Sundance Channel uncaging ‘Zoo’

Network nets TV rights for 'Lake,' 'Yacoubian'

The Sundance Channel is making a push into bigger movies, snapping up TV rights to a number of titles from small and mid-size distribs.

The controversial bestiality doc “Zoo” and Uganda youth examination “War/Dance,” both ThinkFilm theatrical releases, top the slate of pickups; like all the other movies in the group, they will receive their first television airing on Sundance.

Other titles bought by the net include Tony Kaye’s provocative abortion doc “Lake of Fire,” also from Think; French pic “A Curtain Raiser,” from Celluloid Dreams/Dreammachine; and Egyptian expose “Yacoubian Building” from Strand Releasing.

Two other French titles, “Best of Bejart” and Sundance jury-prize winner “The Legacy,” join four art-related movies from Arthouse Films: “Black, White and Grey,” “Conversations With Basquiat,” “Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis” and “Peter Beard: Scrapbooks From Africa and Beyond.”

But perhaps the most unusual pickup is Celluloid/Dreammachine’s “Brand Upon the Brain,” Guy Maddin’s ambitious silent film meant to be screened with live music and readings. (Lou Reed, Isabella Rossellini and others are performing in a Gotham engagement.)

Indie movies have hit on lean times in the cable window: IFC has concentrated heavily on its own films, and occasional buyers like Bravo have mostly exited the biz in favor of original programming. The result has been fewer bidders — and lower prices — for distributors and a bounty of movies for the nets that have stuck with the form.

“We’re the benefactor of the changing landscape,” said Sundance Channel general manager Laura Michalchyshyn. “We’re buying firstrun features and docs that previously wouldn’t have been available to us.”

Sundance execs say the net will maintain roughly the same number of annual theatrical acquisitions — about 200 — even as net itself makes a further push into originals. Execs say Sundance will pair movies with shows in theme blocks; as part of theme block “The Green,” for instance, it will air series like “Eco Biz” together with acquired environmental docs.

While Sundance Channel and the fest operate independently, the net has previously bought titles that have had exposure in the fest, this year picking up suburban-sprawl docu “The Unforeseen” as the fest began.

In other Sundance news, net announced Thursday that it has upped Christopher Barry to senior veep, digital media and biz strategy, up from veep. Exec will continue running the Web site and overseeing electronic strategy and will be responsible for mobile and digital sell-through platforms.

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