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ThinkFilm puts money into doc ‘Murderball’

Pic follows the U.S. quadriplegic rugby team

HOLLYWOOD — Further delving into the docu world — following the success of its first doc acquisition, “Spellbound” — indie banner ThinkFilm has made its first foray into financing a nonfiction film, Sundance-bound “Murderball.”

Think will distrib pic in North America, with A&E taking TV rights. “Murderball” follows the U.S. quadriplegic rugby team’s bid to make it to the 2004 Paralympics to face Team Canada, coached by a former American quad rugby icon.

Pic bows at Sundance on Friday.

ThinkFilm prexy-CEO Jeff Sackman said company would now get further into film finance for docs, based on its “Murderball” experience.

“That’s part of the evolution, that we’re going to do this a bit more,” he said. “The history (of Sundance) is that there is a lot of overpaying. One way around that is to see a film’s potential and say, ‘Let’s get it early.’ ”

Prior to “Spellbound,” Think had a no-doc policy, according to U.S. distribution head Mark Urman. But when the spelling bee doc took in more than $5.7 million theatrically, Think rethought its biz plan and delved heavily into the nonfiction arena.

Subsequently building its doc roster, Think has watched its pickups “The Story of the Weeping Camel,” “Tell Them Who You Are” and “Born Into Brothels” make the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Oscar shortlist this year.

The company’s decision to back “Murderball” was made after filmmakers Henry-Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro sent an edited three-minute promo reel, on the advice of John Sloss’ Cinetic Media, when the film needed completion funds.

Sackman said funding the film was a no-brainer regardless of how close the U.S. quad rugby team made it toward its goal, which was in the balance when the promo reel arrived.

“I don’t particularly think that’s the story (of ‘Murderball’),” Sackman said. “That’s the story of ‘Miracle.’ This is a story regardless of the outcome of the game. In a wonderful and rare way, this was a case where the (filmmakers) delivered on everything they promised.”

Pic’s U.S. vs. Canada dynamic also made financial sense to ThinkFilm, which is headquartered north of the border.

Jeff Mandel, who produced “Murderball” with Shapiro, said the creative team won’t have visions of passed-up bidding wars dancing in their heads if the pic makes waves at Sundance.

“To finance a film requires a lot of resources,” Mandel said. “ThinkFilm were very supportive, and we were lucky we had a structure in place. That’s the most difficult thing about docs.”

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