duplass brothers' "Cyrus" and was an interested party during bidding on "Buried" and "The Kids Are All Right," but thus far, it has passed on taking home any new titles. Sony Pictures Classics has yet to commit to anything either, but it had a handful of films -- "Please Give," "Mother & Child," "A Prophet" and "Get Low" -- already in the program.

Deals for narrative features "Buried," "Kids," "Blue Valentine," "Hesher," "Twelve," "The Killer Inside Me," "Winter's Bone" and "Contracorriente (Undertow)," as well as the documentaries "Waiting for Superman" and "Family Affair," kept buyers, sellers and industry watchers engaged and very busy.

Not to mention pretty damn happy.

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"There's a sense of relief and comfort that the market is still pretty healthy," said Micah Green, co-head of CAA's Film Finance Group. "The pace of sales is more deliberate now. If you check back in three to four months, I think you'll find more films will have sold than in previous years. The market is more fragmented, so there's less of a herd mentality. People are responding more to the films than who else is chasing them."

While there's still an audience for indie film, and distributors looking to court it, the deal-making has been dialed down. Deals don't happen as quickly, and they aren't as big. Parties are weighing all options before walking down the contract aisle and deals continue to close weeks beyond the festival's end

"This year demonstrated that despite the disappearance of some of the buyers, there's still a healthy appetite for films coming out of the festival," Rich Klubeck, co-head, UTA Independent Film Group, said. "That doesn't mean they have to be 'down the middle,' it just means they have to have something new to say, and say it well."

As anyone with a dog in the fight up at Park City will tell you, the ultimate goal is not the big, bidding-war payout, anyway. The real goal is exposure for a new film. Whichever entity makes a believable commitment to maximizing it –- backed with money and know-how in equal amounts –- walked away with the picture.

Early Wednesday morning, Focus beat several bidders for Lisa Cholodenko's latest Sundance entry, "The Kids Are All Right," which bowed Monday night. The James Schamus-led shingle paid nearly $5 million for U.S., U.K., German and South African rights to the drama-tinged comedy starring Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore and Annette Bening.

John Sloss and Bart Walker of Cinetic Media handled the negotiations for the filmmakers on the North American rights and collaborated with Inferno Entertainment on international. The producers of "Kids" include Gilbert Films' Gary Gilbert and Jordan Horowitz, Antidote Films' Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Mandalay Vision's Celine Rattray, Daniela Taplin Lundberg and UGC PH's Philippe Hellmann.

OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, acquired rights to the documentary "Family Affair," which will serve as the first film to join OWN's new monthly Documentary Film Club, which will air on the OWN channel and in some theaters.

Written and directed by Chico Colvard, the film follows the filmmaker as he revisits his three grown sisters to talk about the severe abuse they suffered from their father 30 years earlier. Colvard himself shot one of the girls in the leg at age 10, provoking events that shattered his family.

Exclusive Media's Newmarket Films picked up U.S. rights to Spencer Susser's "Hesher" early Thursday for about $1 million. WME Global and CAA negotiated the deal for the film, which marks co-star Natalie Portman's producing debut. Lucy Cooper, Matt Weaver, Scott Prisand, Johnny Lin, Win Sheridan and Susser produced along with Portman's Handsomecharlie Films.

Also on Thursday, the film and video division of independent book publisher Hannover House picked up Joel Schumacher's "Twelve" for about $2 million, the day before it premiered as the fest's closing film. Repped at the fest by CAA and Gaumont, "Twelve" looks at drug-dealing Upper East Side teenagers that get involved in a murder. Hannover additionally brought on Lionsgate and TWC vet Tom Ortenberg's new One Way Out Media to oversee domestic distribution.

Also on Thursday, Wolfe Releasing bought North American rights to Javier Fuentes-Leon's gay-themed ghost story "Contracorriente (Undertow)," a world cinema dramatic competition title. Shoreline repped the film, which premiered Tuesday at the Egyptian Theater. The deal was for low-six figures.

Lionsgate bought North American rights to the Rodrigo Cortes-directed thriller "Buried" on the fourth day of Sundance in the festival's first big sale, nabbing the claustrophobic Ryan Reynolds starrer for $3 million-$4 million and a sizable P&A commitment. UTA Independent Film Group repped the sale. Additionally, Ascot Elite Entertainment Group picked up all rights for German-speaking European territories.

Paramount picked up the Davis Guggenheim documentary "Waiting for Superman" pre-fest as a Paramount Vantage title and announced it Jan. 21 as Sundance officially opened.

Flache Pyramide picked up French distribution rights to the Kevin Asch-directed Jewish drug-smuggling drama "Holy Rollers" on Friday from sales rep Cinetic International.

A number of other sales seem likely in the coming weeks. The Weinstein Co. continues to work out a potential deal for the war documentary "The Tillman Story," repped by CAA and Submarine; the UTA-repped comedy "Douchebag" could land at a small distributor, and its Kristen Stewart-James Gandolfini drama "Welcome to the Rileys" has also fielded sustained interest; the ensemble film "HappyThankYouMorePlease," which has sold some foreign rights, may close a domestic deal as well; and John Wells' star-studded downsizing drama "The Company Men," repped by CAA, is also likely to obtain domestic distribution.

The lo-fi documentary "Catfish" remains popular with distribs as CAA continues to work out a deal for the filmmakers. That deal is not expected to close for a few weeks, though everyone from Paramount to Focus and IFC is thought to have been interested.

WME Global continues to work toward deals for Adrien Grenier's documentary "Teenage Paparazzo," which could close in the coming days, and Mark Ruffalo's directorial debut, "Sympathy for Delicious," as more screenings for potential buyers are scheduled.

Three other low-budget films –- all part of the Park City at Midnight program –- snake their way toward deals that may close shortly. "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil" is still trying to tie up a likely U.S. deal, though Maple Pictures has already acquired Canadian rights to director Eli Craig's horror-comedy. Voltage Pictures and Eden Rock Media are repping sales.

The horror film "Splice," repped by CAA, continues to inch toward a video buy (most likely Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group), coupled with a service deal from Apparition, the Weinstein Co., Newmarket Films, First Look or Samuel Goldwyn. And the stoner comedy "High School," repped by CAA and Parallel Media, has seen repeated interest.
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