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Sundance’s ‘Rambow’ battle

Bidding war breaks out over Jennings' film

PARK CITY, Utah — A bidding war for British coming-of-age pic “Son of Rambow” broke out Monday night and lasted into dawn Tuesday before Paramount Vantage walked away with all worldwide rights for a reported $8 million.

Deal, the most expensive of the festival to date, recalled for many execs two of the biggest buys in Sundance history: those for “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Happy, Texas.”

Pricetags for films continued to confound festival vets, who said they haven’t seen such a sustained level of expensive sales in a long time, if ever. About a dozen pics have so far been sold for a total of nearly $40 million, with seven going for at least $4 million.

“Rambow,” sold by Celluloid Dreams, world preemed at the fest Monday night, with nearly every major acquisitions exec in attendance. Pic, set in the ’80s, centers on a boy, cut off from pop culture, whose life is changed by the first “Rambo” pic. One exec described the pic, which is sprinkled throughout with f/x and comedy, as ” ‘Billy Elliot’ as directed by Tim Burton.”

Production and acquisition teams had actually circled the project for years, and filmmaker reps had even considered selling the film last year before deciding to hold out in the hopes of generating a Sundance bidding war.

Miramax and Fox Searchlight were among those thought to be in the running.

Film was produced by Hammer & Tongs, the production company of director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith, and Celluloid Dreams. Celluloid Dreams’ Hengameh Panahi, Ben Goldhirsh and Bristol Baughan also are producers, as is Reason Pictures. Deal was brokered by Gersh’s Frank Wulliger, Panahi and attorney Andrew Hurwitz. Leading the negotiations on the Vantage side were exec VP of production and acquisitions Amy Israel and exec VP of business affairs Jeff Freedman.

Deal continued a feverish pace for pricey buys that showed no signs of slowing down Tuesday. Just several hours after the “Rambow” pact, the Weinstein Co. and Fox Searchlight plunked down some $5 million to buy immigrant drama “La Misma luna.”

Deal was still being hammered out Tuesday, but Searchlight would likely handle domestic distribution while TWC would oversee foreign. The brothers and Searchlight had a similar deal for “Garden State.”

TWC is also close to acquiring Justin Theroux’s directorial debut “Dedication,” a romantic comedy starring Billy Crudup and Mandy Moore and produced by Gotham-based shingle Plum Pictures.

The Weinstein Co. could partner with Henry Winterstern’s First Look, with TWC taking lead on domestic.

UTA’s Richard Klubeck and Jeremy Barber repped the film together with Cinetic. ‘Harvey was his compelling best,” said Barber of the all-night negotiations.

Move marks the second collaboration of the fest between Plum and the Weinstein Co. Distrib earlier bought shingle’s “Grace Is Gone” for $4 million.

It also would be the third co-acquisition for TWC with another distrib.

Magnolia has bought “The Signal” for a reported $2 million; feature, which screened at midnight Monday in Park City, is a critique of sorts of the pervasiveness of the modern media.

Monday night proved to be a frenetic one in Park City.

Insiders described a scene in which cars carrying buyers were driving up at set intervals to the Cinetic condo on Telemark Way to bid on “La Misma luna,” with some buyers then shuttling to the Celluloid condo just down the road to make a play for “Rambow.”

Speculating on the reasons for the pricey buys, execs ascribed them to an increase in equity money or to distributors needing to fill their slates more urgently than in the past.

Perhaps most pointedly, some said it had to do with the players themselves. “You have some very new buyers and some very experienced sellers, and that’s a formula for high prices,” said one high-ranking acquisitions exec.

And others had a more Oscar-friendly reason: “The success of ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ is on everyone’s minds,” said one exec. “But buyers are acting like every acquisition can repeat the success of that movie, and it can’t.”

Even more striking is that several of the big players haven’t opened their wallets yet; Focus, Picturehouse and Miramax were among those specialty divisions that have not yet bought a Sundance film.

And several big pics, including Michael Douglas starrer “King of California” and Jake Paltrow’s “The Good Night,” have yet to screen.

Vantage also announced Tuesday that it had bought drama “How She Move.” UTA repped the filmmakers.

In other deals Tuesday, foreign-sales company Fortissimo has acquired all international rights besides China to “Nanking,” Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman’s docu-like account of the rape of Nanking, which also stars Woody Harrelson and Mariel Hemingway.

Pic, produced by AOL exec Ted Leonsis, has not yet sold to a U.S. distrib.

Summit Entertainment has acquired Samson Films’ musical love story “Once,” directed and written by John Carney and featuring Glen Hansard and his Irish band the Frames. 

Summit will sell world rights excluding Ireland in conjunction with Samson Films in the first partnership between the shingles. Pic’s produced by Samson’s Martina Niland, with David Collins exec producing.

And late Tuesday, Lionsgate unit After Dark Films announced it had bought “Weapons,” a provocative feature about guns in schools directed by Adam Bhala Lough. A number of distribs had circled the pic, which sold for low seven figures.

(Dave McNary in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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