Miramax takes fest bite

Distrib nabs 'Wolf' rights

PARK CITY, UTAH — If you want to know what the future might look like at Miramax Films, consider the company’s current activity at the Sundance Film Festival.

Miramax has purchased all remaining international territories on “Wolf Creek” from seller Arclight Films, giving it worldwide rights to the pic that will make its world preem Monday. The Australian horror movie made rival buyers bare their fangs when Miramax’s Dimension Films picked up North America and selected territories on the hot title in a $3.5 million preemptive buy.

Meanwhile, 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 executive produced by Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier’s View Askew, it bows Saturday afternoon in Park City.

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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.”

“Wolf Creek” is based on the true story of an Australian serial killer who preyed on outback hikers. As a Sundance pic, it falls into the same genre as “Saw” and “Open Water,” two titles that Lions Gate Films acquired out of last year’s festival and turned into global box-office hits.

“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” (recently reissued as “Spike Mike Reloaded”).

“Reel Paradise” is also an unfiltered portrait of the Pierson family’s dynamics as they try to make sense of life in a very remote location. It’s the sort of film that might 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 “Saw” and earn $18.3 million in its opening weekend.

Driving into Park City Friday afternoon for his first Sundance in five years, Pierson said he bears no ill will toward Miramax’s about-face. “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.”

According to Pierson, Sundance program director Geoff Gilmore invited the doc to the festival back in July as a special screening. Pierson expected Miramax to be excited by the news, but the company seemed oddly disinterested.

Finally, John Sloss’ Cinetic contacted Miramax in early December on behalf of Smith, a Cinetic client. Said Pierson, “He basically asked, ‘If you’re not going express a strong intent and desire (in distributing the film), can we eliminate the vagueness and uncertainty?'”

Ultimately, Miramax agreed to let Cinetic rep the film and it’s Sloss’ job to stand at the back of the Library Center Theater when the film premieres . It’s the same role that Pierson filled a decade ago, but Pierson is thrilled that he no longer has to be that person.

“I am so not paying attention,” he said. “I just don’t want to be called a cultural imperialist or ‘Son of The Real World, Part 8.”