As fest closes, buyers busier than in recent years

Culminating with a last-minute fight for Grand Jury prize winner “Winter’s Bone,” the Sundance Film Festival saw indie film bizzers awake from a long hibernation and jump back into the acquisitions biz with gusto.

Domestic distribution deals were closed on the ground in Park City for eight features, repping the speediest level of theatrical sales at a fest in the last couple of years.

A number of other titles remain in play, both docs and narratives, including documentary grand jury prize winner “Restrepo” and dramatic World Cinema jury prize winner “Animal Kingdom.”

Roadside Attractions picked up North American distribution rights to Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” midday Saturday, just hours before it won the dramatic competition.

Pic, starring Jennifer Lawrence, drew at least three other offers, including an 11th-hour bid that was higher than Roadside’s. Filmmakers decided to stick with Roadside, which paid in the low- to mid-six figures. The sale came on the heels of another deal closing in the early hours of Saturday for Michael Winterbottom’s “The Killer Inside Me,” with domestic distribution rights going to IFC Films for roughly $1.5 million.

And on Friday, the Weinstein Co. plunked down just north of $1 million for North American rights and pan-Asian TV rights to Derek Cianfrance’s relationship drama “Blue Valentine,” starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

Two biggest sales of Sundance belonged to Rodrigo Cortes’ Ryan Reynolds thriller “Buried” and Lisa Cholodenko’s Annette Bening-Julianne Moore starrer “The Kids Are All Right.”

On the first weekend of the fest, Lionsgate swooped in and paid $3.2 million for domestic distribution rights to “Buried.” Later in the week, Focus Features paid $4.8 million for domestic, U.K., German and South African rights to “Kids.”

Two other significant pickups last week were Hannover House’s nearly $2 million purchase of Joel Schumacher’s “Twelve” and Newmarket Films’ roughly $1 million deal for “Hesher.”

Roadside is eyeing a summer release for “Winter’s Bone.” Pic, which also won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, will be distributed in Canada by Maple Pictures, Roadside’s partner.

Submarine’s Josh Braun, who’s repping “Winter’s Bone,” fielded interest from Samuel Goldwyn Films, Sony Pictures Classics, Apparition and the Weinstein Co., although not all submitted official bids.

Set against the brutal poverty of the Ozarks, “Winter’s Bone” revolves around a 17-year-old who goes in search of her father, a meth dealer who has jumped bail and put the family’s home in danger of being seized. Film was adapted by Granik and Anne Rosellini from Missouri-based author Daniel Woodrell’s tome.

“With ‘Winter’s Bone,’ Debra Granik has crafted a classic detective story, a nail-biting thriller and an unbelievably touching family drama, all in one film,” Roadside head of acquisitions and business affairs Dustin Smith said. “It is everything Sundance is about.”

Pic was produced by Rosellini and Anonymous Content’s Alix Madigan-Yorkin. Deal was brokered by Smith and co-prexy Howard Cohen for Roadside, and Braun and Jason Janego for Submarine.

Based on Jim Thompson’s pulp novel and scripted by John Curran, “Killer Inside” sparked controversy at Sundance due to its explicit violent, sexual content. But IFC has a proven appetite for controversial fare, having picked up, for example, Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist” at Cannes last year.

Film stars Casey Affleck as a murderous small-town Texas sheriff, along with Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Simon Baker, Bill Pullman, Ned Beatty and Elias Koteas. Producers are Winterbottom’s longtime collaborator, Andrew Eaton, and Muse’s Chris Hanley and Brad Schlei.

Dealmakers included IFC’s acquisitions head Arianna Bocco, WME Global topper Graham Taylor and Wild Bunch’s Carole Baraton.

IFC Films is set to release the film in late summer through its theatrical and VOD platforms.

“Blue Valentine,” a dramatic competition title that won praise for Gosling and Williams’ perfs, was produced by Lynette Howell, Jamie Patricof and Alex Orlovsky. WME’s Taylor brokered the deal with the Weinstein Co.

TWC was aggressively pursuing titles at Sundance to signal it’s back in the game. Company’s new acquisition fund, among other funding, is helping Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s hobbled distribution empire grab another shot.

TWC’s bid for docu “The Tillman Story,” a fest favorite, has yet to be completed. There are at least two additional buyers gunning for the Pat Tillman military-death expose if TWC and sellers can’t agree on deal terms. CAA and Submarine are repping the docu.

Also in the last few days of the festival, Wolfe Releasing paid in the low six figures for North American rights to Peruvian filmmaker Javier Fuentes-Leon’s “Undertow” (Contracorriente), the World Dramatic Audience Prize winner. Sam Eigen of Shoreline Entertainment, Steven Beer of Greenberg Traurig and producers Fuentes-Leon, Rodrigo Guerrero Rojas, Andres Calderon and Cristian Conti from Colombia’s Dynamo negotiated on behalf of the pic.

Even the Oprah Winfrey Network went shopping at Sundance. Cabler OWN, whose launch has been pushed back until next year, has acquired Chico David Colvard’s “Family Affair” for its Documentary Film Club. A multiplatform label, OWN’s doc club will allow viewers to see monthly nonfiction films on the channel and, in some cases, at nationwide theatrical screening events. Last year, Winfrey and helmer Tyler Perry teamed to help Lionsgate promote “Precious,” Sundance 2009’s top prize winner and biggest B.O. success story.

Another Sundance 2010 fave, “Catfish,” which has had buyers circling since its premiere on the first Friday of the fest, also has generated controversy. Some critics have questioned whether some of doc’s scenes were indeed nonfiction.

Numerous titles remain in play.

(Anna Marie de la Fuente and Stuart Levine contributed to this report.)

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