Sony Classics does ‘Cheap’ docu deal

PARK CITY, Utah — A buck-toothed mole-rat is the latest star to emerge from the 1997 Sundance Film Festival. For after the Monday-night premiere of Errol Morris’ “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control,” Sony Pictures Classics co-presidents Michael Barker, Tom Bernard and Marcie Bloom acquired the North American and other territory rights to the latest documentary from “The Thin Blue Line” creator for a mid-six-figure sum.

Morris’ meditation on the myth of Sisyphus profiles four esoteric professionals — a topiary gardener, a lion tamer, a robot scientist and a mole-rat photographer.

In full-bore acquisition mode, SPC has also snapped up the U.S. rights to writer-director Cedric Klapisch’s “When the Cat’s Away” (Chacun Cherche Son Chat). The French pic played at the Toronto Film Festival before charming audiences here, and it depicts the way a lost house cat leads a lonely and dissatisfied Parisian girl into a series of misadventures.

The two acquisitions will be a worthy test for the specialized distributor, which in the past has successfully marketed both foreign-lingo pics and docs.

Arcane but accessible

Although Morris’ films often deal with arcane subject matter, he holds the distinction of having the second- highest-grossing independent documentary in “The Thin Blue Line.” Only “Hoop Dreams” bested Morris’ crime documentary at the box office.

While Miramax Films distributed “The Thin Blue Line,” Sony Pictures Classics has had success in the past with documentaries like “Crumb” and “The Celluloid Closet.” The marketing campaign on “Crumb” included the memorable Devil Girl Chocolate Bar, which was sold as a novelty concession item at theaters playing the pic.

“We’ve been tracking the Errol Morris film for the last two years because we’ve always felt he’s a national treas-ure,” Bernard said. “And we frankly think this is the best film he has ever done.”

Kathy Trustman, Mark Lipson and Julia Sheehan were co-producers on “Fast, Cheap & Out of Control,” and Lind-say Law shouldered executive producing chores. Endeavor and Frankfurt, Garbus, Klein & Selz attorney Ira Schreck and Michael Luisi repped Morris on the deal.

Franco deal

The deal for the U.S. rights to “When the Cat’s Away” marks a reunion for SPC with French producer and sales agent Alan Vannier of Roissy Films. In the past, Vannier has brought “Pauline at the Beach,” “Europa, Eu-ropa” and “Indochine” to SPC, which is no stranger to the foreign-lingo Oscar, having distributed such previous winners as “Burnt by the Sun” and “Belle Epoque.”

“When the Cat’s Away” was produced by French production company Vertigo Prods., whose principals Aissa Djabri, Farid Lahouassa and Manuel Munz are currently prepping their first U.S. pic. The project is a $4 million comedy called “Live Virgin.” The pic is set in Burbank’s porn industry and will be directed by Jean Pierre Marois. Danny Aiello is currently attached to star. TF-1 is co-producing with the indie producers, but the pic has no U.S. distributor or co-producer.

” ‘When The Cat’s Away” is a true sign that French cinema is back,” Barker said. “And Klapisch is as fresh and as exciting a talent as Francois Truffaut was when ‘The 400 Blows’ came out in 1959.”

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