Distribs pairing up on Jacquet’s ‘Journey’

Miramax picks up 'Creek'

PARK CITY — The Sundance Film Festival ended the weekend with only a few deals done, but many more on their way.

Warner Independent Pictures and National Geographic Features will release Luc Jacquet’s French-language doc “The Emperor’s Journey.” WIP paid about $1 million for the U.S. and U.K. on the pic, which chronicles the lives of emperor penguins who labor to survive and mate amid a violent snowstorm. Doc bowed Friday as a special screening.

USA Network also made the first Sundance buy in its history, snapping up domestic rights to the domestic competition doc “Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story,” directed by Dan Klores and Ron Berger. The film premiered Saturday in the documentary competition. It’s the tragic tale of Griffith, a six-time world champion boxer — and closeted gay — who killed Benny “Kid” Paret in the ring after his opponent taunted him with homosexual slurs.

Miramax films was in final negotiations to pick up distribution rights to the Pierce Brosnan hitman pic “The Matador” from CAA. Deal was expected to close late Sunday night. Miramax would take multiple territories on the pic for roughly $7.5 million. Brosnan stars as a lonely hitman who befriends a traveling salesman (Greg Kinnear) in Mexico City.

Other films in play include the paraplegic rugby doc “Murderball,” with domestic and international buyers eager to partner with financier and North American distrib ThinkFilm. In play are Rian Johnson’s film noir competition feature “Brick”; world dramatic competition pic “On a Clear Day”; and Park City at Midnight screening “Hard Candy,” David Slade’s pic about a teen girl who meets the wrong guy via the Internet.

‘Dirty’ comedy lure

Buyers are also expected to close on another midnight screening, “Dirty Love,” a comedy written by and starring Jenny McCarthy; Ira Sachs’ competition entry “Forty Shades of Blue,” a dark drama; and competition doc “The Education of Shelby Knox,” which follows a small-town girl’s struggle to reform her high school’s sex-ed policies.

One of the hottest docs in Park City is Slamdance opener “Mad Hot Ballroom.” Pic’s programming is an early coup for Slamdance’s new fest director Kathleen McInnis, formerly of the Seattle Film Festival, who wants to raise the event’s profile as an acquisitions hotbed. But the fest made an inadvertent marketing gaffe by heavily promoting the pic’s Sunday screening in Salt Lake City to the local Mormon community, overlooking the fact that Mormons don’t attend movies on Sundays. Cinetic Media will screen the pic in Park City for the last time Tuesday.

Miramax kicked off the Sundance buying season a week early this year with “Wolf Creek,” paying $3.5 million to acquire the Australian horror pic for Dimension Films in North America and selected additional territories. By the time the fest opened last Thursday, Miramax had purchased all remaining international territories from seller Arclight Films. The film bows today.

The “Wolf Creek” deal made rival buyers bare their fangs, but it also made them furrow their brows: How could Miramax be that aggressive when the shingle faces such an uncertain future?

The short answer is that even though Harvey and Bob Weinstein are still negotiating with the Mouse House, the brothers expect to continue releasing titles unabated. If their Miramax contract expires, the films could go through their new company; if their new company isn’t ready for primetime, they could be released via Disney.

It’s an unusual strategy, but the shingle seems unwilling to let anything — even the blizzard that has kept Harvey Weinstein in Connecticut — prevent it from retaining its Sundance identity as a thorn in the competition’s paw. However, this year’s fest is also about defining the kind of company that Miramax isn’t.

‘Reel’ doc bows

Cinetic Media is now repping worldwide rights on “Reel Paradise,” the Miramax-financed documentary about indie film maven John Pierson’s experience in Fiji as operator of the world’s most remote cinema. Directed by Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) and exec produced by Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier’s View Askew, it bowed Saturday in Park City.

A Miramax rep said that the distrib always intended to sell “Reel Paradise.” However, an Aug. 13, 2003, press release announcing the extension of its deal with View Askew also announced the doc, which was “being financed and distributed by Miramax Films.”

“Reel Paradise” was produced within the Miramax family. Smith made his career at Miramax after Pierson, then a top producers’ rep, sold “Clerks” to Harvey Weinstein at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival.

In 1996, Miramax Books published Pierson’s memoir of the independent film business, “Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes.”

But “Reel Paradise” is no longer Miramax’s sort of film. The doc may aspire to the business of ThinkFilm’s “Spellbound” or Samuel Goldwyn/Roadside Attraction’s “Super Size Me,” but it’s unlikely to follow in the footsteps of “Napoleon Dynamite.”

Cinetic finally contacted Miramax about selling the film in early December on behalf of Smith, a Cinetic client. Driving into Park City Friday afternoon for his first Sundance in five years, Pierson said that John Sloss “basically asked (Miramax), ‘If you’re not going express a strong intent and desire (in distributing the film), can we eliminate the vagueness and uncertainty?’ ”

Nonetheless, Pierson said he bore no ill will toward Miramax. “I have nothing but the highest praise for their efforts,” he said. “Even as (former business affairs exec) Steve Hutensky was leaving, he was still helping us with post-production.”