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Acquisition Shopping At Sundance

By Keiko Beatie

Some of us are careful shoppers looking for the best quality at the right price.  Others see the potential for an item to reap more benefits down the road.  However your pocket book fits, studios are shopping in Park City at the 24th Sundance Film Festival.  Now considered the top U.S. market for independent films, Sundance draws the industry, corporate sponsors, and film lovers to regular public screenings.

 Topping the list of studio deals was the largest package to date made at Sundance.  A $16 million dollar deal went to Craig Brewer for his film Hustle and Flow, with an obligation to create two more films under the deal with Paramount Pictures.  The dollar amount broke down to $7million for Hustle and Flow and the $9 million for the upcoming two projects.  The buzz on this film was exciting as Brewer's approach to filmmaking and his streetwise subjects are just what Paramount is looking for. 

Paramount also was in the mood for the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom, which the Sundance Film Festival turned down as a part of their program.  It was then offered to Slamdance and they immediately booked it as Opening Night and for the first time the screening rooms of Slamdance were overflowing with industry, acquisitions and press.  This is a story of ballroom dancing being taught in the burroughs of New York City and the promise of a brighter tomorrow given to these children.  A true excitement was in the air as the film was negotiated for acquisition for Paramount Pictures. 
Speaking of ?street wise a purchase was made by Lions Gate for David LaChapelle's hard new look at clown gang street dancing documentary Rize.  This film had a buzz on it before the festival as Intel chose it to be part of an exclusive event at the Empire Lodge.  Two hundred of the top industry types and stars dined and watched the film and received the hottest gift bags during the festival.  The cast and LaChapelle were on hand to show guests the street dance moves that are depicted in the film.  For Intel they were able to screen the film showing its new wireless projection system  Lions Gate also purchased Hard Candy by David Slade for $2.25 million this week.

Warner Independent was hot on the tails of the penguins as the documentary The Emperor's Journey was acquired in collaboration with National Geographic.  This documentary details the life cycle of the penguins with depth and insight to where the public audience was captured by the majestic presentation.  Warners also purchased Strangers with Candy by Paul Dinello the shock comedy that was first on the small screen and was transformed as a feature film.

Even with the rumblings and the talk about Miramax and Bob and Harvey Weinstein, the brothers were making their presence known this past week. Miramax purchased The Matador by Richard Shepard, starring Pierce Brosnan for $7 million and made a deal for the exciting thriller Wolf Creek by Greg McLean, which had filmgoers waiting in line for hours just to have a chance to buy a ticket. Well wait to see if and when the release of these films will come to the theaters by Miramax.  Many insiders are still aware of the many top titles that seem to be shelved by Miramax with no apparent release date in sight.

Think Films is on an upward spiral as two of its films, Born into Brothels and Story of the Weeping Camel, are now up for the Academy Award for Best Documentary.  Last year at the festival, people waited in three hour lines as they tried to purchase tickets to Born into Brothels.  With Think Films insight they set their sites on the Aristocrats by Paul Provenza, which was purchased this week.  This documentary has interviews with more than 100 comedians of our times recreating their interpretation of this once obscure joke that only professional comedians knew of.  Ill Fated was also acquired for distribution by Think Films and was part of the Slamdance program.

The amount of acquisitions taking place in Park City seemed fast and furious as the major studios and players were out in full force. Many more films will be acquired during the next few weeks after the festival, as some films will be more carefully assessed by acquisitions of the various studios.

The Sundance Film Festival, now in its 24th year is considered the one of the top U.S. independent film festivals.  With more than 6,500 submissions, the festival showcase's an average of 200 films during the 10-day event.  Sponsors, studios, and film industry gather along with over 50,000 filmgoers to watch films in the beautiful setting of Park City Utah.  The festival is held January 20-30, 2005. For more information please view the website at www.sundance.org

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