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Late Deals As Sundance Eases Into Final Weekend

Although the Sundance Film Festival continues through this Sunday, with the culminating Awards Ceremony to be held on Saturday night, many film professionals have already skipped town, mulling the films they have seen (bid or passed on) and, frankly, warming up their external digits after 9 days of frigid weather. What began as a barren landscape for dealmaking has made a rebound, although Festival veterans have described this year's event as very lowkey compared to earlier years (a result of the recession economy or the ongoing Writers Guild strike?).


But a lucky few filmmakers are realizing their dreams by coming away from Sundance with distribution deals in place. In a late night deal concluded in the wee hours of Friday morning, Sony Pictures Classics has acquired North American rights to the narrative feature BAGHEAD, which screened in the Sundance Spectrum section. The film, directed by Mark and Jay Duplass (who were the creative team behind the low budget indie fave THE PUFFY CHAIR) tells the humorous story of four struggling actors head to a cabin in the woods to write a screenplay with juicy roles for themselves. Once there, horny ulterior motives and boozy brainstorming sessions threaten to break up their collaboration and reveal truths that far exceeds their expectations. This has the earmarks of an instant indie classic. Sony Pictures Classics, generally a rather conservative Sundance buyer, also acquired the feature film FROZEN RIVER, directed by Courtney Hunt. This deeply emotional first feature is a realistic look at the world of human smuggling and the difficult choices facing poor, single mothers. The film is full of atmosphere, heart, and outstanding performances by Melissa Leo and Misty Upham. Humanism is at its core, a celebration of the strength that resides in family and the way hope in a dire situation can be uncovered by courage and trust.


One of the few buzz titles at the Festival, the documentary AMERICAN TEEN, has been bought by Paramount Vantage, the specialty arm of Paramount Pictures. The company confirmed that they have acquired worldwide distribution rights, excluding the United Kingdom. The film focuses on a group of teenagers in their senior year of high school in a small Indiana town. Using cinema vérité footage, interviews, and animation, director Nanette Burstein presents a candid portrait of what it now means to be an American teenager in our media-drenched society. We see the insecurities, the cliques, the jealousies, the first loves and heartbreaks, the experimentation with sex and alcohol, the parental pressures, and the struggle to make profound decisions about the future. The film was produced by A&E Indiefilms, the independent film unit of the cable network. The deal was said to be nearly $3 Million, which is quite high for a non-fiction title.

Another strong documentary leaves Sundance with distribution in place. Palm Pictures announced that it purchased North American rights to WE ARE TOGETHER, the acclaimed documentary about orphans in Africa who overcome their personal pain and hardship by becoming a singing group. The film, which could get the nod for an Audience Award here, has already won prizes at the Tribeca, Edinburgh, International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and other festivals around the world. The film is directed by Paul Taylor and produced in asociation HBO Documentary Films and The Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation. The film has received support from music superstars Alicia Keys and Bono, via their respective Keep A Child Alive and ONE foundations.


While Sundance titles tend to dominate the proceedings here, a pair of films screening at the Slamdance Film Festival (the separate but parallel Park City event) have found distribution. The horror comedy JACK BROOKS: MONSTER SLAYER, by writer/director Jon Knautz, has been picked upby Anchor Bay Entertainment in a mid six-figure deal with a theatrical commitment. The film stars Trevor Matthews and Robert Englund (NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) and is described as a "nostalgic throwback to the classic '80s horror-comedy creature features." In a second Slamdance deal, the action thriller PORTAGE has been bought by Canadian-based distributor NeoClassics Films Ltd. The film, written and directed by Matthew Miller, Sascha Drews and Erzra Krybus. is a coming of age story about four 14-year-old girls who encounter death and overcome extreme adversity on a canoe trip . NeoClassics plans a June theatrical release in the United States. Based in Vancouver , the company plans to add direct theatrical distribution and the UK in the next year.

Sandy Mandelberger, Sundance FF Editor

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