Blockbuster strikes big

PARK CITY, Utah — The weather in this mountain town may be chilly, but the pic biz is heating up.

Late Tuesday night, Screen Gems paid north of $2.5 million for the North American rights to “Girlfight,” Karyn Kusama’s rights-of-passage pic about a Latina youngster who chooses boxing as an avenue to self-fulfillment and respect.

Screen Gems, which outbid Fine Line, Paramount and USA Films for the rights. United Artists Pictures was close to a deal for foreign rights.

Also Tuesday, video giant Blockbuster committed $2 million to Isaac H. Eaton’s “Shadow Hours” in a unique deal.

In a preemptive ancillary-rights strike, Blockbuster advanced $1 million to share in the future theatrical revenues of “Hours,” regardless of who distributes the film; deal also includes exclusive video rights. Deal doesn’t include theatrical distribution rights, but in essence all the distrib will have to pay for is P&A, making it practically a riskless deal for distrib.

Producers Eaton and Peter McAlevey’s Newmark Films have a significant piece of the film, which stars Balthazar Getty, Peter Weller and Rebecca Gayheart in the tale of a drug addicted man who experiences a universe of Dionysian pleasures in the underbelly of Los Angeles. Getty’s 5150 Prods. co-produced.

In the deal brokered by WMA’s Cassian Elwes, Blockbuster has also paid up $1 million toward the cost of P&A without expecting to see that cash again. Under the agreement, the filmmakers can take the movie to any studio they choose for distribution. The entire deal is a significant vote of confidence for an independent film.

‘Fight’ prized

Late Tuesday, Sony Pictures Classics and an unnamed company are believed to be in a bidding war for “Happy Accidents” — helmer Brad Anderson’s follow-up to the Miramax pic “Next Stop, Wonderland,” which unspooled at Sundance in 1997.

Valerie Breiman’s frosh comedy “Love and Sex,” starring Famke Janssen and Jon Favreau, continues to generate interest here, and sources said a sale is imminent. Fine Line and Lions Gate are said to be part of the bidding.

Buyers also appear interested in “Snow Days.” Directed by Adam Marcus and written by Kip Marcus, the romantic comedy follows a couple through their passage from “just friends” to lovers.

An offer from an undisclosed source was also made for Henry Bromell’s “Panic,” starring William H. Macy and Neve Campbell, though no sale has closed.

‘X’ factor

Also drawing attention was “Rated X,” which made its world premiere Tuesdat night.. William Morris’

While acquisitions activity continued late Tuesday, the House of Docs, a new event at Sundance, quietly concluded.

Located at the south end of Main Street in a spacious space with coffee bars and tables and video screens, the House of Docs launched this year as an outlet for documentary filmmakers who in past years have felt they were the poor stepchildren of the film world.

Sundance fest co-director Nicole Guillemet told Daily Variety, “We want to have a year-long program for documentaries. We have been one of the few festivals that treat documentaries respectfully and help bring recognition to the art form. We want to help documentary filmmakers survive and live well in the theatrical world.”

Docu drama

Many of the events were conceived with the idea of increasing filmmaker-to-filmmaker dialogue and a greater awareness of how the docu filmmakers can find funding and pursue distribution.

Hosted by Sundance in conjunction with the Apple Technology enclave, the House of Docs sponsored a series of round-table discussions about documentary film funding and distribution.

One such event was moderated by Ellen Schneider of the American Documentary/POV and included Udy Epstein of 7 Arts Releasing, Steve Rothenberg of Artisan, Liz Manne of the Sundance Channel, Pat Mitchell of CNN Prods. /Time Inc., Alon Orstein of PBS and Julie Anderson of HBO/Cinema Reelife.

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