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Lions Gate deal caps hot Sundance sales

Company to handle distrib of 'Eyes of Tammy Faye'

PARK CITY, Utah — As the Sundance Film Festival wound to a close late Saturday night with the awards ceremony and wrap party at the Park City Racquet Club, Lions Gate Films closed a deal to handle worldwide distribution of the documentary “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.”

That deal caps an unprecedented number of sales at this year’s Sundance, bringing the total to nine, with at least seven additional pacts likely in the coming weeks.

Lions Gate purchased “Eyes” for an undisclosed price. A summer or fall release is planned.

Lions Gate co-president Tom Ortenberg told Daily Variety: “I think ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ is poignant, funny and intelligent. I fell in love with it immediately. We think the film has the potential to be a real box office success.”

Over the past week, Lions Gate snatched up the fest’s Audience Award winner “Two Family House” and premiered the controversial “American Psycho,” which divided audiences into the critical and hugely supportive camps. The company’s “Mr. Death,” directed by Errol Morris, and “Beyond the Mat,” directed by Barry Blaustein, are both finalists for this year’s Academy Awards for documentary.

Co-presidents Ortenberg and Mark Urman, along with lawyer John Sloss, negotiated the “Eyes” deal.

“It was a really productive, vigorous festival,” Fine Line prexy Mark Ordesky said. “Films really found their matches. The prices were not out of the bounds of common sense.”

Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard noted: “So many people said that the festival wasn’t the same without Harvey. I think it was actually a great festival, especially because people were focusing on the films rather than the acquisitions circus that has permeated the festival over the last several years.”

SPC struck first, grabbing “Groove” for worldwide rights, for $1.5 million; later in the week, they acquired domestic and some international territories to “Shadow Magic.”

Fine Line Features’ $4 million purchase of World Cinema Audience Award winner “Saving Grace” was the highest for the fest — a far cry from last year’s out-of-control $11 million purchase of “Happy Texas.”

However, with the absence of Weinstein and a strong Miramax presence, the real company to watch turned out to be Blockbuster.

Blockbuster penetrated the indie film arena, offering what one insider called “dream deals” to indie producers. By fest’s end, they had emerged as the new gorilla on the block.

Brokered by William Morris’ Cassian Elwes, Blockbuster closed pacts with the filmmakers of “Shadow Hours” and “Love and Sex,” granting producers high cash advances against revenues, share in revenues downstream, enormous control over marketing and distribution and a significant contribution toward each pic’s print and advertising fees.

Like HBO’s pre-buys in the 1980s, Blockbuster’s revolutionary pacts reduce distributor risk and make domestic distribution for both “Shadow” and “Love” likely in the coming weeks. A similar deal is expected for the Sundance pic “Snow Days.”

While Artisan Entertainment snatched up “Chuck and Buck” early in the fest and Lions Gate bought “Two Family House,” the winner of the surprise purchase prize goes to Sony Pictures-based Screen Gems, which emerged victorious in a bidding war for Karyn Kusama’s crowd-pleaser, “Girlfight.”

As festival-goers hustled Sunday to catch planes out of Park City and watch the Super Bowl, several high-profile deals were still ongoing: Paramount Classics and SPC were both bidding on Brad Anderson’s “Happy Accidents”; and Trimark is in exclusive talks to distribute “Song Catcher” domestically.

Also causing some speculation Sunday was how the Shooting Gallery will handle Kenneth Lonergan’s “You Can Count on Me.” Now that the pic has won both a Grand Jury prize and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting award, TSG may choose to distribute the pic itself, instead of entertaining offers from interested outside distributors including USA Films.

Other pics moving closer to domestic distribution deals are: “Love and Sex,” “Spring Forward,” “Panic,” “Snow Days,” “Other Voices” and “The Tao of Steve.”

Meanwhile, in the short film category, such companies as the Sundance Channel, AtomFilms and Mediatrip.com have signed deals of various kinds with short filmmakers.

Founded in 1996, the Sundance Channel to date offers one of the most attractive outlets for short films — the cablers’ Sunday night program, “Shorts Stop: An Hour of Short Films.”

Sundance has licensed the television and Internet rights to six films for a window of two years, and is in negotiation for five other titles. The licensed films are “Reinvention” by Sadia Shepard; “Little Dark Poet,” directed by Mike Booth; “Chicken Pox Pal,” directed by Andrew Mudge; “This is for Betsy Hall,” directed by Hope Hall; “This Guy is Falling,” by Michael Horowitz and Gareth Smith; and “Men Named Milo, Women Named Greta,” by Lawrence Greenberg.

The Sundance Channel’s executive veep of programming and marketing, Liz Manne, noted: “In the shorts world today, it’s sort of a cowboy and pioneer time as far as rights go. Television is the big kahuna for shorts; it is their most important outlet.”

Webcaster AtomFilms acquired various rights to two of the Sundance Channel pics — “Men Named Milo, Women Named Greta” and “This Guy is Falling.” In addition, they signed broader rights deals for Mark Tiedeman’s “Girl Go Boom,” Paul Charney’s “Sunday Afternoon” and Jason Reitman’s “In God We Trust.”

Atom also closed deals with shorts from the other Park City fests. From Slamdance, they acquired “Mosquito,” directed by Frieder Wittich; from No Dance, “Central Garden,” helmed by Kaleo Quenzer, and “A Clockwork Maury,” by Robert Leddy, Jr; and from SlamDunk, “Dog Dance 2000,” directed by Cheryl Guerriero.

Mediatrip.com acquired the Sundance short “Los Gringos,” helmed by Rob Letterman.

Outside of all the acquisitions activity here, Park City was a bustling place during the festival, but not without skirmishes between locals and fest-goers.

Packed parties such as the Motorolla-sponsored CAA bash in Deer Valley created fest-long talk, as did the Lapdance party late Jan. 27, at which several women were rumored to have been drugged with the “date rape” pill.

“Name” musicians played at Main Street venues nearly every night, and an increased dot.com presence, highlighted by the Interactive Lounge at Harry O’s, made fest-goers wonder whether the landscape for indie film will ever be the same.

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