Blethyn, Karyo topline pot pic, USA and M'Max outbid

VISIT SUNDANCE 2000
PARK CITY, Utah — After a frenzied bidding war, Fine Line Features snatched North American rights to “Saving Grace” for $4 million.

The sale is the most expensive of this year’s Sundance Independent Film Festival, which appears on track for a record number of acquisitions. Fine Line beat out USA Films and Miramax for the pic, which toplines Brenda Blethyn and Tcheky Karyo.

Also closing Monday was a deal for the romantic drama “Two Family House” from writer-helmer Raymond DeFelitta. Lions Gate acquired worldwide rights for an undisclosed amount.

“Saving Grace, helmed by Nigel Cole, is about a recently widowed woman who inheirits a house mired in debt. To rectify the situation, she asks her caretaker to a create a marijuana farm

“Grace” represents a five-year effort by producer Mark Crowdy and star and writer Craig Ferguson, a regular on ABC’s “The Drew Carey Show.” Exec producers are Cat Villiers and Xavier Marchand.

The pickup was a coup for Fine Line, which was looking to make a high-profile mark at Sundance under prexy Mark Ordesky. Ordesky, who had escorted Golden Globes nominee Janet McTeer to the kudocast Sunday night, screened the film early Monday morning and jetted to Park City to close the deal.

“We were happy to come out on top in this one war,” Ordesky said. “We think it’s a great film.

Deal was made by Ken Weinraub and Eric Brown from Franklin, Weinraub. Paradigm’s Lucy Stille and Gary Ungar, and Julie Ruthenbeck from Exile Entertainment rep DeFelitta. Alan Klingenstein and Anne Harrison produce.

Producer’s rep Jeff Dowd said they picked Lions Gate Films “because they really understand how to build on this kind of word of mouth.” Pic, about an improbable love story set in Staten Island, N.Y., circa 1956 that deals with broken dreams, racism and the pressures of family, was favorably received at both screenings here.

Klingenstein, a lawyer for 12 years who quit to become a producer three years ago, said, “I read 300 scripts and just knew I had to do this one.” Co-prexy Mark Herman from Lions Gate said that “even though it may look like a small film because nobody famous is in it, what it’s about makes it a big movie, in my opinion.”

Miramax’s ailing co-chairman Harvey Weinstein isn’t here in person to drive the market as usual, but his presence was felt all weekend: The reps of “Girlfight” apparently overnighted a tape of their movie to the bedridden Weinstein in the New York hospital where he’s currently recuperating from recent health problems. No word yet on what Harvey thought. Bob Weinstein is also said to have viewed the film. “Girlfight” suitors are believed to be Fine Line Features (the front-runner) and Artisan, with Miramax, as of late Monday, understood to be no longer interested. The asking price is hovering in the $1 million to $3 million range.

Sunday night’s screening of Valerie Breiman’s “Love and Sex” had the audience in laughter and post-screening talk centered on Famke Janssen’s and Jon Favreau’s nuanced performances. No bidders are known to have come to the table, but nearly every acquisitions team is said to be “seriously interested” in the pic.

‘Net acquisition

In one of the first much-awaited pickups from the dot-com world, exclusive worldwide rights to director Jason Reitman’s 16-minute short “In God We Trust” was picked up by Seattle-based Netcaster AtomFilms for distribution both on and off the Internet.

Deal with 22-year-old helmer was signed as he was standing in line for a screening. A deal to license short to major cabler Cinemax or HBO is likely.

Generally, the anticipated deluge of the dot-coms on the buying scene has failed to materialize so far, instead leaving them to the schmoozing scene while the million-dollar spending is handled by the traditional film sellers and buyers.

(Marc Graser contributed to this report.)

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