Wellspring’s self portrait

Distrib buys experimental fest hit 'Tarnation'

NEW YORK — Marking a step into the American indie arena as a company known primarily for handling foreign-lingo fare, Wellspring has pacted to come on board as co-producer and acquire worldwide distrib rights to Jonathan Caouette’s Sundance entry “Tarnation.”

The experimental, musical, docu-narrative self-portrait combines 20 years worth of Caouette’s photographs, home movies, video and audio diaries, phone messages, dramatic reenactments, ’80s pop culture samples and fragments of his own short films. Elements were assembled on the filmmaker’s home computer for a reported budget of $218.32.

Pic was produced by Stephen Winter and exec produced by Gus Van Sant and John Cameron Mitchell.

While the official lineup has not yet been announced, “Tarnation” reportedly was the first U.S. entry to secure a slot in the Directors Fortnight at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival after selection committee members viewed the film at Sundance.

Screened in Park City on HD video, “Tarnation” will now be blown up to 35mm, with the Wellspring deal financing further post-production work.

Wellspring’s worldwide sales division will begin marketing the title at Cannes. A fourth-quarter U.S. theatrical release is planned, with video/DVD release to follow.

Wellspring head of acquisitions Marie Therese Guirgis and head of theatrical distribution Ryan Werner negotiated the deal with Winter and legal reps. Agreement continues a flurry of pickups since Wellspring was acquired in February by Las Vegas-based investment group American Vantage Media.

“This is a groundbreaking work, and we were determined to do whatever it took to bring this film to the world,” said Guirgis.

“Tarnation” will “open up a whole debate on the way people talk about, make and view cinema,” added Werner. “Despite all the great critical response at Sundance, the word was out that it was unreleasable in its present form. We found a way to make it happen.”

Wellspring this weekend opened French filmmaker Bruno Dumont’s drama “Twentynine Palms,” a feature shot in California, on which the company also served as co-producer. Caouette’s debut will be the first U.S. production released by the distrib since the Margaret Cho standup film “Notorious C.H.O.”

New ownership and a more aggressive acquisitions policy underscore a move for Wellspring to broader specialty releases. While the company traditionally has handled niche titles on five to 10 prints, releases like “Tarnation” and upcoming French-Canadian comedy “Seducing Doctor Lewis” will play on 15-30 screens or more.

Wellspring has three features in next month’s Tribeca Film Festival: French helmer Andre Techine’s romantic period drama “Strayed”; Cedric Kahn’s droll contemporary update of the 1953 Georges Simenon novel “Red Lights”; and Liz Mermin docu “Beauty Academy of Kabul.”

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