Weinstein Co. inks 'Death Defying' deal


In a flurry of last-minute deals at the American Film Market, the Weinstein Co. has acquired all U.S. distribution rights and multiple territories to Gillian Armstrong's fictionalized Harry Houdini biopic "Death Defying Acts," starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Guy Pearce.

A source close to the film said the studio is conjuring up some $5.5 million for "Death Defying," which was produced for less than $20 million. It also is shelling out some $500,000 for China, Thailand, Argentina, Hong Kong, Chile and other territories. The film just wrapped principal photography and is now in postproduction.

Weinstein Co. co-head Harvey Weinstein is expected to launch "Death Defying" at the Festival de Cannes in May and roll it out domestically in the fall. Whether the Weinstein Co. will release the film itself or through MGM has not yet been determined and could depend on how many other films the Weinstein Co. sends through its MGM output deal, according to one of the film's producers.

It's the latest of a series of acquisitions since the Toronto International Film Festival for the Weinstein Co., which has been assembling a busy 2007 lineup.

Although the Weinstein Co. characterized the buy as the successful resolution of a bidding war, one source involved in the deal said the company swooped in and made a pre-emptive purchase of the film before a full-fledged bidding war could begin.

"Death Defying" chronicles the tumultuous love affair between the famed magician (Pearce) and a psychic (Zeta-Jones) who tries to con him by holding a seance to contact his dead mother. Tony Grisoni and Brian Ward wrote the screenplay.

The film is an Australian-U.K. co-production produced by Chris Curling of Zephyr Films and Marian Macgowan of Macgowan Film Co. The film was executive produced by Myriad Pictures CEO Kirk D'Amico, Dan Lupovitz, Marcia Nasatir and David Thompson.

The project was financed through Newbridge Film Capital, the Australian Film Finance Corp., New South Wales Media Development Fund, BBC Films, the U.K. Film Council and Myriad.

Michelle Krumm, executive vp and co-head of acquisitions for the Weinstein Co., brought the project to the company's attention. D'Amico, alongside ICM and William Morris Independent, concluded the negotiations with co-president of production Michael Cole, Krumm and senior vp business and legal affairs Laine Kline on behalf of the Weinstein Co. WMI and ICM are co-representing U.S. sales on the film, with Myriad repping worldwide sales. Equinoxe Films holds Canadian rights.

In other sales news, U.S. indie Palm Pictures drove off with North American and Caribbean rights to Carlos Bolado's "Solo Dios Sabe," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

The deal was negotiated by Palm acquisitions and production chief David Koh with Rosanne Korenberg, formerly of Traction Media, on behalf of the movie's host of producers led by director-producer Bolado, Palm said.

Sara Silveira and Yissel Ibarra also produced alongside executive producers Mark Castillo, Maria Ionescu, Diego Luna, Christian Ryan and Christian Valdelievre.

Palm Pictures said it is looking to an early 2007 theatrical release followed by a DVD release on the Palm Pictures label for the movie, which details the relationship of Mexican journalist Damian, played by Diego Luna ("Y Tu Mama Tambien"), and Brazilian student Dolores, played by Alice Braga ("City of God"), as they travel through the desert to Mexico City.

Another deal saw Paris-based sales outfit Onoma close North American rights with Strand Releasing for Szabolcs Hadju's gymnastics drama "White Palms," Hungary's Oscar hopeful for 2007. Onoma's Fabien Westerhoff and Strand Releasing's Jon Gerrans made the announcement. Onoma also sold "White Palms" to South Korea's Line Tree Entertainment and to Singapore's Cathay during AFM. The film will be released in France by Epicenter Films beginning next year. "White Palms," which had its world premiere in Directors' Fortnight at Cannes, won several trophies at Hungary's film awards, including best director, cinematography and producer.

Jonathan Landreth, Stuart Kemp and Anne Thompson contributed to this report.