‘Hurricane’ hitting MGM

MGM, the studio that parlayed Mike Figgis’ offbeat low-budgeter “Leaving Las Vegas” into Oscar gold, will try its hand at indie fare again with “Hurricane,” the feature film debut of Morgan J. Freeman.

On Wednesday MGM confirmed that it had acquired North American rights to the most decorated film of last week’s Sundance Film Festival. Sources said the studio paid nearly $2 million for the coming-of-age tale starring “Welcome to the Dollhouse’s” Brendan Sexton III.

“Hurricane” was produced by Galt Niederhoffer, Gill Holland and Freeman. It was co-produced by Nadia Leonelli and exec produced by Cynthia Hargrave and L.M. “Kit” Carson, who also appears in the pic.

The sale of “Hurricane” to MGM was negotiated by Cassian Elwes of the William Morris Agency and Daniel Rappaport of 3 Arts Entertainment, who last week sold international rights to London’s Mayfair Entertainment for more than $1 million. Freeman is represented by attorney Jed Alpert of Gotham-based Rudolph & Beer.

Filmed last summer in Manhattan’s East Village, “Hurricane” tells the story of a boy whose world is turned upside down on his 15th birthday. At Sundance, it took home the Directors Guild of America’s new dramatic directing award, the dramatic cinematography award for d.p. Enrique Chediak and the dramatic audience award, which it shared with Theodore Witcher’s “Love Jones.”

“We think this is one of those rare movies that delivers on two levels,” said Gerry Rich, MGM president of market-ing. “It was one of the critical favorites at Sundance at the same time that it was honored by audiences.”

Freeman is not the first young director for whom Carson (“Paris, Texas”) has played the role of godfather. He brought Wes Anderson to the attention of James Brooks of Gracie Films, who produced Anderson’s feature film debut, “Bottle Rocket,” for Columbia Pictures. Although “Bottle Rocket” drew strong critical acclaim, the $6 mil-lion film rang up only about $500,000 at the domestic box office.

Rappaport said that MGM’s expertise in marketing independent films will help prevent “Hurricane” from becoming another “Bottle Rocket.”

“Hurricane” will probably be released in the fall, said Larry Gleason, president of MGM distribution. Before that, pic will be marketed with a grass-roots program aimed at younger audiences that will include appearances by Freeman, Gleason said.

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