‘Listener’ speaks to Miramax

Docu sales slow at fest

PARK CITY, Utah — Miramax Films made its biggest festival acquisition of the post-Weinstein era Monday night, shelling out $3 million for North American rights to Patrick Stettner’s mystery thriller “The Night Listener.”

While buyers continued to pick over a market dominated by directorial debuts like “Half-Nelson” and “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” a broader picture of the acquisitions trends at Sundance began to come into focus Tuesday.

Most striking of these was the anemic state of the documentary market, long considered a pillar of the fest, which has launched such hits as “Super Size Me,” “Born Into Brothels,” “March of the Penguins” and “The Aristocrats” in recent years.

On Tuesday, all of the fest’s prominent docs remained in play, even as buyers were dropping almost unprecedented sums on star-driven pics like “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Science of Sleep,” which sold for $10 million and $6 million, respectively, to Fox Searchlight and Warner Independent Pictures.

Edward Norton starrer “The Illusionist” was drawing keen interest from Universal on Tuesday and was being screened in Hollywood for studio bosses by the Yari Film Group.

Also new this year is a frenetic level of foreign dealmaking. Overseas buyers used to skip this once U.S.-centric fest, focusing their acquisitions on Berlin and other international marts. But Tuesday produced a flurry of foreign pickups.

The BBC grabbed Brit broadcast rights to IFC’s “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” writer-director Kirby Dick’s inside look at the Motion Pictures Assn. of America’s rating system. Doc’s U.S. theatrical rights are still available.

Blighty distrib Momentum Pictures acquired all U.K. rights to writer-director Jody Hill’s martial arts comedy “The Foot Fist Way,” screening in the Midnight section.

Pathe grabbed U.K. distrib rights from French sales banner Wild Bunch to “The Fox and the Child,” the just-announced follow-up from “March of the Penguins” helmer Luc Jacquet.

And TF1 Intl. snapped up all non-English-speaking territories to Christopher Quinn’s docu “God Grew Tired of Us,” which has its world preem Sunday.

Some docus, including “Wordplay” and “The Trials of Darryl Hunt,” drew interest among buyers and appeared likely to grab theatrical deals.

Deal for “Night Listener,” starring Robin Williams, marked new Miramax topper Daniel Battsek’s first Sundance buy.

IFC co-financed the pic with Gotham production banner Hart Sharp and was prepared to release “Listener” itself if a major buyer didn’t materialize at Sundance. Lionsgate and Sony Pictures Classics were among the companies showing interest before Battsek closed the deal.

Stettner said the pic was “a little bit bigger” than a typical platform release, thanks to Williams’ presence, and that it made more sense for a mini-major to handle it.

Pic is based on an Armistead Maupin story about a popular radio host who develops an intense phone relationship with a young listener and his social worker.

There were signs on Tuesday that the doc market could still pick up. Perhaps the most prominent nonfiction title to screen so far this year has been “Wordplay,” about word game guru Will Shortz, repped by Cinetic Media. Several suitors have expressed interest, including Picturehouse.

Last year, doc “Murderball” became a Park City sensation and prompted MTV Films to partner on the pic with indie ThinkFilm.

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