Cabler in mix on 'Mudge'

Underlining the cable net’s increasing push into the independent feature arena, Showtime Networks has pacted with specialty distrib Strand Releasing for theatrical distribution of “The Mudge Boy,” which premiered in the 2003 Sundance competition and won the top prize at the L.A. Outfest.

Slated for an April theatrical release, the film is an expanded version of writer-director Michael Burke’s 1998 short “Fishbelly White.” Produced by Elizabeth W. Alexander, Alison Benson and Randy Ostrow with Stanley Tucci as exec producer, the drama stars Emile Hirsch (“The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys”) and “Six Feet Under” regular Richard Jenkins.

Story chronicles the troubled existence of an eccentric 14-year-old misfit in rural Vermont, dealing with issues of love, grief, sexuality, friendship and outsider status while struggling to fill the void created by his mother’s death and to communicate with his unyielding father.

“Strand Releasing has been tracking this project since its inception, from its short film version to the development of the screenplay at the Sundance Institute Filmmaker’s Lab,” said Strand co-president Marcus Hu.

The deal marks the second collaboration for Strand and Showtime after Arthur Penn’s “Inside,” starring Nigel Hawthorne. A First Cold Press production, “The Mudge Boy” is part of the cabler’s new feature initiative, Showtime Independent Films, designed to fully finance and produce low-budget films for theatrical audiences, working with indie producers.

“Showtime is pleased to be working with Strand again to bring this unique and wonderful film to a theatrical audience,” said Robert Greenblatt, Showtime president of entertainment.

Deal was negotiated by Strand co-prexy Jon Gerrans with Peter Keramidas and David Stern of Showtime and Jeremy Barber and Howard Cohen of UTA.

Showtime will premiere three new features at Sundance in addition to the North American bow of Mario Van Peebles’ “Baadasssss!” an ode by the actor-director to the groundbreaking cinema of his father Melvin Van Peebles, which first screened at the Toronto fest and was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics.

The other two titles being unveiled under the Showtime Independent Films banner are “The Best Thief in the World,” Jacob Kornbluth’s tale of a family in crisis, starring Mary-Louise Parker and screening in the dramatic competition; and debuting director Jessica Sharzer’s tragicomic high school drama “Speak,” programmed in the American Spectrum lineup.

Screening as the opening night event in Salt Lake City is the Showtime Original Picture entry “Edge of America,” Native American director Chris Eyre’s film about an African-American high school teacher whose preconceptions about Indian culture are challenged when he’s sent to teach at a Utah reservation school.

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