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Newmarket nabs edgy ‘Woodsman’

Bacon starrer nets $1.2 mil, 4th qtr. release date

PARK CITY — Proving itself to be a home for controversial and provocative indie fare, Newmarket Films emerged the winner late Thursday in a bidding war at the Sundance Film Festival, acquiring North American distribution rights to Nicole Kassell’s dark drama “The Woodsman.”

Pic stars Kevin Bacon as a convicted pedophile released after a 12-year prison sentence, struggling to overcome his sexual attraction to young girls and construct a normal life.

Premiered in the dramatic competition at Sundance, the pic also stars Kyra Sedgwick, Eve, Mos Def, Benjamin Bratt and David Alan Grier. Script is by Kassell and Steven Fechter, based on the latter’s play. Lee Daniels produced, with Damon Dash, Bacon, Brook Lenfest and Dawn Lenfest exec producers.

Despite its challenging subject matter, “Woodsman” has met with strong critical and audience support at the fest since its bow Monday night and is considered among favorites to garner awards attention when Sundance wraps Saturday.

“Like our current hit ‘Monster,’ ‘The Woodsman’ is a provocative film with riveting performances that will pull the audience in,” Newmarket Films president Bob Berney said. “We are honored to distribute this powerful film with an amazing cast and a brilliant debut by director Nicole Kassell, and to be working with ‘Monster’s Ball’ producer Lee Daniels.”

In addition to Newmarket, other distribs actively bidding for the pic included Lions Gate, which handled “Monster’s Ball,” as well as Paramount Classics, the Samuel Goldwyn Co. and ThinkFilm.

Deal worth $1.2 mil-plus

Reportedly locked for north of $1.2 million, the acquisition was negotiated by Cassian Elwes and Rena Ronson for William Morris Independent, and by William Tyrer and Berney for Newmarket. In addition to handling sales, WMI was largely responsible for packaging “Woodsman,” representing Daniels, Bacon, Sedgwick, Eve and Bratt as the project came together. Kassell is repped by the Gersh Agency.

Release date is expected to be in the fourth quarter.

Newmarket’s deal on “Woodsman” represents a logical followup to the company’s acquisition last fall at the Toronto fest of “Monster.” That release is tracking to gross north of $15 million and has propelled producer-star Charlize Theron to the frontline of best actress Oscar candidates for her transformative perf as serial killer Aileen Wuornos.

Newmarket also is planning a 2,000-print U.S. release with Icon for Mel Gibson’s controversial “The Passion of the Christ,” for its Feb. 25 opening. Outreach Inc., a Vista, Calif.-based firm that produces marketing materials for churches, has built an entire campaign around “Passion,” with pastors and congregations raising money to block-buy tickets to theaters playing the pic.

With the majority of distribution execs readying to leave town today, a number of key pics were expected to close deals this weekend. Among those were “Mean Creek,” and docs “DIG!” and “Super Size Me,” expected to clinch a high pricetag.

Another music doc, “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster,” is being sold by rep Jeff Dowd and was said to have as many as six offers on the table late Thursday from such bidders as Fine Line Features, Paramount Classics, Newmarket, Lions Gate and ThinkFilm, among others.

First Look on ‘Tapes’

Also at Sundance, First Look Media has acquired worldwide rights to American Spectrum entry “September Tapes,” with the film receiving a North American theatrical release through First Look Pictures.

“September Tapes,” which blends fact and fiction in post-9/11 Afghanistan, stars Wali Razaqi and George Calil. Christian Johnston directed the pic, which he wrote with Christian Van Gregg.

Razaqi, Johnston and Calil produced the film with Persistent Entertainment’s Matthew Rhodes and Judd Payne. Executive producers are Brent Henry, Kevin Loughery Jr. and Don Sallee. Co-producers are Peter Finestone and Van Gregg.

First Look VP acquisitions Peter Lawson and president Bill Lischak negotiated the deal with ICM’s Shaun Redick and attorney Linda Lichter.

(Dana Harris contributed to this report.)