'Dance ends on high note

PARK CITY — As the Sundance Film Festival came to a close, Paramount Pictures wielded its corporate clout for the second time in Park City as Par Classics paid around $2 million for worldwide rights outside Australia and New Zealand to “Mad Hot Ballroom.”

Lions Gate Films also made bids to waltz away with the pic, a documentary about preteen competitive ballroom dancers. “Mad Hot” served as the opening night film of the Slamdance Film Festival.

Par’s buy was only one of four that wrapped Thursday, with many more expected to close in the days and weeks ahead.

Warner Independent Pictures paid in the region of $3 million to acquire North American rights to Sundance’s Park City at Midnight selection “Strangers With Candy,” starring Amy Sedaris and directed by Paul Dinello. Based on the cult Comedy Central TV show, it was co-written by Dinello, Sedaris and Stephen Colbert. WIP plans a fall release for the pic, which includes supporting turns by Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Repped by Cinetic Media, “Strangers With Candy” was the first feature to be produced through David Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants. Producers are Lorena David, Mark Roberts and Valerie Schaer.

Samuel Goldwyn Films and Roadside Attractions bought North American rights to Marcos Siega’s dark comedy “Pretty Persuasion,” which stars Evan Rachel Wood and Ron Livingston. Produced through Prospect Pictures by Todd Dagres, Carl Levin, Siega and Matthew Weaver with Joni Sighvatsson as executive producer, the film screened in dramatic competition.

“We were knocked out by Evan Rachel Woods’ sexy and shocking performance,” said Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen, who called her character “an indelible teen anti-hero for a new generation.” Endeavor and Traction Media repped the pic. The distribs plan a late summer bow.

Meanwhile, hotly anticipated comedy doc “The Aristocrats” sold to ThinkFilm on Thursday. Pic, conceived by Penn Jillette and director Paul Provenza, features comedians George Carlin, Paul Reiser, Whoopi Goldberg, Gilbert Gottfried and Bob Saget among 100 others who share in the telling of the world’s filthiest joke.

Peter Golden produced “Aristocrats.” ThinkFilm, which also has competition doc “Murderball” in the fest, is celebrating two Oscar noms with the docs “The Story of the Weeping Camel” and “Born Into Brothels.”

‘Mad’ love

Directed by Marilyn Agrelo and written by Amy Sewell, “Mad Hot Ballroom” follows a group of 11-year-old New York City public school kids who journey into the world of ballroom dancing and into a citywide competition. Sewell and Agrelo produced the film, which was also repped by Cinetic.

Par Classics, the studio’s autonomous specialized division, acquired “Mad Hot Ballroom” in association with Nickelodeon Movies. Last week, Paramount Pictures acquired the Sundance Film Festival’s dramatic competition entry “Hustle & Flow” in association with MTV Films.

Par Classics co-prexies Ruth Vitale and David Dinerstein bought the pic from Cinetic Media. Also repping the studio were senior VP business affairs Jeff Freedman and Julia Pistor, senior VP Nickelodeon Movies.

In a statement, Vitale and Dinerstein compared “Mad Hot Ballroom” to hit indie pics like “Spellbound” and “Strictly Ballroom.” Cinetic previously worked with Paramount on “Napoleon Dynamite,” which held international rights on that film and, through MTV, added marketing muscle to the pic’s domestic Fox Searchlight release. Nickelodeon’s expected to serve a similar role for “Mad Hot Ballroom.”

It’s ending

Fatigue and fresh snow thinned the crowds Thursday, but acquisitions showed no signs of slowing. Among the pics still considering bidders were Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale,” music doc “The Devil and Daniel Johnston,” Phil Morrison’s drama “Junebug,” the raunchy Jenny McCarthy comedy “Dirty Love” and Mike Mills’ dark comedy “Thumbsucker.”

Sundance program director Geoff Gilmore said, in terms of acquisitions, 2005 was shaping up as the most successful outing in the fest’s history.

“It’s one of the bigger years, if not the biggest year,” he said. “The interest is gratifying. There’s a range of participation and everyone has an opinion about Sundance.”

This year, it also seemed as if everyone was at Sundance. Gilmore admitted that festival congestion was “a real issue” and one that didn’t present an easy solution. However, he said leaving Park City wasn’t the answer. “We’re not looking to move,” he said. “We want to grow with Park City and we have a contract with the city through 2008.”

This wasn’t the first Sundance for “The Matador” helmer Richard Shepard, but it may as well have been. When he came here four years ago as the producer of “Hamlet” spoof “Scotland, PA,” Shepard said, “I literally had to fight to get tickets to my own movie.” However, he said that experience was like a “quaint little country fair.”

“This year, it was insane on a plate,” he said. “My adrenaline was going out of control. But I’m over the moon that Miramax bought my film and they want to put so much money behind it. It’s been a goal of mine throughout my career.”

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