Studio takes 'Superman' as festival begins

There was no time for Hollywood to get acclimated to the snow and altitude before the first major deal of the Sundance Film Festival was announced, Paramount’s acquisition of Davis Guggenheim documentary “Waiting for Superman” for release in the U.S. this fall.

Par picked up worldwide rights to the film for an undisclosed price. “Waiting for Superman,” which world preems at the fest today, was produced by Participant Media and examines the public education crisis in the U.S.

Robert Redford had only just begun his opening press conference in Park City when news of the sale came. He said with this year’s line-up — where “Waiting for Superman” is playing in competition — the fest is hoping to return more than ever to it’s roots.

Deal reunites Paramount, Guggenheim and Participant, the team behind “Inconvenient Truth,” which was also acquired at Sundance and grossed nearly $50 million worldwide. “Waiting for Superman” will be released under the Paramount Vantage label, but marketed and distributed by big Par.

For years, Redford and longtime fest director Geoffrey Gilmore wrestled with how to combat the the glam factor and commercialism that had sprung up around the festival.

“I felt that were sliding, I felt that we were beginning to flatline. We needed to get fresh again,” said Redford, adding that the effort just happened to coincide with Gilmore’s departure. Gilmore was succeeded by his longtime lieutenant, John Cooper.

“He [Gilmore] did an amazing job for many, many years. It was simply time for fresh new blood, and I think you have to keep rejuvenating yourself from time to time, and so that’s what was happening,” Redford continued.

Redford said the fest’s hands have been tied in terms of combating the “ambush marketers that took over Main Street, took over houses, paid four times the amount of money so they could market their own product, and hand out swag and get celebrities to come. So then you end up with Paris Hilton, which doesn’t have anything to do with us.”

This year’s line-up of films playing at Sundance looks particularly promising to buyers.

Opening night films “Howl” and docu “Restrepo” were also expected to draw buyer interest.

“Waiting for Superman’s” sale was considered a fortuitous sign (even if it was technically negotiated before the fest).

Par does face one hurdle: the “Superman” name belongs to Warner Bros. and must be cleared with the Motion Picture Assn. of America

“Waiting for Superman” features several leaders in education, including Bill Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Harlem Children’s Zone prexy-CEO Geoffrey Canada, Washington, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Knowledge is Power program founders David Levin and Mike Feinberg.

Acquisition was announced by Paramount Film Group prexy Adam Goodman and Participant Media CEO Jim Berk. Film was produced by Lesley Chilcott and exec produced by Participant’s Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann. Guggenheim penned the script with Billy Kimball.

With these two great partners, Participant Media and Paramount Pictures, we have a chance to create public awareness around this issue, and this is the only way we can make real change in our children’s schools,” said Guggenheim.

The festival also announced a “surprise” addition to the Spotlight section: “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” a “pseudo-documentary” about mysterious street artist Banksy. Film premieres Sunday.

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