As Sundance fest winds down, big deals heat up

PARK CITY — Execs began packing their bags — many of them stuffed with pics — at Sundance on Wednesday as the fest began to wind down and further deals closed behind condo doors.

Universal specialty arm Focus Features, headed by David Linde and James Schamus, made its first acquisition of the fest, picking up North American rights to dramatic competition entry “On a Clear Day” for around $2 million from Cinetic Media and sales agent Icon Entertainment Intl. Icon Film Distribution is releasing pic in the U.K. and Australia.

Focus had been in the mix on the bidding for a number of high-profile films.

On the heels of grabbing this year’s biggest headlines so far at Sundance — by acquiring the John Singleton-produced “Hustle & Flow” with MTV Films — Paramount was said to be one of several buyers, along with Lions Gate and Focus, interested in Slamdance opener “Mad Hot Ballroom.”

Being sold here by Cinetic, the dance docu “Mad Hot” had its second Park City screening Tuesday and unexpectedly kicked up a bidding war.

Focus’ “Clear Day” is Gaby Dellal’s feature debut. Starring Peter Mullan and Brenda Blethyn, pic centers on a 55-year-old man, laid off from his job in a Glasgow shipyard, who seeks to soothe his strained familial relations and shore up his self-confidence by swimming the English Channel. Pic opened the fest for Sundance in Salt Lake City, while Don Roos’ “Happy Endings” unspooled in Park City.

“Clear Day” is the only British feature in competition at this year’s fest.

After “Hustle,” Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale” was perhaps the pic most hotly tipped for a Park City pickup. But while “Hustle” closed mere hours after it made its Park City preem over the weekend, “Squid” was taking a bit longer to close; a bevy of buyers are interested.

Meanwhile, several buyers including Warner Independent were interested in Amy Sedaris pic “Strangers With Candy,” though there was no deal in place Wednesday. Likewise, Sony Pictures Classics and others were said to be looking at “Brick,” but no one has picked it up.

Other pics were in play: There were numerous offers in on “The Devil and Daniel Johnston,” Jeff Feuerzeig’s docu portrait of a musical genius; Phil Morrison’s “Junebug,” starring Embeth Davidtz and Alessandro Nivola; and Jenny McCarthy starrer “Dirty Love.”

Studio execs in Los Angeles were understood to be taking a look at “Thumbsucker,” being sold at the fest by UTA.

Rupert Murray docu “Unknown White Male,” comedy doc “The Aristocrats” and doc “The Education of Shelby Knox” also were likely to sell by the end of the festival. “Male,” the story of an amnesia victim who is piecing his life back together, has a raft of offers so far from film distribs and TV nets alike. Two studios are vying for remake rights.

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